I love Native Advertising. When it’s done well, it is user-centered and delivering value to the reader/user. Valuable content allows a brand to demonstrate rather than claim its strengths. It’s one thing to say you are an expert in supply chain risks and disruptions, it’s another to offer practical and detailed content to help manage that risk. The latter shows your expertise and lets the user come to their own conclusion as to whether you have smarts in that space or not. It’s more believable than a claim. Native advertising is a great leap forward.
The measurement of native content and advertising remains behind the times, though. Too many publishers venturing into this space have not cracked the code on measuring effectiveness. Too many rely on the metrics of display advertising (e.g. clickthroughs) or on “engagement” metrics with no context.
Two Types of Native
Think about two different expressions of native advertising. Working with an experienced publisher – Bloomberg, Forbes, NYTimes, etc... - brands can create co-produced content that appears on the publisher’s site. Advertising across the site drives publisher traffic into the content. Links within or adjacent to the content drive clickthroughs to the brand’s web site. For simplicity’s sake, I will call this approach ‘native content.’
A variant comes from the native ad networks like Taboola, Sharethrough or Outbrain that distribute content headlines into contextually relevant places within established content sites across the Web. My brand story on supply chain risks for small business might sit at the bottom of a Businessweek article on supply chain and drives interested readers directly to my site. Let’s call this a native network.
Need a Step Change Improvement on Native Metrics
Both are examples of native advertising. Both need a step-change improvement in measuring effectiveness.
With native content, brands want to drive engagement metrics (i.e. time spent, pages consumed, shares) with the content itself. They also want to improve brand metrics through some combination of delivering authentically valuable content and doing so alongside a trusted media brand. Are clickthroughs important? If I have an article on Businessweek on supply chain risks and one on my own brand Web site, my goal is similar. I want to connect with prospects/customers before the buying cycle. I want them to get value out of the content and associate that value with my brand. That happens when they consume the content or share it. They don’t need to clickthrough. Still, clickthroughs from native content to my Web site help connect readers with similar content and establish my brand as the source of the expertise. Clickthroughs are important, they just aren’t the only KPI nor the way to justify the expense of a native content program.
The WSJ blog covered the problem as reflected in a recent ANA survey:
“The lack of consensus on those questions (how to measure native) was highlighted by a recent Association of National Advertisers survey, in which marketers reported using a wide range of metrics to judge their native ad campaigns. When asked which measurement is “most important,” respondents said everything from brand lift and awareness to click-throughs, social media sharing rates, time spent, purchase intent, lead generation and more.”
Engagement Metrics, Attribution and Brand Lift
The get it right, to know what these native content programs do for our marketing mix and how to price and therefore pay for them, we need to focus on engagement numbers, crack the code on attribution – both short term and longer term – and value ‘brand lift.’
Time spent on a site or with an article is valuable. Number of pages read within a site of related content also matters. How many times a piece of content is shared is also a really good thing. These KPIs are at the heart of the value of a native program. But too often we lack any type of benchmarking or context. The publishers are just now accruing experience with brand programs. We don’t have a bank of benchmarks to compare performance of brand content specifically. Publishers routinely don’t want to share editorial performance metrics as a benchmark believing the advertiser-sparked content is a different species all together.
@BrianHonigman wrote an interesting piece on the Skyword blog about focusing on engagement or “attention.”
“Take the social sharing your sponsored content receives and measure it against the attention minutes each piece of content drove while considering clicks, conversions, and referral traffic as a part of the equation. This will help you determine how much of an impact your content made on readers or viewers. By analyzing the social shares your sponsored content generates, you’ll likely be able to see the brand lift achieved by leveraging a publisher’s brand equity. In other words, you’ll get a better idea of the trust you’re developing with customers by sponsoring content on a trusted publisher’s website.”
How does engagement sell? That’s always the next logical question. We need to adopt a view of the buyer journey that puts value on engaging someone over a longer buying cycle. That requires some POV on how content engagement plays an ‘assist’ role in a sale. Part of that might be reflected in brand lift metrics. These are usually done by the publisher and ask survey questions about preference or demand. Of course, brand metrics require business leaders to believe that ‘brand sells,’ but that is a whole different argument and blog post. For the sake of this one, I believe strongly that brand sells.
One way to value how content contributes to sales is to understand the hand-off between native content or native networks and brand web sites where the latter have strong calls-to-action as readers move further into the journey (e.g. when business leaders wrestling with supply chain problems are ready to consider and evaluate commercial insurance to protect them from supply chain exposures.)
Peter Chen @ZPCeee, a marketing consultant, is thinking of ways brands can get at this value. The Content Promotion Lifecycle is one way to better understand if the yield of native advertising networks (e.g. Taboola, ShareThrough, Outbrain) is valuable or too unqualified
“We can quantify the effectiveness of native advertising in two dimensions. One dimension is the advertising metrics measuring the efficacy of the ad itself – did the audience actually engage with this ad?
The other dimension is the engagement metrics assessing how people engaged with the “product” after viewing the ad. In theory, those who clicked on the ad were qualified, but how can we find the ads that generated the most amount of qualified traffic?”
DIY Content Metrics for Brands
Even as publishers refine their native content opportunities for brands, they will continue to lag in terms of the most relevant metrics. Their sales force sells against cpms, clickthourghs and the like. That ocean liner will take a while to navigate to a new course.
Brands will have to establish their own values for engagement with their content and begin to amass benchmarks from working with several publishers.