Aside from its ability to drive direct performance, native also offers an exciting canvas for brands to tell engaging stories that can finally deliver branding in a digital context. This is an incredible prospect for brands, but comes with a need for much more thought.
The success of a display campaign is relatively easy to understand: Was there sufficient ROI tied to it? Native ads that deliver on existing KPIs can be judged on the same basis. However, native advertising presents a truly cognizable way for branding dollars to work effectively. To actually yield branding impact, native advertising campaigns must deliver on two key metrics: brand clarity and brand messaging.
Brand clarity is the degree to which a consumer associates the message with the brand. Simply put, how prominent is the branding? If the brand clarity is particularly subtle, one might be tempted to believe that it will result in a user aligning the content more with the editorial voice of a publication than with the brand itself. Without mincing words, this is an unacceptable and deceptive practice. But also, this undermines the goal of branding in the first place. If a consumer doesn’t leave with a clear understanding of the sponsor, then the branding impact of the campaign failed.
Brand messaging is the degree to which a brand’s content furthers branding objectives. For example an automotive manufacturer writing an article about toasters is ineffective, unless company is debuting in-dashboard toasters as part of its new models.
The unfortunate reality is that a significant percent of native advertising content is sourced through crowd-sourced content farms, with articles only tangentially -- if at all -- relating to and articulating the brand’s objectives. This may actually have negative branding impact if the article’s quality reflects poorly on the advertiser.
Highly effective brand messaging without brand clarity is like an arbitrary piece of editorial content. Simply having content that was sponsored doesn’t deliver value if the consumer doesn’t leave understanding the brand that sponsored it, creating an instant association with the brand.
The inverse -- effective brand clarity without effective brand messaging -- is effectively the same as buying a contextually targeted banner ad. It’s simply a brand logo near content, but it does not leverage the power of native advertising to present compelling on-message content.
It is impossible to quantitatively measure brand clarity or brand messaging. But for marketers, two things must be clear: Is there a high-quality article with a compelling message for the brand, and is there brand clarity everywhere the article is shown? In other words, would you actually read the article and come away with some positive notion about the brand, and would actually know it was written by the brand?
These seemingly obvious questions have been ignored by the industry. By focusing on these metrics, all stakeholders benefit: Consumers see better content, publishers have clear branding, and advertisers effectively convey their messaging.