In a major study into what makes native ads work so well, the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau – comprised of over 600 of the US leading digital marketers, representing 86% of online selling) and Edelman Bernard, global market insights and analytics specialists, have confirmed what the instinctive native evangelists have always known – it’s the match of content to consumer that is the key to successful engagement.

This was a significant piece of work; phase 1 involved focus groups taken from consumers visiting business, entertainment and/or general news sites several times a week. That informed phase 2, the larger online study of some 5,000 consumers with similar online histories.

The mechanics introduced were native feeds embedded with normal unsponsored content; respondents were asked both to identify ads and to evaluate the content generally.

The study should help all native novices to learn from those who have gone before, because their findings identify the key drivers of quality with great clarity. Experienced natives can learn a lot by looking at the detail.

For over 90% of the respondents ‘relevance’ was the most important factor in attracting them to content and then ensuring engagement with it.

For 81% brand awareness and trust was a driving factor, with 82% citing subject matter expertise as critical to engagement.

As this was a statistically relevant survey those big numbers are not to be ignored and there are lessons that can be driven from them.

Firstly the big one; relevance. This is not a quick trip to Wikipedia to find out more on a topic. This is presenting the consumer with content that is at the right depth and detail comparable with the unsponsored content, but also that gives some fresh insight or perspective.

Next, subject matter expertise. Again, Wikipedia (wonderful though it is) doesn’t cut it as research at this level of engagement. Marketers only have to look at how the language and jargon of digital marketing has become impenetrable to the outside world to understand how expertise presents itself.

Perhaps of most importance with expertise is that it is a moving tableaux; the expertise must be current and topical.

Brand awareness and trust is a slightly more difficult; in essence relevant and authoritative will not con an audience who are exposed to contradictory feeds that challenges a brand’s credentials. Just look at what the phone-hacking scandals did for the integrity of some areas of journalisms’ self-righteous exposés of others’ activities.

One of the most telling insights, for the producers of content, emerging from the study is that 60% of consumers are drawn to content that tells them a story rather than trying to sell of just expose a brand, and implicit in that is the level of engagement that would exist between content and consumer. Does this suggest possibilities of serial or series content that has the confidence to build the relationship slowly over time? The possibilities in that case are endless for expanding the native philosophy through complementary media.

According to the study 86% of consumers now accept that advertising is necessary to give them the free content that they want, so native storytellers let’s invite them in and give them relevant, well founded, current and entertaining tales – that way they’ll come back for more.

Author Adam Rock

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