How to Market Your Business Online Third Tip: Branded Content & Native Ads
3. Branded Content & Native Ads: Engage Your Audience
What are branded content and native advertising? How can they help my business? How do I create effective branded content?
These days, customers are a pretty savvy and opinionated bunch. Convincing them to engage with your brand can be a daunting task.
After all, they’re used to all the entertaining and immersive content available to them online – and might not want to be bothered by ads while they’re enjoying it.
But if you manage to draw people in and keep their interest, you can gain more than just customers – you can get loyal brand advocates.
So what type of marketing can do this?
Branded content and native ads can help you build a loyal and vocal fanbase.
Branded content is any editorial-style media that an advertiser pays for and promotes. For example, a luggage company could produce a travel video or sponsor an online article about the most luxurious airport lounges.
Native advertising is when branded content matches the style and design of the partner website that’s hosting it, so it doesn’t stick out and yell, “HEY, I’M AN AD.” It’s like a partnership between your content and the website its hosted on.
Let’s say the luggage company’s video is being shown on a popular travel blog. That branded content becomes a native ad if the headline style, the font in the description copy, and the type of video player match the rest of the blog.
The goal of branded content and native ads is to get:
You’ll have more ways to reach and appeal to your target audience.
Good content will inspire longer and more frequent interactions
If people like your content, they’re more apt to share it on social media.
The first step to creating strong branded content is nailing down your brand identity.
Next, think about Why, Where, and Who. That is, know your content’s theme, the platforms it’ll be on, and its audience.
To make sure your branded content and native ads are valuable to people, you should tap into at least 1 of these 3 themes: identity, emotion, or information.
Your content speaks to your target audience’s identity when it matches their lifestyle and view of themselves. While interacting with your content, you want them to think “This is SO me.”
Content that stirs strong emotions in your audience is more likely to get viewed and shared, but it’s also the hardest to get right. Do your research (like holding focus groups with your target audience) before you try to create emotional content.
Lastly, your content can be a reliable source of important information for your audience.
Can your content have more than 1 theme? Absolutely. For example, a dairy brand might create an article on healthy ways to use yogurt in every meal. If it’s written in the right way, it can have elements of all 3 themes.
The dairy brand's article reaches their audience via:
“I’m a healthy eater.”
“I feel empowered to make healthy food choices. I can do this.”
“I know how to make healthy meals with yogurt.”
Along with your content’s themes, think about the platforms it will be hosted on and the types of conversations that happen on them.
Social media is a good option for both branded content (you can share your content on your own channels) and native ads (you can have a publishing partner share it on their channels).
That being said, you should decide which social channels are right. Is your audience active on certain social sites? Is your branded content: video, images, links, or text? Do certain sites match your brand better than others?
Along with social media channels, you can work with content partners (AKA websites that your target audience already knows, trusts, and visits often). Usually these are sites you already run display ads on.
Check how well these sites understand your audience, and if they’ve done branded content and native ads well in the past. Also, make sure they aren’t news-only sites, because people don’t trust brands who try and pass off their ads as news.
After you’ve chosen content partners, remember that collaboration is key. What kind of content can you create together that will be suitable for them to publish?
Not sure if your content should be long-form videos, short mobile videos, listicles, articles, DIY guides, images, infographics, GIFs, or some other format?
You can research what your audience shares the most, and what works best on the host site.
Last but definitely not least, you should get to know your audience, define your relationship with them, and join the conversations they’re having online,
First, decide what relationship you want with your target audience. Are you a friend, knowledge source, inspiration, or guide? This determines what type of language you use and what conversations you have with them.
Next, look at what your target audience is talking about online. Some popular topics are fashion styles, food trends, pop culture, and lifestyle activities. Joining these conversations is easier than starting a unique one.
To enter into a conversation without being obtrusive, tap into your content themes: identity, emotion, and information. Which one (or which mixture of them) will help your content seamlessly become part of the online chatter?
For example, if you’re an organic food company whose target audience often talks about their vegan lifestyle, you can join the conversation with content that focuses on this identity – like a “Top 10 Things People Say to Vegans” listicle.
Once you’re part of a conversation, keep it going by giving your audience more of what they like. If your content is working well, repurpose it into different forms, like micro-content, shorter-form videos, articles, and so forth.
As you’re developing and publishing branded content, it’s wise to make small bets at first so you’ll fail earlier rather than later.
Brainstorm a few content ideas or hypotheses about what your audience will share. Then create and publish inexpensive forms of those ideas (like blog posts instead of videos).
Once you see which ideas are more popular, you can start blowing them out into different, more ambitious formats. Make sure to keep testing your ideas to see what combination of themes, formats, and platforms works best.