Defining content marketing, native advertising and engagement

by Susan Getgood on July 16, 2013 · 1 comment

in Advertising,Blogging,Influencer Marketing,Marketing,The Marketing Economy

Content marketing. Native advertising. Engagement.

These, my friends, are the buzzwords du jour. And there seem to be as many definitions OF them as there are letters IN them. Every publisher, every social network defines them in the context of their offer, their platform — what they are able to deliver to the advertiser.

Which is of relatively little use to the brand marketer trying to compare these disparate offerings and make decisions among them. In order to do that, you have to strip away the bells and whistles of the digital platforms and properties to get to a simple common definition of WHAT these things are. In other words, get to the apples to apples of things first, and then look at the embellishments offered by each platform/publisher.

To help us out, here are my simple definitions.

Content Marketing

Content marketing isn’t exactly new. In fact, it’s as old as the first testimonial, and I’m sure if we looked hard enough we could find that in the Bible. Not to start a religious war or anything but some might say that the Bible itself was an early form of content marketing. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Turn of the (20th) century woman’s literature.

Content marketing is storytelling used to persuade. Prior to the modern age, it was more often and obviously used for ideas, but first person testimony has been used for products since the very first marketplaces.

The digital form offers some twists that we don’t find in Paine, Genesis or turn-of-the century pamphlets for this or that medicine.

In digital, content marketing is far more overtly used for products. Sponsored content on blogs, consumer resource sites sponsored by brands, brand sponsored Pinterest boards and Facebook Pages. Even content driven advertising. Format doesn’t matter – editorial, testimonial, advertorial, advertising –as much as the simple notion that there is intrinsic value in the content. In other words, I don’t have to buy the product to get some value.

The value in the content independent of its role as a branded or brand sponsored message is what drives sharing. In the digital sphere, we can track and measure that sharing, and use that information to tweak our tale, adjust our strategy. A real-time option definitely not available to Mr. Paine. It took him years and an occasional stint in Parisian prisons to get his feedback.

Native Advertising

It’s no secret that I find this term unnecessary. It’s a buzzword in search of a unique meaning.

In some circles, it means an advertising message (of any length) delivered in the “native” format of the platform. This can be anything from a Facebook post or a tweet, to a brand logo perched on a blog post a la BuzzFeed. Even a brand-written advertorial “guest posted” in a blogger’s editorial space. The term can also be expanded to include all forms of sponsored content, even that which is not 100% controlled by the brand.

My question has always been – why do we even need the term? We have perfectly good terms — advertising, editorial, advertorial, content and sponsored content. Advertising is a message developed and controlled by a brand. Editorial is a message developed and controlled by the author or publisher. Advertorial is a blend of the two, and strictly speaking only should be applied to editorial-like content developed and controlled by the advertiser, although you will find it applied to independently written sponsored posts.

Collectively, digitally, all of these things can be considered content. Yes, even advertising. And when a brand sponsors and informs it, we call it sponsored content. So why exactly do we need the term native advertising?

I suppose underlying the rise of and desire for the term is the idea that native somehow makes it better. The thought process must be something like this: “Native. That’s like organic, right? So it MUST be better.”

Poppycock.

There’s nothing wrong with advertising. It serves its purpose in the marketing mix, as do all the other tools in the toolbox.

Engagement.

Simple right? Engagement is the measure of consumer interaction with the brand message. It’s an action – reading a blog post, retweeting or sharing a Facebook post, pinning an image.

Engagement is not exposure.

Exposure to a message is important, additive and critical. Without exposure, there is no possibility of engagement, and we know that repeated exposures increase likelihood of eventual purchase. Understanding the potential exposures to our message is the crucial base for a concrete action based model for engagement.

With advertising, we buy impressions but evaluate the success of our programs on click-through. In social, we acquire exposures (paid or earned, it really doesn’t matter) and evaluate the success based on actual consumer engagement with the message – by reading content, clicking through to a site, entering a sweepstakes, pinning an image, retweeting and so on.

This is all moving toward models that are predictive of sales, or at minimum can be used to forecast with some degree of accuracy. We aren’t there yet, and even when we are, it will never be perfect. Things that involve people never are totally predictable, but the more we understand what works to move the needle — what is effective —  the more efficient we can be with our marketing spend.

One tactic that will help in this mission is to design engagements — actions — that move the consumer along the sales funnel. For example, instead of simply collecting an opt-in email address for more information on your micro-site, develop an interactive widget that helps the consumer understand which of your products might fit her best, or provides use scenarios that she can try on for size. Whenever possible, engage your customer actively, not passively.

And that’s it for today’s vocabulary lesson. What popular industry terms and jargon do you think could stand a little deconstruction? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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