The first time I ever ran a native advertising campaign, I failed miserably. I’d just started working for Taboola, and I was tasked with distributing a recent blog post on our discovery platform.
The blog post covered a new partnership that we had recently made, which provided advertisers access to millions of images to A/B test their campaigns—for free.
Still, it didn’t work.
I wasted $2,000 and two weeks of my life on gathering impressions that turned into site visits that mostly bounced. The campaign failed because the content didn’t take into account the mindset of the native user (who was surfing on the open web and never intended to come across our brand). They didn’t know our brand at all, or why they should care about us, and the content we had running did nothing to close this information gap.
This gap is critical when running a native advertising campaign and can make or break your success.
So, if you’ve ever run a native campaign that failed—I feel you. I’m going to walk you through how to create branded content that resonates (for real) with your intended audience when using a native platform.
First Things First—What is Native Advertising?
If you’ve recently started dabbling with native advertising, you’re not alone. Native is growing, and eMarketer expects the growth spurt to continue. They predict that the US alone will spend nearly $44 billion on native ads in 2019, and almost $53 billion in 2020, when native ads will represent nearly 65% of digital display ad spending.
The Native Advertising Institute’s definition of this advertising option is the best (IMHO):
“Native advertising is paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.”
Native is joining the popular crowd that usually attracts most of the advertising dollars (i.e. search and social) because it works. Native ads blend in with surrounding content on publisher sites, mobile carriers, social media channels and elsewhere in ways that aren’t disruptive.
Native’s User Mindset
When I talk about native advertising, I’m mostly referring to native ads on publisher sites—particularly discovery.
Consumers interacting with content discovery platforms are receptive to new brands—they're ripe for educating or entertaining. This is because they’re discovering content at the end of the article or content on publisher sites, when they’ve just finished a piece of content and are ready to discover something interesting and new.
We call this person an explorer. Unlike a search user, who has a clear intent in mind, or social users, who are looking for content related to themselves or their friends, discovery users don’t feel disrupted by unwanted information, because they’re ready to explore what’s next.
Speaking of those publisher sites, buying native ads on their homepages, inside their articles, or below their stories enables you to reach large audiences in ideal environments. Their traffic is quality, and their space is safe for your brand. Publishers don't generally run inappropriate content that you wouldn't want next to your ad.
When to Use Native Ads
Native ads reach prospects at all stages of the marketing funnel. Use them to:
Build brand awareness among users who might never otherwise learn about you. Earned media, blog posts, infographics, podcasts and videos are particularly useful for this kind of top-of-the-funnel strategy.
Generate leads by offering content that requires an email address to access, such as a webinar or e-book, or a personalized quiz or survey.
Retarget visitors to your website or product pages to move them down the funnel.
Drive sales with specific calls-to-action when users are ready to make a purchase.
While that content may sound par for the course when it comes to digital marketing, it’s a bit of a different ballgame in a native environment.
Do you Have a Native Advertising Content Problem?
Are you hitting your goals for your native campaigns? If not, I’d bet it’s because of one of the following issues:
Expectation setting. Your content isn’t delivering on what was promised, isn’t authentic, or isn’t genuine.
Unclear value. You’re not providing enough information to your user about who you are, why you’re the right person to provide them with this information or entertainment, and why he or she should care.
Boring creatives. Your thumbnail images, headlines or native videos aren’t resonating with people when they see them.
Native ads grab readers who are in content consumption mode, but you can't assume their curiosity will guarantee they will look at your ads, click on them, and take the post-click actions you desire. To achieve this, you’ll need to accomplish all of the following.
Be Genuine: Provide Real Value to Users
The best way to be genuine is to make your content really valuable. Remember, native users are likely having first, or close to first, interaction with your brand, so it’s incredibly important to put their needs first.
You want to genuinely teach users something new, help them solve problems, or maybe even make them laugh. Do this and you'll move closer to gaining their trust and, perhaps, winning their business.
One of the most genuine pieces of ad content I’ve ever seen is Dollar Shave Club’s flagship video—they found a way to get their message across in a genuinely valuable and entertaining way:
If you’re not sure what would resonate, gather ideas for contextually relevant content by surveying customers, monitoring discussions on your social media sites, and analyzing the questions people ask customer service representatives.
Be Authentic and Deliver What You Promise
When taking explorers of content on a journey, make it a good one. Native ads that look and feel like ads don’t perform as well as those that feel authentic—they feel like content that could have been produced by the site they’re advertised on, or by a familiar personality.
Authentic content is important, but the content on your landing page is half the battle. You also need to make a good impression by choosing strong, eye-catching headlines that accurately reflect the content you're providing. And opt for pleasing images that will delight readers.
Nothing is more authentic than earned media. Boxed, for example, promoted coverage they earned in USA Today to ultimately drive sales.
Choose the Right Type of Content For Your Goals
There are many kinds of content you can direct readers to, including product pages, your website, articles, e-books, photo galleries, videos and quizzes, but not all of them will suit your needs.
Consider your campaign goals and the attributes of your target audience, including age, location and where they are in their buyer's journey. All of your content must relate to your product or service in some way.
This is a good time to talk about the funnel—which looks different for every vertical. Let’s look at the funnel in three general steps:
Awareness. Qualify users who are interested in topics related to your space.
Consideration. Qualify users that might have a need or interest in your product.
Decision. Capture those who are looking to buy.
For example, a finance native advertising funnel might look like this:
In the awareness stage, this mortgage lender is qualifying consumers that are generally interested in straightening out their finances. In the consideration stage, an article qualifies consumers who are in the market for a new home, and therefore, likely a mortgage. Finally, retargeting that group with a product page offering low interest rates qualifies those that are ready to make a purchase.
An education native advertising funnel might look like this:
Here, the content looks a bit different, but the idea is the same. First, this online university qualifies consumer with an interest in education, then qualifies those who are considering changing their careers, and finally, retargets those qualified users with information about a degree program.
Finally, a fashion funnel might look like this:
This e-commerce brand starts at the top of the funnel with content that qualifies those who are interested in fashion, then qualifies those that are ready to replace old clothes with new, and finally, sends them a deal they can’t resist.
You get the idea—you’ll want the content to align with the user’s expectations as well as your brand’s goals.
Explain Your Brand and Value Proposition
This is going to sound a little counterintuitive to most marketers, but landing pages that actually have a bit more content on them perform better in native advertising channels.
Because users are likely new to your brand, you’ll need to explain yourself a bit. At the same time, remember that content that is too promotional will turn people away.
Strike a balance by organically embedding brand-related information at the end of your piece. If you include a call-to-action button below your content, explain the benefits readers will get from clicking on the link. Maybe they will get a coupon, access an ebook, or be taken to a product page—either way, let them know.
You don't want users to feel surprised or tricked into reading branded content. Label your work 'sponsored content' or 'paid content,’ and make sure it’s clear that it’s coming for your brand.
Following the same disclosure rules that are used in other advertising settings, and check out the FTC’s guidelines.
In a nutshell:
Don’t try to deceive your audience.
Make sure you’re labeling your ads accordingly.
Disclose any clarifying information upfront.
Finally, How to Build A Native Creative That Drives Consumer Interest
We analyze millions of ads on a weekly basis to provide marketers with real-time insight into how to write headlines, choose images and produce videos that work well for them. Along the way, we’ve learned a few basics. Here are some creative tips:
Use strong photographs. Those that perform well include images with humans expressing emotions, animals and close-up shots. Consider using black and white photos or color images with hues that pop. Leave text and logos out of pictures.
Employ a list format in your title, such as: 'Four reasons to try native advertising today.' Easily digestible content draws in busy readers.
Set user expectations in titles about what happens when they click on an ad. Use words like 'shop' or 'buy' for product pages and 'watch' for video pages.
Always A/B test campaign elements, including titles, images and calls-to-action.
Social Native and Taboola have partnered to help you create the best native ad campaign possible. Taboola customers get 3 free optimized images when they sign up with Social Native here.