Native Advertising: Content Marketing goes Mainstream

Just when you thought social media was going to rule the digital world, it is now clear that content is not only king – it is going mainstream with a new twist.

With more people sharing online content, and especially as more regular Joes and Janes are able to now call themselves publishers, content is now moving to center stage in new ways.

As new media challenged traditional media, banner and video ads were employed by traditional media outlets to monetize their content.

The realization has now dawned that their system is completely broken – people are not clicking on banner ads.

And why should they, you can get all of the free content you want by taking advantage of Google news. Consumers are not only ignoring banner ads, they despise their interruptive qualities.

Get ready for a new (sort of) kind of advertising that is designed to draw you in and hold your attention – it’s called native advertising.

Content Marketing vs Native Advertising

Content marketing is designed to build a relationship with your audience – by giving them valuable content that is designed especially for them. Content informs, it solves problems, and ideally also entertains whenever possible too.

Content marketing builds an audience to earn the opportunity to occasionally make offers to buy your products and services. Obviously, both the content and the offers are designed for a specific audience.

Native advertising is paid content marketing that most likely (but not always) includes a call-to-action for selling products and services. Promoted posts on Twitter are one form of native advertising – another are old-fashioned “advertorials” in newspapers and magazines (like the one in the image above).

The Truth About Native Advertising

You have already experienced native advertising. The only thing new is the name – and the fact that is sure to take marketing with content to a higher level, maybe even an art that fully uses all of the capabilities of digital media.

Native advertising in the form of long copy ads in newspapers or magazines at first glance look a lot like the regular content that the publication is known for. However, because the FTC does have oversight to protect consumers, there has to be at least a small disclaimer to indicate that the content being shared is indeed a promotional ad.

The look and feel of the content is what makes the ad native, something that is local or native to the publication, so to speak, and therefore, presumably just as readily consumed.

How This Makes for Better Online Marketing

One expectation is that disclosure and disclaimers will soon become nearly impossible to detect, as they can be disguised with images, overshadowed by well written headlines, or lead to amazing offers that people are eager to take advantage of  – think Groupon, that nothing else really matters.

When the native advertising trend goes mainstream, it will be necessary for you to be a better marketer to hold your audience – truly understanding how to attract, build, and maintain a platform that honors the audience.  This is the future of blogging, email newsletters, and all forms of social marketing.

When the playing field gets bigger it attracts more talent, and there is plenty of it out there. So, the winners are going to be those that are honing their practice and taking risks to differentiate their online digital assets for a defined audience.

Tell great stories, use quality images that capture attention and inspire, and above all, seek to create powerful headlines that earn attention – that’s what the native advertisers will be doing.

There is a fine line between native advertising and content marketing. Both attempt to earn the attention of an audience to sell them something. Only the methods differ.

It’s going to be fun. When there is a shift in marketing trends, being among the first to adapt provides invaluable advantages.

Are you ready?

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business – (Wiley 2013)  

He helps mainstream businesses adapt their traditional growth practices to a digital world. Connect with Jeff on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Why Groupon is Bad for Small Business

Groupon is like Super Bowl advertising.

It definitely creates awareness, but it does so at a price – one with consequences that should be carefully considered.

Much has been written about the direct costs of running a Groupon campaign. However, it’s the side effects that bother me.  And they extend long after that Groupon has expired.

You can easily examine them by putting on your traditional marketing hat – the one you used to build your business and sustain the customer base you enjoy today.

It Sends the Wrong Message

Large corporations are known for throwing advertising dollars around.  They entertain us with over the top super bowl ads that build brand awareness – and maybe a short term spike in revenue.

Small businesses invariably are built from personal relationships in local communities. People in communities talk, so its essential to treat them all fairly and equally.  This keeps your life simple and generates more referrals.

Let’s say you operate a lawn care business or one where your loyal clients are contracted or subscribed on an annual basis.  When you offer a deal to new prospects you devalue their loyalty.

While you may gain some new customers, one of the hidden costs is losing current customers that view your new marketing practices as unfair.  It’s a risk.

If you really do have the money to spend, why not invest in your current customers? You could offer them something like a recession discount at a time when they may need it most.

Trust me, they won’t forget it when their contract or subscription is up for renewal.

It Attracts the Wrong Customers

In addition to cannibalizing on profits from loyal customers, a Groupon campaign can attract new ones that are only there because of the deal.

During the 20 years I successfully operated my landscape architecture business I never once did Yellow Page advertising. OK, maybe once, when I was just getting started and didn’t realize that everyone that called was shopping my business against competitors advertising right next to me.

This is why when we received a call from someone we didn’t recognize we always asked why they were calling us.  Most were referred by a customer or had admired our work on a recent project.

We discovered those looking for the lowest price were open and honest about it.  We respected that and kept a list of phone numbers handy for companies that offered a low price and respectable quality.

That authenticity occasionally opened some minds that had previously not factored quality or service into their equation.

It Creates New Expectations

The cardinal rule of negotiation is that if you concede once, you will do it again.

This is why you need a very good reason for offering a steep discount via Groupon. Unfortunately, to my understanding there is no means for communicating this to your community.

Groupon did not earn a $6 billion offer from Google by customizing for every one of their customers.  They earned it by developing a repeatable formula that Google could readily monetize by expanding it even further.

Anyone that understands retail knows you pay full price to be the first with the latest fashions – or you can wait and get them at 50% later.  This is why I buy my suits at Nordstroms annual men’s sale.

However, if you are a small business, it’s unlikely your product or service is mass produced – one with a huge mark-up that you can give back if you wish.

You work just as hard for new customers and you do for those that have been with you for years.  You track all kinds of costs, including overhead and labor hours – and all of them tend to rise over time.  If everything goes well your net profit is probably around 10%.

So, where is the justification for offering a deal?

The only one I can think of is to make your existing customers happier.  So, instead of investing in Groupon, invest in them. Think of it as a gift.

Would you like to experience Groupon first-hand without investing a dime?  Then read why cafe owner Jessie Burke describes her experience with Groupon as The Single Worst Decision I Have Made as a Business Owner.

It’s a heartfelt account, and the comments from hundreds of fans share some insightful details as well.

To her credit, she didn’t write the post to rant, just to respond to one loyal client.

That’s what small business is all about.

If you want to learn more, you can read an additional perspective and watch a series of videos about Jessie’s experience here.

Invest in your clients.

It’s a no-risk play that is always good for your small business.

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Until tomorrow,  Jeff