Online, Everyone Is A Teenager -- Marketers, Adjust Accordingly

Let’s face it, the Internet population is basically a teenager: We are completely self-obsessed, totally unpredictable, and almost entirely motivated by looking cooler than we actually are.  Remind you of high school?

We can’t help it.  We all construct our digital lives so that we are the center of attention.  Every device, every screen, every digital moment is there to serve us.  It’s not really THE Internet, it’s MY Internet.  It’s a world I create and a world I control, and anything that doesn’t directly provide value to me is an annoyance.  Parents of teenagers will recognize the attitude.

And yet despite this reality, many advertisers fail to adjust their strategy when moving into native.  They attempt to use native advertising the same way they do traditional, to push their product claims or reinforce brand speak.  Sure, it looks like the rest of the feed, and technically it could be classified as “content,” but it is little more than a thinly disguised ad.  And as we all know -- with the exception of a few Super Bowl standouts every year -- nobody shares ads with their friends.  

To succeed in native, follow a simple rule:  Create content that delivers more on the consumer’s needs than it does your brand’s. 

The rationale is simple: When advertisers buy native posts, they are hijacking space that I as a consumer feel that I own. Mary Meeker told us in her 2013 report that the average smartphone user reaches for his/her device 150 times a day.  Every one of those sessions begins with an expectation of personal benefit.  Deliver that benefit, and consumers will thank you with engagement, shares and brand affinity.

Red Bull understands this better than anyone. Over the last several years, the company has redefined what it means to market through content. However, if you look at the content it produces, or go to, there’s almost never a product mentioned.  The brand simply gives amazing experiences to its audience and asks almost nothing of them in return.  Red Bull clearly puts the consumer first, and those consumers reward the company with tremendous loyalty.

That may be an extreme example, but the underlying principle holds.  Brands who really want to act like publishers must be prepared to deliver like publishers.

A recent report forecast the market for native to hit $4.3 billion in 2015.  My fear for those marketers is that they will be too focused on creating posts that LOOK like real content without actually ACTING like real content.  Real content puts the consumer first and delivers real value.  (I’m biased, of course, but to me one surefire way to accomplish this is to partner with media brands who deliver this value every day, and whose mere logo signals to the consumer that there’s value ahead.)

For traditional advertisers, this may seem daunting.  It’s not, once you realize the “teenagers” you are really speaking to.  They are already the most important person in their own lives.  Simply make them the most important person in yours, and they’ll consider you more than a brand -- they’ll consider you a BFF.

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