a-perfect-match image

A perfect match

Matching a brand’s expertise with a publisher’s storytelling and distribution has turned out to be a success. Content marketing fulfills publishers’ needs for new business models and is all about leveraging competitive advantages.

Since the New York Times in 2014 launched their in-house content marketing department T Brand Studios, publishers all over the world have followed in similar fashion: producing and distributing content on behalf of advertisers.

Commonly categorized as both native advertising and branded content, it sure has been subject to much debate in the media industry. Despite that, even the most conservative of publishers are jumping on the bandwagon.

Worldwide native advertising spend is expected to double – from 31 billion USD in 2015 to 59 billion in 2018, according to Adyoulike, a native advertising network. While native advertising as a whole does not solely include publishers’ content marketing efforts, it says a lot about the direction we are heading in.

A staggering result

For an advertiser to have a content strategy is perhaps as given as a management consultant’s powerpoint, including the word “synergy”. In Schibsted, publications were quick to launch branded content departments. One of VG’s first content marketing pieces was an article for movie distributor Nordisk Film, and their movie “The Wave”. The article quickly generated more than 300,000 page views, both from VG.no and viral traffic. Considering the population in Norway is 5,000,000, that number is quite staggering. While we don’t see numbers like that every day, they are not uniquely spectacular either.

Users visit online newspapers to be updated, informed, inspired or engaged – and do so by reading, watching and listening to content, in some form. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that branded content click rates are outperforming those of display advertising.

What has been more surprising though, is how often branded content is head to head with editorial content. More often than not, VG’s branded content campaigns enter the top 20 list of most clicked content from the front page.

Accepted by users

Time spent on articles and completion rates on videos are comparable to editorial content. Articles shared from VG’s Facebook account usually gain the same amount of reach and engagement as expected from editorial posts, in some cases even more. There is no need to doubt whether the user accepts the branded content format. In the age of user experience, branded content clearly fits the bill.

Transparency has been the main talking point so far. It shouldn’t be. First of all, labeling the content should not be hard, at least not while we adapt a new format over time. Second, there are no incentives not to be transparent; in fact, the whole purpose for the advertiser is that the reader connects the content to the brand. Although fundamentally important, expect less talk about transparency as publishers improve their labeling standards and users become more used to branded content as a format.

A core competence

Seen from a publisher’s business perspective, branded content is basically all about leveraging competitive advantages.

Publishers are experts at storytelling, and at distributing content to their audiences. Branded content is a publisher doing what she is best at, but in another format. It is a business model that plays to your core competency.

For advertisers, building brand by telling stories makes sense too. A 2015 Boston Consulting Group study showed that 60 percent of Americans do not believe traditional advertising is based on facts. That makes alarm bells ring for any advertiser. How do you sell your products to an audience that do not trust you?

At the same time, 96 percent of the respondents said that their trust of a brand increases when a brand tells them something without trying to sell them something. If there is one thing that the content marketing trend has shown us, it is that brands too have every chance of telling great stories. Matching a brand’s expertise with a publisher’s storytelling and distribution is by all means a good combination.

As long as user experience remains uncompromised, with clear labeling and good content, branded content will continue growing. The users get more relevant ads. The advertisers get a great way of communicating with their audiences. And the publishers get a digital and profitable business model. Everybody wins.

6 pieces of advice to native advertisers

Choose a relevant destination and cooperate
When choosing where to distribute your message, make sure that it is where your audience is and that it is the right context for your brand. You also need to find out what type of content that works best in the context–  everything from topics, language to length and structure. Successful campaigns are sprung out of successful collaborations between publisher and advertiser.

Dare to be customer-centric
Instead of thinking primarily about how your ad is going to drive sales, think about how this piece of content is going to meet the needs of your potential customers. What content can you provide that will interest, inform and provide value to your audience and leave them wanting more?

Dont talk about yourself
Don’t promote your company too much, but tell a story to achieve your goals. Native ads that have an inside-out perspective, or try to close a deal straight away, rarely works.

Be transparent
Make sure the users understand that it is an ad that they are clicking on and consuming. Taking shortcuts only lead to bad will for all parties involved.

Have patience
Native advertising is a long-term commitment and investment. It seldom pays off quickly. Campaigns are usually most effective at putting your brand top of mind, not driving immediate conversion, although there are exceptions.

Think like a reader
Last but not least – ask yourself if you would click on the content? Would you enjoy consuming it? And would you even share it with your friends? If you cannot say yes to at least two out of the three questions you still have work to do.

Josefine Kvarnström
Head of Schibsted Content Studio Sweden