How The Telegraph ties native ads to brand metrics

Like many publishers, The Telegraph is working to prove its native ad campaigns work.

From crunching data from thousands of branded content campaigns and their pre- and post-analyses from the last five years, The Telegraph found that hitting certain content benchmarks will drive either awareness, consideration or propensity to buy. Based on post-campaign analysis the publisher found that an uptick in one of these metrics ultimately leads to driving sales. For instance, the publisher could set the benchmark that a dozen articles on travel content should increase the propensity to purchase for an airline brand by a certain percentage. If post-campaign research shows the content hasn’t lived up to those expectations, then the client gets the media value as a percentage back. Rather than charging extra, this is included in the service price.

Since introducing the benchmarks last July, The Telegraph has run 80 campaigns for clients that have met these targets. By bringing in effectiveness guarantees, campaign budgets and campaign length have grown, according to the publisher.

“The big shift we have made has been bringing the sales guarantees into the pitch process in order to inform the campaign, rather than just at the end,” said Emma Elford, content sales and strategy director at The Telegraph. “The challenge for everyone should be interrogating the brief. This allows us to challenge the client brief.”

For a cybersecurity brand, the initial client brief was to drive consideration for a narrow business-focussed audience. Through a pre-campaign survey, The Telegraph’s data insights team found people who owned the product didn’t recognize the company. The publisher suggested a longer, consumer-facing campaign, fetching a higher budget, alongside a more targeted campaign to drive consideration among business audiences.

For the majority of the campaigns The Telegraph has run in the past year it has worked with the brand and the agency, rather than going to the client direct, according to Elford. Although negotiating the finer detail can take four months, particularly for bigger budget campaigns.

The number of campaigns The Telegraph runs and the percentage of repeat clients has largely stayed the same since before introducing the guarantees, partly because the publisher has always offered some form of post-campaign analysis through partnering with third-party measurement firms.

“When campaigns have the product at heart it demonstrates why [a publisher] would be happy to give guarantees,” said Laura Wade, vp of content and innovation and Essence. “The sentiment from The Telegraph is good, but if the benchmark is your hygiene factor how do we know when it’s outstanding work? We need to avoid the commoditization of branded content so it doesn’t become just a premium display buy.”

Publisher branded content revenue is growing by 40 percent year-on-year, according to branded content platform Polar’s research, while the number of entrants to the market and the competition between them is increasing. In the U.K., companies including Vice, Hearst and Bloomberg tout how they prove their branded content works, but publisher headaches now include navigating between multiple measurement vendors and managing resource while having to justify their value. Agencies facing shrinking margins are keeping publishers at arm’s length and reducing the number of publishers they work with per campaign from three to one in order to stay efficient, according to Polar’s global research with publishers.

“The challenge is weaning people off the crack of media metrics,” said Elford, “so many are still wedded to unique views or two-second views. There’s still an appetite; they’ve been addicted during the last five years.”

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