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7 Ways B2B Marketers Can Maximize the Impact of Native Advertising Campaigns


These days, it seems like the marketing world can’t stop talking about native advertising. Many prominent companies have jumped on board with this new trend, from major publishers like Forbes, The New York Times and The Washington Post to big brands like Red Bull, Porsche and Target.

Frequently hailed as the “rebirth” of advertising, native advertising refers to content that is specifically designed to integrate seamlessly with digital channels so as not to disrupt the user experience. Examples include advertorials, Promoted Tweets and Facebook Sponsored Stories

Why is native advertising so popular? Simple: it works. IPG Media Lab and Sharethrough recently conducted a study that surveyed 4,770 consumers of B2C brands like Southern Comfort and National Geographic and found that people:

  • View native ads 53 percent more than traditional displays;
  • Have an 18 percent higher purchase intent after viewing native ads as compared to banner ads; and,
  • Are 13 percent more likely to share native ads as compared to regular banner ads.

But B2C companies aren’t the only ones to benefit from native advertisingB2B businesses are also successfully using this strategy to get impressions and quality leads from the social web.

Through Forbes’ sponsored content program, for example, SAP drove 300,000 page views from five sponsored articles; gryoVoice’s Welcome To The Era Of Design advertorial was viewed more than 117,000 times (by comparison, their company website receives only five percent of that traffic per month) and NetApp created one of the top read articles on the site in September 2012.

While the number of leads generated from these campaigns wasn’t made public, research shows that organizations relying primarily on inbound marketing techniques (such as native advertising) experience a cost per lead that is 2.5 times less than organizations using outbound marketing techniques (such as traditional banner ads).

With results like these, it’s no wonder more marketers are jumping on the bandwagon. And it’s clear this advertising technique is sticking around: an eMarketer report projects that marketers will nearly triple what they currently spend on native advertising over the next five years, from $1.6 billion in 2012 to $4.6 billion in 2017.

eMarketer native vs. display spending bar graph

eMarketer’s native vs. display spending report

Here, we outline seven tips to help you maximize the impact of your native advertising campaigns when implementing them as part of your B2B marketing strategy.

1. Know the Platforms Available to You

For a brief overview of your native advertising options, I recommend checking out The Native Adscape Reference Tool. It provides a visual representation of the landscape, and will help you make a more informed decision about what platforms will maximize the impact of your native advertising campaigns. Forbes also has an in-depth overview of several native channels that’s worth taking a peek at.

But there’s another major website B2B companies should look into using: LinkedIn, which recently overtook Twitter as the most popular social distribution channel among B2B marketers. On July 23, 2013, LinkedIn announced it’s finally allowing businesses to promote sponsored content, including text, video and presentations, in the newsfeeds of users. This allows companies to share targeted content with a highly relevant audience that can comment on, share and like it.

Adobe sponsored post LinkedIn

A sample Adobe Sponsored Post on LinkedIn

Although LinkedIn just released their native advertising platform to the public, they’ve been testing it for the past six months with several B2B companies, including Adobe, Xerox, Charles Schwab and Australian telecom Telstra.

Telstra used LinkedIn Sponsored Updates to build awareness among Australian professionals and position themselves as a prime choice for companies’ business telecommunication needs. The results were impressive: Telstra’s native campaign accelerated the rate at which they attract new followers by 12 percent, raising their total followers to 50,000 and making them the third-most followed Australian company on LinkedIn. 

When you consider that 79 percent of B2B marketers state the goal of content marketing and native advertising is to raise brand awareness, a 12 percent increase in social media followers is undoubtedly a great start. More followers give brands a larger audience of prospective clients and a clear channel to communicate with them, allowing organizations to build relationships and convert prospects into customers over time.

With three million company pages and a rich sampling of business professionals among its 225 million-plus members, LinkedIn is a great option for B2B companies looking to test out native advertising. (For more information on how to get started, I recommend checking out this great article from HubSpot that walks you through the basics.)

2. Target More Consumer-Centric Channels 

While it used to be considered ineffective for B2B companies to target buyers on “non-business” social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, this way of thinking is changing. In fact, social media has eclipsed articles as the most popular content marketing tactic for B2B organizations.

In June 2013, General Electric partnered with Buzzfeed, a social news site known for its quirky and amusing posts,to promote the company’s aviation presence at a five-day industry event, The Paris Air Show.

GE’s native advertising campaign consisted of two parts. The first was an interactive content consumption game dubbed “Flight Mode,” which turned BuzzFeed’s site into a grid of articles you could “fly” over in a little plane using your mouse. The second was a series of sponsored articles about aviation that featured fun, lighthearted posts, including “16 Amazing Things You’ll See at an Air Show” and “10 Mind-Blowing Facts About Modern Day Flight.”

GE sponsored post BuzzFeed

One of GE’s sponsored posts on BuzzFeed

The golden rule of advertising is to go where your customers are—so why would a company like GE partner with BuzzFeed to promote their B2B aviation products? It’s simple: B2B buyers simply don’t spend a lot of time on vendor sites. In addition to sites that provide key business insight, such as Forbes or The Washington Post, B2B buyers visit consumer-centric communities with entertaining content, meaning they’re bound to be among BuzzFeed’s 60-plus million monthly readers.

As Buzzfeed COO Jon Steinberg explains, “People in positions to make purchases in the aviation field, they like engaging content and the same fun stuff as everyone else.”

While reading a post on amazing aviation facts may not compel these professionals to immediately buy GE aviation products, it triggers an association between GE and business aviation, which helps push the company top of mind when it comes time to make a decision about who to purchase aviation products from.

GE isn’t alone—according to Steinberg, more and more advertisers are starting to realize they can reach business buyers through more consumer-focused sites; a trend he calls the “consumerization of B2B marketing.”

GE was BuzzFeed’s first B2B native advertising partnership, and it was a successful one, generating over 100,000 page views from airplane enthusiast consumers and B2B buyers. The content on BuzzFeed also helped feed GE’s broader social network of almost one million Facebook followers and 145,000 Twitter fans via the site’s social sharing integration.

3. Identify Your Platform’s “Native Tongue”

Native advertising campaigns must match readers expectations about the style and type of content they consume there, or what social media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk calls “the native tongue of the platform.” It’s about respecting the unique characteristics and audiences of online communities, and being aware that people act and engage differently on different platforms.

While you may be reaching the same customer on Facebook and Forbes, your tone of voice, the content you create and the conversations you have will be different, and thus the content of your native ads must be adjusted accordingly. This is why GE’s approach to native advertising on BuzzFeed is markedly different than their native advertising partnership with the Economist.

GE’s content on BuzzFeed is fun, image-heavy and a bit silly, mirroring the rest of the content posted there. On The Economist, however, GE produces more serious articles in their sponsored Look Ahead section, which discusses how innovation is transforming global business. In both cases, GE positions themselves appropriately for their readerseven though the same readers may be consuming their content on both BuzzFeed and The Economist.

GE sponsored post The Economist

GE’s sponsored “Look Ahead” section on The Economist

Customizing your approach for different platforms means you’re paying attention to your audience and the environment of the channel through which you’re advertising, and that you know how to tell your story in the right context. And, as Nikesh Arora, Google’s senior vice president and chief business officer, says, context is king.

4. Foster Customer Trust by Remaining Transparent 

The GE example shows us B2B companies can capture readers on a highly social channel using native advertising. But there’s another factor at play that’s integral to success: trust. Just as with content marketing, trust is essential to win customers through advertisingpeople have to believe there’s value in what you’re providing.

So how can you create trust using native advertising? To start, it’s essential to acknowledge that native advertising is a form of advertising, even though it’s not always as blatant as other forms and in fact offers customers something valuable to enjoy or benefit from. While you want to blend in with the medium you’re advertising on, it’s important to show you’re sponsoring the content, or you risk leading customers to feel misled or betrayed.

BuzzFeed does a good job of this. If you look at the aviation posts mentioned earlier, you’ll see there’s a sentence at the top of each that indicates the content is sponsored, along with a GE logo linking to a page showcasing the partnership. Other sites aren’t as obvious. Take Mashable, for example—a 2013 article published on found that advertisers sponsor content on Mashable for a week, after which the only indication that a post was previously sponsored is the advertiser’s name included in the tags at the end of the post.

When organizing native advertising partnerships, always try to ensure that the “sponsored by” or “featured” message will remain permanently on the content you post. Along with giving your brand another chance to be seen, it shows transparency by indicating to readers you’re not hiding the fact you’re sponsoring the content.

Choosing platforms that naturally evoke trust will also help you maximize the impact of your native advertising campaign. In November 2012, MediaBrix conducted a survey to discover which native ads people find the most misleading:

Native advertising trust bar graph

A MediaBrix survey of native ads people find most misleading

As you can see, only 45 percent of people surveyed found promoted Tweets misleading, whereas 86 percent were turned off by sponsored video ads that appear to be content. Why? Twitter users are already used to seeing tweets from businesses and celebrities promoting their product or service, and therefore don’t find this kind of advertising as deceptive. Additionally, Twitter’s layout is such that Promoted Tweets don’t appear much different than regular tweets, so they don’t seem as disruptive.

Orange Domicana sponsored Tweet

A sample Promoted Tweet from Orange Dominicana on Twitter

To improve your success rate and maximize returns, target platforms where customers are less likely to be be offended by native advertising and that naturally lend themselves to the content you’re promoting.

5. Keep Your Message On Brand, But Don’t Be Too Loud

According to the CMO Council, the biggest challenge for B2B marketers who engage in content marketing (like native advertising) is creating content their customers actually want to consume. While native advertising needs to align with your brand, companies should avoid overly “loud” promotion.

As HubSpot explains, this is the one thing most companies get wrong. An advertorial is not a press release, which means it shouldn’t be all about you—your ad should be relevant to your brand without blatantly promoting it. If it’s too loud, you’ll fail.

Companies that understand this create smart native campaigns. A great example of this is the supply chain management firm Kinaxis and their Suitemate web series, which was a comedy show about two businessmen jailed as a result of a shady corporate merger.

Dubbed “The Comedy Series Big ERP Doesn’t Want You to Watch,” the series was featured on a mini-site Kinaxis created. The videos mocked “big ERP,” which aligned perfectly with the personality of the Kinaxis brand: Kinaxis is a small company trying to distinguish itself from other big ERP firms on the market.

Avoiding blatant promotion, Kinaxis wisely let the humor and inventiveness of the series deliver the message for them. As a result, the videos were immensely successful: Kinaxis saw a 270 percent jump in website traffic and a 320 percent increase in leads following their release.

6. Capitalize on the Power of Mobile 

As Tom Forans writes in a recent Forbes article, “there is perhaps no medium that showcases native advertising’s potential better than mobile.” There are two main reasons for this: mobile use is expected to surpass desktop use by 2014, and the physical constraints of mobile platforms tend to make paid banner advertising appear more intrusive compared to larger screens, making it an ideal place to showcase content that is richer and more valuable to readers.

Research indicates this trend is already moving in this direction. The Interactive Advertising Bureau recently showed that while Internet advertising revenues saw double-digit growth in 2012, mobile advertising revenues experienced triple-digit growth, with marketers investing $3.4 billion in mobile ads in 2012. The surge in mobile is partially due to the increase in native advertising, as more consumers are accessing content via that platform, and both B2C and B2B marketers are investing more to reach customers through paid mobile content placement.

While pure mobile native advertising is still in its infancy, some networks are already attracting considerable attention. The Atlantic is getting rave reviews for Quartz, their strictly business news site that delivers content designed primarily for mobile devices. Launched in September 2012 with four sponsors (Boeing, Credit Suisse, Chevron and Cadillac), Quartz is rapidly being embraced by B2B companies due to the growth of B2B decision makers among its readers, and the nature of the content they consume.

By July 2013, Quartz had already attracted more than five million unique monthly visitors, making them bigger than The Financial Times (1.2 million) and The Economist (2.3 million), combined. Even better for B2B marketers, the vast majority of Quartz’s readership (65 percent) are executive level decision makers.

The content being created and shared is also industry focused, similar to the content you’d find on LinkedIn, giving readers a trusted source to obtain quality news and insights. And while Quartz is sponsored by brands like Adobe and Morgan Stanley, the sponsored content on the site isn’t just shameless advertisements.

Colloquy, for example, a Mac OS X Internet chat client, is using native advertising on Quartz to attract a readership of marketing experts (their target demographic). Popular sponsored pieces the organization has posted include a Q&A with one of Google’s digital marketing evangelists and an article on building customer trust and loyalty through transactions.

Colloquy sponsored post Quartz

A sponsored post from Colloquy on Quartz

While some of Colloquy’s content is a clear promotion of their services (such as this piece highlighting the benefits of attending their annual loyalty summit), it nonetheless follows Quartz’s native tongue of the platform and features relevant content that appeals to target buyers.

7. Understand Scaling Challenges Before You Start

Native ads can’t scale like digital banner ads—each piece of content must be curated for a specific digital channel. What you say in a Promoted Tweet will be different than a Facebook Sponsored Story because of the layout restrictions, how the content is consumed (i.e. on the go compared to sitting at a desk) and reality that people talk and engage differently in different places.

This makes it difficult to roll out the same native ads across multiple channels. While you can get away with making minor changes on similar platforms, you need a different approach when advertising on communities that are vastly different from each other (think of the contrast between GE’s content on BuzzFeed vs. The Economist).

This can be a considerable challenge. Mitch Joel discusses this in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, writing, “If advertisers are going to have to create unique formats mixed with unique content for each and every different channel and platform, it’s going to massively affect not only budgets and timelines, but also a brand’s ability to get their message out to a larger audience in the same way that they used to.”

Additionally, the cost of creating unique content and sponsored distribution for different digital channels can be expensive, depending on where you advertise. You can pay anywhere from $5,000 for a single post on a niche B2B website to $150,000 for three months of unlimited publishing on Forbes’ BrandVoice program to annual deals on Complex worth upwards of five million dollars. You also need to factor in the the expenses associated with creating the content you’re sharing.

But native advertising doesn’t have to be exorbitant. Many companies have built strong brands by creating and sharing content with remarkably small budgets, so don’t be afraid to start small and expand. Focus on niche sites or smaller industry blogs where your readers are, and use native advertising on those platforms to supplement your content marketing and social media strategy.

Keep in mind that scalability also isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Click through rates for highly scalable banner ads have plummeted 4,500 percent over the last 12 years, from 9 percent to 0.2 percent, which means a person is more likely to get struck by lightning than click on one.

This brings me to one of native advertising’s biggest challenges—there are no industry standards or performance benchmarks to use as key performance indicators (KPIs)  to measure the success of your campaigns. While early adopters are using social web metrics (including engagement and time spent consuming content), the results you can expect to achieve aren’t established. While this makes it harder to justify buy-in for native advertising, it’s the reality of the nascent industry and of using newer methods to reach customers.

Stay Aligned With Your Overall Content Strategy

A report on the B2B Marketing Insider shows that “too many organizations are still engaged in random acts of content development.” This is one of the biggest dangers with native advertising. When all is said and done, native advertising must fit with your overall content strategya piecemeal approach won’t work. And as more of us are becoming content marketers, it will be harder to rise about the noise and create content people love, native or otherwise.

You’ll succeed if you remember the goal of content marketing: not to immediately sell your products or services, but to inform or entertain people so you can build relationships and convert them into customers over time. Native advertising won’t disappear anytime soon, and as long as your content is consistent and reflects the native tongue of the platform, neither will your company.

What are you doing to maximize the impact of your native advertising campaigns? Please share your experience in the Comments section below.

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About the Author

Alexandra Skey is the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Spokal, an award winning marketing automation platform designed for small businesses and startups. Alexandra manages the inbound marketing and content marketing strategy for Spokal, and is passionate about educating small businesses on how to maximize their online reach.

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