What’s the Difference Between Sponsored and Native Content?

Content marketers have choices. Once they’ve chosen a relevant target audience and developed the right messaging, they need to decide: sponsored or native content?

Both sponsored and native content are types of paid media. Although they’re definitionally similar, they’re not the same thing.

Native content is any piece of media that looks like it belongs on the platform where it’s featured. It’s more similar to a traditional ad than a piece of sponsored content.

Sponsored content also tries to fit in with its surroundings, but it looks less like an advertisement and more like a media placement. Sponsored content is often developed in partnership with the target publication or its partners.

Confused yet? Let’s dig into their common use cases and types.

Native Content: Boost Your Reach

Native content is a great tool for brand marketers looking to boost their organic reach. Consumers are more likely to view native content if it appears relevant and interesting. Traditional ads are more likely to be stopped by an ad blocker or outright ignored by the reader. 

The trade-off is that native content might not clearly display your brand like traditional advertising does. Although subtlety isn’t always smart when it comes to advertising, it does mean the leads you get are more likely to convert into sales. 

Using the Content 

Let’s take two of the most clear-cut examples of native advertising. These types of advertising fit in so well with their surroundings that you might not even notice that they’re tied to a brand at first.

The first form of native content can be found in a simple Google search. Native search ads show up when you search keywords that advertisers have paid to target. 

For example, open up Google and search for “Google ads.” The first result looks like any other organic search result, but it’s actually a paid ad from Google Ads. If it wasn’t preceded by “Ad” in tiny, bold letters, you wouldn’t know it was an advertisement.

Let’s move onto another common type of native content: social media ads. Native content on these sites looks no different than any other post you’d find in your news feed. It’s not until you inspect the ad closely that you’d recognize it as an advertisement.

Sponsored Content: Build Brand Awareness

Unlike a native ad, sponsored content is a chance for your brand to get some quality time with its audience. Because it highlights your brand in an organic way, it’s a great way to build awareness.

The downside of sponsored content is that it may cost more than alternative forms of advertising. Partnering with an influencer or a publisher may cost a pretty penny, so be sure you’ve done your research before committing to a partnership. The biggest publisher or the influencer with the most followers isn’t always the best way to go. 

Experiment with smaller sponsorships first. You don’t want to find out your audience doesn’t read The New York Times after you’ve sponsored a frontpage story. 

Creating the Content

When your brand creates sponsored content, you develop media that looks not like an ad, but like any other story on site. You weave your brand into the narrative, educating readers about it as part of the story. 

Say you own a lemonade stand. You might work with a regional travel magazine to create an article titled “Best Summer Drink Stops,” with your stand highlighted as one of the stops. Aside from a sponsored content disclosure, your story would look the same as any other in the magazine. 

Another place you’ll find sponsored content is in social media influencers’ feeds. These personalities partner with brands to develop content that aligns with their other posts. 

For this type of sponsored content, your lemonade stand could work with an influencer who reviews food and beverages. You’d give her a free drink in exchange for an honest review on your platform of choice. 

The best way to find out whether native advertising and sponsored content will benefit your company is simple: Try them out for yourself. Paid media deserves a place in your strategy. Whether it’s a staple or a sideshow, however, is up for you to decide. 

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