Why content marketing should be going native

It's a new form of branded content. It's being used by big clients, like Porsche and Virgin Mobile. It's just held its own first-ever US summit, in Atlanta. And content marketing agencies have an opportunity to claim the discipline before it takes hold in the UK.

Native advertising is the term being given to branded content placed within third-party editorial sites. It "goes native" in the sense that it's created for its editorial surroundings; instead of a simple, same-everywhere ad, it's targeted content, sitting alongside the publisher's content, but produced by brands themselves.

As branded content, it's not really advertising at all; it's just being called that. By publishers, who want to sell the space, and distance it from their own editorial content; and of course by advertising agencies, who want to hang on to the work for themselves. But in fact, it's branded content - and it's surely a field in which content marketing agencies can excel.

An increasing number of online editorial sites are now running this branded content. A US title like The Atlantic describes it as sponsor content. Here, for example, is a visual feature on design and technology which has been provided by Porsche. Here's an article about Pixar, from Sony, associating the brand with creative innovation.  And here's a feature on life expectancy, from HSBC.

The content may be written, it may be filmed, or it may be curated. Here, for example, is a smartphone video clip feature, 15 Unwritten Rules of the Beach, which Virgin Mobile have put on to the BuzzFeed site. Other big-name users of native work include IBM, Canon and Oracle. And like all branded content, native work may well not be an obvious promotion for the sponsor; here is software company SAP placing content in Forbes about... sandwiches!

Success, of course, lies in creating content which is right for the brand, which is paying for it; right for the publisher, which needs to retain its identity; and right for the audience, who must find value in the content if they are to engage. All of which we're good at doing.

And whereas advertising on websites is increasingly being seen as intrusive and clunky, this branded content is not only engaging with a site's readers, but they are then sharing it, a form of approval and additional circulation which advertising itself can rarely achieve.

Consider 15 Things You Didn't Know About 15 Captains, Commanders and Conquerors. It's an article "written" by Captain Morgan. It may be trivial, but it's more engaging than yet another rum ad; it has a visible Like/Share/Tweet count to demonstrate its popularity; and it was picked up by five other sites like Stumbleupon, which have circulated it even further.

Don't confuse this with traditional advertorials, which were produced for brands by print publishers. In that model, brands bought into the audience understanding, creative and production skills of the publishers themselves. Like print ads, native work bypasses that process; the brands (or their agencies) produce the work, while the publisher's platform simply hosts it.

The big difference from a brand's other online work is that the brands do not own these platforms. Which makes it ideal for clients looking to extend beyond their own media to engage with new or wider audiences.

Publishers see this as a new revenue opportunity. Hearst have just announced from the US that they will carry native content on their magazine sites, including Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and Esquire.

And content marketing agencies should see this as a revenue opportunity too. Digital agencies are now establishing "newsrooms" to generate branded content in response to trends and events. But our agencies already have an editorial background, and an innate understanding of branded content.

Shouldn't we be going native?

Posted by: Paul Keers, London Bureau Chief, White Light Media

Posted in CMA blog
22ndJul 2013

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