Sponsored content is an emerging medium of digital marketing that has proven to be both versatile and effective for direct to consumer brands both large and small. For those who don’t already know what sponsored content is, it is the placement of branded content on a third party editorial website which allows consumers to engage with a brand in a non-threatening environment. Studies published by Nielsen indicate that marketers who sponsor content from a trusted publisher see a 50% higher brand lift than marketers who make their own content. At Aqua Vida, we specialize in creating, amplifying, and tracking sponsored content for our clients. For marketers who have just started to navigate the sponsored content ecosystem, it can be difficult to understand how sponsored content fits into their business and how to maximize their return on investment. Because of this we created a 5 point checklist for marketers who are about to start a sponsored campaign. Our hope is that this checklist acts as a guide for marketers new to sponsored content, allowing them to kick their sponsored content campaigns off in the right direction.

Establish your objective

Understanding how sponsored content fits into your marketing mix may feel like a daunting task. If your brand offers multiple products or service types, it may be difficult to determine the right product or service to feature in a piece of sponsored content. There are many ways in which sponsored content can benefit a brand: new customer acquisition, brand awareness, lead generation, etc. 

The structure of your sponsored content should largely be based on what KPI’s matter most to your marketing department. For example, if your brand is performance driven, your sponsored content should have clear call to actions, link outs, and perhaps a compelling discount offer to consumers, thus improving the chances of a user reading the content to convert. If your objectives align more with brand awareness, the sponsored content may not need link outs and instead opt to direct consumer’s to watch a video or participate in an offline event.

Write your content in an authentic voice

Sponsored content can be placed in many different types of publications such as blogs and news outlets (think NY Post, Buzzfeed, etc). It’s important that the voice of the publication be contextualized in order to ensure that the sponsored content aligns with the voice readers expect from the publication. Furthermore, content should be relevant to the user base who typically reads the publication. For instance, if you own a detergent product and are publishing a piece of sponsored content on a mommy blog, it would make sense to have the piece of content reference the benefits of the detergent product (such as being chemical free) to mothers and families.

Track your funnel  

Ensuring that the results generated from your sponsored content efforts are measurable is essential. In order to determine the effectiveness of sponsored content for your brand, it’s important that tracking is setup in a way which shows what about the content is working and what about the content is not. We recommend applying unique UTM parameters to outbound links within sponsored content to your brand’s page, thus tracking where in the content users click out specifically. Furthermore, if you’re sending traffic to the sponsored content via an ad network such as Facebook or Google, be sure to place conversion and event pixels both on the sponsored content and on your brand’s page where the sponsored content links out to. By applying tracking pixels to important events, you’ll be able to determine the return of investment on the ad spend you direct to your piece of sponsored content. 

At Aqua Vida, we implement a rigorous tracking methodology for all sponsored content in which we place tracking pixels across key events on our sponsored content such as link outs. We also implement tracking pixels on our client’s page to track events such as leads, add to cart, and purchase events. In order to gauge engagement we utilize heatmaps across all our sponsored content in order to see where users are interacting with our content the most. 

Have a distribution strategy 

One of the benefits of sponsored content is that it gives consumers context to a brand’s product and service that they may not have otherwise had if they simply visited the brand’s website. Sponsored content also produces validation of a brand’s product from a third party, which is often important for consumers making a purchase decision. 

For these reasons and more, it is often in a brands best interests to expand the reach of sponsored content past the content publisher’s organically driven traffic. Brands can do this by amplifying content across leading ad networks. Often times brands find that sponsored content can effectively convert users better than traffic driven directly to their website. This is due to the context and third party validation that sponsored content provides.

At Aqua Vida, we specialize in performance driven media buying. Our platform tests at least three pieces of sponsored content and hundreds of ad variants. We evaluate client budgets, KPI’s, and acquisition goals in order to determine right fit publishers to distribute their content. Clients typically spend over $20,000 per month amplifying sponsored content through the Aqua Vida platform.

Rich media

Adding rich media in sponsored content increases user engagement dramatically. We recommend – at the very least – for publishers to include a compelling article image in order to capture users attention before reading sponsored content. Doing this sets the tone of the article and excites the user before they begin reading. A great article image decreases bounce rate and increases average time spent on content. 

Furthermore, adding images in-article is a great way to demonstrate a component of a brand’s product or service. We find that adding either static images or Gifs within an article often increases both conversion rates and engagement metrics. In-article images should be explanatory, showing a certain benefit that the product/service offers or showing the product being used in action. For instance, in one article for a client who owns a dissolvable laundry detergent sheet, we added an in-article gif which shows the product dissolving in a sink while being sprayed with water. Doing this helps users visualize the product/service use case and makes them more likely to take some sort of action upon reading content.

While there are many factors which go into a successful sponsored content campaign, the above checklist is a helpful framework for starting your campaign with the right foot forward. At Aqua Vida, we’ve spent years refining our proprietary methodology and if the process seems too daunting, a member of our team is always available for a consultation call. All the best on your sponsored content journey!