David Landes shares highlights from his masterclass at DAYS 2018.

Four Native Advertising Challenges and Tips for Dealing With Them

David Landes shares his tips on overcoming four major challenges facing native advertising today
Man pushing ball up a hill, representing native advertising challenges

By David Landes
Content Director at Tale
Stockholm, Sweden
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Considering the breadth and diversity within native advertising, it’s easy to think your native advertising challenges are unique to you and your particular circumstances.

However, on the rare occasion that we get a chance to step back and make time for in-depth discussions with colleagues at other organizations, we realize we actually have more in common than we once thought.

One such occasion took place in Berlin last autumn, during a Native Advertising Days 2018 workshop, where I found myself in a room with more than two dozen smart, enthusiastic participants from native ad studios, agencies, and brands.

After a couple of hours in a room together, the group succeeded in not only identifying four common challenges facing those of us working in native advertising but also providing recommendations for how to overcome them.

In the spirit of cooperation and knowledge sharing, it only made sense to share the findings with the rest of the native advertising community. So read on – hopefully, something here can help you too.

RELATED: 10 Quick Takeaways from Native Advertising DAYS 2018

Trust

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Trust is central to many aspects of native advertising: trust between client and studio; publisher and audience; brand and consumer. Why does it matter? Well, brands who lie will die – eventually – so it’s critical to be honest about what we can achieve and what we can give to our clients and our audiences.

But different stakeholders can have different views about goals.

Even if it sounds like we’re all saying the same thing, the path forward and the shape of the end product may vary.

Poor communication is another roadblock to building trust: good communication is key to developing a trustworthy collaboration within and between organizations. And creative studios or agencies shouldn’t simply be seen as hired help, but rather as true and equal partners that can be trusted to create content with the clients’ best interests in mind.

Recommendations:

Break down silos
keep everyone informed so different functions don’t pull in different directions. PR, marketing, sales, and media should meet and talk more often.

More facetime
have more face-to-face, in-person interactions to build more personal relationships. Go to coffee, rather than simply sending emails. Acknowledging and recognizing people’s humanity makes it easier to build trust and cooperation

Educate
spend more time explaining your approaches and goals to both internal stakeholders and clients. Don’t assume everyone understands the why, what, and where.

Leverage ‘micro-influencers’
Find ‘real people’ to carry your message, rather than relying on professional ‘influencers’.Empower employees, consumers, other stakeholders to become your champions, by offering authentic testimonials.

RELATED: How to Move Native Advertising Forward: Start With the TRUTH

Soul

During Native Days 2018, Vox Studios’ Graham Nelson memorably asked, ‘Can a branded content studio have soul?’ This prompted us to consider how to create content that “keeps it real” and stays in people’s hearts.

Many companies lack a foundation or core values about what they stand for or what they want to do. And a soulless culture can be a big black hole that makes it hard to see the need for or value of content with ‘soul’.

In addition, many companies can be too short-sighted rather than taking a long-term approach to what and how they communicate. Delivering soulful content – and developing relationships that help it emerge – takes a significant investment in time and money over time.

Similarly, there is often a general fear of bucking the status quo: whether it’s about protecting current power, or wanting to stay in a known comfort zone, there is simply not enough risk-taking to help imbue content with the “soul” we’d all like.

Recommendations:

Embrace transparency
Communication and openness can increase understanding between different groups. The more people and groups understand about one another, the more inclined they are to share.

Keep asking why
Don’t only ask once, ask ten times. Ask yourself, your colleagues, and your clients.

Play the long game
Spend the money and be prepared to invest for the long-term and make plans that reflect that ambition.

Cultivate feedback
Get and give lots of feedback, both within your company and with customers, before and after a campaign. Never stop fighting for what’s better and what you believe in. But most of all…
be patient.

RELATED: Publishers Must Help Brands Understand That They Have Stories to Tell

Scale/Reach

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The difficulty of scaling up distribution to maximize reach and impact is a common topic of discussion in native advertising. How do we make sure our great content gets seen by the right audience? And can ‘true native’ for one publisher’s channel work on other channels?

Everyone strives to reach the right audience with the right content at the right time. It’s not about focusing purely on big audiences but finding the audience for whom the content is most relevant.

But maintaining high quality as you scale can be tricky, and changing social algorithms make it hard to determine budgets needed to attain the desired reach. Even agreeing on KPIs that include both quality and reach isn’t always obvious, nor is knowing at launch whether content quality or distribution strategy will have a bigger impact on overall performance.

Recommendations:

Decide on quality vs. scale
All native advertising stakeholders (brands, studios, and publishers) need to agree on what’s most important and allocate resources accordingly.

Testing, testing, and more testing
Build in a data-driven approach to distribution. Try different combinations of audience segments, channels, headlines, etc. Identify what works best, optimize, and apply what you learned with each successive campaign.

Quality affects impact
Going viral can feel great, but if your moment in the viral spotlight features low-quality content, it doesn’t necessarily mean you reached your campaign goals. And it may put you in a brand perception hole that’s hard to dig out of.

Measurement

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Was your native campaign a success? Says who? While everyone agrees it’s important to measure, few seem capable on settling on exactly what to metrics to track and how to interpret the numbers. Simply capturing quality data and acting on it consistently is a lot harder than it seems. And what about metrics that allow us to compare performance and value.

At present, there are plenty of metrics service providers, but many are too complex or expensive to be implemented by smaller or niche operations. It’s also hard to get publishers, brands, and analytics providers to share (comparable) data.

We also don’t really have accepted industry benchmarks for measuring the performance of native advertising campaigns. Studio, agencies and brands are forced to develop their own methods.

Without accepted measurement standards, there’s is a risk that native advertising may eventually fall out of favor.

Recommendations:

Native Advertising Institute leadership
Urge the NAI to manage a process for establishing internationally applicable “industry standards” for measurement: benchmarks, templates, metrics for various objectives, etc. The IAB’s work on branded content doesn’t address many key considerations but can provide a starting point for further development.

Engage independent experts
Third-party experts from universities or research organizations can help establish a framework that is acceptable to various native advertising stakeholders: agencies, studios, and advertisers.

Include quantity and quality
It’s important that accepted measurement standards include a framework for assessing the quality of a given piece of content, as well as the value of its impact.

Develop a measurement business model
Consider who pays for ensuring quality measurement and who owns/gets access to the data/results.

RELATED: From Good Stories to Good Metrics: Measuring Performance with Native Advertising

Don’t miss out on the next Native Advertising DAYS.

Sign up for 2019 right here.

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