Native Ad

Ah, Native Advertising. How We Love To Hate You.

Is there anything more annoying than clicking on a headline or video on a favorite website, only to discover you’re actually consuming an ad? There are times when native advertising, is informative and useful. But it’s easy to get angry when you feel duped into clicking.

Native advertising is hardly a new concept. It’s been around for over a century. Lengthy advertorials appeared in the magazines of the early 1900’s. When radio took off, sponsored programs were the norm. In the 90’s you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing an infomercial (STOP THE INSANITY!) But with the advent of the internet, it seems people have chosen sides. Some feel native advertising is slimy. Others find it to be a far more appealing approach than traditional forms of advertising.

The Prickly Native Advertising Pickle

Native advertising is paid content that blends into the form and the function of the platform on which it appears. Currently, there are no true and set standards for native ads, so some publishers are far more transparent than others when it comes to native content.

Marketers find themselves in a prickly position when it comes to native ads. How can you incorporate sponsored content into your overarching strategy without alienating the very people you’re trying to connect with?  Publishers also find themselves in a precarious situation. If they accept money from Geico to produce content about their products and services, how can they be expected to report objectively on that company? How do they walk the line between paying the bills and maintain the trust of their readership?

The Current Native Advertising Landscape

If you are considering dipping your toes into sponsored content, It’s worth examining the current landscape:

  • Nearly half of all US consumers do not know what native advertising is.
  • Of the half that does know what it is, over 50% say they are skeptical of native advertising.
  • 75% of publishers offer native advertising on their platforms.
  • 41% of national brands currently incorporate native advertising into their marketing strategy.
  • It is estimated that native advertising will rake in $8.8 billion annually by 2018.
  • 53% of users say they would be more likely to click a native ad than a banner ad.

When Native Advertising Works

In order for native advertising to create a win-win-win for brands, publishers and consumers, it must be useful and it must be relevant. In fact, the best native advertising can be classified as true journalism. Take, for example, “Women Inmates: Separate But Not Equal,” which appeared in The New York Times. Sponsored by Netflix to promote their series “Orange is the New Black,” the article focuses on the unique issues facing women in US prisons today. Someone who is interested in the topic of women in prison would likely be interested in the show, which takes place in a women’s correctional institution.

Netflix chose to create informative, engaging content that would appeal to potential viewers and they matched it with a platform that made sense. While the article was clearly labeled an ad for a television show, the piece was not promotional and did not use any hard-sell tactics.  Readers could feel safe sharing the content with others, without alienating their own network.

When Native Advertising Doesn’t Work

The biggest problem with native advertising is the potential for eroding consumer relationships for both the publisher and the advertiser. When native advertising is poorly executed, it leaves people feeling cheated and lied to. The moment a customer feels that a brand they love has been dishonest with them, the relationship becomes fractured.

Popular televisions shows like Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and South Park have tackled the native advertising problem head-on. Oliver’s rant went viral (two years later, it’s still capturing views), and the South Park episode titled “Sponsored Content” included this tirade from Stephen Stotch:

“I got so used to getting news off the internet, but I feel like I’m always trying to chase the news somehow. It’s like I’m in a black void trying to reach the news story, but then the next thing I know, I’m reading an ad for Geico. So I click out of that and try to read the news story, but it’s not a news story, it’s a slide show. And I’m looking at the worst celebrity plastic surgery jobs ever. So, of course I want to see the next slide of plastic surgery gone wrong, so I hit the arrow. But then the arrow wasn’t the arrow for the next slide, it was to take me for an ad for face cream. I wanted to get a new story, but I’m reading about face cream, and I try to click out of it but the ad is following me. It’s following me all over the screen! No! So I click on the close button, but it wasn’t a close button, it was another slide show! And I just want to know what’s happening in the Middle East, but instead, I’m looking at the ‘Top 10 scariest movies of all time’! And that’s not the arrow for the next slide, it’s for another ad. Ahhh!”

It happens to all of us, Stephen.

An ad is an ad, whether it is a banner, a sidebar, or an article on a trustworthy news site. When half of all consumers can’t tell the difference between an ad and the news, publishers and advertisers have a real, ethical problem on their hands.

When Native Advertising Just Goes Wrong

Among those who believe native advertising is pure evil, the case of Scientology and The Atlantic is often cited. The Church of Scientology created native content praising David Miscavige (who, by most accounts is pure evil himself, but that’s a discussion for another time). The content looked like any other article in The Atlantic, it was not clearly labeled as paid content, it appeared to be an endorsement of a controversial figure, and readers went ballistic. Less than 12 hours after publishing it, the magazine pulled the piece and quickly developed strict native advertising guidelines. Of course, through the magic of the internet, you can still find it.

How Not To Screw It Up

There is no foolproof formula for creating successful native ads. If you’re going to venture into native territory, make sure to approach with caution. First and foremost, commit to providing useful, engaging, informative content that is not overtly self-promotional. Most people are fine with a paid article or video if it is relevant, truthful, entertaining and/or informative.

Transparency and authenticity are also crucial for native advertising success. If you trick the audience, they will be upset when the truth is revealed.  Make sure you are clear and up-front about your role in creating the content so you don’t fracture relationships with existing or potential customers.

Consumers want ads on their own terms. Consider this: most people complain about commercials, but the majority of Americans who tune into the Super Bowl stay glued to their seats during commercial breaks. They know they are consuming ads, and they are ok with it because they know brands go out of their way to be entertaining during The Big Game.

Native advertising is a polarizing strategy, but by all accounts, it’s here to stay. If you venture into native territory, create a thoughtful plan and partner with platforms that make sense for your brand and are committed to transparency.  If you have any doubts about a particular piece or publishing partner, listen to your gut. It’s better to forego publishing an article than to alienate your customers.

 

Marketing To Millennials: How To Connect With Generation Y

Millennials. It seems everyone’s talking about them. Their likes. Their dislikes. Their shortcomings. Their spending habits.  Marketing to Millennials isn’t your grandma’s marketing.  In order to reach the 18-30 set, you’ve got to understand a little bit about them and adjust some of your tactics if you wish to get their attention.

Who Are The Millennials?

Millennials, also known as Generation Y (solely based on the fact that they came after Generation X), refers to the subset of the population born in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Some people may refer to this group as the Peter Pan Generation and the Boomerang Generation, because of their reputation for moving back home with their parents after college.

Millennials have been studied, labeled, stereotyped, and patronized. They are often classified as lazy, job hopping, narcissists who mooch off of their parents. Some, like Ron Alsop, the author of the book The Trophy Kids Grow Up, blame the parents for the perceived shortcomings of this generation. According to the book, Millennials have entitled attitudes and unrealistic expectations about work because they were the first generation to receive participation awards for competitive sports, and they have an almost Velcro-like attachment to their parents.

Time Magazine tackled the Millennials in May of 2013. The article, titled “The Me Me Me Generation” focuses on the complexities of the generation. Sociological research supports the negative stereotypes of Millennials, having grown up in the AOL era, watching reality television, with the “Me Generation” (Baby Boomers) as parents.  But it also points out that Millennials are the first generation of teens since, well, ever, to not rebel, as they have nothing to rebel against (thanks to their permissive parents). They are also, according to the article, very positive and optimistic about their futures.  As self-absorbed and entitled as Millennials may be, they are also much more open-minded than older generations.

Connecting With Millennial Customers

So how can organizations connect with this extremely complex demographic? There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but here are some tips that can help you communicate with Millennials:

  • Show Social Media Savvy. Not only do you have to have social media profiles, but you must be active on those profiles. And Facebook alone won’t cut it. Millennials hang out on Facebook, yes, but they’re also on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. By utilizing a variety of social networks, you can better connect with Gen Y.
  • How are Your Reviews?  Millennials don’t make decisions without checking online reviews. So make sure that a) You’ve got profiles set up on sites like Yelp or Amazon and b) you’ve got excellent reviews. Millennials need to know that other people find your business acceptable before they’ll try you out. This is not a generation that falls for slick ad campaigns, nor do they make impulse purchases (sorry, infomercial producers).
  • Don’t be Clever for the Sake of Being Clever.  A while back, Microsoft launched a video called “Child of the 90’s.” It was clever. It was nostalgic for that generation. But that was that. It did nothing to draw Millennials to Internet Explorer. They watched the video on Safari and Chrome, maybe shared it with a few hundred friends on social media, and when it was over, they went right back to what they were doing…on Safari and Chrome.
  • Get Interactive. Get Millennials involved with your campaigns. This is a gadget generation, and they love participating in user-generated content (UGC). They also like to make suggestions and win contents. If you’re considering developing a new product or service, ask them what they think about it.
  • Give Something Away. This generation is strapped with more debt than any generation in history. They are also suffering from crippling unemployment and underemployment. Overall, Millennials (especially those on the younger side) don’t have lots of cash to throw around. That’s why they have to be discerning about where they spend their money. But, if you’re too rich for their blood, give them some free stuff.   Millennials will happily take your free T-shirts, tote bags, and stickers. And they’ll wear and display them, giving you a bit of free promotion wherever they go.
  • Make Sure Users Can Purchase Online (and that you’ve got fast shipping options). Amazon and Zappos have spoiled all of us when it comes to online shopping. But Gen X and Baby Boomers are typically more patient when it comes to waiting for the UPS truck. Millennials can buy almost anything on Amazon with a guarantee it will arrive in two days.  They do not necessarily want to schlep out to your shop to make a purchase, nor will they, especially if your competitor offers their products for sale online.  If you don’t have an online shopping cart, get one. And be darn sure you have quick-ship options.
  • And Please. Don’t do this. EVER.  I have no idea what GM was going for, here. But it’s quite terrible.

 

 

No matter how well you promote your product to Millennials, if it’s not top-quality, it’s not going to resonate with them. Don’t mistake their youth for stupidity. They are very discerning customers (think of all the kids with MacBooks who can’t afford to buy their own lunch), and they will fork over money for quality. If you don’t meet their expectations, they’ll be sure to tell their friends on Social Media. And leave you a bad review. On every site they can.

 

How do you connect with your Millennial customer base?

 

Is Facebook Advertising Worth It For SMBs?

As Facebook continues to struggle with properly monetizing its platform, SMBs have been forced to evaluate how they market on the social network. It’s even caused some to consider abandoning their Facebook strategy in favor of greener pastures.

Frustration with Facebook is spreading. This recent YouTube video by Veritasium was quite revealing (it’s nine minutes long, but worth the watch if you advertise on Facebook):

If you don’t have eight minutes to spare, here’s the gist: The folks at Veritasium explain in detail – with supporting data – how likes purchased through the Facebook advertising system aren’t worth what you pay for.

Page admins can go out into the recesses of the internet and purchase bulk likes for cheap. These “Click Farms” pay workers in developing nations to like your page. These fake likes will increase your total like count, but do nothing to boost engagement, and it’s a direct violation of Facebook’s use policies.

So, Facebook gives you the option of purchasing ads through their system to increase your likes.  But the Veritasium video concludes that most of these “legit” likes come from those very same link farms.

And thus, we have yet another wrinkle in the Facebook advertising platform. If you buy likes through Facebook, you could end up with a lot of followers who don’t actively engage with your content. Facebook only shares your content with a small percentage of your total followers. So if a majority of your followers are fake, they won’t engage with your content and your posts will go nowhere. What does that mean? That you have to pay again to amplify your posts in the hopes of getting in front of your real fan base. It’s a double-dip. Large brands may be able to eat this cost, but for SMBs, every penny matters.

Should You Move to a New Sandbox?

Other platforms, like Google+ take a lot more work. Social media managers like buying Facebook likes because they can set it and forget it. They get to report the new likes to their bosses and poof! The work is done. But on G+ you have to do actual marketing work to earn circles and comments. But the interactions that are happening over there are genuine.

Yes, Google tries very hard to force users into G+, but once you’re there and you work it, you can create solid engagement with followers. And if you use it correctly, it can improve your author rank and SEO efforts. It has its flaws, but with Google you know what you’re signing up for. Facebook changes the rules on a dime, and the average SMB can’t keep up.

Facebook will always be challenged because its algorithm is reactionary. They only know what you’ve liked and been interested in the past, and they don’t account for the present. Google, on the other hand, lives in the now. Google knows what you’re looking for at the very moment you’re looking for it. And that’s why their ads are far more valuable.

And nobody goes to Facebook to buy things. So the ads you place there are always going to be interruption-based marketing tools. People use Google to buy things. So the ads are much more welcome and just make more sense.

Clearly, I fall in the Veritasium camp. I feel that Facebook’s model is flawed. I firmly understand the need for them to monetize the platform, but I disagree with the methods. That being said, Facebook advertising can work for businesses, and it can work well. For a well-constructed argument – with supporting data –  against the Veritasium video, visit Jon Loomer’s blog.

The real scoop lies somewhere in the middle. Mr. Loomer is an advanced Facebook marketer. The average SMB isn’t on his level (and probably doesn’t have the budget to get up to speed quickly). And the Veritasium video does have its flaws. Over at Search Engine Journal, they recently conducted a detailed case study on whether Facebook’s ads for likes are worth it. Their conclusion: it depends.

And that’s probably the best conclusion. It depends. If you’re after vanity metrics, go for it. And as you become savvier in the ways of Facebook marketing, you can squeeze more value from buying Facebook likes. Or, you and pick up your toys and move to another sandbox where you’ll get a higher return right out of the gate.

What do you think about paying for Facebook likes? Do you think it’s still worth it? Let me know in the comments.

 

Isn’t It About Time To Hire A Ghost Blogger?

BooI spend a lot of time on my blog talking about the benefits of business blogging, encouraging businesses to blog regularly, and imploring them not to abandon their blogging strategies. But the biggest obstacle facing busy professionals when it comes to blogging is time. How on earth do you fit blog content generation into your already-packed schedule?

The simple answer? Outsource to a blog ghostwriter. The complicated answer? Outsource to a blog ghostwriter.

The fact is, it’s not easy to find a ghostwriter who understands your business and who can address the needs and pain of your clients. The whole point of blogging is to solve problems for your audience, and it might make you nervous to hand that over to someone else.

Business Writers Only Write In The Voice Of Others

As a business writer, I can attest to this. I spend so much time adopting the tone of my clients that I often find it hard to remember my own voice here on this very blog.  Adapting and capturing voice is what business writers do.

A good blog ghostwriter should sit down with you and ask you lots of questions about your business, your customers, and your goals for your blog. It may take a few posts to perfectly capture your style, but ghostwriters know how to do it. Their careers are built around writing for others.

You’re Not Doing It Yourself

The fact is, you’re probably not blogging. Go ahead. Look and see. Tell me the date of your last blog post. I’ll wait. If it has been more than two months, you’re not prioritizing your blog. This is a mistake because:

  • Regular blogging leads to improved search visibility.
  • Active blogging helps draw inbound leads.
  • Your potential customers are looking for answers to their questions. If they don’t find them on your site, you can bet they’re finding them on your competitors’ sites.

Failing to blog can cost you time, energy and leads. And if you don’t have the spare time and effort to maintain a blog, it’s time to consider hiring a ghostwriter.

When You Pay Peanuts You Must Be Prepared To Work With Monkeys

One of the biggest mistakes a business can make when outsourcing to a ghost blogger is hiring a writer from overseas or off of a cheap job board.  The prices can be very tempting, but the quality is simply not going to be there.   A professional business writer will simply not work for $10 a post.

As a business owner you probably understand what it means to get what you pay for. My grandmother used to say, “If you pay peanuts, be prepared to work with monkeys.”  If you’re going to pay bargain basement prices, you’re going to get bargain basement work. Ok, enough with the sayings. You get my drift. You simply cannot purchase professional-grade, properly optimized blog posts for $10 a pop.

Ghost Blogging Can Pay For Itself

No, not overnight. It takes a long time for your blog to have an impact on traffic and inbound leads. But over time, you will see an increase in traffic and leads. And at that point, you’ll start to see ghost blogging as an investment rather than an expense.

And as time goes on, your ghostwriter won’t need as much support or guidance from you. Your blog will be on autopilot from where you sit, freeing up your time and your energy to continue growing your business.

If you’re in need of a guest blogger, leave a comment or contact me directly to find out more information. Your blog can help you be found online, assert your authority in your industry, and generate new clients.