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How to integrate native advertising into a multi-channel marketing campaign

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For many businesses, the purse strings have never been tighter. Not only did the pandemic squeeze budgets, but the subsequent cost-of-living crisis which many are now enduring - including rising energy prices, growing wages, and inflationary pressures - are causing businesses to re-assess all their costs, including marketing budgets. 

Consequently, marketing departments are having to be savvier than ever when it comes to how they deploy their ad spend. For Ayal Steinerm, VP Head of Global Advertising Revenue for Outbrain, this means evaluating ROI on existing channels and exploring new ones.

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The multi-channel approach

A multi-channel approach to marketing has long been a recommended practice. Channel diversification allows for better balancing of ad-spend and greater scope to test variables in line with Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) metrics.

Crucially, a multi-channel approach also provides a conduit for more visibility from a wider demographic of customers, reducing the rate of diminishing returns. But within the context of the current economic climate, it has rarely been a more important marketing strategy to remain reactive to the market - especially whilst advertising channels are volatile. 

The start of the pandemic led to a significant rise in e-commerce - by as much as 33.6% in the US, or an additional $800 million on top of forecasted revenue. As a result, some online advertising channels have seen drastic price rises across audience engagement metrics.

A recent article revealed that cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPMs), associated with Google’s programmatic inventory, shot up by 198% year-on-year in July 2021, while CPCs - for its shopping ads during Q2 2021 - increased by 40%. Meanwhile, YouTube’s CPMs soared by 108% year-on-year in July 2021, and Facebook saw a similar 89% increase in its CPMs throughout the same period.

Naturally, with competition pushing up ad prices and business costs rising generally, savvy brands have looked to diversify their advertising portfolio to find the best possible balance between performance and costs.

Native advertising has been one of the primary beneficiaries - with spend on the channel forecast to rise from $85 billion to over $402 billion globally between 2020 and 2025. Native advertising allows marketers to place contextual paid ads on the open web by integrating them into the publishers’ websites in a way that automatically replicates the look, feel, and function of the media format in which they appear.

As more and more brands explore the channel and realise the many benefits it can offer for a range of marketing objectives throughout the purchasing funnel, marketers will need to familiarise themselves and better improve their understanding of how they can integrate native advertising successfully into a multi-channel campaign.

Whilst native is a straightforward way to implement a multi-channel advertising strategy, it requires a carefully joined-up approach across channels. There are ways to optimise and ensure native adverts are working to their maximum potential.

Integration with display ads

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Long gone are the days when a banner or pop-up reminiscent of the flashing ‘lucky winner’ advertisement did anything but irritate the web user and skyrocket bounce rates. Sector-wide, most display ads have thankfully abandoned these practices, gravitating toward a higher-quality, more aesthetically pleasing format - and are all the better for it. That said, when deciding to implement display ads alongside native ads, there are some proven tricks that will make a difference by the end of your campaign. 

Generally, you want to make sure your ad's imagery and text are consistent and clear; there’s a fine line between aesthetic and informative - make sure you tread it carefully.

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) viewability definition, 50% of an advert has to be viewable on the browser for a complete second to be considered an impression, with only a second to grab the audience's attention it is imperative your advert stands out creatively.

For striking ads, favour bold, complimenting colours over dull-white backgrounds, avoid text on the imagery, and use impactful and succinct copy in the headline. Outbrain research shows that top-performing title copy for native ads has between 60-100 characters, while Caps Lock headers are outdated and ineffective. A similar approach can be applied to display ads.

With various types of creative assets at your disposal across native and display advertising, you shouldn’t be afraid of moving beyond the simple solo image, animation, or video clip format. A strength of native advertising’s versatility in formats is that different media can be harnessed to hit separate metric objectives.

For example, in-feed ads that occur in various website content wells can be used to drive new behaviour actions, directing the user away from the site and encouraging brand engagement. Similarly, recommendation widgets deliver sponsored content that is matched to the website and can equally drive brand engagement such as likes, shares, views, and time spent on page.

Aside from text/image cohesion between display and native ads, you also need to make sure you are reaching the right demographic. Beyond simply employing limited keyword targeting, marketers should leverage the technology available through advertising platforms for accurate demographic targeting.

Some display advertising networks and open web recommendation platforms, such as Outbrain, use automated smart systems to place ads on relevant sites, by aligning the host publication with known characteristics of the target demographic including interests and behaviours as well as analysing online traffic trends.

Integration with search ads

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Search ads remain an important part of a marketer’s digital toolbox. However, a shift is occurring as more consumers than ever are discovering new experiences beyond the SERP, with social media advertising driving down saturation of SERPs by as much as 60% in 2020.

Whilst the pandemic has influenced these figures, success in the SERPs is also becoming more challenging for those that have not diversified their advertising mix.

Comprehensive keyword analysis may get you some of the way in terms of conversions but capturing audience engagement at several stages of the purchasing funnel means also targeting consumers across other channels to drive awareness, consideration, and purchases.

Native advertising complements search ads, offering a visually striking advertisement that also enables more voluminous text whilst reaching consumers who are in the earlier ‘consideration’ stage. This allows marketers to supplement their search strategy with more enticing call-to-action (CTAs) and descriptive text while still maintaining a pleasing aesthetic. In this way, native can enhance search ads and stand out against the legacy white and blue of the search engine format.

Integration with social ads

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With paid social now increasingly competitive, advert visuals and copy must be perfect to engage enough users and stand out. Not only that, research by Outbrain compared the effectiveness of paid social versus native advertising on multiple key metrics.

Outbrain research found that native advertising received a 21% higher click-through rate, 24% higher likelihood of purchase, and was deemed 44% more trustworthy by consumers. While this is an obvious strength of native ads over social ads, the two can work together in tandem to target the same users multiple times across both the open web and the various social media platforms – increasing ad recall and growing brand awareness. 

Without using native advertising’s automated content mirroring, advertising on social channels can be labour-intensive and time-consuming. This is because the ideal formats for images, and therefore advertisements, vary in design and functionality. For example, Instagram favours 1080x1080 pixels, whereas Twitter prefers the 1920x1080 format.

To have fully optimised adverts and increase the chance of both clicks and visibility, you need to adhere to these specifics. With native’s ability to automatically scale to the host channel, the burden of redesigning or repurposing advertisements is removed. This allows more time for optimisation and tracking, particularly valuable for companies with smaller advertising and marketing departments.

With this in mind, native methods can be used in conjunction with organic social, to produce better multi-channel results in terms of audience priming - while paid social offers an additional, effective tool for retargeting users who are already engaged with a brand.

Additionally, pairing native advertising with social media offers more flexibility on your digital marketing strategy. While social media algorithms are organised based on global, local, and personal relevance, it can mean your ad is relevant one day but suddenly irrelevant the next.

However, rather than scrapping your whole campaign, native advertising platforms enable contextual implementation, meaning adverts can automatically update due to events, like days or location. This means adverts are actively optimised, rather than manually reactive, allowing more time for campaign analysis and optimisation and less time on design and implementation.

Native advertising for the multi-channel campaign

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Native advertising complements different channels in different ways, serving a variety of purposes depending on your preferred mix and campaign objectives. But regardless of which or how many channels you deploy alongside native, it has advantages that help to lighten the labour intensity of managing a multi-channel campaign.

Its benefits in terms of automation and audience targeting support traditional search and social formats. However, as with all marketing activity, it’s important to implement a test and learn approach to optimise your multi-channel campaign and adapt accordingly when channel performances change.

In an increasingly competitive world of e-commerce, a multi-channel approach is becoming an imperative practice for successful marketers, and native advertising on the open web provides a comprehensive platform to implement it effectively and efficiently.

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