With news outlets like Forbes, The Washington Post, and even The New York Times welcoming brand journalism with native advertising opportunities, marketers need to be careful that they aren’t misleading or blurring the lines between “real journalism” and straight advertising. To start, it’s important to understand the differences between sponsored content and native advertising:
- Action-oriented (buy, download)
- Drives traffic to a product or service
- Good for thought leadership pieces
- Educational content (articles, tips)
- Branded but may or may not drive traffic to a specific product or service
- Good for awareness-level activities
As you select outlets for native content, here are a few questions to keep in mind as you decide where to spend your marketing dollars and content creation efforts:
1. Will the ad fit with the overall page design? Your content should fit fluidly into the overall page layout. You don’t want your content to be so visually jarring that readers are disoriented and possibly overlook your content. Follow formatting guidelines to ensure best representation. Look at existing pieces to confirm your content isn’t buried behind footer links or complicated navigation.
2. Will the ad function like the other page elements? For example, if other posts include social sharing buttons but native content pieces lack the sharing options you’re missing full-page functionality. Confirm where your content will live on the site. It might be that your content will show up in multiple places, but make sure that it’s being placed in logical areas to avoid looking ridiculous.
3. Is placement guaranteed on a specific page, section, site, or network of sites? Having additional distribution outlets may be right up your alley or it may be placement on sites that aren’t necessarily speaking to your base or that violate brand values. You don’t want your piece cycling through porn sites or any other site that doesn’t support your brand position.
4. Is targeting is available? Find out if there are opportunities to focus on specific demographic groups in the reader base. You can target cooks on a cooking website. However, if you’re specifically targeting Italian foods, getting placed in the sub-category for Italian food gives you more bang for your buck from a more targeted placement.
5. What actions can readers to take? Some placements specifically limit the number and placement of links in order to maintain editorial standards. Discuss what types of calls to action are allowed. Understand what type of engagement you’re getting: awareness-level metrics like views, likes, shares, time spent or action-oriented metrics like sales, downloads, data captures, registrations. Ensure the engagement you’re getting is worth the price tag.
6. Are disclosures clear and prominent? This is a controversial one. As a marketer, you want your content to feel like just another piece on a publisher’s site. As a consumer, you don’t want to be tricked into reading marketer’s content. Publishers use various tactics to disclose native content from large banners featuring your logo and a “sponsored by” message to an almost undetectable, small font “sponsored content” label. To avoid leaving a bad taste in viewers’ mouths, partner with publishers who employ ethical notification methods so that readers aren’t fooled into thinking they’re reading an objective, journalist-written article instead of a high-quality piece of brand journalism.
7. Do you have existing content that you can reuse or resources to create content to fill the placement? Excited at the prospect of wider content distribution, marketers may jump feet first into long-term contracts that require new content be submitted on a weekly or monthly basis. Sounds easy? Think again. Before you sign a contract, plan out how you’ll produce the content to fill the placements, if you’ll need to use freelancers for writing or design, and what the total cost of placement and content production will run you.