The natives are restless

Craig Hodges

Craig Hodges is the founder and CEO of King Content, Australia’s most awarded digital content marketing agency. With more than 20 years' experience in the content industry, Craig has worked in magazines, publishing, Internet radio and Web development before embracing his true passion - digital content marketing.

Native advertising is the flavour of the month, with traditional media players seeing it as a saviour to shore up their flagging print and banner advertising revenues.

Everyone from The New York Times to Forbes hopes that native advertising will be the finger in the dyke to stop the dam from bursting.

From a revenue perspective (with plenty of advertising dollars being thrown at it), it seems to be working, but is this something new? Haven’t we seen native advertising for years? In fact, I’m pretty sure it used to be called an advertorial back in the days when my editors would kick me out of the office if I sold one.There’s also a thing called Brand Power, which has been running on TV for what seems like forever.

But regardless of the above, native advertising appears to be here to stay, particularly if you look at some of the stats from a recent report by Hexagram:

  • 62 per cent of publishers and media companies offer some kind of native advertising program;
  • 66 per cent of brands create their own content for native advertising programs (in most other cases, the publishers assist in creating the content for the brand);
  • The most popular forms of native advertising are sponsored blog posts (65 per cent), sponsored articles (63 per cent) and Facebook sponsored stories (56 per cent).

What does it mean for brands?

For brands it represents an opportunity to be positioned in the stream of editorial, which you would have to say is a great opportunity. For example, The Guardian has released its native advertising offer, with its key differentiator being that it will use the same editorial team for the native advertising component.

It also means brands have an opportunity to work with some of the best in the business. You can’t tell me GE isn’t super excited to be working with The Tonight Show team to launch Fallonventions.

The real drawcard for brands, however, is the ability to tap into and leverage the devoted followings of these publications. Who wouldn’t want to amplify their branded content to a vastly larger audience? But native advertising isn’t all sunshine and immediate ROI for brands – no matter what anyone tells you.

For a piece of native advertising content to successfully attract readers, it needs to fit the tone, style and values of the audience of the publication. But while having the in-house editorial teams writing content safeguards the interests of the readership, it does present a problem to brands looking to build brand identity and affinity through a unique voice and values.

Not to mention the fact that native advertising, like traditional advertising, is essentially about renting rather than owning an audience. You create content and serve it up on someone else’s owned asset in the hopes that the reader engages with it enough to be driven back to your owned asset.

Which brings me to my final consideration for native advertising: What brands do with the traffic once it finally (hopefully) lands on their site.

Without an effective strategy for the traffic to drive them on to other content assets, brand experiences or lead-generation forms, native advertising will never deliver real business outcomes for brands, even with the little ‘sponsored by’ tag.

I’m not saying native advertising isn’t a worthy tactic in digital marketing – it does present a fantastic opportunity for brands. But it needs to be executed as part of a comprehensive content marketing strategy. A native advertising placement without a content and lead nurturing strategy to back it up is essentially a wasted opportunity.

Whatever the game, content marketing best practices still apply to native:

1. Have a plan or strategy

It’s critical you tie native advertising initiatives to a broader content marketing strategy. Think about the real reason why you’re producing this native advertising content. How will it achieve your business objectives? What does the user journey look like? What’s the next step for a reader after consuming your native content?

2. Make sure the content is great

For native to work successfully, you need some seriously savvy brand journalism. Poorly disguised advertorial or ‘brochure ware’ won't cut it today.

Again, it’s critical to think about the type of content that will resonate with, excite and engage your target audience. For native advertising success, you will need to combine your own brand content personas with the readership of the publication you’re being featured in.

Check out this great Econsultancy article to explore some examples of good and bad native advertising practices.

3. Be honest and transparent

This is critical for both brands and publishers. Branded content in the native channel needs to be clearly labelled, so a tiny link and sentence at the bottom of an article won’t be good enough.

While it can be tempting to circumvent ‘brand blindness’, failing to be transparent smacks of trickery and deceit – not the best way to connect with and build long-lasting relationships with consumers.

So what does the rise of native advertising mean for the consumer? Well, the jury’s still out, but I’m sure, as with most things, it’s going to have a lot do with the quality of the content, judged by consumers who vote with their feet, eyes and page clicks.

Tags: content marketing, native advertising

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