Native advertising is all the rage these days. Companies like BuzzFeed and ShareThrough have based their business models on the notion that in-stream, organic-like content will save the day and finally allow everyone to retire those tired and underperforming banner ads to a nice tropical island far, far away.
In its current form, however, native advertising is destined to fail just like the banner ad failed. Why? Because most native advertising placements -- just like most banner ad placements -- are not structured with inbound marketing strategies that treat native advertising content creation as a starting point. Rather, the content is treated as the end point. In essence, most native advertising today is basically a branding play.
Current iterations of native advertising call for the placement of content within the editorial stream of a publisher's website or a social network. Maybe it's marked as sponsored content (it should be). Maybe it's not. Maybe it has a shadow box behind it to differentiate it from truly organic content (it should). Maybe it doesn't. Maybe it has a link to the sponsor (it should). Maybe it doesn't.
The biggest drawback of currently iterated native advertising is it's island-like, stand-alone status. Marketers are placing stories in a publisher's editorial well and calling it a day. Publishers are patting themselves on the back for earning some extra coin and thanking their deity of choice they can keep their doors open another day.
Neither marketers nor publishers have realized the true power of native advertising as a means to begin the process of converting strangers to visitors, visitors to leads, leads to customers and, finally, any and all of them into brand advocates by attaching inbound marketing strategies to their native advertising placements.
Current native advertising placements contain no call-to-action, no link to a landing page, no compelling offer to capture an email address and convert the prospect into a lead, no lead scoring or lead nurturing to convert leads to customers, no marketing automation to manage the process and no closed-loop reporting to determine what worked and what didn't.
In fact, for the most part, most native advertising placements are just a branding play. Check out these screenshots from BuzzFeed as an example.
See? All branding, and no call-to-action to generate leads, trials, or any sort of beneficial action for the advertiser.
Like many new elements of marketing, advertisers and publishers have jumped on the native advertising bandwagon with nary a thought as to how it might be better structured than some lame old banner ad campaign. Everyone seems to have adopted native advertising's "cool factor," but they haven't applied inbound marketing strategies -- the true fuel behind native advertising -- to their native advertising placements.
The solution is really very simple. But it does take some work. Rather than focus on native advertising as an end, publishers and advertisers should look at it as a means to and end; the end being the generation of a qualified lead that can be converted into a customer.
The Simple Solution to Make Native Advertising Work
1) Start by, of course, placing your native advertising story. It can be written by the advertiser or the publisher, but it should offer valuable, informational, educational information that potential customers will find useful.
2)Create a landing page that hosts an offer related to the native advertising story you placed. Then, include a call-to-action somewhere in the story -- at the end, within the text, wherever makes sense and the publisher agrees on. The offer, whether a coupon, a whitepaper, a trial, or something else, should clearly align with the topic discussed in your story.
3) To drive further traffic to the landing page, the publisher should offer additional links in relevant areas throughout the site, include your content in emails to their subscriber list, implement social media promotions and, yes, even use some of those old banner ad placements that lead to the offer's landing page.
4) Once an offer is downloaded and a lead is captured, it should be nurtured with additional relevant content to help move it further down the funnel.Marketing automation will handle most of the post-lead capture activity.
5) To increase the traffic to the advertiser's landing page beyond the traffic achieved through the native advertising placement, the publisher could offer the advertiser a PPC campaign aimed at directing targeted traffic to the landing page for more conversions.
6) And, of course, all of this can be measured using closed-loop reporting to assess whether these placements are bringing in any qualified traffic.
So, yes. There are steps to take to make native advertising work as it should. But it doesn't have to be difficult -- it's just about integrating the steps you're already used to taking with a new advertising method.
Don't let your native advertising efforts become stand-alone islands that aren't directly tied to bottom-line metrics, otherwise you can't determine if there's any or enough return on investment. Just like any other marketing and advertising expenditure, you need to make sure it's paying off.
What are your thoughts on native advertising? Is it here to say? What problems do you see with it?