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Adam Rock

When in Rome do as the Romans do; a basic guide to Native Advertising

By | Marketing, Native advertising

Through all the hype and furore over the power of native advertising – not to mention the thousands of words that have been generated within the industry about how it is the future of brand promotion as we know it – we haven’t quite completed the job of explaining exactly what it is and how you do it. Preferably in plain English.

Neil Bedwell from Coca Cola put it pretty simply at the Native Advertising Summit. “What we do every-day is try to create content that consumers want to see/view as much as non-branded content.”

OK so far; we’re not just hitting the customer with a garish banner ad, we know the researchers tell us the reader has learned to ignore those anyway. As Solve Media put it so succinctly in 2013, “you’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad!

According to Bedwell, what they put up is content that appeals as much as non-branded content. Patrick Albano from Yahoo helps us to narrow that down; speaking at the same conference he said, “The challenge with native is finding that sweet spot between fitting in and standing out.”

So what does that actually mean? The native ad starts with the reader; where are they (in media terms e.g. online or browsing through a magazine) and why have they come to that place? Are they looking for information or entertainment? The answer is probably a combination of both. The editorial team will know their readership; they’ll know how to write for them and how to use images and video to make that experience as rich as possible, in the reader’s terms.

With a native strategy, the advertisers doesn’t just take advantage of the fact that the reader’s there and attempt to grab their attention; instead, they seamlessly become a part of why the reader is there, they become part of that experience.

Take a recent native ad by Purina, who make a fair chunk of the world’s pet food. They ran “5 heart-warming stories that prove dog is man’s best friend”; stories of dogs saving lives, mourning lost owners; all the sort of stuff that we dog owners can’t get enough of. The thing is there wasn’t a mention of dog food anywhere in the piece.

A waste of Purina’s money? No, because that simple piece got 20,000 ‘shares’; not just read but actually forwarded to friends and other dog owners by the readers, each share taking the subtle Purina branding with it.

The first step is to embrace the visual style of the host media; not to mimic or to deceive, but to embrace the values that have brought the reader here. Imagine how you feel when watching an absorbing movie on TV and suddenly it goes to a break with an ad that combines ghastly loud music with fatuous visuals; the mood has gone, the power of the movie lost. Display ads can be like that for readers, but native ads simply join the story.

It’s not just the look and feel either, a native ad has to talk directly to the reader in their language. The Purina ‘Heart Warming’ native ad would sit comfortably in The Sun or The Mirror; but for the Times or the Guardian would probably need to cut back on the emotion and explore instead the psychology of the dog or the history of the relationship between man and dog. However, still without a mention of dog food!

Perhaps Dave Rollo of BLiNQ Media says it best, “Native ads are part of the content – they are very different because they’re not different.”

With native advertising we have to trust in the power of not trying to sell anything to allow our brand to bond with the customer through the mutual interest expressed in the content.

According to Robert de Niro, “Italy has changed but Rome is Rome.” Brands could do well to do as the Romans do.

No reservations for native advertising

By | Marketing, Native advertising

The challenge for native advertising today is to effectively explain to the world exactly what native advertising is; that’s the only conclusion you can reach from the latest Copyblogger’s 2014 State of Native Advertising report.

Given the incredible level of exposure that native advertising has enjoyed over the past year, the actual statistics are quite surprising. According to the report some 49% of marketers are still unable to define how native advertising works as a strategy, and 23% were unable to identify the sort of content that would fall within our understanding of native advertising.

According to Ginny Martin, from industry specialist Marketing Land, the responses were rather surprising, as publishers are generally welcoming new revenue and advertisers recognise the value of including value in the promotion as well as the product.

However, anyone who has been in marketing for a few years, especially in new product and service development, will recognise the signs well. Native advertising has captured the ‘early adopters’, those advertisers who are aware that you just can’t go on doing the same thing and expect the same response ad infinitum; and offered publishers a new way of bringing in revenue when there’s such a huge amount of free stuff available.

So, time to take stock and have a look at the numbers that Copyblogger produced. Apparently only 9% of businesses have a dedicated native advertising budget, with the vast majority of those spending less than $100 a month, less than lunch with one client!

5% spend between $101 and $500 per month and 16 out of 2088 survey respondents putting more than $5000 a month behind their native strategy. The survey, with unusual honesty for marketing statistics, did mentioned that, of those higher spenders, 97% declared a lack of familiarity with the ad model.

So, native advertising – all hype and no budget? When Unilever are sinking £7m into their native advertising budget and Dell computers have just hooked up with the New York Times, the whole native advertising phenomena doesn’t have the feel of the Titanic about it.

Perhaps it’s the fear of the new. Those with around thirty years in marketing will probably remember the frequent ‘what do we need a website for’ and ‘that internet thing will never come to anything’. Well, at the last look that internet thing seemed to be doing quite well.

What will really make a difference is more good quality data on native advertising performance. Asking an advertiser to drop their traditional attention grabbing, sell off the page, display ads in favour of some subtly branded informative and useful content is like trying to convince a newbie that they really will enjoy their bungee jump; it’s a leap of faith in more ways than one!

One thing that doesn’t change in marketing is that positive word of mouth is still the most powerful recommendation. Once we’ve all spoken to someone who’s experienced the power of the native effect then we’ll take a chance with our precious marketing budgets.

So far we know that readers spend the same amount of time on sponsored content as they do on the editorial content and that there’s more click through from native content than display content. Over to you native advertisers, let’s have more good native content about how native content has worked for the advertisers who have used it; native advertising is built on the premise of creating trust with the target audience, now let’s prove it.

It happened with the Internet and, when you look at the size of the prize, pretty soon we’ll all be going native too.

Shared values, trust and mutual attraction – the native marriage

By | Marketing, Native advertising

When the editor and the advertiser meet at the new altar of perfect promotion, native media content, there is much more involved than a simple financial contract priced somewhere between free and rate card.

For a start, unless this relationship is based on sound shared values then the future is likely to be a rocky road for both parties, where warm embrace becomes aggressive and adversarial stand-off. In the case of native advertising the most important shared value is that of being totally committed to delivering value to the target audience. Often there is some confusion on what that actually means, with the editorial stance being purist and beyond the taint of commercial influence; while the advertiser wants to ultimately sell stuff to the audience who engage with that media because they tend to be interested in the sort of stuff the advertiser wants to sell.

The reality, of course, is that both partners in this marriage desperately need each other. The success of new media outlets, whether magazines, social media or other online publishers, ultimately depends on their ability to attract advertising revenue. For advertisers they will always need opportunities to talk to their markets and, if the market changes the media that it looks at or develops a preference for a new social meeting place, the advertiser must ensure they are there.

It’s this mutual dependency that dictates the need for a deep level of trust. The advertiser must not try to con the audience so carefully gathered by the editorial, perhaps taking the opportunity to make rapid bucks from a readership lulled into a false sense of security by the native advertorial style. Such a move would be the native advertising equivalent of infidelity and the relationship would be devalued if not destroyed completely.

The responsibility of the editorial team is to ensure that the unsponsored core offer is of the highest quality; native advertising does not mean that the editor can sit back and leave the provision of value to the advertiser. Perhaps the key challenge for the media is to maintain a very clear mission and unambiguous statement of why it exists; that then defines content and audience and allows the advertiser to craft content that will appeal. If the editorial content starts to veer in strange directions, perhaps driven by a need for higher numbers or too much leeway given to individual editors; then native advertising simply becomes advertising.

The real cement that holds this marriage together though will always be mutual attraction. The native content must be as interesting, attractive and well-crafted to the audience as anything produced from the editorial office. The advertiser gains credibility by showing that building a relationship with the editor’s ‘family’ is more important than jamming a foot in the door and starting the hard sell; that takes confidence in the brands they represent and respect for the market they serve.

Consumers love a successful celebrity marriage and native advertising will inevitable produce a good number of those.

Twitter beats the drum for native advertising

By | Native advertising, Social Media

Good advertising has always entailed matching the message to the medium; classy photography was always largely wasted on newsprint; radio invented the ubiquitous jingle to overcome the fact that there was nothing to see, and direct mail tended to be a production compromise because most of it went in the bin. It’s all part of the incredible human ability to both adapt to new circumstances and also, to adapt anything we have to our needs. We live in worlds that are constantly changing, both the real world with our development of technologies to meet challenges such as global warming; and in the virtual world where we are moving our window onto that world from our large screen computers to our smart phones.

For an internet company such as Twitter the use of smart phones is quite a major issue; more than 80% of tweets are sent from or viewed on mobile phones. Generating advertising revenue from a small platform that is probably on the move, or being accessed while the owner is also doing half a dozen other things at the same time, is always going to be a challenge. That may be one reason why Twitter’s UK MD, Bruce Daisley, recently said that native advertising is ‘potentially the next saviour of internet business’.  Read More

Ignore mobile natives at your peril

By | Native advertising, Technology

In 2013 Morgan Stanley, one of the largest global financial services firms and people who know a thing or two about consumer research, predicted that in 2014 more internet activity would take place on mobiles than on desktop computers. The world did not stop turning but, for advertisers, maybe it should have done.

That is an extraordinary forecast given that internet capable smart phones did not even exist until 1999, barely fifteen years ago. Add to that the fact that global penetration for mobiles is now up to a staggering 95% of the 7 billion people in the world, according to Morgan Stanley, and it’s easy to see how the communications market is going to develop. Remember that in not too many years from now all of those phones will be smart phones.

Although these penetration stats are helped by the fact that it’s easier and cheaper in developing countries to leap straight to mobiles networks than evolve from land-lines, that does not change the underlying message. From now on the way to your customer’s heart is more likely to be through their mobile phone than their desktop.  Read More

Has LinkedIn just gone native or has native advertising just found a new best friend?

By | Company News, Native advertising, Social Media

When you’ve hit on a formula that works, as LinkedIn did so well with their ‘B2B people’ social network, there does inevitably come a time when you reach that strategic cross-roads and say – ok, where next?

Of course, once you start seriously monetising your products and services, especially when you have a pack of growth hungry investors on board, the options you consider will inevitably be driven by ROI, even if that does imply a change of course.

No doubt LinkedIn will continue to build on their original huge success linking up HR professionals and taking that through to Marketing, Finance and other specialist groups, creating a lot of revenue opportunities along the way; but what they really need is something that embeds them with the very people they are linking together.

Read More