By Matt Gower
The rise of native advertising and content marketing have represented a fundamental shift in business model for many online publishers. Indeed, for some players such as Buzzfeed it’s been the main reason behind their success.
Having looked at the three main approaches to native advertising in my previous post, I now want to break it down and look specifically at what the medium means for publishers, where the opportunities are and what the potential pitfalls might be.
When done well, content marketing can be a win-win-win for publishers, advertisers and readers alike. Done poorly, however, the fallout can be significant and costly.
Quality vs quantity
As with any form of online advertising the key to sustainable success is in drawing the line between maximising revenue and minimising user annoyance. Whilst the enhanced value of native over display means that it’s hugely tempting for a publisher to flood their site with sponsored content, an overdose of native can be catastrophic.
We’ve all experienced an overload of traditional display advertising on sites and know how annoying that can be. Native advertising is in its very nature relatively intrusive and high-impact so it’s therefore vital that its overall impact on a site is well-balanced.
Tone of voice
One of the trickiest aspects of getting native ‘right’ is deciding on the tone of voice in which your native content will speak. Advertisers will, by their nature, want to speak to readers in their brand voice, whilst native best practice would dictate that the content should sound the same as the rest of the content on the site.
Resolving this tension is vital to success – too much brand voice will make native content stand out like a sore thumb but, at the same time, too rigid an insistence on authenticity can alienate advertisers.
Who’s the writer
Only a very select group of publishers, including the New York Times, have reached the stage where they’ve hired a dedicated native content team, but the identity of the writer is important when building a native publisher strategy.
If you’re planning a long term native strategy then you probably don’t want to just rely on your existing editorial team as it will impact on production of pure editorial content. Conversely, you also don’t want to outsource writing to the advertiser and their agency teams if you care about the quality and authenticity of the content.
Establishing a process for creating quality content is vital to building a long-term native strategy.
Church vs. state
Content marketing is, by definition, blurring the traditional lines between church and state – editorial and commercial. Creating commercially funded content that sits alongside ‘pure’ editorial is always going to be risky, and the cost of getting this wrong can be huge.
The potential issues are clear – if you fail to adequately differentiate your native from your editorial then readers will quickly come to question your editorial worth. Similarly, if writers are too closely aligned with the brands for whom they’re writing native content then their independence is brought into question.
A clear set of guidelines setting out the differentiation between native and pure, commercial and editorial, must be in place and all stakeholders, editorial and commercial, must be aligned with them.
The implication of all of the above is the potential for significant brand impact. If readers start to perceive your site as merely the mouthpiece for commercial interests, or that your editorial is dictated by advertiser investment, then they will quickly desert you.
Conversely, if you can maintain a clear distinction between advertising and editorial but, at the same time, make your native content as compelling as the rest of it, then you can actually help build brand value whilst also building sustainable revenue streams. Recognising this potential, both positive and negative, is vital in planning and operating your native strategy.
The benefits of native are clear – it can be financially lucrative and, when done right, can enhance rather than compromise your editorial offer.
However, to tap into these benefits it shouldn’t be approached lightly and should only be instigated once you fully understand the possibilities, pitfalls and processes that matter.