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Don’t Waste Your Time with Native Advertising (Do This Instead)

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If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.

- David Ogilvy

It's a brilliant piece of native advertising. Visually appealing and information rich, this sponsored content walks you through numerous variations of oysters, where they hail from, and interesting facts about each. The New Orleans, we learn, was the preferred oyster of Jean Lafitte, and is the key to Oysters Rockefeller. The sweet and succulent Tangier oyster captivated Captain John Smith when introduced by Pocahontas, and the rest is history.

Next, you're hit with the ultimate pairing sensation, as you imagine washing down these delicacies with a cold beer. Not just any beer, of course - a Guinness Extra Stout.

I don't even like oysters, and this sounds amazing right now.

Before you head to the latest buzzy media site to experience this case study in native advertising excellence for yourself, hold up. The Guinness Guide to Oysters was a magazine ad created by David Ogilvy … in 1950.

Ah, the advertorial: a paid message where the advertisement blends naturally within the user experience of its environment. What's old is the next big thing online, and more powerful than ever - when done well. This is not to say that online native ads are nothing more than a digital advertorial. As Ryan Skinner of Forrester Research points out, a native advertisement delivered by an online media platform provides benefits that have potential that Ogilvy could only dream of.

It's that power, and the ways it differs from other forms of advertising, that guarantees plenty of people will waste valuable time and money with native advertising.

Let's make sure you're not one of those people.

Here are three quick keys to doing native advertising right in the context of 21st century media and marketing:

1. Authenticity

You'll hear over and over that the content of your native ad must match the context of the overall editorial "feel" of the site it appears on. And that's true, but it's only half the story.

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Online conversion optimization studies repeatedly show that people expect continuity in the information trails they travel. This supports the findings of Dr. Ed Chi, who likened this expectation of continuity to the way animals follow a scent. Put simply, your native ad can perfectly match the editorial context of the publisher you pay, but still spectacularly fail if there is not authentic continuity once the prospect reaches your own site. You should be choosing media outlets with editorial approaches that mirror your own brand voice.

Creating whimsical content for a native ad, for example, linked to your stuffy corporate copy is jarring to say the least. Your prospects will not only lose the scent, they'll smell a phony.

2. Action

The Internet is a direct response medium, and a native ad is a direct response advertisement. What this means is that your message must be geared toward getting the prospect to take some form of action right then and there. This makes sense when you factor in that a native ad is useful content more than a pitch. The thing you're "selling" must be contextually congruent with that approach, and it's rarely the best move to shill your product or service … at least not yet.

The best thing to sell with the kind of content that makes an advertisement "native" is more information. Provide independent value in your native advertisement that inherently creates a desire to discover even more.

3. Audience

When you realize that a media approach works better than traditional marketing, you understand that you want to build your own audience, not just pay to access someone else's. This makes native ads work perfectly for you, since you're not pitching products or services, you're promising more valuable information that results in audience building.

This is not some touchy-feely concept. Case studies show that getting people to opt-in for an educational content approach results in higher conversion rates compared with going for the sale immediately. This makes sense - many viable prospects will hesitate from purchasing immediately, so keeping them engaged over time naturally leads to more sales.

The impulse might be to go for the kill, using a harpoon approach for immediate sales conversion. Instead of hurling an all-or-nothing sales message as forcefully as you can, why not snare prospects in a net of useful, relevant content that feeds your business continually?

Accelerate Your Content Marketing

There's a fourth A that epitomizes how native ads work within an overall strategy. Native advertising is the perfect accelerator for a content marketing strategy. In other words, you create owned media that is accelerated by paid media, with the primary goal of building your own audience in the process, but at a much faster rate.

You'll convert sales from your native ads while the campaign runs, but also into the future. Even better, you're engaging an audience that you can present with other relevant offers and even new products and services - without running just another ad.

Brian Clark is CEO of Copyblogger Media and the host of New Rainmaker.

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