Where To Invest: Native Advertising vs. Content Marketing

Like the words Hispanic and Latino, native advertising and content marketing have significant overlap but are still distinct in a few key ways. This article sets the record straight and then highlights various scenarios in which you would choose one over the other.

Where To Invest: Native Advertising vs. Content Marketing

For those working in any media-related industry—whether it’s journalism, advertising, marketing, or public relations—you’ve likely encountered two buzz phrases that are often used interchangeably: native advertising and content marketing.

Like the words Hispanic and Latino, these two phrases have significant overlap but are still distinct in a few key ways. And it’s important to understand these differences when you’re creating or reworking your content strategy, as both native advertising and content marketing have different strengths and weaknesses depending on your overarching marketing goals. In this article I’d like to first “thread the needle” by distinguishing between the two and then highlight various scenarios in which you would choose one over the other.

What’s The Difference?

The Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi sought to answer this question in a piece titled “Native Advertising Is Not Content Marketing.” In his view, the two are distinctly different. As he explains:

While I don’t take issue with Pulizzi’s definitions, I’d posit that native advertising, rather than being distinct from content marketing, is a subcategory under the larger umbrella of content marketing. In other words, native advertising is but one tool available in a robust content marketing strategy.

More specifically, I look at content marketing as the practice of using content to engage your target market, sell your product, and keep people thinking about you once they become customers. Native advertising is paying to have your content published on a publisher’s platform or website. It’s typically published in a way that makes it feel like it comes from the publisher. I’ll adhere to this distinction for the purposes of this piece.

Native Advertising’s Strengths

When a brand engages in native advertising, it’s usually to place a piece of promotional content in front of the already-existing audience of a traditional media entity. Companies purchase native ads at the New York Times because they want to quickly reach the newspaper’s massive audience, and they covet The Times’ authority. So unlike content marketing, which traditionally involves building up an entire following from scratch, one could potentially see a more immediate impact from native advertising.

Native advertising also allows you to associate your company or organization with a venerable or cool news brand. When a business purchases a native ad at Buzzfeed, for instance, it’s likely not doing so just as a means of reaching Buzzfeed’s audience, but also to closely associate itself with Buzzfeed’s hip Millennial brand.

Native Advertising’s Weaknesses

Whenever you host content on someone else’s channel, you give up a considerable amount of control. Many of the most venerable media institutions have strict editorial guidelines in place for their native advertising and will insist on having final say as to whether a piece of sponsored content appears on their websites.

You’re also limited in terms of the design and layout of the content, as well as the calls to action you can place within it. For an article published on your own website, you can embed multiple widgets that generate new social media and email subscribers, or you can try to direct the reader down the purchasing funnel. Your ability to do this in native advertising is often severely limited.

You’re also limited in your access to traffic analytics. While media outlets might provide basic readership metrics for a piece of native advertising, it’s nowhere near the level of granularity and insight that can be achieved with marketing tech on your own website.

Finally, native advertising is ephemeral. Once you stop paying the bills, your content disappears.

Content Marketing’s Strengths

With content marketing, you have complete control over how your content is presented and near unlimited options for converting your audience with calls to action. So even if the overall audience is smaller, each individual reader has more potential long-term value, especially if you can convince the person to subscribe to your channels for future updates. You’ll also have the opportunity to more closely associate your content with your company’s brand, whereas native advertising may produce brand confusion.

By the very nature of owning the channels, you have access to deeper audience analytics that can translate into actionable consumer insights. You also own your content when you’re running a content marketing program, which means you can benefit from organic and social traffic to it long after you create it.

Content Marketing’s Weaknesses

Content marketing is certainly a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re launching marketing channels from scratch with no paid media, then you can expect at least three to six months of content production before you even begin to see any ROI. This is why it’s not uncommon for brands to set aside a budget for targeted social media ads, so content on newly minted websites can reach its intended audience. This is why I recommend that any content strategy launch with a substantial paid media budget that can be slowly rolled back as you build a more organic audience.

So which is more effective: native advertising or content marketing? That isn’t the question you should be asking. Instead, you must determine your marketing goals—whether they’re to raise brand awareness or generate direct conversions—and your timeline.

If you need quick wins or don’t want to dedicate resources to your content efforts on an ongoing basis, native advertising is a great place to start. If you’re in it for the long haul and have time to ramp up, traditional content marketing is great for you. Or some combination of the two.

Just as there are no magic bullets in marketing, there’s no definitive method for reaching a target audience. The question is what you want to do with that audience once you’ve reached it .

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