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Native Advertising: How do SMEs join the party?

Native advertising is set to dominate the content marketing landscape in 2014 as it emerges as a new and exciting way for businesses to revolutionise the way they advertise.

Often involving large brands, agencies and publishers, native advertising is one of the most innovative advertising platforms for 2014 and has the potential to help brands start new and rewarding conversations with many customers through valuable content. According to content marketing agency TAN Media, Native ad campaigns are now more accessible than ever to SMEs and independent business owners.

In this introduction to native advertising, we provide an overview of the practice and discuss what steps SMEs can take to start developing native projects.

So what exactly is native advertising?

There are a variety of definitions of native advertising. One way to describe it is as an evolution of the traditional advertorial that exists as a sub-set of content marketing.

Typically, a piece of native content will be a blog, feature, case study or white paper that is ‘sponsored’ or ‘promoted’ by a company and hosted on the site of a publisher. The content looks and feels like a natural part of its surroundings and is not designed to be an intrusive advert.

Big brands are using publishers like Vanity Fair, The New York Times and Forbes. But as well as the big players, there are a whole host of publishers looking to work with firms of all sizes.

What does native advertising look like?

BuzzFeed is often held up as an exemplar of native, so let’s start there. Take a look at this post from Coca-Cola to get an idea. Notice the reference to Coca-Cola as a BuzzFeed ‘partner’ at the head of the piece:

Buzzfeed native advertising - TAN Media

Other examples are sponsored updates on social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

According to Hexagram’s State of Native Advertising 2014 report, the most popular formats for native advertising projects are blog posts, used by 65% of its respondents, articles (63%), Facebook (56%), videos (52%), tweets (46%) and infographics (35%).

Why the rise of native?

On-site content marketing will remain a growth area, but when it comes to advertising on external sites, it is becoming more and more challenging for companies to succeed.

Display ads, once touted as the future of digital marketing, are declining in their impact. Put simply, many consumers have taught themselves to subconsciously ignore the ads while reading or watching digital content. Research from Adobe shows 68% of consumers find online ads “annoying” and “distracting” and 54% say online banner ads simply don’t work.

So, for some time, better, more effective advertising avenues have been needed. Into this space steps native advertising.

Adam Rock, Managing Director of TAN Media states that “Importantly, native content should not be overly promotional. It’s a post from BMW on five motoring trends for 2014, not a sales piece for its latest vehicle. It’s also an editorial piece by a local estate agent on the dos and don’ts of selling your home, not something about how great they are at marketing your home. It’s honest content that appeals to people.”

Why do native advertising? Does it work?

Research suggests that it works – when done properly. Importantly, native advertising is not just about generating click-throughs or views. It’s about developing strong relationships with consumers by offering them content they will want to read.

Research shows that native advertising is valued by brands. According to the Hexagram research:

∙ The vast majority of publishers (84%), agencies (81%), and brands (78%) believe native advertising adds value for consumers

∙ Brands and marketers use native advertising because it provides a more relevant message (67%), increases consumer engagement (63%), generates awareness or buzz (62%) and creates word of mouth (48%)

∙ Publishers expect revenues from native advertising to increase by approximately 10% within a year: from an average of 20.4% of overall revenue today to 30.1% in one year’s time

How best to succeed with native advertising?

We think native advertising is an exciting way to develop relationships with customers over the long-term. But the number of companies jumping aboard the native train means that brands need to stand out from the competition.

Remember that there are just as many examples of bad native advertising as there are good, so it’s crucial that firms adopt effective native strategies. Key focus areas are transparency and making sure you offer high-value content. Transparency because it is crucial that consumers do not feel they are being fooled; excellent content because it needs to be good enough to be read and shared.

How can I take it to the next level?

Some large companies, with their own in-house marketing teams, are working directly with publishers on native advertising projects.

But smaller companies don’t always have the same resources. Some may start with writing and publishing their own news features and blogs on their own site. These can then be promoted using social media native advertising services, from Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

Another option is to work with a specialist agency to develop and produce native content. They find that agencies have the ability to provide native content strategies, generate ideas, write and deliver good content and establish connections with publishing partners.

Is it time you got involved?