The world of digital marketing is rapidly changing. If you’re a performance marketer, you may sometimes feel as if you’re drowning in an alphabet soup of buzzwords, marketing speak, and confusing acronyms.
If you’ve ever tripped your tongue on the differences between content marketing and native advertising, well, you’re not the only one. Content marketing and native advertising have certain characteristics in common – but they are not the same. As digital marketing becomes more advanced, and new tools and platforms unfold, it’s important to stay on top of your game. To do that, let’s take a separate look at content marketing and native advertising, and see exactly how – and why – they’re different.
If content marketing seems to be a modern, internet-based phenomenon, think again. Content marketing has a long and impressive history. The earliest content marketing had the same goal as it does today – to drive brand awareness and customer engagement by promoting informative or entertaining content that gives value to existing and potential customers.
You’ve probably heard of John Deere, the farming equipment company, but you may not know that John Deere is actually regarded by many as the grandfather of content marketing. This is because, in the late 1800s, the company began producing a magazine called The Furrow. The magazine provided farmers with information and advice from the world of agriculture. It was also a great way to get the John Deere brand out there to customers, not via advertising, but by marketing through relevant, valuable content. Over a century later, the magazine is still in circulation – in 14 languages!
Much later, in the internet age, content marketing entered a whole new world of possibility. The ability to produce and publish content digitally and cost effectively, in a wide range of forms, has massively expanded the content marketing industry. So has the proliferation of computers, and especially mobile devices, which means that customers can access online content anywhere, anytime. Blogs, ebooks, videos, infographics, and interactive content, such as quizzes, surveys and more, are leveraged by brands to strengthen their image and message.
A classic example is the famous “Will It Blend?” YouTube video series by Blendtec, which has been ongoing since 2006. With over 200,000,000 views to date, the Blendtec video series is an ingenious piece of content marketing. The company founder stars in quirky short videos in which he attempts to blend objects in the Blendtec blender, demonstrating the product’s incredible power. Items such as iPads, marbles, diamonds and magnets have all been thrown in the Blendtec blender to answer the question, “will it blend?” The fascinating video series incorporates some of the most important aspects of content marketing, such as customer engagement. Many of the ideas about which objects to test in the blender come from popular requests sent in by the audience.
Check out this infographic that gives a visual summary of the story of content marketing, from John Deere, to “Will It Blend?”, to today.
To sum up, content marketing is the entire strategy of content-based promotional activities via the creation and publication of educational or entertaining content to drive customer engagement. It’s not one item in the performance marketer’s repertoire; it’s the whole kit and caboodle – and the kitchen sink!
Native ads are paid advertisements that blend in with the format and feel of the channel or publication in which they appear. The beauty and power of native ads are that they are nonintrusive; they don’t engage in hard selling, such as a TV commercial or magazine ad might. Rather, native ads intend to inform, educate or entertain the reader, providing them with a value-added experience that creates a positive and memorable association with the brand.
Native advertising, like content marketing, has a long and illustrious history, dating back to the 1800s. Then and now, native ads work on the same principles:
Here’s an early example of a native ad, for Quaker puffed wheat. Answer this question: does it look like a comic strip, or an ad?
It definitely looks and feel like a comic strip, and that’s what makes it a native ad, rather than just a regular advertisement. Native ads are usually marked as such, so readers are aware they are viewing an ad, not an editorial piece. Notice how the word “Advertisement” appears at the top of the Quaker native ad.
Another type of native advertising is the advertorial, which first appeared in the early 20th century. Advertorials are paid ads designed to look like an article, rather than an ad, based on editorial-style content that informs or entertains the audience.
Here’s an oft-cited example of one of the best advertorials ever published. In 1915, the Cadillac car company, which was facing tough times, published an advertorial about “The Penalty of Leadership”. The native ad, which was only published once, is widely credited for turning around the company’s fortunes, as it so successfully associated the notions of prestige and quality with the Cadillac brand.
Today, native ads are published in a few different ways – on social media platforms, in search results of search engines such as Google or Bing, and on content recommendation platforms.
In the pre-computer age, native ads were just ads. They stood on their own feet.
In today’s internet-based world, native ads are in fact, a means to an end – to get the reader to complete an online action (download an ebook, request a demo, watch a video, etc) that will take them down the sales and marketing funnel, with the intention of getting them to convert to a customer further down the road. Native ads are not just a form of advertising. They are a vital link in the chain of content marketing – but they are not content marketing itself.
Think of it this way: native advertising is a few slices of the larger content marketing pie. In fact, it may surprise you to know that native advertising already accounts for over half of online advertising. In 2017, native ads overtook display ads in terms of dollar spend. And, some 43% of content marketers are using native advertising as part of their marketing strategy.
Here’s an infographic to give you a visual overview of how native advertising has evolved over time.
If you cut back on all the performance marketing noise, you’ll notice a key differentiator between content marketing and native advertising – and it comes down to cost.
The content marketing examples cited above revolve around ‘owned media’ – that is, content created and distributed by the brand itself, on its own media channels and platforms, such as the company website and social media pages. The “Will It Blend?” videos are produced by Blendtec and promoted on their own YouTube channel. The Furrow magazine is produced, published and distributed by the John Deere company. Content marketing generally doesn’t include paid media, although a well-rounded content marketing strategy may also include paid advertising (such as PPC ads).
Native advertising, on the other hand, is always paid for. The advertiser (or brand) pays a third-party publisher to feature its native ads on the publisher’s site or channel. Quaker paid the newspaper to publish its native cartoon ad. And Cadillac bought the advertising space in the Saturday Evening Post for its native advertorial. In the online space, advertisers typically pay the host website for every click-through of their native ad.
Let’s conclude with an analogy that gives a nicely rounded overview of the difference between content marketing and native advertising, in a comfortably digestible morsel:
“If native advertising is on the menu, then content marketing is the whole kitchen.”
That’s right – native advertising is one method that you can implement into your whole content marketing strategy. But it’s also much more than just a method. Native advertising is perhaps an entire world of content marketing all its own because it works to drive customer engagement along the entire sales funnel. But remember, if you’re a performance marketer, native advertising – no matter how effective – can never be content marketing. So get back to the kitchen and start cooking your full course content marketing strategy!
Written by Guest Author Liraz Postan, from Outbrain
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