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A CMO's Guide to Native Advertising

By Francis Turner  //  Fri 14th August 2015
Native advertising is now increasingly the de facto way that brands digitally promote the content they’ve created, hitting £216 million in UK expenditure in the first half of 2014 and accounting for 21% of display ad spend. And let’s face it: All CMOs should be aware of the value of content creation these days.

It isn’t banner advertising; the ads sit seamlessly into the overall design of the host site so that they look and feel like part of the site – and are delivered where users are already viewing. The ads also don’t attempt to blur the lines between editorial and advertising – they should always be clearly labelled as sponsored or promoted content, and if they aren’t it violates both good practice and industry guidelines.

Unsurprisingly, social networks were the pioneers of native advertising and allegedly this is where the term was first used: just look at Facebook Sponsored Stories or Twitter’s Promoted Tweets. The IAB has also just launched new guidelines to ensure a consistent and transparent approach to how native ads are presented.

What Should CMOs Know About Going Native?

Native advertising isn’t a silver bullet for success. It may well enhance your overall online marketing, but it’s not the only answer to your digital conundrum.

It works best for organisations that have embraced the content marketing ethos. It benefits CMOs who really ‘get’ what content creation means for their business and have nurtured the right sort of thinking internally about the role of content across the customer journey.

If you work at an organisation that only pays lip service to content marketing, then this may not work for you. You can run direct response campaigns via native, but to really get the creative benefits and the additional brand uplift and engagement, you really need to adopt a content mindset.

So before you look at the operational side of ‘going native’ you need to look at some key targets. Ask yourself some hard questions around your brand’s content strategy:

1. Who do I want to target?
2. Is there a specific topic or niche where we want to excel?
3. What do I want those I target to associate with our brand?
4. What information are my customers looking for?
5. What type of content do my customers look at?
6. How can I keep existing customers happy?
7. How can I attract new customers?
8. What do we like/dislike about our competitors’ content strategy?
9. Is there anything I don't want to highlight about our brand?
10. What overall business objective do I want to achieve from my content marketing?

Yes, native advertising offers genuine scale and accountability. It allows brands to reach consumers at scale through a single point of entry, formatting content dynamically into the existing look and feel of any given publisher and device. Little wonder then that content and native, including in-feed, accounted for 21% (or £216m) of digital display ad spend, according to IAB-PWC research for H1 2014.

But what you promote has to be good, valuable content your customer base will enjoy.

The Mobile Question

One of the major issues facing brands and CMOs advertising digitally has been the move to mobile. With mobiles and tablets becoming more commonly-used channels for internet access than the desktop computer, the fact that traditional digital display advertising (for example banner ads) don’t really work on those devices is a huge challenge.

One of the benefits of native is that it circumvents this problem: the native ads/content form part of a mobile content feed and thus can be viewed as easily as the publisher’s own content. Look at Facebook and Twitter: they don’t run display, they run in-feed placements that native can now bring out of those environments.

Growth Potential

Evidence in click rates shows that users aren’t engaging like they used to with traditional display: it doesn’t really work on mobile (as noted above) and audiences are more interested in new, interesting content than in what’s obviously an advert. Native sidesteps these challenges and delivers great branded content where users are actually looking and engaging, which is why it’s growing so fast.

It also creates a level playing field: a brand doesn’t need to be Coca-Cola or Red Bull to create good, engaging content that enables it to compete.

What Are The Key Challenges?

Content marketing is not always easy to get right. Some brands do too much, feeling they need an always-on ‘digital newsroom’. Others don’t see it as relevant, for example “We make fixing screws; who’s going to be interested in that?”

The first issue can be managed by finding the right balance and the right content partner – many native platforms have content creation capabilities and in-house content marketing expertise that can help brands plan effective campaigns.

The second issue can be resolved by understanding that no matter what you do, there will always be questions consumers need to ask. In the example above, a set of instructional videos showing the best way to use fixing screws in DIY could actually be really useful. Not everyone can or would need to have a man jump from the Earth’s stratosphere!

Also, some CMOs have noted that native is a fairly new channel and there are still debates over its definitions and measurement. But while it may be a recent development, it has already matured (as the new IAB guidelines demonstrate) and there is a wide range of metrics available to determine the value of native ads for brand awareness and/or as a performance marketing channel.

Native ads aren’t about the hard sell – they’re about brands showing customers that they have something worth saying. In fact, we’re only just scratching the surface of the creative and engaging possibilities that native advertising offers to marketers.

Twitter: @Adyoulike

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