Going Native

GoingNativeTalk of ghost publishers and robot traffic has digital brand advertisers questioning some long-held beliefs. They’re wondering whether the promise of efficiency in media is outweighed by the prospect of buying ads that only machines will ever “see.”

As Mike Shields pointed out in an excellent AdWeek article the other day, brand advertisers have found themselves at the mercy of phantom publishers who live to exploit the programmatic technology systems that deliver banner ads. It’s a problem that until recently has largely been ignored, even as gullible advertisers shell out millions of dollars only to receive fake clicks and “views” in return. Writes Shields:

Increasingly, digital agencies and buy-side technology firms are seeing massive traffic and audience spikes from groups of Web publishers few people have ever heard of. These sites — billed as legitimate media properties — are built to look authentic on the surface, with generic, non-alarm sounding content. But after digging deeper, it becomes evident that very little of these sites’ audiences are real people.

Among the money-sucking ghosts that Shields names are an outfit called Precision Media, running some 25 content sites like Toothbrushing.net; Alphabird, running 80 sites; and DigiMogul, operating something called Directorslive.com that has reported a rather unlikely 326 million monthly page views. These and other such scammers, the AdWeek man reports, are less than forthcoming about their operations or owners.

All of which is driving more interest in native advertising, or what we are now calling sponsored content, or “advertorials,” as they were called once upon a time. The idea behind native advertising is a simple and well-proven one: Tailor ad messages to the format of the media. A tweet becomes an ad when it’s a “sponsored tweet” and a Facebook message can become a “sponsored post.”

Companies like BuzzFeed have worked with brands like Old Navy to populate the web with pictures of squirrels in Christmas sweaters to grab mindshare and thus bring their irreverent style to millions of consumers where they are used to consuming content.

Today’s web-based platforms are enabling marketers to be publishers, and engage with their audiences in real-time. Brands brave enough to produce content, or that have a unique point of view — take Red Bull, as an example — are finding that making investments in content and aiming marketing into other content platforms with native advertising efforts are paying dividends that go beyond traditional marketing efforts.

Suit to fit
Your company website may have a blog, but it is meant to broadcast, not listen to, consumers. Native advertising and sponsored content give consumers the ability to extend messages through social sharing, commenting, and mingling user-generated content with content that has been created by brands.

For Scott Roen, vice president of digital for American Express, whose Open Forum is the leading small business website, the idea of tailoring advertising to the format of the content is an obvious advantage. “Where can we be part of a conversation where people want us? It’s getting back to the roots… [native advertising] is not a fad.”

Is native advertising better than the banner ad? “It’s certainly better than what we had before. Anything that makes the user feel the advertising is more seamless is good,” said Mary Gail Pezzimenti, vice president of content strategy for Federated Media. “The brands that have taken the time to establish thought leadership and provide high quality content have permission to engage in those conversations.”

So, is the native advertising trend just a retread from the past, or is it a legitimate new advertising tactic, brought about by platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr? For Benjamin Palmer, CEO of the digital creative shop Barbarian Group, who works with huge global brands like GE, “Native ads will be around as long as the platforms that support it are.”

[This post originally appeared on 3/26/13 in The CMO Site]

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The Hourglass Funnel

HourglassSocial media stands to help marketers better work the newly-emerged hourglass funnel.

Marketers have been using the AIDA model in one form or another since its invention in 1898. The path of “awareness, interest, desire, and action” has been relevant for more than 100 years, and even if individual marketing channels have their differences, the way people are brought through the purchase funnel has changed about as much as human nature over the same time period.

That is to say, very little.

Consumer behavior is the same, even if the tools of the trade are different. For example, Pinterest activity demonstrates “desire” in the lower part of the funnel just as much as clipping a coupon does. The fact that Pinterest activities are measurable (and infinitely more cost-effective and scalable) makes all the difference.

What has changed a good deal over the past several years is what happens when a consumer drops out of the bottom of the funnel. It used to be that a purchaser was put into a marketer’s CRM system, where he or she would start to receive new marketing messages via established channels like mail, telemarketing, and loyalty programs.

Of course, that is still happening, but now there is a whole new part of the funnel to work through. This new, inverted funnel explains, for instance, why Salesforce purchased Buddy Media and Radian6 — the marketing is just getting started after the consumer purchases.
Today’s CMO has to have a more developed strategy for what happens after the purchase than ever before. This new socially-enabled funnel means closely linking the traditional CRM to social platforms — not only for “listening” to what your customers are saying, but also to give them an opportunity to start selling on your behalf.

After purchase, you need to encourage your buyer to join your social sphere, and start extending the conversation. This means not only listening to sentiment, but also giving the consumer the incentives to get to the next phase in the post-conversion funnel: social activation.

Migrating customers from being passive “likers” and “followers” to socially-activated users with true brand affinity is difficult. How you communicate within platforms like Facebook and Twitter (both on an earned and paid basis) is critical, along with providing key incentives for such participation. Ultimately, the affinity group you curate can be turned into sellers, either real affiliate salespeople or, in a softer sense, “brand ambassadors” that go beyond social sharing to influence others to purchase.

Today’s successful CMOs have been seeing through the bottom of the funnel for a long time, and putting together the tools and support needed to migrate post-purchase marketing activity from CRM-driven tactics to social activation strategies.

[This post originally appeared on The CMO Site on 3/15/13]