It has been four years since my co-founders and I coined the term Programmatic Native Advertising. But though the term has remained constant, our understanding of our company’s core technology has evolved over time. As the digital advertising landscape becomes increasingly sophisticated, both StackAdapt and myself have shifted our perspectives more than once. The four perspectives listed below outline the evolution of native advertising:
1) Native Advertising as an Answer to Banner Blindness
In the early days, we looked at native advertising as a solution to combat banner blindness. Native ads easily saw a 10x lift in click-through rates. They looked great on mobile and we were convinced that in the next 5 years, the whole Internet would be responsive, mobile-ready, and monetized through native ads. Of course, later we would discover that this was only one part of a much bigger picture. We failed to take into consideration strategies that combined native with other formats such as display and video in order to generate leads.
2) Native Advertising as a Vehicle for Content Distribution
In 2015, when trying to understand which assets were most likely to be promoted by our clients, we found that many brands were looking to drive more users to blogs, articles, and other forms of content. Digging deeper we realized that content marketing was absolutely blowing up. With increased competition in virtually every product vertical, more brands wanted to deliver value to consumers and stand out through great storytelling and visuals. The challenge, we recognized, was in distributing this content. The benefits of SEO took a very long time and social had become so competitive that it was increasingly hard to break through the noise. Companies required ways to reach more people quickly and given its non-intrusive delivery, native advertising was a natural fit.
3) Native Advertising as a Vehicle for Customer Acquisition
For the longest time we were in denial about native’s ability to hit conversion goals. Instead, we saw it as a distribution channel for content. However, no matter how much education we provided, some companies refused to point their ads towards content, opting instead to drive audiences to conversion centric landing pages. And I understand why. They had spent so much time optimizing their landing pages for hard conversions that it made little sense to drive users anywhere else. So, we embraced the idea that it is the clients’ decision whether to drive users to content or landing pages, and instead started educating them on how to build creative and write copy that would clearly communicate what users will see post-click.
So, 2016 marked an important year for us – we felt we had finally arrived at the essence of what digital advertising is all about. In order to understand the main problem our customers were facing, we went through an exercise of asking, much like that of a curious toddler, “Why, why why?” Here is what it looked like:
We offer our clients software to buy native advertising.
Because they want to distribute content.
Because they want more people to read it.
To build awareness about their product.
So that eventually consumers buy their product.
Having gone through this exercise, the answer is clear – Every company in the world needs more customers and our job now is to advance our technology so it moves us closer to solving for the problem of customer acquisition.
Acknowledging native advertising as a customer acquisition tactic, our focus in 2017 has turned to performance. I am not talking about performance as in high CTR. I am talking about lead generation and sales.
4) Building the Engine for Business Growth
As 2017 pushes on, we see more opportunities to help companies not only drive leads or sales, but to help them on-board a full-stack, end-to-end solution for growing their business through perpetual customer acquisition. We will continue investing in data and machine learning capabilities to advance our predictive capabilities to accomplish just that. Regardless of the goal: awareness, engagement, or conversion, the objective for us remains to build world’s best software connecting consumers with products that matter to them. Native advertising always has and always will be a major part of that mission.