Content Marketing Is 88 Percent Less Effective Than Public Relations

A brand new in-lab study by Nielsen, commissioned by inPowered, shows that expert content -- credible, third-party articles (earned media) -- is the most effective source of information in impacting consumers along all stages of the purchase process across product categories. More specifically, when measured against owned media (branded content) it showed that earned media is 80 percent more effective at the bottom-of-the-funnel or purchase consideration stage, 80 percent more effective at the middle-of-the-funnel or affinity stage and 38 percent more effective at the top-of-the-funnel or familiarity stage.

In other words, brands that actively engage in media outreach will likely see a greater consumer impact at all stages of the purchase process than brands that primarily rely 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 (like reviews on Amazon).

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

  • 85 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally seek out 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 -- articles from credible journalists -- was the only content type to exhibit a strong lift in all three areas of the purchase cycle. It provided the most top-of-the-funnel lift for seven out of the nine products, the most middle-of-the-funnel lift for five of the nine products, and the most bottom-of-the-funnel lift for six of the nine 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 of the study, inPowered recommends brands take a blended approach in their content strategy. More specifically they recommend:

  • 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."

The Nielsen study is available as a free download here.