Stories in Motion: Paradox of Earned

WE Press Releases


Earned Media Most Powerful in Influencing Brand Opinion and Driving Content Sharing, Says WE Communications Stories in Motion Study


LONDON, NEW YORK, HONG KONG — 16 NOVEMBER 2016 — A study covering China, the US and the UK released today by WE Communications and YouGov reveals that earned media placements are regarded as the most influential sources of news and information when it comes to driving consumer opinions about brands and products and when driving sharing across social media and other platforms.

The research reveals that earned media rates top in each market (with 62 percent in China, 47 percent in the US and 44 percent in the UK scoring earned media in the top three boxes on a scale of 1–7)when it comes to influencing brand opinion. Additionally, earned media rates are highest amongst respondents when asked what source of news and information about a brand they would likely share when seeing something positive about a brand (54 percent in China, 40 percent in the US and 25 percent in the UK scoring earned media in the top three boxes on a scale of 1–7).

“We’re witnessing a paradox of earned media,” said Alan VanderMolen, President International and WE+ for WE Communications. “In places like the US and UK where the space for earned media placements has gotten smaller and more competitive and in China where social is growing exponentially, earned media still rises to the top in terms of consumer influence. The key for brands to take advantage of the power of earned is to ensure it is not isolated. It must be deliberately amplified and complemented with other types of branded content across devices, platforms and channels for full impact.”

WE’s Stories in Motion research reveals that in addition to earned media still being the most influential, brands can win with consumers through smarter application of branded content across a multiplicity of devices and channels, by understanding intentional and unintentional search behaviours, and with smarter targeting of the types of content that resonate by sector.


Consumers are living in a world of multiple devices, multiple channels and multiple types of content. Knowing how they engage with these throughout the day is critical to brands understanding how to best design content strategies.

According to the study, on average consumers are interacting with four devices per day, but how they use them varies greatly. Smartphone usage dominates in all three markets; however, content consumed through laptops and TVs also sees peaks of consumption (especially morning and early evening).

Multiplicity is also seen through the volume of different platforms and channels that consumers traverse throughout the day. The research shows the smartphone is the primary driver of this motion, mostly accessing news and retailer sites through to social media and chat/messenger services. Deeper, more intentional searches that are generally closer to the point of purchase are being done in the evening on laptops.

This gives brands opportunities to target consumers in different ways and with different types of content depending on device usage, type of search and time of day. Brands must think beyond static content, and design their content in a way that leverages this world of multiplicity. 


Intentional searches are shown to have the greatest impact in shaping behaviour, brand preference or purchase. Both positive and negative information discovered through intentional search has the greatest impact on driving a consumer to purchase. In the US, 52 percent see positive information as motivating, in the UK 44 percent, and in China 51 percent. In the US, 40 percent see negative information as discouraging, in the UK 36 percent, and in China 51 percent.

The research shows that when consumers are intentionally searching they are tougher judges of content, where conversely there is a greater openness to brand content when discovered through unintentional means. Unintentional can be defined as those instances when consumers discover branded content for which they didn’t intentionally search. While intentional searches are often product specific and indicate the consumer is already on the journey to purchase, it is the unintentional discovery that can impact brand perceptions over time.

If brands are effective in their unintentional search, it’s irrelevant where a consumer enters the funnel, as long as a sufficient number of positive signals is pushed out into the right placements and is experienced as casual encounters versus hard sales. This will drive a greater propensity for a consumer to lean towards a brand and begin an intentional search process.


WE’s Stories in Motion research suggests that companies need to understand the importance and the value of content that is focused on forging a connection and eliciting an emotional response as they create branded content.

The research shows that in all three markets, content that contains product information encourages sharing and also engages the consumer to try, buy or recommend. (In the US, 46 percent of respondents say they’ll share content that contains product information, in the UK 47 percent, and in China 50 percent. In the US, 58 percent say that product information that has engaging content will most likely mean they’ll try, buy or recommend the sponsoring brand, compared with 60 percent in the UK and 56 percent in China).

Content that is designed to generate an emotional response from the audience (i.e. laughter or enjoyment) will have the greatest impact, including driving shares in particular through unintentional searches. In the US, 26 percent of people are likely to share funny/entertaining content, in the UK 31 percent, and in China 18 percent.

This is even more prevalent when shopping for spirits — where humorous content is the clear winner (42 percent for the US, 47 percent in the UK and 19 percent in China) for generating shares. As one might expect, the opposite is true for the finance sector, where consumers are more likely to share branded content that has product information.  

When pushing branded content through social channels, the data show clear lines for what does and does not resonate with consumers. Only about 5 percent across all three countries feel most comfortable engaging with branded content in social. The exception is content that is amusing or entertaining, where we saw a relatively strong propensity to share this type of content.

Willingness to share branded content using a less public platform (i.e. email, in-person, or direct messages) is significantly higher (48 percent in the US, 49 percent in the UK and 49 percent in China). The message is clear: Entertain me on social, sell to me when I am searching.


The Stories in Motion study uncovers consumers’ journey to content, how and where they interact with brands, who is truly influencing them, and which types of branded content will lure them into engagement.

“The rapid change present in our media ecosystem has inspired real-time stories that are constantly in motion,” said Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO WE Communications. “Our study helps uncover insights that can direct the funnel of influence and uncover what brands need to consider as they understand the motion and trajectory of their brand relative to their audiences and key stakeholders.”

In this journey, insights and analytics are equal partners with creativity and content. By understanding what is driving and motivating consumers to engage with content, brands can be significantly more effective in creating true engagement that will result in brand affinity and sales, versus just impressions and eyeballs.


About Stories in Motion

WE Communications conducted this Stories in Motion study to examine consumer behaviours in relationship to branded content and how these behaviours change by channels, platforms, and time of day and product category. The online study surveyed 1,000 respondents per market in the US, UK and China during the month of October 2016 and was conducted by research firm YouGov. More information on Stories in Motion can be found at  

About WE

WE works with some of the most innovative companies on the planet — those focused on delivering the next big thing. We partner with clients to transform their businesses through storytelling, in many different forms. Our playground is consumer, health, social innovation and technology. Our fiercely independent mindset allows us the freedom to bring together the best talent, partners and ideas to create powerful, persuasive campaigns. That’s the power of WE. Shiny accolades like Cannes Lions, Integrated Communications Agency of the Year, Digital Firm of the Year, Best Large Agency to Work For, Communications Agency of the Year, Technology Agency of the Decade and, most recently, a PRWeek Award for Best Use of Social Media/Digital adorn our offices. But it's not about us, it's about our clients, their customers, and sparking a more elemental and immersive conversation. Talk soon.

For more information, press only: Jessica Lobendhan, WE Communications EMEA & APAC, +44 7835 612 607,|Jennifer Granston-Foster, WE Communications NA, 1 425 213 0906,