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StackAdapt Announces $1M in Series A Funding to Build on Success of Native Advertising Platform

TORONTO, Jan. 28, 2016 /CNW/ – StackAdapt, a native advertising platform that helps Fortune 500 brands and agencies reach new audiences through their branded content, announced they’ve closed a growth round led by Plaza Ventures, a Toronto-based VC firm that has invested in over 50 technology companies since 1998. The company will use the investment to scale its self-serve demand-side native advertising platform, and to add to its team.

“We’re excited to announce this strategic relationship with Plaza Ventures since they have a deep understanding of the technology and ad tech ecosystem,” said Ildar Shah, co-founder of StackAdapt. “Brands and agencies have readily adopted our native ads solution since launch, and we plan to use this funding to scale the self-serve platform and help them drive more meaningful interactions with their branded content.”

StackAdapt works with a growing number of clients from verticals including travel and technology, who have launched over 1,500 native advertising campaigns on the self-serve platform to promote branded content. StackAdapt’s clients include AdZouk, Iowa Tourism, and m2, an agency owned by IPG. In order to meet demand from brand and agency customers, the company plans to hire across all functions in its Toronto office, including product, tech, customer success, sales, and marketing.

“As brands look for more meaningful ways to reach customers, it’s clear that native advertising adds more value than banner ads, which are increasingly ignored,” said Rob Richards , Managing Partner at Plaza Ventures. “StackAdapt has created a best-in-class platform with unique functionality and scalability, and we’re excited to partner with them to expand their presence in the ad tech space.” Mr. Richards is joining StackAdapt’s Board of Directors.

StackAdapt has partnered with over 30 major native advertising exchanges including TripleLift, AdsNative, InMobi, and European native advertising company Adyoulike, making it one of the world’s largest buying platform for distributing branded content. The company’s platform accesses native ad inventory across over 35,000 publisher sites including ABC News, Reuters, USA Today and Popular Science. Clients use the platform on a self-serve basis and can access the global supply of native advertising from a single intuitive interface.

In November StackAdapt released benchmarks highlighting the effectiveness of native ads compared to display ads. Research showed that ads placed through StackAdapt have an average click-through rate of 0.4-0.8 per cent, which is around 10x higher than the average 0.06 per cent click-through rate on display ads (Smart Insights).

About StackAdapt:
StackAdapt is one of the world’s leading native advertising platforms, providing brands and agencies a single access point for the global supply of native advertising, both via in-feed ads and content recommendation widgets. StackAdapt has worked with some of the most notable Fortune 500 companies and agencies since its launch in 2013. StackAdapt was started by Ildar Shar, Vitaly Pecherskiy and Yang Han, and is based in Toronto, Canada. Find out more at www.StackAdapt.com.

About Plaza Ventures:
Plaza Ventures invests in Series A financing of high-growth technology companies with a unique rolling micro-fund model. The PV Investment Partner Program co-invests angel capital with corporate and institutional capital alongside other VCs and family offices, and applies the experience of angel LPs to build enterprise value. Plaza Ventures has invested in early stage funds and accelerators acrossCanadaand has completed follow-on investments in graduates from these programs. Read more about Plaza Ventures at PlazaVentures.ca and www.linkedin.com/company/plaza-ventures.

4 min read

What is Content Advertising?

The marketing and advertising industry is notorious for inventing new acronyms and terms du jour. Some of them grow into behemoths like content marketing, while others, such as interstitial native, have an embarrassingly short life span.

In Mythbusters’ fashion, today our marketing team at StackAdapt is going to dissect a recently surfaced term, content advertising to see where it came from, what it is made of and if it has any right to remain part of our marketing lingo in the year 2015.

Not necessarily a portmanteau, the term is crafted by putting together ‘content marketing’ and ‘advertising’:

Advertising

Advertising is described as a form of non-personal promotion. It’s about communicating value proposition of a product or service at scale. Historically, it’s been a one-way communication.

Content Marketing 

I am sure at this point you have read the Content Marketing Institute’s definition: Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. Content marketing is about connecting with consumers without selling to them. It is about delivering educational, entertaining and always value-adding content to consumers to enrich their web browsing experience.

Because content marketing is fundamentally about delivering value through content (education, entertainment, inspiration), it is particularly successful in this day and age because of the wide adoption of social networks. Without social networks, it is hard to imagine content going viral the way it does now.

Consumers’ ability to have a two-way dialogue through sharing content gave marketers a tremendous opportunity to leverage organic social and search traffic to have their content discovered by consumers. However, due to oversaturation of the web with brand and user generated content, it has been becoming harder and harder to break through to reach consumers leveraging only organic channels. If you have a Facebook page, you may have noticed a fairly recent addition of a ‘Boost’ feature to quickly add more exposure to your content for additional exposure.

Content Advertising

Content advertising is rarely written about, and what is written, is often outdated. Content advertising is not text ads. We define it as:

Content advertising is a marketing strategy to produce value-adding content with a primary function of distributing it through a paid channel.

Naturally, content advertising (overarching strategy) and native advertising (distribution channel) go hand-in-hand. While all content will likely go up on the brand blog or content hub and be shared on social media networks, the production of content that is used for paid distribution can be done differently.

Content produced with SEO in mind can largely leverage existing or potential keyword search opportunities. Content produced with social media networks in mind can be designed to be shareable and thus be largely visual and ‘snack-able.’

Content produced with the sole purpose of paid distribution can bring up topics that aren’t actively searched by people, or very shareable, but that can be very impactful. It gives brands an opportunity to deliver personable content to people without conforming to rules of search or social to have it discovered. It can truly focus on the end-goal – having an impact.

4 min read

How Trading Desks of all Shapes and Sizes Embrace Programmatic Native Advertising

In the year 2015, the concept of a trading desk is not new. While most industries’ programmatic veterans think of agency when they talk about trading desks, the fact is that trading desks have evolved into all shapes and sizes.

Nowadays, programmatic buying is so widely accepted that even the smallest agencies see the value in bringing a demand-side buying platform (DSP) on board. No longer having a trading desk is something that is reserved only for holding companies. In 2015, trading desks are formed from even a few team members using a DSP to buy media.

What’s also interesting is the breadth of companies that have started building trading desks. From individual publishers to large media companies, and from creative and PR agencies to ad networks – all see the value in bringing technology on board to power many outdated processes and bring targeting and optimization into the buying mix.

While trading desks usually have several platforms to buy various formats, for the sake of this article we will focus on Programmatic Native Advertising. (If you are unsure how native advertising is bought programmatically, please read up on it here).

What exactly do the above companies achieve by bringing a platform on board to buy native advertising programmatically?

CLIENT SUCCESS!

Let us illustrate:

Creative and PR Agencies

Historically, there has been a clear delineation between creative and media agencies. Creative agencies came up with advertising campaigns, while media agencies made sure these campaigns got in front of the consumers. This may have worked when advertising was being pumped out in one direction – towards the consumers. But now the brand-to-consumer communication has evolved and it’s a two-way dialogue. The medium is the content that brands produce, and the distribution is social and native advertising channels.

With the increasing importance of having a tight feedback loop on content production and distribution, many creative and PR agencies are evolving to add paid channels as part of their offering. As content and media come closer together in the context of programmatic native advertising, creative and PR agencies that embrace new formats and channels to reach audiences at scale help their clients win big time.

 

Media Agencies

With content marketing booming, media agencies have the most pressure to redefine themselves. Built primarily for ‘push’ marketing strategies, many brands don’t see media agencies as being well equipped to execute campaigns beyond direct response initiatives. This has largely been due to the absence of media agencies’ capabilities to execute content-driven and social campaigns that many brands have brought in-house with the rise of social media as a content distribution channel.

As social is becoming more crowded, brands are now starting to move away from distributed media strategies and towards owning the content and engaging with consumers on their own properties.  Such developments are recent and many brands still need help with finding ways to reach new audiences with their content. This gives media agencies a perfect opportunity to bring innovative programmatic native advertising solutions in-house to take the lead on brands’ new content-driven strategies.

 

Publishers and Media Companies

The media landscape has drastically evolved over the last decade. With the wide adoption of real-time bidding and programmatic buying of banner ads, more and more brands care about the exact audiences they reach rather than where they do so. This has drastically commoditized publishers’ inventory.

What has not yet been commoditized is custom (or sponsored) content that publishers produce together with a brand. This content is then hosted on the publisher’s property and is read by its audience. As a part of the package, publishers often utilize an audience extension strategy to get additional reads to the custom content that they have produced for the brand. Unfortunately, up until now, they have been utilizing intrusive banner ads to deliver value-adding content.

In native advertising, where the branded content is discovered is very important. What many publishers and media companies have started doing is bringing native advertising buying platforms in-house to execute audience extension across the web. This is done through in-feed native ad formats that deliver content in a non-intrusive, cost-effective manner.

 

Independent Trading Desks and Ad Networks

These two have surprisingly grown close in their role over the last few years. Soon after the first independent trading desks (ITD) started popping up, ad networks realized the scale that they have is simply unmatched to the scale of the whole web that ITDs get through the demand-side platforms. When ITDs and ad networks rushed into programmatic buying of banner advertising, this commoditized their offering.

What ad networks have are relationships with publishers. That means by bringing programmatic native advertising in-house they can closely align brands’ campaigns with the sites they work with. Just like media companies, if ad networks create any custom content with their brands, they can utilize programmatic native advertising platforms to execute audience extension and amplify this content across the web for additional scale.

Programmatic native advertising technology can benefit ITDs in a different way. Because ITDs rarely have direct relationships with publishers, what they can bring to the table is a truly agnostic approach to supply sources and the technology. Since ITDs don’t have any obligations to publishers, their 100% focus on advertisers can deliver unparalleled results if the scale and cost-efficiencies of getting users to engage with content are what their brands are after.

4 min read

Challenges Brands Face When Executing Native Advertising (originally appeared on Marketing Magazine)

Article originally appeared on Marketing Magazine

Native advertising, which is a strategy to reach consumers with branded content in a non-interruptive fashion is being talked about a lot in 2015. This year in the US alone, eMarketer predicts native advertising will grow to the size of the entire digital ad spend in Canada, or about $4.5B.

Seeing the success of our neighbours to the south, it is not surprising that more brands in Canada are exploring how branded content can be leveraged to stand above the competition in speaking to consumers. Unfortunately, native advertising is not as simple as creating a banner ad and requires a fundamentally different mindset on how consumers build affection with a brand.

So what are the main challenges that brands face when it comes to executing native advertising?

Brands think interruption instead of engagement

When we talk about native advertising, it is hard not to speak about the overarching concept of content marketing. This is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience (CMI). The fundamental notion behind content marketing is communicating with consumers through content without selling.

Such an approach may seem counterintuitive to many marketers; however, the realities of breaking through the noise have changed. With so much advertising thrown at consumers, they simply tune out. For example, nearly 90% of TV viewers skip advertisements on their digital video recorders (The Guardian).

Consumers are tired of being sold to. They seek out content that brings them value, and oftentimes it is produced by brands. (Think of LEGO and their excellent content marketing in the form of theme parks and a recently released 3D cartoon.) Progressive brands that see value in content opt in to channels that deliver this value-adding content through non-interruptive channels. Native advertising offers just that. Unlike pop-up banner or pre-roll advertising that interrupts the user experience, native advertising offers consumers a choice to interact with a branded message.

Brands don’t have processes built around content marketing

Content marketing is new; hence it’s the new-age companies that were super successful in adopting it. HubSpot, Shopify and Netflix are some of the very notable examples. What is interesting is that many mega-brands are becoming very savvy with content too. Intel, MasterCard and P&G are all starting to build internal teams to focus on producing value to consumers through content that brings benefits outside the core value proposition of their product. However, the unfortunate reality is that most brands are lost when it comes to content marketing. While two thirds of all B2C companies are using content marketing, only 27% of companies have a clearly documented strategy (CMI research). According to the study, 50% of the marketers have a strategy only in verbal form. This just shows how far we are from having brands take content seriously.

Brands are uncertain how to measure the results

Over the last 20 years of digital advertising, marketers have been molded into Direct Response-first thinkers: drivetraffic, increase conversions, and then increase sales. The realities have changed. Consumers are bombarded with offers and deals daily. What many companies are starting to realize is that one of the most sustainable ways to ensure brand loyalty is not by constantly incentivizing purchases, but by connecting with consumers on a deep level—aligning the company’s values with theirs.

According to the same study done by the Content Marketing Institute, the key metrics that are used to measure the success of content marketing are traffic (60%), sales (54%) and conversion rate (39%). These priorities signal one thing—brands still think of content (and in turn native advertising) as a performance channel. What is more interesting is how many companies attribute these metrics to actual return on investment (ROI). A shocking 21% of respondents admit to not even attempting to track it.

Tracking direct response metrics, having no documented strategy on creating and distributing content, and not tracking ROI from content that is produced are all reasons why only a third of marketers consider content marketing effective. That’s the bad news. The good news is that with native advertising being a paid media channel, tracking ROI is easier, as it leverages many of the familiar strategies used in other paid media channels.

When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of native advertising, Toronto-based StackAdapt encourages brands to get serious about data and analytics. First and foremost, brands need to set benchmarks. That is, to segment users based on the source they come from, look at the content engagement metrics (time on site, page views, social actions etc.) and take the holistic approach by understanding users’ path to conversion analysis. Second, companies that invest in upper- and mid-funnel strategies to build brand awareness, brand affinity, and purchase intent need to split test native advertising with existing paid media channels such as banner advertising. Key performance indicators can include reach, frequency, cost per visit, and engagement metrics described above.

4 min read