The Truth About Native Advertising

mano con árbol jovenThere has been a lot of controversy lately about the concept of “native advertising.” It’s not really a new approach to marketing, however it is growing in popularity as more businesses realize that it’s more effective than the typical banner advertising approach. In fact, when used properly, native advertising can become a powerfully effective tool to help increase awareness for your business and generate new leads.

What is Native Advertising?

First things first, let’s talk about what native advertising is because there seems to be some confusion. Native advertising looks like content. It’s delivered in-stream and can be responsive to the user’s online activity. For example, if you’re browsing your news feed on Facebook you might see Facebook Sponsored Updates that are spooky because you were just searching for information on that product on another website. That’s one example of native advertising.

One kind of advertising that is stirring up controversy is the “Advertorial.” It’s a combination of content and an advertisement. For example, on the popular satire news site The Onion you’ll find what are labeled “Sponsored Posts.” They present as articles and match the tone and voice of The Onion, but they’re actually paid spots designed to generate brand awareness.

The requirements for a native ad include:

Payment for Publication – If a brand or individual did not pay for the spot, it’s not native advertising.

Content or Information Based – The information is generally useful, interesting and targeted to a publication’s readership. It often matches the voice of the publication so closely that without the “Sponsored Ad” denotation a reader may not know they’re being advertised to.

In-Stream Delivery – The user experience is not disrupted. It’s part of their experience. This is also one of the big strengths of native advertising. If the user experience isn’t disrupted, the prospect’s attention isn’t diverted away like it often is with a banner ad. We’ve become so accustomed to banner ads that we ignore them completely.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, has identified six types of native ads:

1.   In-feed units
2.  Paid search units
3.  Recommendation widgets
4.  Promoted listings
5.  In-ad with native element units
6.  Custom

Each type is designed to deliver content that blends with the page content and design so that the viewer feels like the material belongs on the page. As you can imagine, and have probably experienced as a consumer, this type of advertising can be quite powerful.

Should You Use Native Advertising to Market Your Business?

It’s not always a great idea to jump on the bandwagon with new marketing tactics. However, as mentioned, native advertising isn’t exactly new and it’s growing in popularity for some very real and profitable reasons.

Better ROI and Increasing Opportunities

Paying for advertisements that are ignored isn’t much fun, and it’s not so great for your marketing budget. Brand marketing is evolving to more effective methods, including native advertising. And the opportunities to reach out to your market this way are growing for a lot of reasons.

More publishers are opening up native advertising opportunities to marketers. If they’re a decent publication and have a decent readership, it presents a great opportunity for advertisers to get in front of their desired target audience and that’s important.

In fact, according to the State of Native Advertising report by Hexagram.com:

  • 62% of publishers and media companies offer native advertising. And social platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook offer native advertising products at competitive rates, with analytics built into the process.
  • 66% of brands create their own content for native advertising programs.
  • The most popular forms of native advertising are:
    • Sponsored blog posts (65%)
    • Sponsored articles (63%)
    • Facebook sponsored updates (56%).

Improved User Experience

With a well-designed approach and a campaign that focuses on delivering quality content within the context of an advertorial, you have the ability to position your business as a credible and authoritative resource. A native ad becomes part of your prospect’s user experience.

And keep in mind that a large number of your prospects are likely viewing your content or ad on a small mobile screen where your advertising options are beginning to dwindle. If reaching a mobile audience is important, then native advertising needs to be considered.

Using Native Advertising Successfully

Assuming you approach native advertising like other marketing tactics, meaning you set goals and create a well thought out strategy, then there are two additional considerations.

  1. Your Content Needs to Be Exceptional

This probably shouldn’t need to be said, but your content in an advertisement needs to be just as valuable, inspiring, and well written as your case studies, your emails, your blog posts and anything else you publish. The power of the native ad isn’t so grand that it can withstand poor content.

Make sure your information is helpful and relevant to your audience. The better your content the better your branding. You want people to remember you favorably and maybe even take some sort of action. Not all native ads include a call to action; some are designed specifically to generate brand awareness. However, you can also use them for lead generation. To motivate a business to click on your link, the content needs to be top notch.

  1. Transparency is a Must

Generally, most publishers use some sort of notation to let their readers know that your content is sponsored. You’ll see tags like “Advertorial,” or “Special advertising supplement,” or “Sponsored content.”

This transparency is important and it’s one of the reasons that some people are upset about the practice. Do not try to hide the fact that you’re promoting your company. It may be illegal in the future, and it’s not a great way to build a relationship with your prospects. As a side note, the Federal Trade Commission is exploring native advertising to make sure it is not misleading.

Are There Any Downsides to Native Advertising?

You do have to take steps to make sure that your content is clearly labeled as sponsored content. Not all media companies comply with this practice and it’s a good idea to stick with publishers and media companies that support complete transparency. Protect your reputation as an honest and upfront organization.

Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not selling in your ad. The content needs to be educational or interesting. It needs to provide value. That means taking extra measures to create additional content and to make sure you’re advertising with media sites that review the content of their advertisers before they publish it. You want to ensure you’re in good company and that your fellow advertisers are also working hard to create a strong reputation for quality.

What Can You Expect from Native Advertising?

IBM achieved notability with their highly regarded infographic, The Power of Reinventing Work, published on The Atlantic.

GE created a native ad spot on Jimmy Fallon’s late night talk show that highlighted a GE research center engineer. It had over 300 million impressions and Bloomberg News picked up their engineer from the research center and asked him to do an interview.

While you may not have the ad budget to create an ad to air during late night television, there is opportunity to grow your brand with native advertising. The key is to define your goals and your audience so you can identify the best publication for your efforts. Quality content and transparency along with a system for measuring results are the components of a successful native advertising campaign—one that increases awareness and positions your company as a thought leader.

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