Clicks. Views. Followers. All of these more tangible metrics around content consumption and distribution matter. But there’s more to it than that. Engagement. Brand. Quality. These less tangible metrics matter, too. Perhaps even more.
Lying in the middle of the spectrum is where The Cauldron, which has thrived behind a brand that fans, athletes, and sponsors can appreciate and trust. (And, yes, they boast some impressive vanity metrics, too). So why does it matter?
Particularly in sports, there is an ample supply of content for fans to consume and with which sponsors can align. That is not to say the Barstool Sports of the world cannot thrive. They can. It’s apples to oranges, fruit, but with different flavor.
Just like teams and publications, sponsors are more cognizant of brand and brand perception than ever. An irreverent, snarky tone can win clicks and followers, but it may alienate (or attract) certain brands that want to partner.
“When you’re dealing with advertisers or sponsors or national partners and distributors like Sports Illustrated…They’re looking at what kind of brand they wanted to be associated with,” said Jamie O’Grady, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Cauldron.
The same strength of brand perception matters when working with athletes. Whether it’s a star athlete thinking twice about doing a one-on-one interview with a publication they know thrives on click-bait and manufactured drama or, as is increasingly the case these days, choosing with whom they want to work to tell their stories. It was so telling (and insightful) to hear from O’Grady a seminal moment in The Cauldron’s history that reinforced their dedication to a standard of quality and a reputable brand.
“The issue is maintaining a level of quality in the level of athlete content you produce, so you’ve got a body of work (other athletes see)…and say, that’s where I want to be,” explained O’Grady, who told about one of their most popular content pieces, penned personally by NBA star Stephen Curry. “[That] is exactly what happened with Steph Curry – he came to us. He said ‘I want to write something and I like your stuff…’”
Sponsors and stars have tons of platforms from which to choose and they and their management teams know want to protect and enhance their own brand when deciding with whom to work and provide their valuable content contributions. Finally, there’s the fans. Fans also have a plethora of options flooding their feeds and they know quality when they see it. They also know crap when they see it (especially when a sponsor is forced into the picture). The answer is in the quality and the perception with which you leave fans each time they consume your content. (Increasingly important, with some surveys showing fans are not always readily aware of the publications they’re reading).
“Especially younger people, they’re going to see right through the BS,” said O’Grady, particularly when it comes to branded content. “If you’re able to create content that really resonates with them [it can work]…you have to find the right stories [and] the right assets to use.”
Therein lies the key. The publications and sites winning the vanity metrics game are often not the ones with content that is truly resonating. And the analytics are quickly catching up to reflect that. Chasing the vanity metrics is not a useless objective, but not at the expense of brand or quality or engagement. Your online brand stays with you forever and it has more meaning than metrics can ever measure.