Native Advertising 101 If you're at all associated with the digital marketing industry - whether as a marketer, or for your own business - and if you've been venturing out from under any geological-type monoliths lately, it's likely you've heard the term native advertising thrown around once or twice. First we had social, then we had mobile - with native ads on the scene, it's time to once again whip out our magnifying glass and find the explorer's map as we set out to find out if, indeed, native ads are the new "big thing".

The terminology

While native advertising is the term heard most often, you might've also heard our latest guest at the dinner table referred to by some of her pseudonyms: custom content, sponsored content, or branded content are other terms that when we put them all together, really places native ads back under the bucket of content marketing, a key focus in digital marketing of late. That's because native ads are precisely those two elements: brand, and content. The term denotes ads (namely, paid advertising) that are designed to appear "native" to the website or channel that they are featured on, as part of the site's content strategy. At their core, native advertisements are quality content combined with a paid advertising strategy. The Aspects of Native Advertising

So, have I ever actually seen these things?

Chances are in the last day or so - more likely, the last hour or so - you performed a Google search. There's also a high likelihood that you're among the billions of humans in the universe with a Facebook account. Put that together with the chances that you browse popular media outlets, and the native ads have been staring you in the face for quite some time. Native ads are everywhere:
    • Social Networks: The most popular, and certainly the ones you might be most familiar with, are Facebook's Sponsored Posts, which show up in the newsfeed alongside posts from your friends, and brands you've chosen to Like. While the content appears identical, the little "Sponsored" text at the bottom indicates that this piece, while native to the news stream, is still a paid ad. Similarly, promoted posts on Twitter appear as standard tweets, but have been paid for by the brand.
    • Content Publishers: The King of all native ads, Buzzfeed, is often the first to spring to mind; Their "sponsored by" posts, together with their brand partners, are wildly popular despite being clearly denoted as created by brands like Visa, Ben & Jerry's, or Purina. Forbes' "BrandVoice" platform enables partner corporations to create branded business related content, and The Awl's network of sites have partnered with Buzzfeed and Thought Catalog to disseminate sponsored posts, as well as produce unique content for specific brands.
Buzzfeed Native Advertising
  • 3rd Party Apps: Spotify's desktop streaming app has opened new opportunities to digital advertisers, who can now feature a paid application built on Spotify to create added brand experiences or playlists, designed with the user in mind.
  • Search Engines: While paid search ads will long remain in the category of SEM (search engine marketing) forevermore, let us not forget that the granddaddy of all native ads may well be a Google search result, powered by AdWords - after all, a paid search listing looks almost identical to an organic result; is native to the user experience, and paid for by the advertiser. Arguably, that's a native ad.

What Makes an Ad "Native"?

Congratulations! You've entered a foreign country. It might be called FacebookLand, or PublisherVille, but one thing's for sure: There's a uniform there, and a spoken language. Everyone looks and talks pretty similar - and that identifies them as natives. So in this context, we're talking about advertising that looks, talks and quacks pretty much like the rest of the content on that site. "Native", in this scenario, refers to the user's experience: The key is to remain non-disruptive, and appear identical to the stream or feed of content on that channel. A native ad doesn't appear out of context: The look and feel is seamless to the rest of the user experience, and therefore instead of appearing harsh, jarring or overtly commercial, it provides actual valuable content to a user. So if it looks like a Facebook post, or journalistic article - and talks like one.... How do we know it's an ad? Ay, there's the rub. Ultimately, the "ad" part is just as key as native - and hence, it's imperative to identify your advertisement as "sponsored content" in order not to mislead users. Failing to do so isn't always pretty for the brand, the user and most importantly, the publisher - as The Atlantic learned all too well when they posted an article by scientologists that appeared to be a piece of bona-fide journalism - albeit with an intense, and paid for, bias.

So... What's the bottom line?

As we move into the big bold era where content roams free on seas of personal data; where social networks are the roads and email marketing the bush telegraph; where paid advertising sets up the tolls and conversion rate optimization techniques build prettier tollbooths, it's time to look at how native advertising fits into an overall marketing mix, especially in an ever-growing digital marketing landscape. What kind of services can a digital marketing team offer to help you get started? Content marketers or brand journalists leverage knowledge of search trends and user experience to research, write, create and design the "owned" piece of content: One that is valuable to users, in the voice of the publication channel, and relevant to the brand. It's helpful to be clickable (think catchy titles) and shareable (think newsfeed-friendly), too. The benefits of native advertisingSocial media marketing can then be put to work to amplify the piece and garner earned media impressions for the content. Similarly, paid advertising can continue to amplify the piece through paid networks. And once the content is disseminated? It's time to convert those leads and bring them on board: Email marketing is used to nurture and convert leads that you may amass through your native marketing efforts, bearing in mind the best practices of conversion rate optimization which ensures the leads are nurtured and brought to purchase your product or service. If you want to learn even more about Native Advertising, you can check out this video of a recent webinar that I did for the #BFMwebinar series. Do you have any questions about Native Advertising or just want to share your experience with it? Comment below or tweet us @BFMweb.
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