3 steps for awesome native ad campaigns

Travis Miller | Partner Success Manager, BrandForge, DDM Publisher Solutions | @travis_miller1 | October 2, 2015

Native advertising is hard. Sure, publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vox and many others make it look seamless, but not all of us have the Midas touch (and by Midas touch I mean thousands of dollars, full-time employees and countless other resources to dedicate to our native products).

One of native’s most challenging components is striking a balance between audience and advertiser. It’s hard for an advertiser to justify allocating advertising budget to a premium product that isn’t meant to drive direct response results.

These three tips will help you appease an advertiser while maintaining a shareable, consumable native product.

Focus on the audience

Dollars and cents don’t equate to editorial muscle. Native gives advertisers unprecedented access to a loyal, trusting and engaged audience. Their content will not appear on the right rail or as a pop-up; rather, it is mixed directly into the editorial queue. Because you give advertisers a portion of this most sacred real estate, audience experience must be the pinnacle litmus test for content quality. Advertising dollars do not supersede reader experience.

Sure, this principle sounds great, but pragmatically how is it implemented? After all, advertisers are spending money on this premium product. At Deseret Digital we developed a native advertising style guide that sets basic editorial ground rules. Our style guide assuages myriad potential contention points by outlining our creative/editorial standards up front. It covers everything from topics we won’t write about to how many in-text links we will include in a native article. In many instances our sales representatives introduce the style guide in their initial conversations with a potential advertising partners, thus allowing everyone a clear understanding of how native will work.

If you want to create awesome native content you must focus on your audience. Giving up ground to advertisers will only hurt the performance of their branded content and lose you the trust of your audience — ultimately damaging your native product.

Randy Jackson rule

To keep our audiences engaged and consuming, native cannot come across as a blatant pitch for the advertiser. We call this the Randy Jackson rule. It seems that even a cursory understanding of the nuance of this American Idol judge yields the fact that he simply doesn’t like anything pitchy.

We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Jackson. Pitching an advertiser’s service, product or offering is a sure-fire way to watch an article’s performance plummet and the negative comments skyrocket. You have worked for years, and in most cases decades, to cultivate a certain brand promise — something that a pitchy article can destroy in one fell swoop.

The aforementioned style guide is a crucial tool that helps explicate your brand promise for advertisers. The importance of creating a style guide and ensuring that both advertiser and publisher see eye-to-eye cannot be stressed enough.

Balanced attack

In football there are two means of advancing the ball: Running and passing. Both can be extremely effective, but rarely does one work without the other. If a defense knows that an offense has a poor passing game, they can stack their players on the line of scrimmage and better prepare for the run. Conversely, if the run game is weak they can take the players off the line and better cover the pass. Native is analogous. When our chief goals aim to raise brand awareness and show thought leadership, we must take a balanced approach.

Think of articles that aim to purely entertain an audience as the passing game (examples here, here and here). The passing game is sexy. It wows the audience with little effort and has the potential to do this:

Conversely, articles that employ a heavier dose of thought leadership and expertise from the advertiser are like the run game (examples here, here and here). The run game is where the rubber meets the road. It allows the offense to control the tempo of the game and bring the fight to the defense (or for our purposes, allows the advertiser’s expertise to take a prominent role). These types of articles may not appear as sexy as their high-flying counterpart, but analytics show that they perform at the same rate and have just as much potential to score touchdowns.

Continuing to pivot and evolve is crucial to your native product’s success. Don’t be content with simply producing articles. Incorporate infographics, videos and other forms of digital media. In keeping with our football analogy, consider these forms of native multimedia your special teams. And just like special teams on the football field, these offerings give you the opportunity to break the game wide open!

We should always strive to bring the best content to our audiences, for at the end of the day they decide whether or not our native products are successful. So focus on them, avoid being pitchy, and don’t be afraid to entertain and leverage your advertiser’s expertise.

Editor's note: if you're interested in learning more about native advertising, register for our free webinar based on our popular whitepaper: The 7 Deadly Sins of Native Advertising.