The decline of traditional advertising has given way to a content-led approach which can give brands new and exciting ways to reach audiences.

The way people engage with brands and organisations has completely changed. Consumers are part of a vast and sprawling eco-system of recommendations, from friends and family to influencers and media outlets – and consumers have far greater control over what parts of that ecosystem they engage with. While display ads may still be influential, they now only represent one part of the customer journey and, with the rise of ad blockers, they can often fail to reach their audience at all.

The good news is that there are a number of ways that advertisers can change their approach to meet the challenges of this shifting landscape and more effectively break through to consumers. Increasingly, advertisers are finding success with content-driven ads, including native content, customised sponsored content, webinars, roundtables and advertorials.

Choosing the best medium

The rise of content-led advertising does not necessarily mean that display ads are no longer valuable. When organisations are looking to increase brand awareness, for example, digital and print display ads can still be effective.

However, many organisations’ needs are more complex. Many of our clients, for instance, are looking for lead generation or brand loyalty. In these cases, native advertising can be more effective.

The challenge is then deciding on the most effective medium to engage your audience. Here, understanding the audience and knowing the type of content that they will respond to is paramount. While one audience might be resistant to webinars, they might respond enthusiastically to a roundtable or a written article.

With so many mediums available, it’s also important to be educated about ways in which you can collaborate with brands to create engaging content. For example, when Netflix was launching its program Narcos it collaborated with the Wall Street Journal to create a piece of integrated, interactive native content about Pablo Escobar, the subject of the series. The article includes clips from the show and features Netflix branding at the top of the page which, in line with best practice, remains there are the user scrolls through.

Recently, we facilitated webinars and digital roundtables – collaborations between biotech organisations and our client HIMSS. By leveraging the thought leadership within biotech companies and the platform we have built for HIMSS, we have been able to generate leads while also providing our audience with engaging and important content.

Stay authentic

As with any other piece of content, the authenticity of content-led advertising is central to its success.

The study that found that audiences fail to see banner ads found that the same phenomena applied when people see content that they perceive to be advertorial in its nature. Researchers dubbed it “banner blindness”, a process in which users’ eyes are immediately drawn to the most relevant parts of the webpage, and avoid visual cues that are commonly associated with ads. This includes logos, as well as colours and formatting that look different to  the rest of the site.

That means heavy branding is out, and streamlined editorial-style pieces of content are in.

To accomplish this, advertisers need to work with editors to create content that accurately reflects the tone of the platform. This can be challenging for advertisers, whose instinct is often to be more heavy-handed than editors with branding, but research suggests that the benefits of creating content that resists the temptation to heavily feature branding translates to higher engagement, a more favourable view of the brand, and stronger conversion rates.

Advertising, like so many other aspects of marketing and communications, is in flux. While change can be daunting, it provides an invaluable opportunity for savvy advertisers to create unique and engaging content that has long-term value for both organisations and their customers.

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