Native Going Mainstream

April 7, 2015

With interest in native advertising growing, here's what you should know

By Michael J. McDermott

If you're not already using native advertising in your B-to-B marketing mix, chances are good you soon will be — at least if you want to stay abreast of your competition. A recent survey by the ANA revealed that 54 percent of B-to-B marketers have engaged in native advertising over the past year; 75 percent reported increases to their native advertising budgets in 2014; and 59 percent anticipate additional increases this year.

It's no mystery why this is happening: Native can play a key role in helping companies get their stories in front of appropriate audiences with relevance and credibility, says Bill Stabile, executive director of branding, advertising, and sponsorships at Siemens Corp. "The depth of our company and of the solutions we provide is extensive; ads alone simply cannot get the story out there," Stabile points out. "Even with our owned properties, we have to deliver important content in a credible way, and native enables us to do that."

Native advertising is a subset of content marketing, and the concept behind it involves brands and publishers working closely together to create paid media that fits natively into the publisher's site or publication in terms of form, function, and appearance. Because native advertising feels less intrusive, site visitors and readers are more likely to engage with it.

The most effective B-to-B native advertising delivers a high-quality, relevant message in a contextually targeted environment, says Jacqueline Lisk, president of JR Lisk, Inc., a content creation and strategy specialist. "Your native ad should provide educational or entertaining information to your audience. It's not just about your marketing mission, it's about finding that sweet spot where your audience's interests and needs intersect with your expertise and advertising objectives," she stresses.

Christopher Boles, director of global advertising and media at Xerox, agrees: "The promise that brands and publishers make with native advertising is that the content will be interesting and will contain some value. Failure to deliver on that promise risks alienating those you are targeting."

Repositioning Xerox

Finding the native advertising sweet spot is an ongoing process and can involve some trial and error, as Xerox's experience illustrates. Following its acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services in 2010, Xerox was deriving about half its revenue from business process outsourcing, but its image in the marketplace was still largely that of a tech company. "Native advertising presented a way for us to tell our story and get it out to a broad audience," Boles says. He admits it has not been a linear progression, as Xerox has tested several different approaches, measured the results, and made adjustments.

It launched its first program about three years ago with The Week, a popular British news magazine. The Week developed a hub on its website, featuring short videos with experts in the appropriate areas, around three of Xerox's services, all created by the publisher. Xerox learned the importance of publisher alignments and topic selection from this six-month program, "but the contextual alignment was really not enough to tell the Xerox story," Boles admits.

The next program involved a branded blog on, and Xerox benefitted from the outstanding job Forbes does of promoting branded content on its site. "We were getting excellent engagement of two to three minutes per article, extremely strong click-throughs, and one percent click-through on our banners, which is about 10 times the norm," he says.

But Xerox still wasn't getting the brand repositioning boost it wanted, so it created its newest native campaign, a multipublisher effort, in the second half of last year. "We decided we were going to talk about Xerox but in a very light-touch way, focusing on innovation through problem/solution storytelling," he says. "This worked really well, and we saw about four or five times the engagement we got with our previous program."

Improving Standards

Dawn Edmiston, clinical associate professor of marketing at the College of William & Mary's Raymond A. Mason School of Business, advises that no matter how relevant the content might be to your specific audience, there must be a clear statement that it is indeed paid advertising. "One of the primary challenges is the lack of standards for native advertising across industries and across media channels," she says.

The ANA says proper disclosure is "a must." It suggests that advertisers adopt formal, written, internal editorial guidelines for the development of native advertising, and that those guidelines include recommendations on disclosure. The Interactive Advertising Bureau says disclosures should be large and visible enough to be noticed in the context of a given page and/or relative to the device on which the ad is being viewed.

Budgeting, management, and measurement are other aspects of native advertising that B-to-B marketers must contend with, and the issues there are much the same as in the B-to-C arena. At Siemens, native is part of a "paid-earned-owned" multichannel, multitouchpoint strategic program. "We look at paid as one component and strive to have media publisher partnerships that drive content, relevance, and audient engagement," Stabile says. "We do not start out with a designated amount for native. Instead, we plan the entire program, including native and non-native, all at once and decide what makes the most sense."

While the ANA survey found that 29 percent of marketers manage native advertising centrally via a dedicated person or group, and 17 percent favor a fully decentralized approach with responsibilities handled by individual teams, the majority (54 percent) adopt a hybrid management plan combining both approaches.

Siemens relies on a small corporate brand team and an aligned digital marketing team. Two brand program leaders manage the native advertising program, reaching out to colleagues in the individual businesses and on the digital team. "We do it all within Siemens, but we depend on our colleagues closer to the business to enable content creation and delivery," Stabile says. "We depend on our 'earned' media relations team to help drive this and approve the content and posture within the advertising. It is a total team effort."

Measuring Success

Marketers appear to be struggling with how to measure the success of native advertising, with no single metric standing out as most important, according to the ANA survey. The most commonly used metrics are click-throughs (83 percent), social media sharing (70 percent), awareness (61 percent), time spent (50 percent), and brand lift (46 percent). However, brand lift was rated "most important" by just 17 percent of marketers and click-throughs and social media sharing by 15 percent each.

Xerox does most of its native advertising in the digital arena because it's inexpensive to do A/B testing and easy to scale a successful campaign. "What we measure depends on the goal of the campaign, but in general we use very similar metrics for native as for our other digital campaigns," Boles says. "Native seems to be a higher-funnel tactic at this point, although that may change over time. But for now, metrics like click-throughs, social media sharing, and awareness make sense."

Finally, keep in mind that the goal with native advertising isn't to "trick" readers into believing that they're looking at editorial, Lisk reminds marketers. "It's to deliver information that conveys a marketing message that fits naturally with the surrounding editorial environment — both in appearance and content. Don't be too 'pluggy,' but don't forget the marketing element, either," she says.


"Native Going Mainstream." Ken Beaulieu. BMA Buzz. 4/7/15.