Why to Consider Advertorials versus Going Native

group social media_107151458Thanks to the web and social media we have yet another new advertising term to learn – “Native Advertising.”  The problem is that even those in-the-know don’t know exactly what it is. “The native advertising industry is so new that nobody can agree what it means in the first place,” writes Jack Marshall in his Digiday article aptly entitled Native Ad Terminology is a Mess.

The easiest way to start to understand Native Advertising is to look at its counterpart in the print world  – the Advertorial. In its most basic format, a native ad is a digital ad that promotes something by trying to appear as if it’s not an ad.

So why the new term? Simply put — Advertorials are simple and Native Advertising is not.

What Advertorials and Native Advertising have in common are two shared goals:

  1. To create advertising content/copy that doesn’t appear to be an ad
  2. To create an ad that is closely aligned with people’s expected experience.

The second goal is admittedly jargony as it stems from the web world, but this is what it means: when a reader picks up a magazine or newspaper, she expects to read articles. Hence, advertorial appears as articles. The format of the advertising matches the reader’s expected experience in picking up the print product. The good news is that newspapers and magazines have long-established standards so readers can easily spot advertorials and be aware that they are reading “Sponsored or Paid” copy. Industry studies indicate that  readers understand advertorials are promotional, but like the format just as they like to read ads. Advertorials, when measured, continue to show solid returns for advertisers.

In the digital world the concept of expected experience also is called intended or organic experience. It means creating content that, similar to advertorials, match the viewer’s desired experience when they go on to a specific digital medium. And, here’s where it gets complicated as some come to a digital platform to read articles, others to scan headlines, some to watch videos, and still others to search for information, or listen to music. The format of native ads, therefore, changes for each of these experiences.

The most common type of native ad is a Paid Search Ad on Google. The intended experience is for searchers to see results based on a defined search term or series of words. The organic search results bubble to the top based on a Google, Bing, or other algorithms. The native experience is to see paid ads next to the organic ads that have been strategically placed to entice the viewer interested in the searched term.

Other common examples are sponsored Tweets, and sponsored Facebook posts, but there are many others. Google, Facebook and Twitter provide “closed” native ads – meaning you can sponsor Tweets within Twitter feeds, or sponsor Facebook links within the Facebook news feed.  There are also “open” native ads that run across platforms, but these are too complex to address in one blog post.

Unlike print advertorials, digital native ads are not always clearly marked.  According to a 2013 e-Marketer report: “Native ad spending is growing faster than many other forms of digital advertising.” And an April 2013 BIA/Kelsey study states:  “Native social formats, including video, and mobile-social advertising will be the principal market growth drivers.” But the jury on native ad effectiveness is still out.  Some marketers love them.  Some consumers hate them.

The Walk-away:  Sponsored ads work. It’s why advertorials have been popular with so many advertisers for so many years. But, when it comes to the digital world, the best advice is “Buyer Beware.”  The medium is so new that it’s not yet regulated, and it’s easy to spend big bucks that literally dissipate into air. Until there’s more agreement on what works and what’s ethical, it’s best to stay grounded in advertising techniques that have proven their mettle for all sorts of advertisers.

E-mail is a Powerful Business Tool

email 78542920It’s hard to learn about e-mail marketing, because if you Google it you get bombarded with ads or links to service providers trying to sell you their solution rather than solid information about e-mail marketing. The first question, of course, is: Are you using e-mail marketing at all, and if so to what degree?

The second question is: How do you know when you’ve outgrown the basic providers from Microsoft Outlook to Hotmail, Gmail, iCloud or even Yahoo? Most of these services are meant for one ups, meaning they were designed for individual not business use.  If you’re really doing e-mail marketing – meaning sending regular messages to more than 25 people at a time – it’s likely time to upgrade to a business service. Why 25?  This magic number is a trigger for many spam filters. There are many definitions of spam, but one clue filters look for in determining if a message may be spam is the sheer number of addresses being targeted.

When it comes to business providers, the best known name is Constant Contact, due to great marketing investments, and personal representative franchise attendance at local business shows. But, it’s not the only solution. There are alternatives, most notably Mail Chimp. Consider this post comparing the two providers. Choosing an e-mail provider is no different than choosing any other type of service provider. You need know how you intend to use the service, how many people you need to communicate with at a time, and then judge the service providers based on price and how they serve your communication needs.

How do you intend to use e-mail? Are you sending out an e-mail on a regular basis, and to how many people? Are youjust sending out a group text e-mail on a seasonal basis, or only when you have a special sale or gained valuable publicity in a local newspaper? Are you sending links to your web site, or sending customer surveys?

E-mail continues to be one of the most powerful communication tools in a marketing arsenal, but as with all ads and communications channels, it should be done by plan and with knowledge not only about state regulations, but with intent to strategically grow your business.

Due to spam regulations it’s not OK to send your message to another company’s list. But small companies also find it hard to build a list of any scale. It’s the reason they frequently try to send their messages to another company’s list or buy a list. Both tactics teeter on the edge of getting your company known as  a spammer because unless you have relationship with the recipient or their permission to hear from you specifically, you are not using e-mail correctly or effectively. Instead, find a way to create a partnership, either by sponsoring  an e-newsletter, or advertising on one that is going to your intended audience.  That’s not spam, but alignment.

The Walk-Away: E-mail is a powerful business communication tool, but only if used wisely. When used aggressively, a good service provider is needed, but which service provider is right for you depends on your strategy and budget.

When Ads Aren’t Advertising

Not an adSome advertising isn’t advertising at all. It just takes advertising space and usually precious advertising dollars to achieve a different company purpose.

Consider these examples where ad space is used to:

  • Announce a new professional or service employee
  • Announce lists of employees with long service
  • Thank sponsors or volunteers for a particular event
  • Promote a preferred charitable endeavor

Each is a legitimate use of space or time, but should not come out of an advertising budget. They are not effectively advertising the business, but fulfilling a different role.

But, you might argue, “Announcing a new employee such as a famed doctor or hair dresser is advertising how our business has captured a great new talent and it will drive traffic to our business from those who follow this person.”  True to a degree, but it’s also likely true that the talent came with a “book” of their own and have already emailed and called regulars to announce their new location. More often, this type of ad is used as an ego-soother, just to make the new employee happy, and even might have been part of a negotiated package to bring them to a business from a competitor.

The same could be said of the next two bullets.  The ads are goodwill to employees, volunteers and sponsors.  A personal thank you note or gift may have worked as well and even been less expensive.

The last bullet is a charitable donation not an ad spend.  It’s a legitimate way to help a cause or organization gain recognition that it cannot afford on its own.  In this case, the ad should be written to promote something about the charity so that the ad works hardest for the cause being promoted. Then the ad is an ad, but not for the business paying the bill. For that business, the charge should be seen on the books as a valued, and likely non-deductible charitable donation unless the donation is given to the charity directly to purchase the ad space on their own. Many charities welcome and desire this type of donation over cash, because it improves their own effectiveness to  raise donations, or encourage volunteers from others.

Dollars for these types of ads should, ideally, come out of marketing budgets, HR budgets, or community service budgets for larger companies. For smaller companies, they should also be allocated to a non-advertising line to be accounted for accordingly and not skew the company’s review of its own ad effectiveness at year’s end.

Last, but not least is image advertising. Large companies know not to look for an ROI in dollars with image advertising because it’s not the purpose of the ads.  Instead, they might measure awareness effectiveness. The lesson in this is that not all ads are equal. Don’t judge them all the same way or look for the same metrics in reviewing their effectiveness as each serves a distinctly different purpose.

 The Walk-Away:  Advertising is a serious and not inexpensive endeavor. If using advertising space for reasons other than directly advertising a business, don’t allocate the dollars from your advertising budget.  Spend them from lines that allow you to see what you did during the year in an honest way, and allow you to measure true advertising results accurately.

Advertising Extends Seasonal Sales Cycles

Being in a seasonal business can mean one of three things:

  1. Your business is seasonal catering to a defined seasonal market. Summer amusement parks fall into this category.
  2. Your business is located in a seasonal market, but isn’t generally considered seasonal. Grocery stores that cater to local residents, but see an increase in sales during tourism seasons share this category.
  3. Your industry is considered seasonal.  Many retail businesses fall into this segment, with high holiday and back-to-school selling seasons.

carlegsRegardless of your category, great marketing helps you either broaden your season length, or create additional seasons. For instance, some category 1 B&Bs previously known only as for summer destinations have successfully positioned themselves as off-season resorts in addition to their regular high season. By advertising these new selling propositions to both standard clientele and new customers looking for different or more cost-effective vacation experiences, these B&Bs have effectively created a second sales season that didn’t exist several years ago.

When in a category 3 business with a seasonal selling cycle, it’s important to stay abreast of ever-changing consumer trends to ensure that what has traditionally been your key selling season hasn’t changed the game. The auto industry is a great example of how consumer shopping patterns have shifted just within a two-year time period.

Take a look at the table below from the US Census, which tracks retail sales by category every year. In 2010, two years after the recession hit high gear, auto sales by auto dealers were highest in December as consumers waited for late year models to go on sale.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2010

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
7.3%
7.2%
8.4%
8.3%
8.5%
8.4%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.4%
8.5%
8.1%
8.3%
8.6%
10.2%

Sales in December were 2-3 points higher than any other time of the year with January and February being the off season. Traditional car advertising followed this pattern, tending to run heavier during the holiday seasons and staying low during the early winter months.

But, buying patterns have changed and if a car dealer today is still buying advertising based on the 2010 model, they would be missing a significant amount of  2012 buyers, who are far more consistent in buying cars throughout the year. Check out the buying patterns for 2012 below.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2012

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
8.0%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.2%
8.4%
8.6%
8.4%
8.7%
8.8%

This new data set shows that consumers are actively buying cars all year long with December still being a key buying month, but no one group of months being significantly different from the others. What was once a semi-seasonal business has evened out.

What this means is advertisers not adjusting their media plans to attract consumers all year long are missing those consumers who are actively in the market at any point in time. The data is available from the government for most key industrial codes.

The Walk-away: Assumptions made about key selling times of the year can cause businesses to unnecessarily miss key selling opportunities. The recent past is not always a good indication of current or future buying trends.

SOURCE: Monthly Retail and Food Service Sales, 2012 Sales, census data, http://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/excel/mrtssales92-present.xls

Real Estate Study Shows What Advertising Works

In real estate advertising, a recent study shows that print and digital ads are a powerful combination. Seeking to determine effects of both print and digital advertising on effectively selling a home, the study found:

Homes for sale that are advertised in both print and online are 20% more likely to be sold than those that use just one medium.

Furthermore, the study showed that “properties that used a combination of both print and online advertising had lower discount levels and spent less time on the market.” The study, considered the first of its kind,  was conducted by News Limited, the majority owner owelcome matf Australia’s website realestate.com.au,  to determine what marketing worked in moving more than a half million properties within a 12 month period.

Previously, realtors swapped information on what they thought worked or didn’t in advertising campaigns, but the field was sorely lacking in valid statistical data. The industry in the U.S. is great at tracking metrics on homes for sale, homes listed, and prices achieved, but has a lack of information on what fosters the sale. The Australian study starts to shed light on advertising effectiveness that can be insightful not only for American realtors, but other small to medium-sized retail operations in the U.S, namely:

  • Inventory that sells fast tends to not to have to be discounted.
  • Using a combination of print and digital advertising increases exposure for items you have to sell.
  • The added exposure can increase your advertising return by up to 20%.

The Walk-away: When creating your media plan to sell inventory, don’t just think of one medium. Print and digital are a strong combination. Because of their strong local reach, the print/digital combo should be the foundation of any local advertising program, with other medium added for effect.

Visibility and Traffic in Advertising

billboard_77386345What do business locations and advertising have in common? Both, if chosen and used carefully, bring the two elements of visibility and traffic to foster business growth. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) generally have an easier time understanding the importance of location and visibility in choosing real estate than they do with choosing advertising, but the principles are the same.

A business that can’t easily be found loses traffic – both planned and serendipitous. If a trip to a business is planned, and it’s too hard to find the location, a consumer can simply give up. And if the location is not easily seen from main roads, a business can lose impulse traffic from those just passing by.

The same holds true for business advertising regardless of medium. For instance, outdoor bulletins on unlit billboards can’t be seen at night and the extra fee for billboards with lighting is likely worth the expense in added visibility for evening hours particularly during winter months. On TV, ads positioned at 2AM or even 2PM have far less visibility than ads positioned during prime time or news hours. In newspapers, ads positioned on key editorial pages and designed large enough to dominate share of space gain much higher visibility than ads that are smaller and stacked with other ads. There are different ad positions for higher visibility and targeted to specific audience based on your advertising objectives.

The key to ad visibility is clarity and not making a consumer choose between viewing your ad or someone else’s. It’s the reason that half billboards (where two advertisers each take one half of a billboard) are never recommended. Motorists barely have time to read one ad while speeding by at 60 mph, much less two.

The Walk-away: One key to advertising success is to insure that ad placement gives you a great location for consumers to see you and that the ad is positioned  in such a way as to be clearly visible without fighting with other ads for consumer attention.

The Power of Measured Media

mismatched shoesThere’s a reason advertising rates are radically different for different media partners. The short answer is: “Not all media are equal.” The longer answer lies in the term: Measured Media.

Measured media, by definition, is exactly what it says. But measurements vary widely. The first rule in paying for media is to make sure it’s measured. The second rule is to determine if the measurement is credible — done by a third party resource, or auditor. Media that is audited can prove through outside resources the claims they make on reach and demographics. Then, since you know what you’re paying for, the cost to affiliate with these legitimate outlets is also usually higher, but definitely more valuable.

It is true that there is no such thing as a free lunch and also true that cheap lunches can get you food poisoning. The same is true in advertising. Free media means it has no value. If someone is giving you a spot for free, you know they couldn’t sell the spot. If they could have, they would have. This is particularly true in broadcast with a set 24-hour cycle and a set amount of spots to offer.  Morning drive programs in radio, for instance, are very popular and filled with paid spots because of their proven reach. Discounted or free ads, as a result, rarely if ever run during morning drive time. Free spots are commonly run in the wee morning hours and on weekends when paying customers won’t pay for the radically reduced reach, listenership, or viewers.

With measured media, measurements vary by type of media. Outdoor billlboards use traffic numbers called DECs, or daily effective circulation, provided by the Traffic Audit Bureau. The numbers tell you how many cars are likely to pass a billboard, but not how many people actually see the ad. The measurements are credible and allow a buyer to value one billboard over another. News in print is measured by Scarborough, broadcast stations are measured by Nielson or Arbitron, and online sites are generally  measured either by  Comscore , Alexa or Google Analytics. These third party research agencies are reliable and stake their reputations on being unbiased, although they can’t always be used to measure one type of media against another.

Social media historically had no measurements except followers or likes, which did not measure anything but one-time popularity. As it gets more sophisticated, especially in terms of taking advertiser dollars, the Facebooks of the world are providing metrics, but unlike with other measured media, their measurements are their own. By definition, it makes the numbers worthy of some skepticism.

So if you’re considering a discount coupon on the back of a grocery receipt or a Facebook ad, know that you are getting what you pay for. In the first instance, you have no idea how many people actually see or care about your ad. You only know how many times it was printed out by the register. With Facebook, you get more refined demographic reach, but again have to rely on Facebook’s word, not a third-party provider, that you received the impressions you wanted. Neither are measured media, just media with a measurement. There’s a huge difference.

The Walk-Away:  In advertising as in everything else in life, you get what you pay for. It ‘s the reason a Superbowl ad costs millions, Facebook ads are close to free and there are all levels of media costs in between. Make sure you’re buying media by what you need and not just by what it costs, or you could end up with a bargain that’s really no bargain at all.

Promises = Real Ad Impressions

Recent posts by my colleague Bill Merklee have discussed the pros and largely cons of using humorin advertising. The basic tenet is that it doesn’t work if too many people don’t “get the joke.”  I’d argue humor in advertising doesn’t work for a bigger reason – advertising is serious business. People want to find something that you’re hopefully selling.

One key to advertising is catching someone’s attention – hence the attraction of humor.  It’s also the reason frequently for skimpily clad girls, six-pack bare-chested men and celebrities in ads.  Sex and celebrities grab our attention. However, getting attention and having a message resonate are two very different things.

The reason ad-men have bad reputations and most ads don’t work is very simply that they don’t keep their promises. A promise not kept in an ad is a scam and you know the old saying: “Fool me once…”

The most basic reason for an ad is to make a promise. You advertise to tell someone that you have a product or service that will do something for the consumer. Heaven help you if you don’t have that product or service and if it’s falsely advertised in terms of what it promises to do.

Unfortunately, false promises are more common that one would hope. In one recent example, a retailer took a stock photo of a garment and put it in her ad. The good news is that the ad worked and people walked into her store with the ad in hand and asking for the item. Oops. The retailer never carried that particular item and couldn’t fulfill expectations. Sure, she tried to steer people to similar or different product she did carry, and also tried to quickly order the pictured garment, but the promise was broken particularly for those who hurried in to be first to buy.

What’s the promise in your ad? If you can’t easily say, there’s a problem right there. If you can, but feel unsure if it’s solid, that’s yet another problem. Make sure your ad firmly makes a promise you’re comfortable keeping. Promises can range from lowest price to largest inventory, punk trendy, get this one great outfit, get a James Bond car here, or find your closet full of coolest stuff. Then when targeted customers respond, they will never be disappointed.

The Walk-away: Great advertising makes a promise so compelling, targeted customers can’t help but respond. But like first impressions, consumers will only trust you once, so make sure you can fulfill the dream you promoted in your effective ad, or you’ll have trouble attracting repeat business.

shopping-legs

Six Types of Ads for Effective Marketing

group legs 45363100How do you know if an ad works? If your only answer is “by sales,” then you’re missing the point of most advertising and are likely shorting yourself on the full marketing power ads can bring to your marketing mix. Here are 6 of the more common categories of ads and how they might work for you:

1. Image Ads – Used to make your brand top of mind for key audiences. By definition, these tend to be larger-sized ads, beautiful, well-designed with little writing but a big message, because they are geared to create an “image.” They are generally done by large brands, but should not be ignored by smaller retailers and brands. If possible, co-op dollars can be used to help promote image ads locally.

2. Traffic Drivers – Also frequently considered loss leader ads. These are used to get customers into a store enticed by a great bargain. The upselling and real potential sales come after the customer is at your site. Inserts and sales circulars are generally traffic driver ads.

3. Impulse Sales – Used to create demand for a product that may be unknown to a consumer. It’s a type of traffic driver, but unlike the loss leader can be for a high-end item such as the iPad mini or Google Nexus tablet during the holiday season. A key point of an impulse sale ad is “limited time” or “limited inventory.”  Mobile ads are generally impulse sale ads, but print and online display ads can create impulse as well.

4. Foundational Positioning Ads – These are used to differentiate you from the competition and introduce you to new customers. Grand Opening ads if done well can be positioning ads, creating a foundation for letting the consumer know who you are and why you are worth a try. These types of ads can and should be run in some periodic schedule so your value proposition is clear at all times. Portions of a foundational ad can be included in other ads, and frequently summarized are seen as tag lines, but a true foundational ad tends to be larger and provide proof of performance or positioning.

5. Good Neighbor Ads – In a sense, they are a type of foundational ad, but with a very specific purpose of proving your involvement and commitment to the community. They are distinctly separate from sales and can be sponsorship ads of charitable organizations, or “hats off” ads to local service providers. They only ring true if done outside of any disaster PR efforts. For instance, BP ads for the Gulf Coast are not Good Neighbor Ads. They are mia culpa ads used to regain some lost reputation. Good Neighbor ads are truly philanthropic and in line with a company’s mission or local commitment to a cause. They create affinity for like-minded consumers, but have no sales initiative.

6. Employee Motivational Ads – Many company’s say employees are their greatest asset, and way too few take out ads to let the world know how much they value their employees. These can include service award ads, welcome our new employee ads, honor our high service level employee ads. It’s hard to measure the goodwill they create, but they are usually framed and pinned to employee’s walls to show how much the external publicity is valued internally.

All ads, by definition, are Engagement Ads . They should make people want to be affiliated or involved with your brand, product or service to some degree or another. But, they are not all geared toward an instant or short-term sales.

The Walk-away: Ultimately every business needs sales to stay in business, but different ads serve different purposes. Each is a worthwhile investment if you are clear on your goals and are measuring results accordingly.

Put Benefits in Your Ad Headlines

Advertisers and marketers frequently make one huge blunder. They forget about benefits. They get so focused on WHAT they have to sell, they forget to tell consumers WHY they should buy. The Why’s can take many forms:

  • Why buy from you
  • Why the product/service will make life easier for them
  • Why now
  • Why something is different

In advertising, you don’t have to answer all “why’s” at one time. In fact, you shouldn’t. But, as a rule of thumb, every ad should address at least one “why” prominently somewhere in the ad, preferably the headline or in the lead.

This was highlighted recently in Scarborough research pulled for a local auto dealer. The data showed that the primary reasons consumers from Atlantic and Cape May counties bought a car from a dealer within the last year had less to do with model selections and price and more to do with service, warranty and a dealer’s reputation. For those who actually purchased cars within the last 12 months of the research, service indexed 265 while price/value indexed 100 and model selection surprisingly indexed 85. With 100 as the baseline, this means, that an adult in the market for new cars is 165% more likely to buy based on service and 15% less likely to buy based on model. Although price is a consideration, it doesn’t rate higher than a dealer’s reputation or concerns about  service and the warranty. Local consumers want cars that won’t cost them a fortune after they’ve driven off the lot!

Knowing this information, now take a look at most auto ads in newspapers and other media outlets. Almost every ad hypes make, model and price. This works for national manufacturer ads as the big three want to entice you to look at their latest models, none of which they sell directly to consumers. But, if you’re a dealer, the data shows that your local ads should promote your service record, warranties and reputation. Sadly, there are few examples of these to show.

The Walk-away: If you can’t answer at least one “why” question in your ad copy, it’s time to ask yourself a different question: “Why are you spending your money on advertising?” If it’s to gain customers, then at least address the question why someone should buy from you versus a competitor. Pick a  “why” question and  address it in your ad copy! Make sure your ad answers that question clearly and prominently so the right customers drive to your door.