Recently there has been tremendous buzz around native advertising -- and even buzz about the buzz. You know what I mean: One minute marketers are criticizing each other for glorifying it, the next, for underestimating its capabilities.
Traditionally, native advertising is thought of as a branding and awareness tool. Marketers are able to hold consumers' attention for longer periods of time and provide them with an abundance of information on their brand, new products, or whatever else they may be promoting.
There are certain components, however, that are attractive to direct marketers that are being utilized in a slightly modified process in order to effectively run customer-acquisition campaigns.
The industry is still undecided on the exact definition. Based on a report by the Online Publishers Association, 93 percent of publishers agree that a "native ad" is an advertisement integrated into content that lives on the same domain name. Essentially, they are ads that don't look like ads at first glance because they mimic the content of the site that they are hosted on. I personally have been "fooled" by the ads in my Facebook news feed on numerous occasions.
Since the way that content is presented is so dynamic, there are a lot of different forms that a native ad can take. It looks like a post on Facebook, a tweet on Twitter, an article on Forbes, and a video on YouTube.
There are typically two main components to a native ad: The ad unit and the content that it leads to (both of which are hosted on the publisher site). The CTRs on the initial ad are very impressive, but this statistic can be deceptive since it refers to the number of people that will see your content, not the number of visitors that you can expect to visit your website.
For branding and awareness this is OK, but if you are looking for the consumer to sign up or make a purchase then it's generally best to simplify the process flow and remove any unnecessary steps.
Show me the numbers
In general, 70 percent of internet users want to learn about a product through content, as opposed to a traditional advertisement. A study done by Sharethrough, which actually tracked eye movement, yielded that consumers are more welcoming and attentive to native ads.
Participants gave almost an equal amount of attention to native ads and the actual website content. In addition, consumers looked at native ads 53 percent more frequently than they looked at banner ads.
On the conversion side, native ads registered 18 percent higher lift in purchase intent vs. the 9 percent for banner ads. Lastly, 32 percent of participants said they would share the native ad with a friend or family member.
After monitoring beyond click-through rates, it has been observed that native ads yield higher post-click conversion rates with lower eCPAs. In addition, publishers have shown that they were able to generate much higher impressions on performance-based campaigns with native ads, proving that they generate more value for both publisher and advertiser.
Optimizing for direct response
Foremost, it is best to "trim the branding/awareness fat" in order to have a more efficient conversion flow. Don't utilize the content portion (advertorial) and instead, present consumers with marketing copy in the initial ad that leads directly to the advertiser's landing page. This allows you to still take advantage of the high CTRs, and more importantly, the ads are also presented at natural transitions of users' attention (i.e., at the end of an article).
We, as consumers, generally consume content in a systematic way and navigate online with a purpose, which is usually not to find ads. Interacting with banners takes our attention away from our original goal, which is part of the reason why they are less effective.
Native ad units present you with an option so that the moment that you are finished with one thing, you can choose to look onto the next. In this scenario, the ad doesn't struggle to pull us away from something that we want to do but takes advantage of a break in our consumption so that we are more willing to interact.
There is no doubt that the native advertising market will grow. Platforms, publishers, advertisers, and third parties will adapt and create systems to accommodate it. Better integration and presence will bring native ads into the ecosystem, specific native ad marketplaces will emerge, and purchasing processes will be simplified.
The question that some of us cynics may be asking is, "How long will it be before consumers develop some form of native ad blindness?" You have to expect that consumers will eventually become better able to tell the publisher content from native ads.
My opinion is that as long as marketers can continue to provide value, in the form of offers as well as content, then consumers will continue to reward us with engagement. Publishers will have to police the campaigns being run on their sites in order to ensure that their ad inventory remains effective and therefore lucrative for them.
Native advertising has proven to be more than just a short term trend. The ads are highly effective if properly executed and are generating interest and demand from marketers. This marks a step for our industry moving toward fully customized online advertising, not just based on audience but on publisher design and content. This will ultimately provide consumers with a seamless experience between publisher and advertiser.
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