Why native advertising is essential for publishers and brands

Native content (not be confused with advertorials, content marketing or intent marketing) is here to stay, and its benefits are vastly underrated, writes Alexandra Tselios in a guest post.

Mumbrella recently published an article about the IAB’s new guidelines and consultative measures, looking in particular at ad-blocking and 360-degree video ads.

Fears around ad-blocking in Australia are consistently on the rise despite some declaring it as not only just one of many threats, but potentially even an overstated threat.Alexandra Tselios

The oft-cited research that ad-blocking is the sole destroyer of all publishing models is definitely dramatic. But many other statistics are also alarming. Other dramatic reports include that we are more likely to survive a plane crash than purposefully click on an ad banner.

Multiple factors come into play, but one of the most crucial is the way we as publishers approach our relationships with commercial partners and advertisers.

While brands know that they need to pay to get their message out there, they often feel the very audiences they need to reach can be reached by themselves directly, at a fraction of the cost.

The flipped argument to this that I am hearing is, the publisher they last worked with basically published content about them just because they have to pay the bills, not because they care that the messaging is spot on or impactful.

So while there are ongoing frustrations that surpass that of the current concerns around ad-blocking, and venture into areas such a transparency and brand association, I am really interested more in exploring how both parties (advertisers and publishers) can work together more effectively.

When Facebook acknowledged that it overstated their video views by up to 80%, many were disappointed, but it was hard to find many who were entirely surprised. We rely on platforms to give us accurate data but without full access we cannot be entirely sure. And we are aware of that, if not made mildly uncomfortable by it.facebook-video-mobile-pop-up

The feedback from both brands and publishers is they feel that transparency in the data provided is ambiguous at best. While one could argue that is anecdotal evidence, the argument could well be that it’s less about ambiguous data, and more about an influx of data and dashboard options that few can decipher.

I guess what I really want to know is, why is so much money still being thrown into shitty marketing activities that brands themselves are complaining do not work?

We are navigating a climate where our industry is flushed with so many options yet very few real choices. Many publishers (myself included) talk about expansion of revenue streams that bypass paywalls, with almost an obsessive focus on granular targeting.

A recent op-ed on the Financial Times argues that mass old-school ad campaigns turned brands into icons, and that just because we have the ability to deliver micro-audiences does not necessarily mean this should be the most prominent success metric.how-brands-become-icons-and-cultural-strategy-book-by-douglas-b-holt

One of the other interesting points in this op-ed was around Facebook’s messaging to advertisers now focusing more on mass reach instead of targeting. Brands want to feel as though they are cutting through the noise and making an impact, and constantly throwing money into the mass black hole of programmatic media buys or Facebook ads is clearly not cutting it anymore.

There is obviously no ‘one size fits all’ approach; I am simply someone who is both constantly trying to learn and also passionate. I care about both being a publisher and running a creative native content team within the business, and keeping both my readers and my advertisers happy.

As a team, the focus for us is to try to help brands understand the value of native content, and often part of that process is again navigating the complexities around understanding native content versus advertorials versus content marketing versus intent marketing.

Arguments are made that readers don’t want to read native content, but I would argue that readers don’t want to read boring advertorials that provide no value. Similarly, they don’t want to read an article only to find at the bottom it was trying to sell them something.thinkstockphotos-creative-company-tablet-mobile-social-ideas

In our experience, native content has had similar engagement results to our editorial content, and we are pretty blatant about our commercial partnerships. Readers do care about the brands that shape their lives, and brands do have more to communicate than what can fit inside a Leaderboard.

Full disclosure, 90% of our revenue is driven from native content, and any banner ads on our site have been packaged up with a larger Native Content deal for the brand, just for the added consistent brand messaging.

We also play with programmatic native distribution in-house as well as influencer advertising, since many of the 350 writers for The Big Smoke have their own blogs/ audiences.

It’s been our experience that by giving something tangible and ‘evergreen’, in our case a piece of carefully crafted content, we are able to assure brands of not only the reach but also measure the engagement while providing something tangible that they will always be able to see.

Last year, the Native Advertising Institute discussed the conundrum for many marketers around how they measure the effectiveness of their Native advertising, with click-throughs and social media awareness being the top two metrics they focus on.

Graph courtesy of the Native Advertising Institute

Graph courtesy of the Native Advertising Institute

When we talk about more ambiguous metrics such as brand awareness or purchase intent, it is far more difficult to argue the effectiveness from a publisher’s standpoint, but it shouldn’t be ignored entirely.

The argument that native content is difficult to measure is redundant in my view. The argument should be more around publishers and agencies working alongside brands so they understand not only the benefit, but the best way to measure it for their individual campaign needs.

Just like the graphics across display advertising, there are variable levels of effectiveness that come down to the quality of work and the innate understanding of how to communicate through native content.

We know from evidence that many brands understand (to a degree) the value of content marketing, but the argument could be made that it’s often wasted noise with no real effectiveness. This  is why we see so many blogs on myriad commercial sites largely untouched when it comes to sharing or engagement.

Since we can take much of the same metrics from display advertising (click throughs, traffic flow) and then add to that other important data such as the engagement of the piece (shares of content, how many opinions were provided around the content) there are increasing opportunities to continue to educate ourselves and our clients on the value of native, the metrics that should be key focus points and the realistic outcomes to be achieved.

Ultimately, from where I stand the opportunity is about nurturing the narrative around what works for both publishers and brands, knowing that while we can provide a solid dashboard of real-time metrics we can also create a solid piece of quality content that will forever form part of their digital footprint. 

Alexandra Tselios is the founder and publisher of news website The Big Smoke Australia


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