People are harder to sell to these days. Traditional techniques are proving futile in our fragmented world. And the seemingly simple concept of capturing customers’ attention can seem near-impossible. But there’s still hope, says Mahlab’s Group Sales Manager Kate Galea, and it comes in the form of native advertising.

Thinking about the sheer amount of information that’s readily available to us all day, every day, is a truly mind-boggling exercise. Using that information to our advantage, on the other hand, is not. Deciding where to nip out for a burger now involves five minutes scrolling through strangers’ Instagram pics, looking at the results to the search #sydneyburgers. Buying a new phone entails comparing the latest releases online and reading reviews for a few days before posting a Facebook status when you’re down to the final two, asking your social network to chip in with their thoughts. By the time you book a holiday you have already seen hundreds of photos of the beach and probably had a 360-degree tour of your accommodation.

Because we live in a content-heavy world full of time-poor people, advertisers have a tough job trying to be seen and heard. So when traditional banner ads are either being blocked or ignored, and it’s difficult to prove the ROI of print, how does a brand advertise to a skeptical, savvy audience?

One of the ways is through native advertising – adding to what audiences are after, rather than the thankless task of trying to distract them from it.

So what is native advertising? Brands, publishers, marketers and salespeople have been asking for the last few years while attempting to do their version of what they have understood it to be.  It’s not complicated, though. It’s advertising that matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears. Simple. As well as being a great opportunity for brands, it’s no bad thing for publishers or audiences, either, as it means even more useful and engaging content on their websites and in their magazines.

Not to be confused with content marketing (where a brand is playing a very, very long game and actually becomes a publisher), native advertising echoes the voice of the publisher on which it resides. Whether the publishers objective is to entertain, inform, inspire, or educate, a native advert gives the brand the opportunity to do that as well.

What’s in it for your brand?

here are many strings to the native bow. Traditional advertising helps emerging companies earn recognition through branding and slogans. Native advertising, on the other hand, not only raises brand awareness but also builds and nurtures trust between an advertiser and its audience. Think about it: you’re much more likely to buy from a brand who has caught your attention with compelling, genuinely useful and aspiration content that you are from a brand who has spent millions in an attempt to spray your peripheral with self-serving branding and four-word slogans. Additionally, the traditional approach is all about the campaign, while native gives brands an opportunity to develop long-term relationships with prospects. When done right, the native approach offers brands a trusted voice that audiences actually want to listen to.

How to get started with native advertising

Firstly look to your audience and ask yourself the question: is what you want them to read really more important that what they want to get out of a piece of content? In the native content you create, always offer your readers, viewers, and listeners insights to help them achieve a goal, and, most importantly, avoid being blatantly self-serving.

When it comes to choosing a platform to house your native ad, your approach needs to differ slightly from that of traditional advertisers. While they tend to decide on a home for their advert based almost exclusively on audience-related factors – size, reach, interests and, in the case of B2B, sector – native advertisers also consider a publisher’s credibility, tone and style, and most importantly, what it is about a particular offering that attracts and holds their audience.

Transparency and clarity are the keys to success (and effectiveness)

Unlike traditional advertising, native ads shouldn’t try to disrupt the reader’s experience – they should add to it. Because a native advert is designed to blend with its surroundings, it is absolutely crucial that you clearly communicate to your audience that what they are reading is advertising. A recent study published in The Journal of Advertising shows that audiences struggle to distinguish between editorial and native content, which is all the more reason to ensure you’re being clear and transparent. Try to trick an audience into believing they’re reading editorial work and risk destroying the reputation of not just your brand but the publisher, too.

Does it work?

Definitely. In our experience working with clients across a vast array of industries, the average native ad on one of our websites has an 18x higher click-through rate than the display options. And keep in mind that a website is just one platform in the native arsenal! Whether it’s through print, digital, social or video, native advertising is a sure-fire way for your brand to rise above the noise to connect with your target audiences.

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