The German railway company Deutsche Bahn is the second-largest transportation company in the world. It has in recent years transformed its marketing efforts and made native advertising a part of it as Michael Birnstock, Team Leader of Partnerships, explains in this interview from Native Advertising DAYS 2016. Sign up for notifications about this year’s conference here.
Michael Birnstock has held a number of positions at Deutsche Bahn for the past 14 years. In 2012, he became Head of Partnerships for Digital, Print and Audio Media, focusing on storytelling, native advertising and influencer marketing.
As well as working closely with agencies and coordinating partnerships with non-DB brands, he was also responsible for the re-launch of a digital platform and the strategic development and implementation of a digital content hub for children and young people.
Below are highlights from the interview which have been slightly edited for clarity.
Useful beats amazing in advertising
“You can do quite amazing photo shoots to present a product, but I think a lot of customers, a lot of the audience really aren’t interested in advertising anymore. They block it especially if you speak about online marketing. So if you are in the content marketing area then it’s better to be useful than amazing.”
Pricing can’t be our only USP
“To convince new clients who maybe never used the train before pricing is not the only issue for us because we have competitors who have quite lower prices which we can never offer. So we need to have a USP (Unique Selling Point) about; why should we use trains?
The time issue is quite relevant for us because many people don’t have a lot of time and the time on a train is really your own. That matters more than a price. Of course, we will always have some prices in our advertising but that’s not the only selling point.”
From print advertorials to a Digital Brand Hub
“How did we go from advertorials to Digital Brand Hub? It took us about eight years. Before we never used the words storytelling or content marketing, but we had to convince people to use a train to discover a city or to hike somewhere and take the train to go back.
That was the first step out of the classical advertising world. The next step was online but the content was more or less the same; an online advertorial online which didn’t go really deep.
The next step was to do cross-media meaning print and of course online and audio. In the end, we decided on native advertising because you can do a lot of things with it. You can be close to the editorial content and you can play with different formats, so that’s where we are now.”
Deutsche Bahn’s travel universe at the large German online news website Focus Online.
How Deutsche Bahn measure ‘quality’ as a KPI
“One of the ways we measure quality is the average view time. It can tell you if users find the content interesting or not. We also use the engagement rate; did somebody like it? Did somebody share it? And did somebody comment on it? And did they say something about the article or about the brand as well?
We really want to react to the reactions of our audience in real time. So we want to see if the content we produce and pay for is worth it. If we see we that nobody wants to click on an article or that they only spend 10 seconds on it, then we can change the headline, the embedded videos, the photos etc. That helps us to really succeed with our campaign.”
Native advertising can never stand alone
“I think native advertising is a part of marketing. It never can stand alone because I think native advertising is not for upselling, but to lift the image of the brand and the awareness. And it’s important to be close to the audience, that’s why you need to work with a publisher to stay truthful and credible to your potential clients.”
Interview by: Pernille Uhd Kristiansen
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