Brands, Not Publishers, Should Control Native Ad Conversion Path

Two themes dominate the online advertising conversation in 2014: native advertising and the emergence of the visual Web. Native advertising has seen  marketers scramble to develop go-to-market strategies that best maximize their content assets. With the visual Web -- an evolution driven by an emphasis on visually driven web content -- marketers are turning their attention to platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, both of which have recently grabbed headlines with announcements of major ad initiatives.

At the same time, many brands are advancing their efforts with traditional content marketing strategies and text-driven sponsored initiatives that they hope will artfully and seamlessly blend into consumers’ social media feeds and their favorite content portals. While one can debate the relative benefits of a text-driven or image-centric approach to sponsored content, there is one tactic that no one really discusses that the industry should address: Who should control the native ad conversion path -- brands or publishers?



Research has clearly established the superiority of sponsored content over traditional banner ads in terms of standard digital advertising metrics like mouse-overs or click-throughs.  And if click-throughs are much higher for sponsored content than for banner ads, why do so many of those clicks direct to an article on a publisher’s site? In most implementations of native advertising, where the advertiser has limited explicit messaging beyond a logo and perhaps a widget, the unique voice of the brand is completely lost; this is the voice that communicates the value proposition that ultimately helps drive the consumer into the conversion path.  Without this bridge from the content to something actionable, the consumer may never make it to the sales funnel. 

Advertisers need to be able to measure and optimize every opportunity to maximize their ROI.   Advertisers need to ask themselves, what is the goal of the sponsored content they produce? Purchases? Sign-ups?  Outside of awareness, content needs to serve a greater purpose and ultimately lead consumers to an advertiser’s owned property.  As it currently stands, all too often, the advertiser is relying on whatever metrics the publisher shares -- which are typically quite limited in terms of actionable insights -- and more often are meant to show performance on a particular publisher or technology as opposed to the advertiser’s internal goals.

Native performance indicators, like dwell rates, scroll depth, and sponsored content visits may be useful, but they must be tied to actual user behavior as it relates to the brand. Did dwelling, scrolling, or clicking through actually result in that user entering the brand’s sales funnel at a subsequent date? By understanding the different native KPIs, and tying them to internal performance, brands will be able to improve future content marketing initiatives.

As far as the ultimate objective -- getting your content in front of as many eyeballs as possible -- publishers certainly play a pivotal role in helping you reach your desired audience.  Brands should leverage them for that strength, and not relinquish all the control over messaging, because conversion funnels are managed better by brands than by publishers.

6 comments about "Brands, Not Publishers, Should Control Native Ad Conversion Path".
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  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 10, 2014 at 11:13 a.m.

    Eric, with all due respect -- which I think you will find hard to believe given my next sentence, but Native advertising is complete and utter bullshit -- doesn't mean money can't be made selling bullshit, but advertising a product underneath a blanket of "content" is a joke to consumers -- it just happens to be paying off for companies vested in this business segment today -- but consumers are so much smarter than we give them credit for.

  2. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations, April 10, 2014 at 11:23 a.m.

    Eric (and Ari) - I think you both have very a very narrow concept of what native advertising is. To Eric's point about "the content should be in their own voice" and presumably on their own site - the more it's in the sponsor's voice instead of the publisher's, and potentially not on the publisher's site, the less "native" it is. Content marketing strategies (of which native is a subset) can drive sales but they are a notch higher in the purchase funnel. I have noted that many digital marketers are fixated on the bottom of the funnel, while most CMOs have a broader perspective (and this is why digital marketers remain perplexed at why ALL ad $ aren't flowing their way already). Ari, while I would dispute the notion that brands can't generate useful (to the audience) content, distribute it via native advertising channels, and generate brand equity and leads along the way, it's also important to remember that not all content marketing involves creating your own content. Smart marketers know that there is already content out there that can prime the sales pump...and as you say 3rd party content is more credible. So content marketing can also mean driving discovery of such independently (publisher) generated content. In fact, as I recall that was actually the genesis of the concept of content marketing.

  3. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 10, 2014 at 11:37 a.m.

    Ron, ads should be ads and content should not be ads...yes that's very narrow and I am ok with that. Just sent you an invite to connect and argue over coffee here in NYC :)

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 10, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.

    Native ads...Bang the Drum Slowly. Just read here on MediaPost that more people are not trusting ads. So native ads...fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice shame on me....pass the truthy (Colbert on late night) test ? But who is fooling whom ? Advertorial is what native is called but without the Advertisement on top. And you think people don't know that a product/service didn't pay for the privilege of appearing on an entertainment feature ?

  5. Nathan Easom from WAYN (Where Are You Now?), April 11, 2014 at 1:42 p.m.

    Why does every article talking about native ads reference CTR as the first success metric. If it's a true 'native' ad, led by decent content, i shouldn't even have to click for it to impact me. Publishers have been disguising ads as content for years (print magazine 'sponsored features' anyone?), This isn't new - it's just en vogue. There's still a place for well executed, targeting banners in terms of impact and engagement. Anyone expecting to measure native ads by clicks is making the exact same mistakes many advertisers make when they run crap banners and expect me to click on them.

  6. ouriel ohayon from appsfire, April 11, 2014 at 2:10 p.m.

    I don t understand why, in 2014, a publication on marketing still confuses "native advertising" with "sponsored content". Sponsored content is ONLY one of the forms of native advertising. Integrated ad experience has been there before 2014. Google introduced it clearly with Google search ads. Mobile has accelerated the trend with Facebook app installs (where is the content here....). The rise of native apps as the dominant way to consume content is pushing advertisers to develop new formats which also helps for transacting on mobile and new just reading content. Advertising is really not about just pushing an editorial piece of info but generating some sort of transaction. and Native ads can take various forms. One of which is an paid editorial....

    It s about time this confusion stops once and for blinds the industry, limits the opportunity and narrows the debate

    Ouriel Ohayon

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