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Content Marketing, Native Advertising, Branded Content: Where is the Performance Voice?
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Content Marketing, Native Advertising, Branded Content: Where is the Performance Voice?

It is impossible to have missed the fact that native advertising and all things content marketing are suddenly top of the marketing discussion agenda. In the media, at events, in the bars – only the advent of digital marketing itself has generated so much – well, content.

And this piece is yet another, but the point is not to deliver yet more predictions and definitions. No, what I have been thinking about is: why have not I heard more noise from the performance sector about native advertising and content marketing?

Affiliate marketing and online lead generation channels have been exploiting content-based advertising forever, from content sites built by bloggers and full-scale publishing operations, to super-affiliate platforms. While banner displays were established to mimic interruptive advertising norms, the performance industry was hard at work monetising site content.

And when the advertising industry determined the importance of content for direct audience engagement, I fully expected this industry to be a louder and more visible part of the discussion.

Earlier this year at the IAB, we set up a content & native working group. It is part of my role to oversee this new industry group, as I do with the performance marketing business. From the outset I have encouraged participation by our performance industry members. This new working group is made up of traditional and digital publishers (eg, The Guardian, FT, Mail Online, Google / YouTube, AOL, Yahoo etc), ad agencies, brands and ad tech companies (including Affilinet, I am delighted to report).

But what astonishes me is the lack of conversation within this industry about native and content because I have no doubt that it is performance territory.

At one end of the spectrum, compelling original content produced by specialist bloggers or professional editorial teams is increasingly attractive to marketers keen to tap into the depth of engagement produced when people consume authentic, quality content online.  

At the other end of the spectrum, high volume traffic sites and services such as vouchers, cashback and comparison aggregators provide attractive content-based alternatives for brands looking to capture engaged online audiences. According to global PR consultancy Fleishmann Hillard, which carried out a US online survey in July 2014 to discover what kind of content people like from brands, the number one type was coupons (76%) and promotions came in at number three (59%).

Leading advertisers are making significant investments in content creation or in establishing partnerships with traffic generating content sites experimenting with sponsorship, UGC, social, exclusive offers and vouchers. This is an invigorating and exciting period of discovery where the rules are only just beginning to be thought about.

News brands are leading the development of sponsored content/advertorial solutions that rely on consumer trust in both advertiser and publisher brands to succeed. The industry’s poster-child, The Guardian, has amply demonstrated this with its million pound-plus deal with Unilever. Is there a reason why there could not be a CPA/CPL element to deals like this?

Revenue-sharing tools such as Outbrain’s content recommendation engine herald new display forms, but is it possible to remunerate beyond a flat CPC? There are no absolute rules governing how these shared revenue solutions will continue to develop and if they present opportunities across the performance channels, then let’s help shape those models.

And I guess this is my point. Where, in this great new movement in digital advertising effectiveness, is the voice and experience of an industry that has managed to deliver more sales than conventional broadcast advertisers have picked up in the last couple of years?

Where is this knowledge and expertise shared in the conversations and events that are shaping the trading patterns, policy advice, consumer behaviours and brand development around content and native solutions?

Maybe I have missed something, but taking a rather more detached view of the industry than some of its practitioners, I wonder if maybe there is a bit of a 'woods and trees' thing going on.

It has been said before – and increasingly frequently – that the performance industry needs to be more integrated with the rest of the digital marketing industry, using its strengths and experience to benefit from new revenue opportunities. What better platform to join than one the industry has already optimised? Call it native if you like, call it content marketing, branded content, but join the conversation and bring the one thing that the rest of the display advertising industry can only model – actual tangible routes to customers. CPA is a hard model to argue against.

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Got a question or comment – tweet Clare @clareob or comment on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN.

Clare O'Brien

Clare O'Brien

Clare O’Brien is Senior Programmes Manager at the IAB and chairs the Affiliate Marketing and Online Lead Generation Councils. She also manages the IAB’s Content & Native Working Group which is currently developing best practice guidelines for advertising disclosure and developing a number of other work streams including measurement.

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