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Is Native Advertising Useful for B2B Brands?

This post was first published by Blaise Lucey on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.

Native advertising shouldn't be done in a vacuum, it needs to be part of a larger campaign.At this point, you might have heard of native advertising as either a useful new marketing tool or an evil, corrupting influence. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that it’s going to be a huge, oddly unifying force in the world of public relations, marketing and journalism.

You don’t have to look further than Buzzfeed to see how popular the trend has become. The tech publication recently landed $50 million in venture funding – in part because the revenue from the publication’s native advertising has been so profitable.Dwindling newspaper sales and print advertisements have inspired a lot more publications to try it out. And while native advertising can take many forms, the most common is an article written by a brand and placed in a news publication – from Forbes to The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times – for cash.

Buzzfeed has been a pioneer of native advertising, asking for a lot of money in exchange for creating branded content for sponsors such as Captain Morgan or Toyota. While this new relationship has raised questions around journalistic integrity (which were illuminated by John Oliver recently in his show, “Last Week Tonight”) there’s no question about the results for publications: increased revenue and great relationships with sponsors.

Native advertising reportedly lifts purchase intent by 18 percent, but a native advertisement from Cheerios called “15 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Increase Your Energy” is much different than a cloud analytics company trying to sell a $500 per month subscription fee with a thought leadership post about the future of the cloud.

High Quality Article + High Quality Publication = Zero Referrals

The excitement around native advertising has encouraged many brands to try it out, but the results can be mixed – especially for B2B brands that are more interested in engagement and leads than impressions.

A contributed article could get shared a thousand times (literally), but all that traffic doesn’t necessarily result in site referrals. If you’re interested in engagement, it isn’t hard to see how effective native advertising is for your company – by using web analytics tools, you can track how many visitors are coming from the publication’s website. If you look at Google Analytics and there have been zero site referrals from the publication, it’s safe to say that a native advertising piece isn’t doing much for the brand.

The streaming, evanescent format of blog posts – which are often consumed and forgotten like Cheetos – encourages the majority of the audience to read these contributed articles and move onto the next thing immediately. They aren’t looking at the author or the company that contributed the piece. Many of them aren’t even reading the whole thing.

For B2Cs, the visibility and impressions of native advertising might be enough. Maybe customers will think about that great, GIF-filled article from Cheerios next time they’re in the cereal aisle. For B2Bs, though, native advertising should only be the top of the funnel for a much broader PR campaign. Otherwise, you end up wasting your money.

Mix and Match

If you’ve developed a great piece of content that you’re hoping to submit to a publication, make sure that there’s a lot more collateral to go along with it. For example, if your company provides local marketing software that helps small businesses and you just wrote an article about “Why Local is Overpowering Social as a Selling Tool,” make sure to include links to not just your website, but a landing page.

The landing page should have a guide about local marketing, commissioned research or a registration form for a free trial that visitors can download in exchange for an email address. Maybe you even lead visitors from the native advertising piece to a flashy micro-site.

Additionally, you should work with your B2B tech PR agency to schedule briefings with reporters and analysts, so interviews and other news pieces supplement the initial native advertising content. That way, anyone who’s regularly reading content around your industry will start to recognize your brand as more news pieces and resources appear with your company included.

To maximize the effect of sponsored content, native advertising efforts should be complemented with great media relations, coverage, social media campaigns and content on the company website. In that way, brands can create a blend of PR, journalism and native advertising that can lead readers to the right place – and hopefully make native advertising worth the hype.

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