While much of the publishing industry still has a problem with the concept of native advertising, it remains an excellent opportunity for B2B organisations to take advantage and make it part of their content marketing strategy, in order to gain profile and reinforce ‘thought-leader’ status.
There’s nothing much new about native advertising, it’s another tag for what used to be known as ‘advertorial’ – the media industry constantly feel the need to prove that digital publishing is a total revolution, not just the harnessing of new technology to do exactly the same thing, and the invention of new buzzwords and phrases is typical.
There’s various definitions of native advertising, put simply it is commercially-generated paid content in the style, and sometimes the guise, of editorial. The controversy is really around how content paid for by a commercial business is, or isn’t, distinguishable from independent editorial. The main concern is around transparency, and in North America the Federal Trade Commission are making noises around how to police this ‘new’ form of promotion. At the moment, however, publishers are left to self-regulate, and I don’t see that changing. Some publishers insist on the content being labelled ‘Sponsored Content’ (here’s an example from IBM), some are less obvious and only ask for final editorial sign-off, while others will have no restrictions at all.
B2B trade media is more conducive to native advertising than B2C for several reasons. For a start, our target markets are more intelligent, generally they understand when content is independent and when there’s a commercial interest. If you keep content informative, this is a positive, not a negative. Also, business to business publishing has in many cases always been ahead of consumer in terms of introducing and accepting new revenue streams, mainly due to commercial pressures. Actually, in most specialist B2B media there’s always been a sort of bias – publishers, with a few saintly exceptions, tend to give editorial preference to the companies who advertise with them, so to make a fuss over native advertising would be slightly hypocritical.
As marketers our main concern is, of course, effectiveness. A study by IPG Media Lab concluded that branded content outperformed display advertising on every metric assessed, including lifts in awareness, brand favourability and purchase intent. Although I don’t always take this type of research at face value, it makes sense – B2B publications are not read for the advertisements.
So, factors to consider when producing native advertising:
- Where: Select your media with care, just because a publication is accepting native advertising, doesn’t mean that it has the right target market or audience penetration. Usual media buying analysis rules apply.
- Cost and contract: Negotiate hard. OK, you’re buying exposure, but to a certain extent you are filling space the publisher would have to fill anyway. Establish, in writing, exactly what you are getting for your buck. Are there constraints on the information you can put across, and the way you are allowed to present it? How clear will it be that it is not independently produced content? This will guide the tone of your content.
- Content: As previously mentioned, publishers will have varied approaches dependant on their guidelines. Some will want a degree of control, others will prostitute themselves completely. To my mind, one of the most effective native advertisements is one appearing in the form of an interview, or a company study, where the title is claiming authorship of the article, but it’s actually written by the company – ‘Widget Weekly look at the success of The Cambridge Widget Company and talk to their MD, Mr G Getwidget”. When writing the content, think of the audience. By all means talk about products, business wins, market share gains (after all, this is not a whitepaper), but balance your corporate message with market information useful to the audience – industry statistics, trends and viewpoints. Quality is key. Your audience may understand that your company had a hand in producing the content, but if it’s informative, and the reader gains from the reading experience, this will not be a big issue. One alternative is to produce a more generic industry article, informative, but at the same time pushing your strategic message. The skill is in the writing.
- Optimisation and profile: Once published, the content should be linked to via social media, relevant website pages and even used through email marketing. The piece should have been written taking into account keywords, so should be naturally optimised for search.
Publishing purists will shake their heads and talk about editorial independence and the death of true journalism, and given my publishing background I have some sympathy. But actually the term ‘publishing purist’, with a very few exceptions in B2B media, is a bit of an oxymoron. (As examined in Advertising Age’s article on the Wall Street Journal’s native advertising plans). Most specialist B2B publishers are fairly quick to turn to bend to commercial pressures. As a B2B marketer, the important element is that you are getting your message across to your target market within the context of a respectable industry vehicle.
Native advertising is out there, the publishing industry may still have issues with it, but it’s a legitimate, perfectly acceptable and effective route to market for B2B organisations – use it.