The digital landscape has evolved to the point that it's barely recognizable compared to a decade ago. And, with this evolution, we have seen the development of a number of effective strategies for maximizing the online visibility of our businesses.
Enter native advertising and content marketing.
While native advertising refers to a specific method marketers use to distribute content, content marketing refers to a collection of advertising practices, content creation frameworks, and distribution strategies.
And although many marketers - especially those just getting started - tend to use these two terms interchangeably, they are far from the same thing.
If you want to succeed in digital marketing in 2021, it's critical that you know which is which, including their unique elements and use cases. Today, we'll take a deep dive into both. We will cover the definitions, pros and cons, and examples for each concept.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is an inbound marketing strategy focused on producing and distributing value-driven, relevant, and compelling content to a specific target audience.
This type of marketing campaign is not a single tactic, blog article, or asset, but a mixture of deliberate, consistent, and ongoing processes. Content marketing happens when all of your strategies (including native advertising) coalesce to develop into something bigger.
Content marketing has gained so much importance in the digital marketing industry that it can be summed up by our favorite expression: content is king.
Purpose of Content Marketing
The primary purpose of this strategy is to build a dedicated following of readers that trust your brand. Content marketing, as a collection of tactics, empowers you to engage with your target audience on a deeper and more connected level.
A recent Edelman report stated that 81% of customers need to trust a brand before buying from them. Through content marketing, you're demonstrating credibility to consumers, building the trust they require, and positioning your company as an industry expert.
Beyond trust, a robust content marketing strategy also provides added value by boosting your organic traffic, search engine rankings, and brand awareness.
Examples of Content Marketing
When it comes to content marketing, there are a variety of strategies that marketers can choose from. Below are some of the most common elements of a content marketing strategy.
- Blog posts: Perhaps the most popular form of online content is a blog post. As a low-cost way to boost organic traffic, long-form blog posts are crucial to attracting potential customers to your business.
- Videos: 85% of marketers say that video is one of the most effective strategies for increasing organic visibility. Not only are videos highly effective with respect to engagement, but they're versatile enough that you can use them to repurpose your old blog posts.
- How-to guides: Primarily used for customer education, how-to guides (i.e., detailed and lengthy articles with eye-catching images) are invaluable in content marketing - especially if your product is more on the technical side.
- Infographics: These bright and visually captivating images are generally used for presenting statistics in a fun and engaging way. They're also low-cost and easy to make.
- Case studies: These articles are useful for leads looking to learn more about your company from your customers themselves. Through case studies, potential customers can see what kind of experiences other people have had with your brand.
- eBooks: Think of eBooks as a type of long-form content that helps establish your status as an expert. In other words, potential customers can see that you literally wrote a book on a specific topic and that serves to reinforce your standing as a subject matter expert.
- White papers: This content form is a persuasive, authoritative, and detailed report on a specific subject. Mainly used for audience education, you should think of whitepapers as advanced problem-solving guides.
What is Native Advertising?
Native advertising refers to streamlined and unobtrusive paid ad placement where the ads in question match the form, function, and other parts of the platform where they are featured. Native ads are integrated seamlessly within a website or platform, so they don't disrupt the user experience.
In simple terms, they're ads that fit in.
For example, native ads may appear between paragraphs or at the end of a blog piece or as a sponsored video within a YouTube video. Native advertisements often use relevant or exciting information to attract users.
Think of native advertising as buying a TV spot or billboard space. They are often distinguished by a small label that says "Ad" or "Sponsored."
Purpose of Native Advertising
Are you familiar with traditional online advertising from a decade or so ago? It was an era of disruptive in-your-face advertising where banner ads and pop-ups reigned supreme. The disruptive nature of traditional online advertising gave birth to browser ad blockers.
Native advertising became popular due to the rise of ad-blocking software such as AdBlock Plus. According to a Hubspot report, 68% of users don't mind seeing ads as long as they're not obtrusive. Native ads are not usually affected by ad blockers, hence their popularity.
In essence, native advertising is a content marketing strategy.
Just like content campaigns, native ads are designed to provide readers with value. However, the most significant difference is that native advertising is a paid model where advertisers spend money to have their ads posted on a third-party website or publishing companies.
In a nutshell, native ads are paid content made to look like organic content.
Examples of Native Advertising
The average internet user will encounter one or more types of native advertisements each time they browse. Below are some of the most common types of native advertising.
- Content recommendation widgets: At the end of an article, readers will encounter recommendation widgets with headings that read "You May Also Like" or "Recommended for You."
- Promoted listings: These listings are usually present on e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon. Promoted listings carry the label "Sponsored" and are generally found on the categories page of a site.
- Paid search ads: When you pay for search ads, your listing will appear at the top of the organic search results with a label "Ad" before the listing. One very popular example of paid search advertising is Google Ads (formerly Adwords).
- YouTube ads: While YouTube users watch a video, native ads may trigger before or during the video. They are also likely to appear on the "Suggested" or "Up Next" section of YouTube.
- In-feed ads: These ads are baked into social media posts, tweets, and feeds in channels like Facebook and Twitter.
- Advertorials: These ads look like organic editorial articles. Basically, advertisers pay to have their own advertisement to appear on reputable publications such as Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Buzzfeed.
Owned Media vs. Paid Media
To fully understand the difference between content marketing and native advertising, you must also know the difference between paid media and owned media.
Owned media is a term that describes any online property owned and controlled by brands, such as blogs, websites, and social media profiles. For the most part, content marketing uses owned media and is classified as an inbound marketing tactic. The objective is to build your target audience and pull them towards your marketing platforms.
On the flip side, native advertisements operate in paid media, which leverages the already established audience of a third-party platform or publisher. In simple terms, you pay a third party for ad space so your content reaches a wider readership and more marketing channels.
Which Strategy is Better for Your Business?
So which strategy is better for your ROI? The answer is both, but for different reasons. Let's review some pros and cons of each.
Pros and Cons of Content Marketing
Between the two, content marketing is the more cost-effective method of the two and can provide excellent results. Since it's not a paid strategy, content marketing is more suitable for modern advertising, which is driven by consumers and search engines.
The goal of content marketing is to build a genuine connection with the audience through value-driven and authoritative content. The more brand authority and trust you build, the more likely you are to convert leads into customers. Consistently producing quality content will also enhance your overall traffic and conversion rates.
Also, content marketing and SEO go hand-in-hand. SEO without content marketing is like a body without a soul. If content marketing is all about providing value to your audience, SEO is about helping search engines determine your content's value.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of content marketing is that it's very time-consuming.
Quality content takes a lot of time to create, and you need consistency to improve your organic visibility. To attract customers and improve your search rankings, you need to understand the goals and pain points of your audience, something that doesn't happen overnight.
Content creation also requires a lot of creativity and experience before an author can write value-driven copy. A handful of content types like videos and infographics also require a particular set of skills.
This is why many organizations prefer to outsource their content creation efforts to organizations that specialize in content writing services.
Pros and Cons of Native Advertising
It's no surprise that people hate ads; I hate them too!
Unlike traditional online ads, native advertising is non-disruptive to the user experience. These ads match the form and function of the platform where they appear, so they're minimally intrusive and won't result in your visitors smashing the "back" button.
Native ads work best for a new organization looking to increase brand awareness. Native advertisements also perform well in social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Since social media algorithms focus on real and organic content, native advertising provides a way for businesses to stand out from the competition.
Last but not least - native advertising is effective.
According to a Sharethrough report, native ads give an 18% higher brand lift than traditional display ads. They also have higher click-through rates, acceptance rates, and purchase intent.
The two biggest disadvantages of native advertising are the higher cost of entry and the fact that they tend to confuse readers. Users often don't realize that they're reading sponsored articles which could result in negative feedback.
Learning the Difference Can Mean Success
As you can see, there are significant differences between native advertising and content marketing. Each concept has its goals, methods, benefits, and drawbacks. And yet, when effectively combined, both can deliver significant ROI as you look to convert leads into customers and increase the visibility of your business.