What Enterprise Marketers Must Know About Native Content Now

You can imagine that in an industry like publishing, breaking the traditional mold and potentially compromising ethics in favor of higher revenue streams might start a small- to gigantic-sized fire. Enter native advertising, the ugly stepchild of content marketing and display ads.

Yet the numbers are hard to ignore, especially for struggling media companies that have felt the weight of digital media crushing down on their shoulders for the past decade or so. Throw in the constant array of confusion around native editorial ads – consumer confusion, Google confusion, publisher confusion, and even government confusion – and you arrive at the nexus of innovation and complete chaos. Is there something to native ads that can help publishers such as The New York Times remain relevant and drive profit margins for media companies through the roof?

A new survey from Cxense in partnership with Editor & Publisher discovered that, yes, there is something special to native ads when they are executed properly. Research found that 88 percent of polled publishing executives said their companies’ digital revenues would increase over the next 12 months. When asked how, 63 percent of the group said digital revenues would grow through ad sales—the top channel.

Because native content and ads are a hot topic among publishers, their marketing goals have inevitably changed, too. Approximately 36 percent said that to generate more ad sales, they would focus on proving to advertisers that they understand their readers and can target them effectively through organic and paid editorial content (again, the top reported concern among polled executives).

The following is a case study that proves the potential in native ads and the framework that has helped us build out our own native ad strategy:

General Electric Breaks Through with Native Content

When GE needed to reposition its brand within the health care community, it looked to embed itself in social media conversations and increase its share of voice and reach of its sponsored content. The brand turned to Beeby Clark+Meyler and BBDO to launch one of its first plays in native advertising. You can read the eight-slide case study here.

The agency partners advised GE to take over social sharing functions across major health-oriented websites, encouraging readers to share GE content via Facebook, Twitter, and email. The campaign resulted in a total reach of 5.1 million people and a click-through rate of over 8 percent. Beeby Clark+Meyler said in the case study that the campaign remains one of GE’s biggest successes to date.

But we’re not all GE (though many of us wish we were – or not!). Here’s how I look at native content creation:

To Create Native Content, or To Not Create Native Content

There’s a lot of confusion about native content, but here is a quick, blunt breakdown:

  • Readers can’t always tell what’s sponsored and what’s organic content. When they feel misled, they erupt in anger.
  • Google doesn’t quite have its own stance yet. A year ago, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, published a video that warned publishers against the consequences of misleading readers with branded content disguised as nonprofit publishing.
  • The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t get it at all. The government branch held a multi-day conference last year just to understand what native content means.
  • Publishers don’t know how to separate their newsrooms, generating claims of corruption and selling out, and driving purists to the streets in protest.

Okay, But What Do I Need to Know as a Brand?

Native advertising is still relatively new, but because it skipped the initial mismanagement of early-day content marketing, its metrics system seems slightly advanced. For instance, many brands measure the success of their native ads by evaluating time on page and conversion rates, while content marketers may still be stuck in a system of gauging success through total visits.

At Skyword, we use native content to drive awareness around crucial industry pain points. Within the sponsored content (such as this article about agency content marketing), we have preemptively created a long-form asset that provides readers with a solution to the industry pain point. Google Analytics shows us how we draw traffic to the download page, and we can then determine the percentage of traffic and converted leads we received from our native content.

We work with publishers such as Digiday to create content that aligns with our business goals but speaks in the tone of voice that resonates with Digiday’s audience. For me, it’s a great way to learn another approach to content creation and see the direct results of an audience that we have yet to acquire. I can then take that experience and apply it to upcoming content for the Content Standard.

In fact, I would argue that content studios attached to major publishers such as Digiday are great mentors to brands looking to operate more like publishers. I would advise every brand in the beginning or intermediate stages of developing a newsroom to partner with media companies to learn the tricks of the trade.

And that’s where I see an even greater opportunity for media companies—mentoring enterprise brands. With businesses such as MasterCard looking to act more like a newsroom, and with publishers such as Forbes looking to act more like a brand, a knowledge exchange between the two organizations could prove to be the single most effective way to increase digital ad revenues for the publisher and break through to new markets for the brand.

There’s much to be won in the native ad space, and while there will always be critics of anything that blurs the line, it’s important for the champions of digital marketing to push onward so our children and their children will still get to enjoy such luxuries as The New York Times.

This post originally appeared on Skyword’s Content Standard.