Content and online ads need a little love

Aug. 13, 2013 | by jo-ann.fortune

With content marketing becoming an essential element in the digital mix and traditional online ad formats losing influence; a convergence of earned and paid media could bolster both.

According to The Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 94% of marketers in the UK have adopted content marketing techniques, with UK marketers investing more in the area than their international peers – 64% planning to increase their content marketing spend in 2013.

But while this should be good news for Google and web users – in theory both being served with the useful, quality content they require to make informed decisions –, it also means that brands are competing for attention in an increasingly saturated information market.

Meanwhile, Forbes.com digital media specialist Lewis DVorkin recently highlighted the trend in dwindling click-through rates for IAB-approved banners and rectangle ads, reportedly now down to just 0.05%.

So content and online ads both need a little love.

Native advertising

Popular content marketing types revealed in CMI’s report – Content Marketing in the UK: 2013 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends – included onsite articles (90%), blogs (78%) and articles on third-party websites (74%). But while promoting such content through a brand’s social channels may engage and build a relationship with an existing audience, to reach new consumers we need to go where they are; we need to go ‘native’.

“We will always get the best results by promoting brand messaging and assets in a manner that fits comfortably with consumer behaviour within a specific media environment,” says iCrossing’s head of media Sam Fenton-Elstone, when giving an explanation for the buzz word.

“If people are consuming content on an editorial site – be that by reading a news story or watching a video – the intent is different to if they’d typed a product into Google. In this environment they’re much less open to being sold to – instead the opportunity lies with promoting great brand-led content.”

To succeed in native advertising, marketers must first define what that success looks like. And while the Interflora-effect may have seen reductions to ‘advertorials’, the most common form of native advertising, the format is effective for brand awareness programmes when viewed as one part of an integrated campaign mix.

Indeed with 78% of UK respondents naming brand awareness as a key organisational goal for content marketing – customer acquisition (75%) and engagement (71%) making up the top three objectives – it is within this context that advertorials deserve our attention.

Advertorials created on a bespoke basis for third-party sites can be used to grow awareness around brand campaigns, increase engagement and new customer leads through surveys and competitions and provide opportunities for both influencer and consumer sharing.

But what about all that content that brands house on site? Beneficial for natural search visibility and customer loyalty, this can also be utilised to attract new potential customers through content discovery platforms such as Outbrain.

“Outbrain allows brands to reach new audiences through their existing content,” Outbrain’s business development manager Gemma Slavin describes. “Whilst traditional advertising is somewhat forced upon audiences, behavioral targeting helps publishers to recommend content that is interesting to each unique user, resulting in a highly engaged audience that has self-selected particular content.”

Outbrain reports an average 44% increase in traffic through the platform compared to search and 46% compared to social media, success that it attributes to serving truly useful content to its 375 million unique monthly users.

“To build trust with the reader and enhance rather than divert from their content journey, we only work with highest quality content that meets the same editorial standards as the publisher site on which it is recommended.”

And while these content links themselves are unlikely to influence natural search results, the implications for personalised search and improved user data signals from longer dwell times are certainly ones worth investigating.

Closing the content circle

As well as promoting brand content, display can also be utilised to help create it; engaging targeted audiences to share their insight to shape content that are then more invested in.

Last year iCrossing ran a UGC-focused Facebook ad campaign for Visit Wales, inviting residents of Llandudno and Conway to recommend their favourite places to eat out to feed into on-site guides.

With reported click-through-rates of 2.8% for ads and 7.5% for sponsored stories, and having attracted near 1,500 Facebook actions, not only did the campaign meet the client’s engagement and reach objectives for minimum cost; it also provided real recommendations to be curated into trustworthy guides for tourists.

iCrossing’s head of content Trisha Brandon explains: “Given that Llandudno and Conwy is not the biggest area, we were initially concerned that we wouldn’t get the volume and diversity of opinion to create city guides based on local insight. But the Facebook ads really helped draw people to the page to ensure the resulting content had the diversity we were looking for.”

“One of the advantages of working within a multi-service agency is that content, social and display specialists are able to bring together elements of owned, earned and paid media for maximum benefit”.

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    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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