Branding

Blend In While Standing Out: How to Create Effective Native Ads

Native advertising is a great way to drive customers to your eCommerce site — when done gracefully.

Consumers continually build resistance to advertising messages. The same holds true for native ads. The difference is that native advertising can actually add value to people’s lives, not merely demand their attention.

Marketer Barry Feldman writes that when done right, native advertising can yield better results for eCommerce stores than traditional advertising and even organic traffic. The key: the ad must be thoughtful and relevant.

Just as with any advertising, there is a risk of turning customers away when a campaign is executed poorly. That’s why it is important to know what separates the graceful from the gimmicky.

Here are some tips for crafting native ads that will boost your brand’s reputation and win over new customers.

Set Goals and Test Results

Engaging ads start with a solid foundation, and a solid foundation is built around goals.

Native ads are not always designed to build brand awareness, nor are they always designed to lead customers to a purchase in that moment. Each ad has its own purpose, and each should be designed with a clear end goal in mind.  

“Without knowing what you’d like your work to achieve, it’ll be very difficult to structure and produce copy that can make a significant impact,” writes Anahid Basmajian, now a Marketing Manager at Facebook. “Each native ad will have a specific objective, such as encouraging your audience to sign up for a newsletter or offering them a free trial.”

One way to determine what goals you have for your copy is to determine which part of the funnel your target audience is in. Different copy will appeal to different consumers in each stage of decision making: awareness, consideration, decision.

A common challenge at this point is when brands become too focused on conversions, and they brand the content with a heavy hand. This nearly always repels audiences. “I try to steer brands towards something a little more top of funnel: give someone the why, talk about why something is important or teach them something or give a personal story,” says Melanie Deziel, Founder of Storyfuel. Avoiding a pushy tone is crucial to making native advertising — though this does present challenges for measuring success.

Anyone paying for an ad will prefer to gauge the ad’s effectiveness through the lens of conversions. But with native advertising, traditional sales and marketing metrics don’t always fit the bill. Instead of focusing solely on page views or clicks, brands can instead look at the impact of native ads on brand engagement and perception.

One way to do this is to use a social listening tool to see how (and how often) the promoted content is shared. Another useful metric is pages per session. This allows you to make apples-to-apples comparisons with your PPC ads to see whether a native ad does a better job of engaging consumers.

native ads

Understand Your Publisher and Target Audience

A native ad must be relevant to its target audience and still integrate seamlessly within the publication where it’s placed. A native ad in The New York Times will need to have a thoughtful, editorial tone. An Instagram ad will need to be visually eye-catching.

“The core [of good native advertising] is a clear understanding of the target group’s interests,” says Karsten Krämer, Managing Director at C3. “If you know these, it is much easier to define the right content, the channels, the formats you need for a successful campaign.”

One strategy for identifying your target audience’s interest is to look at content that’s already been successful at driving traffic or inviting engagement. Content that is already being liked, commented on or shared is perfect for transforming into a successful native ad. People already engage with the idea, so push it further.  

Brands must also understand the paid channel well enough to be able to blend in, yet stand out. Native advertisements that scream commercial or clickbait simply won’t be received well. “Far too many companies and agencies still make the mistake of running traditional commercials on social channels,” says Pontus Staunstrup, Account Director at BrandMovers.

This is because those companies don’t understand the platforms where they’re running ads. People don’t go on to social media to see Volvo commercials. They go on to see what friends are doing, to read insightful ideas, to be entertained. Brands that understand that will create better ads.  

Thoughtful Content Comes in All Forms — and Often Involves a Story

Educational tutorials, funny GIFs, stories and insightful interviews can all be thoughtful ads. Though they all differ in shape, tone and appeal, the most graceful ads are relevant and offer something meaningful to the viewer. This something might be a laugh, a new idea or encouragement.  

“Remember, the goal of native advertising is to contribute in a way that doesn’t disrupt the user experience,” says Digital Marketing Consultant Tom J. Law. “This means that the ads should be helpful, interesting, and highly relevant to viewers.” Consumers don’t want to be sold to unless they are looking for a specific product in the first place. With native ads, the goal is to not be overtly salesy.

One of the best ways to connect with an audience is with a good story. “Users don’t want to be interrupted during their online experience, and marketers still need to reach an audience,” says Natalie Staines, Director of Marketing at R2i. “By allowing a brand to tell their story within the context of a given site, the user becomes part of the brand story without banner ads flashing in their face or surveys popping up in mid-sentence.”

Good storytelling is what captures your audience’s attention without making them feel distracted from the experience they were looking for.

There is much to gain from storytelling, but it is hard for advertisers and executives to lean in to this approach. “As a performance driven medium, the first 20+ years of digital advertising have been mostly about ROI for advertisers,” writes Dale Lovell, Co-Founder of the agency ADYOULIKE. “As science and artistry become ever-more entwined in our marketing efforts, it’s time for digital advertisers to sit up and take stories seriously.”

Lovell believes that pure, numbers-based ROI does not adequately capture the power of good storytelling. The point of telling a story is so people will connect emotionally with your brand. Emotional connections are hard to measure, and they certainly won’t be captured in a metric like conversion rate.

native ads

Weaving Together Data and Creativity

Native advertising does rely on goals, research and testing — but even the most advanced analysis cannot tell the full story. The ad still must be relatable; viewers must enjoy it.

With that, we leave you one last tip. Viewers recognize native ads just as easily as any other ad — but they are willing to engage with the ad if the material is good. The one thing that will leave them feeling sour is if you try to deceive them and completely hide the fact that your content is promoted.

“With clear labelling, good regulation and relevant, perfectly executed campaigns, there is no reason why it shouldn’t go from strength to strength as well as benefiting readers, publishers and advertisers alike,” digital marketer Alex Attinger writes.

Keep your content labelled as “sponsored” or “promoted material,” and you will maintain the trust of consumers.

Together, trust and delight make for graceful advertising.

Images by: Rupert Britton, Adeolu Eletu, John Schnobrich

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