Sponsored Content vs. Editorial Content: Does it Have to Be Either/Or?

Spending on native ads is expected to reach $21 billion by 2018. And as marketers begin to invest more heavily in content, they need to start thinking like editors and audience developers — finding ways to better understand their audience.

Yesterday at Publishing Executive’s Native Advertising Summit, I was fortunate to delve more deeply into this topic with an elite group of digital publishers. Together, we explored topics such as:

  • How does branded content perform versus custom content?
  • Is your publication already covering brands that are not sponsors?
  • Are there benefits to giving sponsors fully transparent access to campaign performance?
  • How can resource-strapped native teams focus more on core revenue-driving initiatives?

Although uncovering these types of insights may seem like an overwhelming prospect, it doesn’t have to be. Parse.ly structures content in a way that gives digital publishers a comprehensive understanding of what is happening within certain groups of content, like authors, sections, or tags. In the case of native advertising, tags can help to organize sponsored campaigns.

Since you can see analytics for any tags in the Parse.ly dashboard, simply using the tag “sponsored” and the brand name (i.e. “microsoft-sponsored”) means you have your analytics set up already. As long as you can access tags, you can access your sponsored content data in your dashboard to find answers to your most pressing questions.

How does branded content perform vs. custom content?

In the first panel of the morning, speakers from U.S. News & World Report, FASHIONISTA, Bisnow, and DDG Inc. talked about the dynamics of native advertising and content marketing, which require publishers to work with clients in more collaborative ways. As part of this discussion, they defined  branded content as editorial-style writing that happens to be branded with an advertiser’s name.

And even though the quality of the content may be up to the standards of typical editorial content, digital publishers intuitively understand that it needs to be considered much differently than editorial content, from the way it is presented to readers to the way it is tracked internally.

Let’s look at The New York Times’ branded content wing, T Brand Studio, as an example. The studio has been garnering attention for its elaborate work ever since the infamous sponsored piece promoting Orange is the New Black, which examined the efficacy of women’s prisons. Since then, T Brand Studio has continued to pump out articles packed with agency-quality animation, magazine-style layouts, and more. The articles are readily  distinguishable from  The New York Times’  editorial content, often appearing more like content you’d find in a glossy magazine than in New York Times, proper.  

Is your publication already covering brands that are not sponsors?

Do you know how much your publication actually covers potential advertisers? This is an easy way to enable your sales team.

One of Parse.ly’s customers recently researched how much it  organically wrote about a potential advertiser, Home Depot. The publisher realized that it had a good organic audience that was interested in articles published about Home Depot’s products, but that there was an opportunity to cover Home Depot as a brand via sponsored content.  

By sharing this data with Home Depot, the digital publisher was able to convert the company to an advertiser — resulting in a campaign value of a few hundred thousand dollars. All because it  had the right data to enable its  sales team.  

Are there benefits to giving sponsors fully transparent access to campaign performance?

Brands ultimately invest in native advertising to appeal to a wider audience — yours!

The more information you can give them about your readers, the more they’ll understand why it’s so important to work with you. Show them which social networks sent readers, and how much of an increase or “lift” that created over what the article would have normally seen. This can be done at an article or campaign level, if you’re using Parse.ly reports.

It’s always difficult for sponsors to judge whether a campaign is over- or underperforming without first setting very clear goals to measure it’s success. As a digital publisher, it is beneficial  for you to help your sponsors  to find sustainable ways to track their  goals, and to be as transparent as possible in providing them with the data necessary to measure these goals. After all, digital publishers are  more than a distribution platform for advertisers; they  must become a partner that can help them understand how to craft a strategy that works in the long term.

How can resource-strapped native teams focus more on core revenue-driving initiatives?

With data, anything is possible. If your newsroom has a firm grasp on which pieces of sponsored content are resonating with your audience — for example, which pieces are receiving the most engaged time? which are gaining traction on the homepage? which have seen an increase in social shares in the past 24-hours? — they are  empowered to promote this content. If an editor notices that audiences respond to sponsored video, that person can take action based on that information.

By treating sponsored content in a similar way that they treat editorial content, digital publishers can ensure that they continue to create quality content that resonates with their audience while still supporting core revenue-driving initiatives.

Are you interested in learning more about how  Parse.ly used some of these insights to help Business Insider’s branded content studio to grow its native advertising? Check out our case study here.