What should you do about Sponsored Content

If you haven’t noticed, sponsored content’s popularity - indeed, the entire native advertising remit - is exploding as the modern advertising choice.

To clarify, sponsored content is typically the term given to badged native advertising - a paid form of content marketing that takes on the form and function of its surroundings.

With the rise of social media and BuzzFeed-esque sites, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees when seeking out meaningful information and sifting through annoying marketing messages. In fact, The Guardian wrote that we see 3500+ advertising messages every day.

So, where does your brand’s marketing activity currently sit on the spectrum of meaningful to annoying and what should you do about it?

As the Creative Content Editor at Fairfax Media I often see businesses in this state of conflict. Marketers are wary of ‘sponsored content’ thanks to a long-stretching history of non-badged advertorial practices, while consumers are increasingly more savvy about how they regard brands.

Here are three insights that might help your next move.

1. Sponsored content is both a form of content marketing and native advertising.

There are many similar terms floating around, all with similar meanings. Names can also vary across organisations just to add to the confusion. Here’s a simple way of understanding sponsored content:

  • Sponsored content is a form of content marketing, placed in paid media - for example at Fairfax Media we run sponsored content that appear as articles across our titles, like Stuff.co.nz and Cuisine.

  • Sponsored content is a form of native advertising, which means it matches the visual design of the content it is placed within and functions the same to look and feel like natural content. Because of this, a 2015 Nielsen and Sharethrough study found native ads appear to receive double the visual focus than banners. It seems banner ads are processed peripherally, lessening the chance they are read.  

 2. Consumers will pay attention to you if your information is valuable and relevant to them.

This insight may seem obvious, but I still see it being confused or overlooked by brands attempting to use a sponsored content opportunity to talk about themselves. Be sure to put your customer or reader’s needs at the heart of what you’re doing. The opportunity sponsored content affords is the space to tap into people’s passion points through relevance and storytelling, that can’t be achieved through traditional advertising. Through this, you can build brand loyalty by telling a consistent story over time.

We educate brands that sponsored content best practice follows these rules:

  1. Relevance is king. Consider carefully the permission your brand has to speak to your target consumers - what channels are most appropriate to do this through? What messaging makes the most sense in this environment?

  2. Stand out. Engage your audience through having a unique point of view. Don’t oversell. Build reader trust by providing quality information that gets them in the mindset to think positively about your brand. Any product mentions should always feel natural - not forced.

  3. Be real. Stories that feature human interest stories are more likely to be engaging and motivate them to take action.

  4. Educate . Provide solutions for consumers that they may not have considered. Ensure the advice you give is a new perspective to really stand out and be valuable. Break down complicated issues into more easily digested information.

3. There is so much room to grow with sponsored content. Those diving in with a plan now are trail blazers.

A 2016 American survey found that 77% of organisations plan to produce more content in the coming year, while only 38% believe their organisation is effective at content marketing.

There is recognition of the opportunities in content marketing, but a real lag in strategising how it is done effectively. Only 37% of organisations from the same survey indicated they had a content marketing strategy.

Couple that with media companies such as ours investing in building up sophisticated native advertising offerings, all the while reclaiming sponsored content’s integrity, and the gap is yours for the taking.

Start by making a content marketing strategy and get yourself a plan. And remember, content marketing is like a first date. If all you do is talk about yourself, there won’t be a second one.