Words from Waller: Diving into the Debate of Native Advertising

As the debate on native advertising continues to rumble on and the FTC and others weigh in on the rights and wrongs, there’s a conspicuous lack of attention being paid to what the consumer thinks of all this. Today’s digital consumer seems perfectly able to separate stories from media owners and advertisers and the FTC interest seems to be quaintly ASME-like in its focus on labeling, or as the legal profession would have it – passing off. It seems that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck and the consumer must be protected.

If native advertising is ultimately to be a more contextually relevant way for a brand to promote its message, the consumer will decide if it’s effective or not.

However, the native advertising debate is creating some confusion around content marketing and the consequent inclination of media and advertising agencies to link them together.

I do take issue with Rob Norman’s definition of content marketing. He appears to be saying that the linking of the word marketing with the word content means the same as native advertising, which it doesn’t.

So what is content marketing?

Content marketing is using content to market your product or service. It’s about engaging your audience with your brand through journalistic storytelling.

In our view, it’s also about having a point of view about the world, expressed through the lens of your company, brand or people.

Content marketing takes place where it is contextually relevant to your brand – that is, it lives where your customer would expect to find it: in your social streams, on your website, in your emails and within your retail environment. When your content is in someone else’s environment and is being called native advertising, repeat the phrase “native advertising” again and, this time, put the emphasis on the advertising part because that is the role it is playing.

At Pace, we’ve been content marketing all our working lives and we think it is incredibly hard to pull off well. It needs a team of people who understand the brand and to how to express the vision, beliefs and tone of voice of that brand or organization and be able to express this, through storytelling, in subtle, engaging and authentic ways.

The word “authentic” is helpful here and it’s a word to keep very close to you when you’re evaluating your own content marketing efforts. Is my content an authentic experience for a reader or user? Do I have permission to be an authority and express a point of view on these subjects?

The greatest compliment a client can pay us (and gratifyingly, it happens often) is that we “get” their brand and their corporate culture as well (or better) than their own people. That means with our skills, we are able to communicate their brand and culture to the outside world better than anyone else.

The content debate – curation or creation?

Generally speaking, real content marketing isn’t curated content served up by automated feeds – however clever and algorithmically adjacent to your own brand’s content it may look. If you’re being seduced by sleek technological solutions that will fill your channels with well-written content, ask yourself if you would tell your ad agency to stop producing ads or your PR agency to stop producing press releases and curate other people’s instead?

It’s all about reaching your audience and it’s all about RESULTS!

However, there is a worrying strand of thought in some of the latest, greatest adopters of content marketing. By embracing content and creating multiple new channels of editorial content, brand perception will be transformed and that will automatically result in increased sales.

Well, no.

At Pace, we learned the digital truth of this as long ago as 2006 when we created an online magazine for The North Face and tried to drive traffic there to provide an additive brand content experience and an ROI. The North Face (always savvy marketers and fanatical brand stewards) said “thank you very much”, took the content, put it where the audience was (their website), married it to their e-commerce and sales attribution modeling and then looked for ways to leverage their content, their sponsorships and their beliefs into a wider ecosystem. It’s been an enormously successful approach for them and one that we have adopted for ourselves ever since.

As a marketer, you generally know where your existing customers and many of your potential customers are interacting with your brand. Therefore, it’s relatively easy to test a content marketing approach and to see whether it is going to work to add support to your business and marketing objectives – in addition to the brand amplification that comes as standard.

We take a “test and learn” approach with our clients to see what works and what doesn’t against their very clear business objectives. Once we’ve built a content marketing program that is demonstrably effective, it can then feed a much wider ecosystem than the place where it originally resided. That’s the beauty of content marketing – our ROPE model (Report Once Publish Everywhere) can ensure cost-efficient content creation across multiple channels.

But we never forget the original purpose and objectives of the core program and its need to continue to deliver outstanding results – measured, if possible, by our clients own analytics suite.

How does an 80:1 ROI sound to you?

Written by Craig Waller

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