Study: Brand Content Drives Massive Brand Lift

By Joe Lazauskas July 23rd, 2015

When you’re creating content for a brand, there are some obvious goals: audience share, email subscribers, lead generation, lead nurturing, revenue generation and attribution, not getting fired. For B2B companies like Contently, “content to conversion” is the mantra, and for good reason: Thanks to software platforms like Marketo and Salesforce, it’s trackable, and there’s a game plan in place.

Much more elusive, however, is brand lift. There’s little doubt that a company’s brand lift matters—whether you’re a SaaS company like Contently, a CPG brand like Captain Crunch, or a media brand like The New York Times. And despite the fact that it’s much harder to measure than direct revenue, most marketers believe it’s where content provides the most value.

The question for us was: How do we know?

And so we set out to measure how the 60,000+ people who subscribe to our newsletter—which comes jam-packed with four fresh stories every day—feel about Contently as a brand, and how the amount of content they consume impacts their opinion.

This past month, we surveyed 525 of our engaged and unengaged email subscribers about how they viewed us overall, in relation to our competitors, and compared to elite media companies.


To answer the question of how much reading our content impacts our subscribers’ opinion of us, we had the Contently Research Team design a study that split them into two groups—test (highly engaged or those that have a higher exposure or readership) versus control (those that have limited exposure and do not read or engage with Contently content as frequently).

We derived our test group of 396 (engaged subscribers) from subscribers who qualified as a 4 or 5 in MailChimp—people who often or very consistently open Contently content. We derived our control group (unengaged subscribers) from subscribers who qualified as a 1, 2, or 3 in MailChimp—people who have limited to very little engagement with Contently content. (Read more about how MailChimp rates subscribers here.) For incentive, respondents were entered into a raffle for a $250 gift card.

(One question that came up a lot during this survey: Do people like or dislike us because of the content in our newsletter, or did they like us already when they signed up? The conclusion: Since content is the entry point for our subscribers no matter what, it doesn’t matter much either way.)

Key Findings

Before conducting this test, we expected that our subscribers would have a fair opinion of us, and that we would see some brand lift among our engaged subscribers. But the degree to which that was true far exceeded our expectations:

  • Higher engagement with content led to a lift across every nearly every KPI we sought to measure, including: brand awareness, brand opinion, brand associations, brand trust, likelihood to purchase, and net promoter score.
  • Engaged subscribers had a net promoter score nearly 3x that of unengaged subscribers.
  • On average, engaged subscribers rated our brand an 8.12 on a scale of 1 to 10, double that of our SaaS competitors (which ranged from 2.37 to 3.54), and on par with how they rated The New York Times (8.54).
  • Our engaged subscribers were at least 4.6x more likely to respond that they were somewhat likely or likely to purchase our software versus our competitors.
  • Our unengaged subscribers were 23x more likely to consider us the brand most trusted to provide valuable information on content marketing vs our competitors. For engaged subscribers, that number was 65x.
  • 65 percent of engaged subscribers said that they trusted us the most to provide valuable information on content marketing, besting the Content Marketing Institute (23 percent) and The New York Times (9 percent).
  • 47 percent of unengaged subscribers said that they trusted us the most to provide valuable information on content marketing.

Through content, it appears we’ve been able to punch above our weight in this group, greatly outpacing our better-funded competitors and surpassing or matching the brand affinity associated with storied editorial brands like The New York Times and Condé Nast. The key to raising performance on brand affinity KPIs is getting readers to more deeply engage with content.

Let’s dig in further.

Which brands have you heard of? (Brand Awareness)

Both our engaged subscribers (98 percent) and unengaged subscribers (92 percent) are aware of Contently, placing our brand awareness among engaged subscribers on par with The New York Times. Our subscribers are highly aware of our brand.

This seems like an obvious question to ask people who subscribe to our newsletter, but it’s also an important one. First of all, brand awareness is a foundational brand lift metric. But there’s also always the (perhaps unwarranted) concern that people who read your content will fail to associate it with your brand—especially in our case, since our publication is called The Content Strategist, not Contently Daily.

(In fact, we’ve had serious discussions about changing the name to Contently Daily in the past due to these concerns.)

This data also indicates that increased engagement with content drives a significant lift in brand awareness: 6.5 percent.

Please rate the following brands using a 10-point scale, where “10″ means you think it is an excellent brand and a “0″ means you think it is a very poor brand. (Brand Opinion)

This question brought about one of the most surprising results of the study. Both engaged and unengaged subscribers rated Contently’s brand highly (though engaged subscribers were the clear winner). The lesson: If you can produce content good enough to compel a reader to subscribe to your newsletter, they’re likely to have a good opinion of your brand even if they don’t click your emails regularly.

We also wanted to gauge these ratings against a couple of benchmarks: our competitors in the SaaS content marketing space (Kapost, NewsCred, Opal, Percolate, Scripted, and Skyword) and media brands we admire (the Content Marketing Institute, The New York Times, and Condé Nast). Engaged and unengaged subscribers alike rated Contently more than twice as highly as each of our SaaS competitors.

We found that surprising, but even more surprising was how well we rated in comparison to the media brands we admire. Engaged and unengaged subscribers alike rated us higher than both the Content Marketing Institute and Condé Nast (wow), and relatively close to The New York Times (holy wow).

We also saw a clear 10 percent lift in brand opinion among our engaged subscribers, which signals that the more content by us someone reads, the more highly they think of us.

The following list of characteristics may or may not be used to describe these brands. For each characteristic, please select which, if any, of the following brands it describes. Please select all that apply for each. (Brand Attributes)

We aspire to associate our brand with certain attributes—smart, premium, friendly, trustworthy, authentic, innovative, expert, and human. There are also attributes we’d rather avoid: overpriced (since we’re a high-end content marketing SaaS platform) and unoriginal (since originality is kind of our thing).

We gave all respondents the option of responding to any attributes they thought described each brand, so the data is a little bit more difficult to unpack. Again, though, it’s quite positive. The first chart shows the total responses to each attribute; the second chart shows the percentage of total respondents who rated each brand with that attribute. Save for premium, we rated quite highly for all positive attributes, particularly among engaged subscribers: The majority rated us as smart, premium, friendly, trustworthy, authentic, innovative, expert, and human. In the final chart, you can see how reading more content led to a boost across those attributes.

Our strengths, in particular, lay with the smart, friendly, authentic, and human attributes, where we rated significantly higher than all other brands—even the Times. (As a New York Times fanboy, I’m going to continue to be wowed by us being rated over them for anything.)

As an editor, it’s pretty easy for me to see the connection between those attributes and our content. We shoot for a lot of smart reporting and first-person perspectives, and a more casual, personal style than most publications. That’s something that seems to be working, and we’ll continue to emphasize it.

Who do you trust the most to provide valuable information on content marketing?

Earlier this year, marketing legend Seth Godin told me that “being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business.” To Godin, it’s the single biggest benefit that content can deliver to a brand. That’s something we’ve always believed as well. We’ve always sought to be the most trusted source for content marketing information in our industry.

That’s what makes these results so heartening: 65 percent of engaged subscribers said that they trusted us the most to provide valuable information on content marketing, besting the Content Marketing Institute (23 percent) and The New York Times (9 percent). That also makes them 65x more likely than any single one of our content marketing SaaS competitors to consider us the most trusted source.

By comparison, 47 percent of our unengaged subscribers considered us the most trusted source for content marketing, meaning that an increased engagement with content delivers a 38 percent boost in brand trust. That’s a stat that’ll motivate us even more to re-engage those readers.

How likely are you to purchase content marketing software and services from the following companies in the next year?


Now we get to the part of the brand lift study that’s got our revenue team excited: Purchase intent. Thirty-seven percent of our engaged subscribers said they were somewhat likely or likely to purchase our content marketing software and services in the next year—4.6x that of any of our competitors.

Unexpectedly, our unengaged subscribers were slightly more likely to express positive purchase intent than our engaged subscribers, though they were also more likely to purchase software and services from our competitors.

On a scale of 1–10, how likely are you to recommend Contently to a friend or colleague?

This question is meant to calculate your brand’s net promoter score (NPS). It’s a simple calculation that factors in the number of users who are promoters (9–10 rating) versus detractors (0–6 rating).

These results show that both our unengaged subscribers and engaged subscribers are net promoters of Contently. However, there’s a huge lift among engaged subscribers, who are nearly 3x as likely to be net promoters as our unengaged subscribers. The clear conclusion: People who are highly engaged with our content are much more likely to promote our brand.


— There’s a lot of value in engaging people with content deeply enough that they subscribe to it. Our content subscribers regard us much, much more highly than they do our competitors, and they value us on par with or above the top content brands on Earth.

— Depth of engagement matters. The more people engage with our content, the better they think of us. Across the board, content engagement = brand lift.

— Our readers are over 7x more likely to trust us as the most valuable source of information compared to The New York Times, and that demonstrates a key point: Brand publications can earn a lot of trust and gain a ton of traction if they stick to what they know, create high-quality content, and avoid self-promotion (or, in other words, don’t try to B.S. their readers.)

— Tying content to brand lift has long been seen as a very difficult and expensive endeavor. We hope this study shows how it can be done in an easy and inexpensive manner, and help content marketers everywhere demonstrate the true impact their content is having on their business.

Image by Theodore Trimmer
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