Xerox Sold on Native

March 3, 2014

By Ken Beaulieu

Xerox’s innovative use of native advertising — the integration of marketing content with a third-party website — has enabled it to change perceptions and reposition the brand. But implementing the marketing and communications opportunity that native creates is anything but easy.

“With native, the opportunity is the challenge,” says Barbara Basney, vice president of global advertising and media at Xerox. “Creating content that truly integrates with the publisher’s brand and native environment and that optimally aligns with the messaging of the advertiser can be tricky. It’s hard to execute equally well for both the advertiser and publisher.”

Basney, a featured speaker at the ANA Media Leadership Conference, March 30-April 1, in Boca Raton, Fla., shares more insight on Xerox’s native advertising efforts.

Q. What guiding principles must your media partners always keep in mind when creating sponsored content for Xerox? Do you challenge them to experiment with new formats and messages?

A. The first guiding principle is that quality and relevance always wins. Too often, content a brand wants to share is not of great interest to the audience, or it appears too much like marketing material. So, to ensure the content is relevant and appropriate for the audience, it’s critical to maintain rigorous content creation standards. The second principle is to request ownership of the content from the publisher so it can be repurposed and used with other content-based marketing initiatives and paid media opportunities. I also strongly advise setting aside budget that is free of metrics and expectations. Using that budget to “test and learn” in today’s quickly evolving world of media, publishing, and content marketing is not only fun but critical. We have made it a point to try a variety of approaches with native and content-based initiatives with different publishers such as Forbes, Quartz, The Atlantic, and NBC Networks. Being diversified and exploratory lets us leverage the audiences of powerful brand publishing partners.

Q. Please share an example of how Xerox benefitted from a native advertising campaign.

A. In 2013, The Week magazine came to us with an integrated native content program built to align with Xerox services capabilities in three business areas: Customer Care, Human Resources, and Public Transit. The program included the creation of a “Business Made Simple” custom channel on that lived within the home page navigation bar. Content was created by The Week, which enlisted a best-in-class panel of thought-leader contributors aligned with the three Xerox business areas. These experts were videotaped in a moderator-led discussion. More than 60 video segments were created and posted on the Business Made Simple channel, along with written content from both the experts and Xerox. Additionally, print advertorials that ran in The Week highlighted key quotes from experts and showcased the Business Made Simple program to 1.6 million subscribers. Overall, the program delivered more than 18,000 visitors to the Business Made Simple customer channel. These visitors, on average, spent over two minutes with the content, resulting in more than 55,000 article views. The high degree of audience engagement successfully delivered against Xerox’s objective for content alignment and thought leadership within the business services space.

Q. What are some of the inherent risks and pitfalls of native ads?

A. The first risk is the lack of comparable metrics and KPIs. We inherently expect hard metrics from our digital initiatives. However, because native advertising opportunities are typically customized programs, rarely are any two directly comparable. So, the metrics relate to the available measureable elements of each program, which can vary widely. Of course, the more programs we implement, the more we grow our internal repository of “directional” metrics. But advertisers have to be comfortable with a bit of ambiguity and looser metrics associated with these native advertising programs. The second risk is repurposing existing company content, such as sales collateral — or content written by employee contributors. In general, companies typically do too much “chest beating” with their own content for it to work well as native on a publisher site. Company-generated content requires considerable “massaging” to ensure it not only meets the standards of quality and relevance, but is also appropriate and respectful of the advertiser’s brand and the publisher’s site. This includes both the written word and any visuals that may be used — it all needs to work together to tell a story.

Q. Where do future opportunities lie for native advertising? Is your focus on better integrating paid, owned, and earned media?

A. The future is filled with new possibilities. More than ever, it is crucial that advertisers talk with publishers about the brand and the advertiser’s business goals, and brainstorm together about how to address those goals. As technology has evolved, it has unleashed web and mobile capabilities for media publishers in unprecedented ways. Our creativity is bounded only by being respectful of both the advertiser and publisher brands and the need for all advertising and sponsored content to be clearly marked as such. Maximizing the integration of paid, owned, and earned media should be top of mind. It’s key to leveraging the native opportunity and maximizing its impact. For that reason, the paid/owned/earned functional teams within a company must work closely on an almost real-time basis to operationalize these opportunities and get the full value of the benefit.


"Xerox Sold On Native." Ken Beaulieu, 2014.