As more people deploy ad blockers online, native content has increased in popularity as a controlled, measurable means of communicating key marketing messages to target audiences, without being blocked.
Native content is paid content, brand-sponsored, that is created to look and feel like a ‘native’ piece, in keeping with the style and subject matter of the website. This area of content is growing in value, according to figures from AdYouLike, who predict that the global native market for native advertising will reach $400 billion by 2025, a rise of almost 372% from 2020 figures.
Native articles should not be confused with advertorials, although they do share the element of being longer form content pieces. Advertorials tend to be clearly branded and overtly promotional. There’s little subtlety at play. It’s obvious to the reader that they are reading a sales pitch. By contrast, native content feels more organic to the publication in terms of style and language and contains information that is useful to the reader. It’s a much more nuanced and subtle approach, and the only indication that this is not earned editorial is a disclaimer stating that it is paid content. That said, being paid content does allow for greater scope to talk about specific product or service features and clearly highlight tangible customer benefits.
So, what makes a great native article, and how can brands make the most of them to raise brand awareness, drive a call to action, generate traffic and potential business leads?
Have clearly defined objectives
First and foremost, you must have a solid rationale for putting a native content strategy in place. Why are we doing this, why now, and what are the end goals? Ultimately, everything is tied to the bigger picture of driving sales and growth but laddering up to that there may be specific objectives. For example, adding followers, getting newsletter sign-ups, requesting a product demonstration or trial, or perhaps highlighting a business challenge that you can uniquely solve.
Once your goals are defined and you know what you want your efforts to achieve, content can be mapped out to make the desired impact and provide the best opportunity to meet those goals. Measurability of the effectiveness is critical to measure pull through and determine ROI, so those parameters will be embedded in the overall strategy and content tagging.
Finally, a call to action is critical, but more on that later…
Finding the ‘where and when’ sweet spots
As with everything related to science marketing, knowledge is power, so working closely with publications to identify specific demographics, popular subjects and key phrases is an important phase of finding the right vehicle(s) for your native content. Historic context is also useful to draw on, so where you have had prior programs with media outlets, the metrics from those programs can help inform decisions when it comes to native programs.
Each industry, and even most companies in each industry for that matter, will have different pain points and their own unique buyer journeys. Talking to customers is also a valuable way of finding out where they get their information from, and this is where your sales executives can help to provide market context to aid decision-making, as they provide a direct conduit to the customer mindset.
The nature of your organization is a major factor that will determine the correct insertion points for native articles. You will have an agreed strategy and objectives in place, so building on that, where are the opportunities in your go to market journey and the customer journey that intersect? Where are the points of engagement?
Figure 1: Drug Discovery and Development Process. Source: https://www.nebiolab.com/drug-discovery-and-development-process/
When we look at drug development for example, there is a pathway from research, discovery through to lab development, pre-clinical and clinical trials, FDA review and then commercialization. Depending on the nature of the organization, it may touch just one of these areas with customers or have a presence through the entire process, providing multiple opportunities to engage. And that, in turn, may vary by product or service, again depending on the nature of your organization.
The complexity of your organization’s portfolio of products and services will invariably drive the ‘where and when’ relative to identifying the most potentially high value engagement points. A highly specialized company with a focus on, say, in-vitro testing, will naturally have fewer engagement points than a large pharmaceutical company that owns the entire process, so understanding the audience, your customers, is critical to making choices that give the best visibility to maximize investment.
Make it seamless and valuable
The whole point of a native article is to make it look like part of the publication, like it belongs there. Recognizing and understanding the platform you are working with is, obviously, crucially important. It’s worth taking time to familiarize yourself with the style, format, punctuation, tone, and overall feel. Seamless integration helps to build trust with readers.
As with any editorial, it’s important to maintain focus on producing content that provides value to the reader. Content that stands out comes from a deep understanding of the audiences’ concerns, questions, and challenges. By this point you should know who you are speaking to, and you will understand the operational pain points and challenges they face in their work. You are aligned with their journey. Your content should reflect this. It’s important to be concise and not over-complicate your narrative. Keeping the conversation on-topic and giving the right amount of explanation in a way that reads naturally, conversationally. So, seek to engage on a personal level about how you can help them. What’s important to communicate is your anticipation and understanding of the challenges, and talk them through the pathway to solution, highlighting tangible benefits.
Ease, trust, and familiarity
Native article programs usually run over a fixed period, say six months or a year. Being recognized as a provider of content that is both useful and valuable promotes positive brand awareness and association over time. Using the brand name in headlines and article descriptors will lodge that information with readers and can drive interactions through recognition, which can then be augmented by talking about your market expertise and providing insight into how you can support their business.
Bear in mind that you are writing for the web, so readers often scan content, so keep things simple and avoid over complicated sentences and jargon that could put the reader off. Focus instead on short, snappy sentences, and use bulleted lists where you can, to pull out salient points to the scanning reader. Sub-headed sections make finding specific content easier, with section links, if publication appropriate. Include links out to additional information and resources, and include key words in links, headings, and throughout the copy, for SEO purposes. Adding video, graphics and so on provide visual stimulus and keep the attention of the reader.
The bottom line is that the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know the nuts and bolts of your product per se, just that it can make their life easier. Supporting evidence, such as proof of concept, testimonials, and tangible results, adds weight and authority to the narrative.
Remember your call to action
Your call to action (CTA) is crucial!
It’s the desired result, the pay off. You’ve resonated with the reader, and they want to find out more so the CTA should reiterate the value to the reader of taking that next step. What’s in it for them? What might they be missing out on if they don’t go further? Here’s the chance to wrap up all the points in a concise sentence that underscores the points made in the article.
“Beyond being purposive, emotional actions comprise an impetus for action—an inclination to do something—with a certain strength or urgency. These dynamic and energetic aspects of emotional action have been caught under the designation of control precedence of ongoing actions and strivings” – The Laws of Emotion – Frijda, 1986, 2007