BBC: This is your brain on content marketing

Research tracks facial muscles to study the impact of brand storytelling

Content marketing may seem more like art than science, but a research project from the BBC used facial coding technology to prove the emotional connection it can make between brands and their target audiences.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 3.43.57 PMMembers of the broadcaster’s sales, marketing and research team presented a summary of their findings last week at an internal event hosted by Mindshare Canada. The study, titled The Science of Engagement, is based on a survey of more than 5,000 consumers in seven countries, including Canada.

The BBC said its data shows that clear labelling and quality content can make brands far more effective in getting out their message and creating closer relationships with consumers.

“This approach [of using content marketing] is in its infancy compared to other, more traditional forms of advertising,” Andrew Tenzer, senior research manager, BBC Global News, told Mindshare employees. “But evaluating effectiveness is crucial to optimizing future campaigns.”

The problem is that in most cases, brands study the performance of content marketing (which the BBC calls “content-led marketing”) by using data analytics or more traditional advertising effectiveness metrics. Content quality may seem too subjective, which is why the BBC teamed up with a U.K. firm called Crowd Emotion to try a different approach.

This is how it worked: survey respondents were asked to look at content marketing on a BBC site page. Some saw clearly labelled content marketing, while others didn’t. The respondent’s web cams would record their facial expressions. This would be fed to Crowd Emotion, whose software examines 43 different facial muscles.

“We knew normal research techniques might not paint the whole picture,” Tenzer explained, adding that when consumers tend to answer normal online surveys about content, they answer with the conscious part of their brains, rather than their subconscious.

“Our faces do not lie,” Tenzer said.

Six possible emotions were tracked, from “happy” and “delighted” to “puzzlement” and “fear.” Those latter emotions weren’t necessarily negative, Tenzer added, because in some cases that’s what the content was trying to trigger.

The research showed two out of three people are happy to consume content marketing if it’s clearly labelled, and 63% said it needs to match the editorial quality of the brand it sits within. If that happens, 57% said they would share the content and in some cases it could lead to a 77% increase in how positive a consumer felt towards a particular brand.

“We were very excited by the results of their facial recognition research,” Mindshare Canada CEO Karen Nayler told Marketing. “The consumer of media, content and the products that our clients market has never been in more control.”

Like many other major media organizations, the BBC is trying to help brands improve their content marketing efforts by opening up its own division, BBC Storyworks, to develop it.

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