New Study Further Indicates Attention Time Could Be the Key to Branded Content’s Success

It’s a given that brands want to create content that people actually see—marketers have been chasing views and clicks from the beginning. But a new study from Chartbeat gives further credence to the increasingly influential idea that marketers should focus just as much, if not more, on how much time people spend consuming their content.

In a survey of 1,000 paid respondents, the content analytics firm found that people who spent more than a minute reading an opinion article more clearly understood its thesis, and more successfully recalled facts from the piece, than those who spent fewer than 15 seconds reading it.

The piece in question was an op-ed in support of the United States working with Iran to launch air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

When asked a series of multiple-choice questions, 81 percent of respondents who were engaged with the article for more than a minute were able to correctly identify the article’s overarching point, compared with just 42 percent of readers who spent fewer than 15 seconds reading it.

The group that read the op-ed for more than a minute also had greater success answering questions about factual details included at the beginning and the end of the piece.

Charts via Chartbeat

While it is not necessarily shocking that people who spent more time reading an article came away with a better understanding of its contents, Chartbeat’s latest study adds to a growing body of research supporting the use of attention time—also known as engaged time—as a measure of branded content’s success.

Previously, Chartbeat had found that readers who spent more time on an article during their first visit to a website were more likely to return the following week, while a Yahoo study found that more engaged readers had a better chance of remembering the brand associated with a sponsored story.

All of this serves to validate the decisions made by publishers like Forbes, Medium, and Upworthy to use attention time in how they evaluate and sell sponsored content on their sites.

Meanwhile, brands that publish content to their own platforms, like Coca-Cola and General Electric, can see the results of Chartbeat’s latest study as a reminder that it is not enough to merely drive people to a website or get them to look at a magazine. Both of those brand publishers, to their credit, use attention time as a key metric for measuring the success of their branded content.

(Full disclosure: Coca-Cola and GE are Contently clients.)

Indeed, once visitors arrive at a website or open a print publication, it is crucial that they are greeted with stories that are truly worth spending time on. Otherwise the content will not have the lasting impact brands need to build strong customer relationships and drive sales.

Speaking of lasting impact, Chartbeat also found that readers who spent more time engaged with the op-ed were likelier to agree with the author’s opinion that the U.S. should work with Iran to combat ISIS.

While it’s possible that people continued reading specifically because they agreed with the author’s opinion (or stopped reading because they disagreed), these results are nonetheless something to consider for brands hoping to use content to persuade readers to adopt a certain perspective on an issue.

This is especially true for B2B and financial services brands, which frequently analyze complex ideas that readers may have difficulty understanding.

While there is still room for further research—we’d love to see a study charting whether readers with higher engagement times were more likely to adopt a different opinion on a topic from their previous position—it seems more clear than ever that the ability to hold people’s attention is an important component of successful branded content.

Image by Sergey Nivens

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