The Differences Between Branded Content and Native Advertising

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Two industry insiders argue that native ads are not content marketing.

Despite the ever-increasing popularity of content marketing, there's lingering uncertainty about the distinction between branded content and native advertising. “These terms get interchanged within the wider industry and marketing discussions,” says Kathy Kayse, VP of sales strategy and solutions at Yahoo, which provides a native advertising platform. That confusion, Kayse says, can make it tough for marketers to put the right form of messaging in the right place.

In fact, she says that drawing a distinction between branded content and native ads—as well as understanding their similarities—enables marketers to craft and place messages that are more impactful. “The biggest opportunity—and challenge—is ensuring that consumers discover the content,” Kayse says. “Consumers are open to branded content, but marketers must make sure that they have a plan to distribute this content on the right platforms so the right audience finds it.”

Chris Rooke, SVP of strategy and operations at native advertising platform Nativo, agrees that there are clear differences between the two that can guide marketers' decision making about content. He provides simple definitions for each. “Branded content is the practicing of investing in compelling content, whether to inform or entertain, that as a result is able to create an immersive experience for the consumer,” he explains. Branded content, he adds, enables consumers to align themselves with the lifestyle and belief system that a company represents. “When you do that, you start affecting consumer perception, affinity, consideration, and those types of things. It's helpful content that naturally adds value and serves as a utility to readers,” Rooke says.

He says that native advertising, however, is a conduit to distribute that branded content and enables that much-desired discovery by the consumer. “Native advertising is a marketing or paid-media tactic that aims to leverage a publisher's storytelling tools,” Rooke explains. “[It gives] marketers the ability to promote their branded content within an editorial feed. Native ads enable the very same experience that a user has come to expect from editorial content. It drives authentic discovery.”

Rooke says that understanding both and using each allows marketers to break through the digital noise on the Internet that comes from the deluge of content and information. “When you look at all of the stuff that happens in just one minute while online you realize that the only way for marketers to break through in a way that consumers will appreciate is by participating in the conversation, not by trying to interrupt it or disrupt it,” Rooke says. “Good marketers are able to do phenomenal creative storytelling.”

Kayse says that the future of content marketing rests in both branded content and native advertising. “They're already working together,” she says. Using these strategies in tandem allows marketers to scale and automate their content more than in years past.  “We see a lot of opportunity in the fusion of content, data, and technology,” she says.  “Looking ahead, brands will be able to make their content even more tailored, based on deeper insights about their audience. That's a great thing.”

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