Earned media still most influential to consumers

Branded content may be all the rage, but endorsements from trusted, unbiased sources guide a vast majority of purchasing decisions, according to a Nielsen study.

Expert content—credible, third-party articles (earned media)—is the most effective source of information for affecting consumers along all stages of the purchase process across product categories.

Such are the findings of a new in-lab study by Nielsen, commissioned by inPowered.

Specifically, when measured against owned media (branded content) it showed that earned media is 80 percent more effective at both the purchase consideration and affinity stages, and 38 percent more effective at the familiarity stage.

In other words, brands that actively engage in media outreach will probably see greater consumer impact at all stages than that of brands relying primarily on content marketing.

This in-lab, multi-month study exposed 900 consumers to three different types of content: expert content from credible sources (earned media), branded content (owned media), and user-generated content (such as reviews on Amazon).

Other important findings indicate that the credibility and unbiased nature of the content was crucial for consumers:

  • 85 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally seek trusted expert content—credible, third-party articles and reviews—when considering a purchase.
  • 69 percent of consumers like to read product reviews written by trusted experts before making a purchase.
  • 67 percent of consumers agree that an endorsement from an unbiased expert makes them more likely to consider purchasing.

“With so many companies spending so much money on content marketing, we wanted to clarify what kind of content is actually impacting consumers and helping them make their decisions,” said Peyman Nilforoush, co-founder and CEO of inPowered. “This isn’t about disproving any particular type of content, it’s about identifying the most effective blend of content types to help effectively educate and inform consumers.”

Overall, the research showed that earned media coverage—articles from credible journalists—was the only content type to exhibit a strong boost at all three phases of the purchase cycle. It delivered the largest familiarity boost for seven of the nine products, the most significant affinity boost for five of the nine, and the greatest boost in purchase consideration for six products.

On average, earned media lifted brand familiarity 88 percent more than branded content and 50 percent more than user reviews.

“It became clear throughout the study that, while exposure to each type of content did provide a lift across different categories, credible content from experts was the only content type that performed consistently across all stages of the purchase process,” said Tommy Cheng, vice president of Nielsen Content Innovation Solutions.

Based on the findings, inPowered recommends brands take a blended approach in their content strategy. More specifically it advises:

  • Build trust, cut through the noise: Begin with trusted content from credible, third-party experts to establish a foundation of trust with the consumer
  • Share your story: Once trust is established, use branded content to further connect and engage
  • Continually reinforce and stay above noise: Maintain your efforts by encouraging customers to generate user reviews, and continuously use more trusted content

“When it comes to determining which content to utilize to best educate consumers, it is not an either/or proposition,” said Pirouz Nilforoush, co-founder and president of inPowered. “But by beginning with a solid foundation of trust built on trusted content from credible, third-party experts, all other content will have a greater impact.”

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Topics: PR

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