Native 2.0: The Evolution of Native Programs Will Be Driven By Client ROI & Data
Nearly three years ago, as chief digital officer at ALM, I led the development of ALM’s native content program — ALM was one of Polar’s earliest clients (now the dominant native platform) and one of the first B2B publishers to launch a native advertising program.
Native advertising was an exciting new frontier for us, with the promise of generating new revenue and creating a non-obstructive, reader-friendly advertising experience. (Frankly, anything that wasn’t another in-your-face pop-up I viewed as a necessity for our business and this was before ad blockers became prevalent). We realized that our brands — trusted advisors to attorneys, real estate professionals, and others, positioned us to highlight the benefit of our clients’ products and services in a better format. Within two years we had grown the native program from nothing into a seven-figure revenue stream. More importantly, it was a positive reader experience. (One reader actually complained because he couldn’t find the native article he had read on our site, because we hadn’t yet integrated the articles into our CMS for search purposes. Who knew in 2013 that he’d want to read it again and share it?)
Since 2013, I’ve seen dozens of publishers launch native programs in their respective verticals, so clearly publishers are seeing value. However, in discussions with several publishers in recent months, it’s clear that native programs are facing three key challenges:
1. Justifying the price of native deals relative to the number of pageviews.
Often, clients will be slow to sign up for native deals because the per-pageview price may not be competitive with other channels, particularly for B2B media in niche verticals.
2. Demonstrating the ROI of native programs to clients.
Most native deals are structured around building clients’ brand awareness. While brand awareness is important, most ad agencies need to show the ROI of these campaigns.
3. Getting clients fully bought-in to native versus just experimenting.
Based on the above and the fact that content creation is still a challenge for clients, except for the largest enterprises, native is typically not yet a regular part of clients’ marketing playbook.
To meet these three challenges, I believe that many publishers will need to upgrade their native programs to what I’ll call “Native 2.0.” In short, I believe Native 2.0 will move beyond just offering a reading experience (with some hyperlink out to the advertising brand) and evolve into an experience that provides greater value for marketers in the form of data and/or leads.
To provide more credible data the reading experience will need to be both more immersive and offer opportunities for data/lead capture. One company pioneering tests in this arena is CredSpark. They are using inline quizzes and polls via a form of gamification to gather valuable marketing data that can be shared with the marketers — they are dealing directly with brands today, as well as with publishers. These additional article components evolve the reader from a passive reader into an active participant — one who is truly engaged with your content. These embedded quizzes provide opportunities for the brands to learn more about the audiences reading their content and gather marketing intel about and for their products. For instance, the reader’s level of familiarity with new technologies, regulations, or industry trends makes a huge difference in his or her understanding of the value of brands’ products and services (and thus, that person’s value as a lead.)
Another element of Native 2.0 will be adding lead gen components to native articles — moving from Reads to Leads. Publishers will need to be careful in this evolution, as I’ve noted in previous articles the lead gen business is challenging, but we can expect the marketers will be asking for this functionality.
The dollars spent today on native are akin to the earliest days of the web, i.e., limited measurement and limited ROI analysis, but this is changing. Marketers are going to expect more data and a better return for their native investments. They will require publishers to share more about the customers that land on these pages: data and information gleaned from years of trust between the publishers and the reader. This doesn’t mean handing over names and email addresses of the reader, but the ability to give them insights into the readers. For example, being able to tell a client whether readers are C-level executives, in companies of X size, with $Y of spending, who are savvy about important trends. These insights will help propel forward spending and demonstrate, especially in the B2B space, publishers’ importance in gaining the attention of the right audiences, relative to mass-scale digital platforms.
Change is inevitable and resistance is futile — if you aren’t already working on Native 2.0 (a more immersive, and more data enriched experience) you better start thinking about it. Doubly so, because with ad blocking on the rise, and the potential that mobile carriers may block ads themselves, native will be a powerful vehicle for publishers in the years to come.
Jeffrey Litvack is the Managing Director of Xcel Advisors and CEO of ClearView Social. Previously he was Group President and Chief Digital Officer at ALM and head of global product development at the Associated Press. Jeff has received numerous awards for his ground-breaking work in transforming media companies to be digital and mobile first.