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Grand Prix Award Winner Adworkshop Shares Their Secrets to Native Advertising Success

Adworkshop may be nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks, but they’re certainly not cut off from digital innovation. As early adopters of web design & programmatic advertising they’ve been able to double and even triple key success metrics for their clients.

We sat down with Brandon Mallory, Adworkshop’s Director of Paid Media, where he filled us in on how he and his team got started in digital, and how they continue to impress clients with innovative campaigns built from the ground up.

Q: Tell us a bit about Adworkshop and their history with digital

BM: Adworkshop got started around the 1980 Olympics. Started by Tom and Adele Connors. They were friends at the time, they’re now married and they’ve been married for quite some time. They had the idea to start a media buying shop. They promoted a couple of ski brands during the 1980 Olympics, they moved onto things like Ski-doo and some other outdoor winter recreation, things like that. Most of it back then was tv and print media. Over the years things have changed and now we do most of our business in travel/tourism destination marketing.

They were early adopters of web design. I think their first website went up in 1996. It’s kind of crazy that being nestled in the woods of the Adirondacks, they were still early adopters to the digital game.

They brought me on in 2014 to do programmatic buying, something they hadn’t done but they saw a future in. When I first got there they were doing I would say only 10% digital. I would say now we’re about 80% digital and about 90% of that is bought programmatically, be it Google Adwords, Facebook, major DSPs, or StackAdapt. We do mostly programmatic buying. Everything is kept in-house.

Q: What was the transition from mainly tradition to mainly digital marketing and advertising like?

BM: Going from 10% to 80% digital in 3 years was an education process going to our clients. Showing them all the research and the data. We have an enterprise contract with eMarketer so we have all the data on media usage. Not only what kind of media but where, what devices, etc. So, it was just showing them the data and they got to the point where they trusted us and we showed them results.

Ultimately, even back then the #1 KPI for travel was on-site visitation. It was them trying to push on-site visitation with mediums like tv and outdoor, which was horrible. So we were able to do things like double, triple all those numbers and just really bring people to the site, stay on the site. Over the last couple of years they just really trust what we have to say because we always go to them with the numbers.

Q: How did you first hear about native advertising?

BM: When I heard about native advertising, initially it was BuzzFeed and a few other closed platforms, you could work with them but their minimums were $100K, something crazy like that. So, we got the idea to shop around. I can’t remember how exactly I landed with StackAdapt, but StackAdapt Native Advertising, native programmatic, is this beautiful marriage between digital advertising and how you should go about selling travel destinations.

Q: Can you elaborate on the best way to go about selling travel destinations, in your experience?

BM: The best way to get people to travel is through storytelling, that’s a big theme right now in travel & tourism. Especially with Millennials. Millennials want to hear about some cool thing, they want a thousand reviews of a place no one’s ever been. They want to know exactly what it’s about but they want to be the first there. So, essentially the idea is to tell an authentic story. Whether we’re using influencers, or in-house writers or whatever, we’ve essentially turned our websites into these content hubs where it’s all about storytelling.

Q: How does native advertising empower you to entice customers through storytelling?

BM: There’s nothing better to digitally capture a user’s attention, and tie our advertising to what they’re going to find on our site, than native advertising.They get a little teaser of the stories we write specifically for native advertising articles. I think that is probably what sets us apart from a lot of agencies. For most of our clients, when we go into a campaign and we’re going to do native advertising, we do it from the ground up. We create a new page, we create new content, with an idea of how that advertising is going to look, and what the user is expecting when they get to the website.

For example, we built a whole native campaign around the 5 most haunted places in the Adirondack parks. And it just blew up. Everyone loved it.

Q: What makes a great story?

BM: I think it’s when people are moved. It’s a hard thing to spell out what it is that moves somebody, or what being moved is about, but when you read a story and you’re inspired to learn more or inspired to see that place or it leaves you with a feeling of any sensation of happiness, that’s what a good story will tell you. It’s in your head but it feels like it’s in your chest.

Q: How has native advertising affected your overall marketing and advertising performance for clients?

BM: We do cool things like retargeting, and native retargeting. We have seen a marked increase in conversion rates after we’ve added things like native to the mix. When we added in native we’ve seen our conversion rates go up by 25% on Adwords (that’s where our final conversions are — we sell rooms on search engines and on client sites).

Q: How do you measure success?

BM: We measure success through top line KPIs, so we’re looking at CTR, CPC, probably most notably is time on site. We just want to see how much engagement, it’s really an engagement game nowadays.

One thing you notice when you run banner advertising is that people aren’t very engaged, they don’t spend much time on sites, so for me, it’s all about optimizing to time on site. The more time someone spends with one of my brands, one of my destinations, the more likely they are to travel there.

Q: How can you make sure your target audience engages with your content?

BM: If you give them (web visitors) a reason to read something if you pique their interest in any way, they’re already in the mood to consume. It just depends on the context. Not only what kind of stuff they are reading but where they’re reading it, and I find that contextual targeting with StackAdapt also works in the same mode.

If I’m running against travel content, people are already consuming travel content so they’re immediately like, look at this, here are 5 beautiful waterfalls in the Catskills, and they’re immediately going to look at that article. They’re going to come to our website, they’re going to read about the five waterfalls and hopefully, travel to the Catskills and do that for our clients.

Examples of Adworkshop’s top performing campaigns:

Visit Adirondacks– 7 Fall Hikes to Write Home About

Results: This garnered a CTR of 0.88% with an Average TOS of 1 min 34 secs.

Greene County Tourism (Catskills) – Arts and Culture

Results: CTR: 0.72% Average TOS: 2 mins 46 secs

Ski Areas of New York (SANY) – Learn to Ski

Results: CTR: 0.73% Average TOS: 1 min 44 secs

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