More than just advertorial
Native advertising, or sponsored content, is more than a digital re-brand of the older print practice of paid advertorial. If done correctly, it presents new and exciting opportunities for businesses to capture attention from within trusted editorial venues. Knowledge of what works best is still evolving and many examples of native advertising, even by large, well-resourced companies, have been poorly executed.
Buyers are bombarded by marketing messages, whether they are retail consumers or business purchasers. Online marketing techniques have become either too aggressive or too imitative and this leads to skepticism and weariness on the part of prospects. Overcoming this cynicism is central to successful native advertising because the reader’s instinct is to ignore anything that is overtly commercial, especially when it invades a space where content was previously offered by publishers as being free from any third-party commercial bias.
Finding an authentic voice
However, brands need not despair because these cynical buyers will still respond positively to well-researched, well-written, compelling content which appears to emanate from an authentic voice. Finding the authentic voice is the problem. Good brands have achieved it over time in different ways. Emerging brands must strive for it.
To elicit a positive response, the sponsored content must deliver the reader a story they find either useful or enjoyable, and preferably both. And these can be about subjects, ideas or phenomena, factual, social or creative, which the brand deems valuable and wants to be associated with. If carefully handled and properly contextualised, these can be stories emanating directly from within the brand’s own commercial activities and even which talk about its products and services.
Quality is crucial
For branded content to compete for readers’ attention within an independent editorial setting the preferred strategy should be that it is better than the surrounding articles in the chosen publication venue provided by the publisher themselves.
Brands which are deeply engaged with their customers and communities or are at the frontier of technological research and development will always have unique and valuable stories to tell the public. Native advertising is an opportunity to do this while retaining a high degree of editorial control.
The writer as creative catalyst
The secret of success though is to find a journalist who understands the brand values, the business context, and is sympathetic to the products and services. The writer also needs to be more than equal to the publishing venue where the content will appear. That probably means they need to be a better journalist and better writer than those employed by the host publisher.
Working outside the firm, a freelance writer brings an independent point of view that can act as a catalyst to the creativity within the company to help form those strong narratives that will garner readers’ attention and ultimately their trust.
A good journalist is trained not just to assemble facts and write them clearly, but to dig until they find a strong angle from which to tell a meaningful story.