"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Justin Choi, CEO at Nativo.
When I was discussing native advertising with a venture capitalist in 2012, he flat-out proclaimed, “The New York Times would never do this.”
He never expected The New York Times to be knee-deep in native initiatives two years later. And although many influential pundits continue to debate the merits of native advertising, the category has experienced astonishing growth. Even John Oliver debuted a humorous segment on the topic, a validation of sorts that this ad format is worthy of the attention of the 4 million primetime TV viewers who watch his show.
No matter where you land on the native debate, one aspect always rings true about our industry: The only constant in digital media is change. Here are my 2015 predictions for native that some won’t see coming.
Publishers Will Act More Like Media-Buying Agencies
While brands understand that content marketing can create deeper audience engagement, many don’t see the creation of branded content as a core competency. Agencies are starting to address this need by building or buying content teams and hiring chief content officers. However, agencies face a twofold challenge: Brand storytelling, especially with any scale in emerging formats such as native, continues to present a steep learning curve, and the bridge between content creation and distribution (media-buying) teams still needs construction.
For publishers, these issues create a perfect storm of opportunity. Brand studios at The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Time Inc. know their audience best. This puts them in the best position to create branded content that marries advertiser goals with audience interests.
Content distribution, on the other hand, presents a greater challenge. Brand studios, which design one-off solutions specifically for their own publications, have limited scale. Wide-scale content distribution on a single site is something that relatively few publishers can deliver. As a result, publishers typically use content recommendation widgets as a way to drive more traffic to native content.
But as the industry pays closer attention to engagement metrics, publishers will start to leverage native syndication by placing branded content on contextually relevant publications within their owned properties and externally on other publisher properties. This “native reach extension” will become a more common publisher strategy for brand clients throughout the year.
Advanced Content Analytics Companies Will Displace Incumbents
Native has opened up new discussions about digital measurement, particularly around attention and engagement. In the old world, various companies provided marketers with more traditional analytics that were built for a desktop and display-driven world, including impressions and clicks. But as brands increasingly move to content as the message medium, these don’t clearly depict what resonates with audiences. Content requires new metrics where we move beyond clicks and instead measure consumer engagement via time, activity and social action metrics.
The old guard’s lag in offering solutions for content and native has created a vacuum for new entrants, such as Moat and SimpleReach, which are quickly nabbing the measurement game with advanced capabilities. Moat, for instance, has embedded display and video viewability tracking into its measurement while SimpleReach delivers social action analytics that enable publishers to report social shares, retweets, likes and other actions generated by native programs.
In 2015, Moat, SimpleReach and other advanced content analytics companies will become forces to be reckoned with. The old guard surely will adapt, but not before the new guards establish de facto standards.
Native’s Critics Will Be Proven Right (Sort Of)
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen John Oliver’s famous rant on native advertising. Or you may have heard one of Bob Garfield’s attacks on native at a conference or read Andrew Sullivan’s diatribe on surrendered journalism.
Their list of grievances is exhaustive and, unfortunately, some trends that strengthen their arguments will continue this year. For example, if the industry continues to support click-out “native” campaigns, which are really in-feed ads that look native but behave like banners, we’ll generate revenue at the expense of user experience and erosion of consumer trust.
The lack of transparency and disclosure and poor executions are undoubtedly real threats to native. When mishandled, they prove the critics right.
But native is bigger than just a new unit. The reasons behind native’s existence stem from macro-trends in our space that need to be addressed and resolved. Transient problems come with the territory of any emerging channel.
Some issues may take longer to solve and new ones will undoubtedly crop up. But this is what makes the business so exciting: It’s dynamic and always welcomes innovation that can ultimately lead to a better ecosystem and experience for consumers.