Is Native Advertising Right for You?

Planning a marketing campaign

Native advertising is one of the biggest trends in marketing, PR, and communications today. But what does it mean, and is it right for your marketing program? In this post, I’ll share the lessons I’ve learned from working on more than 100 native ad campaigns.

Let’s start with the the Wikipedia definition: “Native advertising is a form of online advertising that matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears.” The IAB has drafted a slightly more structured explanation of the six types of ad units that are most commonly deployed to “achieve native objectives”: in-feed units, paid search units, recommendation units, promoted listings, in-ad units, and custom “can’t be contained” widgets.

In everyday speak, here’s the idea broken down:

  • It’s a form of advertising.
  • It blends in with a publisher’s core website experience.
  • It isn’t salesy.
  • It works better when it’s high quality.

The concept has evolved from one of the biggest trends in digital media: a trend called “banner blindness,” which means that consumers are likely to ignore anything that looks like an ad. Done well, native ad campaigns (also known as sponsored content campaigns), can be powerful brand-building and relationship building tools.

But these campaigns are also expensive to run: some publishers charge upwards of $5,000 per article for every sponsored placement. Sponsored webinars? Those cost upwards of $20,000.

If you’re considering making the investment, you need to make sure that your spend is generating the right ROI. Frankly, $5K is too much to simply flush down the drain, no matter how big your marketing budget might be. Here are some tips that I’ve learned from working on more than 100 sponsored content campaigns for publishers like Forbes, Business Insider, ClickZ, The Next Web, and Digiday Content Studio.

Define your goals before you’re sold

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What are you hoping to achieve with native advertising?

If your goal is lead gen, you may want to include a special offer that’s tailored to your audience. You can even optimize your top-of-funnel posts for more eyeballs: subtle techniques like influencer outreach, ‘click to tweet’ buttons, and listicle formats can help you get more shares.

Traffic acquisition ecosystems are complex. Very subtle decisions can yield big impacts to the overall results that you see. By the time you reach out to any sponsored blog post, webinar, or video partner, you should already have your decisions made regarding ad format and campaign optimization capabilities.

Ask your partner to share case studies and best practices around your specific goals. Confirm what technical limitations might be, and don’t be afraid to ask for out-of-box features or options. Remember that native advertising is a space that’s still being defined, and you’re in a position to set the bar.

When you know what you want to achieve, you’ll be more likely to achieve it. And when you’re spending $5K+ on a single piece of content, you have no other choice.  

Prioritize your audience first

There are two types of sponsored content advertisers: ones who like to talk about themselves and others who want the best quality piece for their audiences. Can you guess which campaigns perform best?

It’s the ones that prioritize audiences, first. These pieces read more like stories and less like ads. They offer value. They’re read more, shared more, and loved more. And audiences can figure out, on their own, that they’re sponsored. Everyone wins: your brand gets recognized and your audience receives valuable information.

The reason for this trend? Audiences are sensitive to sales pitches. With limited time in the day, they want to spend it learning, connecting with friends, and being entertained. Not to mention, according to one stat, only 4% of Americans think that the advertising industry behaves with integrity. You can’t get your audience’s attention by masking a sales pitch as a blog post. You need to offer value. 

It can be tough to shut down your desire to sell. Tackle this challenge by asking your writer to consult on your campaign. This person can share advice on headlines, content direction, and optimizations for shares.

Extend your campaign’s shelf life

Content has the potential to be evergreen. As Dun and Bradstreet’s CMO Rishi Dave puts it: “content is an appreciating asset.” When you invest in a sponsored article or video, it lives on the Internet forever. You can even repurpose it into other marketing campaigns. Here are some ideas:

Launch a paid traffic campaign. Sponsor your native ad on channels like LinkedIn, Taboola, Facebook, and Twitter to generate more visibility. You can run your ad on multiple platforms, months after your initial sponsored campaign launched. It’s a way to make more out of less: write your content once, and promote it endlessly.

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Send a newsletter. Why not share what you’ve written with your email list? When you run your article on a site like The Next Web or, send it to your email list too.

Recycle. When your sponsored content campaign launches, you’ll probably promote it over social media. Why not keep promoting that same article? Promote it in 3 months and then again in 6 months. Social media shelf lives are short, and re-promotion is the best way to guarantee continued exposure. Content is an investment, no matter whether it lives on your site’s or a publisher’s. Make sure that you get the most out of it.

Final thoughts

Be authentic, know who you want to reach, and add value to your audiences. Sponsored posts are about relationships and can be a valuable form of marketing and PR. The trick is to put your customers and prospects in the driver’s seat. Think about them when defining your campaign goals, content ideas, and optimization strategies.

Photo Credit: ShutterStock/GaudiLabs