3 Ways to Ensure Native Advertising Doesn’t Self-Destruct
In a world where ad blockers pose an ever-present challenge, paid content (AKA, branded content, sponsored content, or native advertising) is an effective workaround for publishers and advertisers alike. Besides being an effective tool to get a message past ad blockers, paid content can enable brands to tell their stories where pre-roll or display ads fail. Paid content is also one of the few viable revenue streams left for publishers -- one that can break through the ad blindness consumers have developed when browsing the web. Despite this bastion of hope, in the world of business publications, paid corporate content has taken a turn in the wrong direction, one that could place the medium in the gutter of ignored online advertising, right next to the banner and search ads consumers have trained themselves to look past.
The problem stems from the fact that this form of advertising is being used as a form of advertising in the first place. Today’s consumers, especially those within the business community, have no time or patience for being overtly sold to, and they certainly aren’t interested in reading 700-word corporate promo pieces. But that doesn’t mean the platform is useless. Quite the contrary. When done correctly, paid corporate content can provide a wide-reaching platform for sponsors to exhibit their expertise, entertain and be useful to readers, and contribute profit for publishers.
To get there, publishers should remember three things when publishing this kind of content.
1. Maintain your editorial standards. If you want readers to pay attention to your sponsored content in the same way they pay attention to your editorial content, it needs to be held to similar standards. Therefore it must be relevant to the news cycle, have a unique perspective on the topic, and not be overtly self-promotional. While this might sound like a tough sell for paying customers, in the end their brand will benefit from the increased authenticity and from the opportunity to build a platform of insightful commentary. In my experience, they will ultimately thank you.
2. Provide value to the reader. Brands pay good money for space in your publication; let them say what they want. Wrong! You’re serving the wrong master. Put the reader first. If you fail to do so neither readers nor advertisers will be listening. Every time a publisher allows a paid content provider to go wild with self-promotional content, it reinforces readers’ behavior to treat paid content the same way they treat all the other ads they see. Or rather, don’t see. By producing relevant, interesting, albeit biased pieces with concrete takeaways for the reader, publishers and content producers can re-train their audiences to spend time looking at sponsored columns and bring real results to all parties involved.
3. Keep it in “On-Brand”. Your readers have come to expect a certain type of content and writing style from your publication. You’ve built a brand that keeps them coming back. So remember that renting out space to anyone with a keyboard and a checkbook is a quick way to lose the trust of your readers and dilute the brand you’ve worked hard to create. Sponsored content is a privilege not a right. Choose your contributors wisely, and liberally edit what they bring to the table to be sure it matches the topics, tone, and style your readership has come to love.
Given their position on the front lines of the business world, there’s no reason why corporate content providers can’t contribute informative, highly readable pieces that audiences will enjoy as much as a publication’s native content. Publishers need to make sure they hold the content to the highest standards if they want to maintain that trust from their readers. So here’s your goal: when readers see a “sponsored content” logo at the top of the page, it doesn’t have to translate to “skip this ad.”