At the beginning of 2019, Farmers Insurance shifted from traditional performance ads (urging consumers to “get a quote now”) to executing a content marketing strategy focused on increasing click-through rates and driving quality engagement on their website.

Social Media Manager Jeremy Humphries and his team spearheaded the conversion lift test to drive more quality sessions on the company’s Learn from Experience content hub, where long-form content ranges from features about home renovations and new-car negotiation tactics to the true cost of car insurance.

They began unofficially testing more of their web content across Farmers social channels and, after just a few months, started seeing a healthy performance.

According to Jeremy, they quickly discovered that people were spending more time on the site than they expected.

“Visitors were spending four and a half minutes — average — reading some of our stories,” he said. “Remember: This is insurance and lifestyle content. Those metrics were a really encouraging sign that validated the effort we’re putting into Learn From Experience.”

They also had a lower bounce rate than expected. “We assumed a 60 to 80-percent bounce rate based on the benchmarks we saw, but we saw our actual average bounce rate in the 30s. Some months, that rate was as low as 11 percent,” said Jeremy. “At first we thought it might be a mistake, but turns out the content is just sticky.”

After the initial test improved traffic, Jeremy and his team decided to go all in on a conversion lift study.

“Around April 2019, we started collecting assets and finalizing the structure of the study,” he said. “Implementation was quick, but we had to load the content a week or two in advance because Facebook isn’t quite plug-and-play on the backend for conversion lift yet.”

From start to finish, the lift study included a month of planning and execution, and ran through the month of May. The team collected data in May and June for both online and offline events and analyzed it in July and August.

They also refined their partners for the study.

“Facebook was one of our preferred partners because it offers a lot of testing,” said Jeremy. “They are the most advanced partner we work with when it comes to social.”

Jeremy said they came to the table with their Facebook partners — who they’ve built a lot of trust with — and started working with them on setup.

“We handled all of this in-house, and being able to sit across the table and do the planning session was helpful,” he said.

According to Jeremy, the goal of the study was to see if content marketing ads are better than performance ads at driving lower funnel activity.

Jeremy said they put together a four-cell test to assess ad performance. The first cell was content marketing ads featuring less insurance-specific content to drive upper-funnel activity — like how to maximize closet space or content that pertains to the products and services they offer, without specifically focusing on an insurance product.

They also utilized insurance Q&As. “We know, based on demographic studies, that our audience appreciates transparency,” said Jeremy. “Being able to answer some of those tough questions that feel like they’re shrouded in legalese and insurance-speak was a good fit. We wanted to test whether we can stoke further activity by being more insurance-focused.”

The third cell was their tried-and-true performance ads with brand assets they’d been using for years; the fourth cell was their holdout, who received no ads.

One of the benefits of directing people to “Learn” articles through the new content marketing ads: It allowed users to engage in different ways on the site, said Jeremy.

“You could read the article, click to another article, or navigate to a product page,” he said.

“We definitely drove more volume. Our performance ads drove only about one-eighth of the volume that our ‘Learn from Experience’ articles were doing.”

But, he emphasized, because they didn’t have calls to action on many of their articles during the study, it wasn’t a true one-to-one experience. “We’re now including more direct CTAs on those articles,” he said.

One challenge they’re still working on: finding a more holistic view of their metrics — because a lot of their results are last-click or last-touch.

“We need to develop our onsite metrics to show what the holistic performance looks like — specifically the touchpoints that make up the user journey,” said Jeremy. “Around the same time, we had our analytics group pull log files for all of our programmatic campaigns over the course of a couple of days. The same content that we were using for the conversion lift study, our programmatic team was using for a number of buys.”

Jeremy said they found content marketing was the number one touchpoint that led to a quote — and that remained true both for clicks and impressions.

Jeremy said they’ll continue to adapt their approach because their demographic targeting has pivoted since the test was conducted.

“It’s like hitting a big reset button, because all of the learnings we’ve acquired to this point on how users engage is based on our current demo,” he said. “We were all also tackling it separately, driving towards different goals, and seeing limited success with different audience profiles. This year we’ve taken a step back. Our CEO has given all of us one goal, no matter what team you sit on, so we need to use the same definition for our audience.”

They are also planning to continue experimenting with the CTAs on the articles they’re using for content marketing and how they can better utilize their Q&As.

“Even though we’ve added those CTAs to many of those articles, we want to start testing placement for them in the articles,” said Jeremy. “Right now, most of them are at the end of the stories, but we know that not everyone finishes articles. We’re looking at where we can place some of those CTAs to get the best results, how frequently they should appear, and how high up should they be.”

Going into 2020, he said they also want to see how they can utilize the Q&As in a greater way for performance as opposed to traditional performance ads.

From this study, Jeremy said his biggest takeaway is that there needs to be a reason for users to engage.

“Most people are thinking about awareness and intent,” Jeremy said. “Mid-funnel is dead in a lot of people’s minds, and I think there needs to be a resurgence or refocus on giving consumers a reason to engage with your brand.”

He said a lot of companies fall into the trap of thinking because people love their ads, they go back to the site to check things out — but isn’t actually the case.

“You need to give consumers a reason to come back to your website,” he said. “It was a big teaching moment for us. Providing additional value is extremely important for us to help better engage with our consumers.”

Jeremy emphasized that the most important thing is testing — and more testing.

“Closing the door on what you’ve already tested may be a poor choice, because the platforms are evolving so quickly,” he said. “We closed the door on video about a year and a half ago when we were using video for performance. We had seen some of our health metrics drop drastically, compared to static or photo-driven assets. Now, we’re coming back to video and finding it’s performing better than a lot of our other assets.”

He said because next year is going to be a building year for them, it’s important to take their learnings from this experience and keep applying them.

“The story is not finished, and 2020 is going to yield a lot of information to share, because we are not only switching targets, but also our major goals,” he said. “We’ve all worked in silos before, so this is an exciting year where we are truly exploring what that full funnel looks like: Brand content marketing and acquisition together as one team as opposed to separate silos.”

Jeremy Humphries has been a member of since 2012. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.