Exploring What Consumers Say About Digital Content Brands

Digital media has been at the forefront of consumers’ lives for some time now.  We in marketing and media struggle with the challenges of measuring users, and how much and when digital media is being consumed, in order to measure the full media diet. 

Many publishers do their own work differentiating their content from others. Rarely do we collectively explore what content brands mean in today’s constantly changing media landscape.  We have not yet mapped the site content “brandscape,” nor have we mined its value to advertisers.

The IAB explored the contours of the consumer experience with content on sites belonging to media brands that originated in the analog world, as well as on sites born in the digital age.  For our exploration, we chose a vibrant content genre: news. We looked at consumer perspectives on general news, entertainment news and consumer technology news sites.

Through our partnership with IPSOS Media CT, the IAB has access to a community of 5,000 Internet-savvy media enthusiasts who consume content on multiple platforms and devices. We tapped this resource, called HearWatchSay (HWS), for the study.



The research consisted of two phases. For the exploratory qualitative phase, we invited HWS members to discuss their favorite news sites, what brought them to those sites and what kept them coming back. We listened to 150 of them.  In the second phase, more than 600 HWS members responded to a questionnaire developed from phase-one learnings. 

Key findings include:

  • Unless prompted, consumers generally describe their favorite news sites in terms of utility and functionality. Their favorite general, entertainment and consumer tech news sites need to have good design features, integrated players, useful functionality, apps, alerts, convenient mobile access, email pushes, social interaction and commentaries.
  • However, the quantitative phase of the research showed that when prompted, consumers clearly differentiate among sites.
  • News consumers use different sites for distinct reasons and they readily identify those factors, as well as discern between the experiences.
  • Media brand sites are perceived as having high-quality reporting and content.  Journalism is valued, as is detailed and reliable coverage.
  • News users see merit in the various POVs established through curation – which users understand is different from reporting.
  • Users appreciate the different aspects of the news experience that sites across the “brandscape” provide.  In many respects, users are their own curators.

Some key takeaways are:

  • The transformation of media content brands in the digital age and the concurrent rise of digital native brands are rapidly altering the content brand playing field.
  • The nexus of content and technology-driven functionality is reinventing how consumers approach, experience and re-experience content.
  • It is time to develop and test new hypotheses. 
  • The current findings should be tested for other genres.

The IAB is about to convene interested publishers to use the research as a springboard for larger site content “brandscape” mapping .  Once we fully understand the varied, multi-layered consumer experiences, we hope to showcase the different value propositions available to advertisers across the depth and breath of the digital content landscape.

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