By Antoine Boulin

Antoine Boulin is president of media at the publishing company Purch.

The overwhelming majority of digital publishers (90 percent) have adopted or are considering adding native advertising to their sites. It’s seen as an effective tool by brands and advertisers, garnering 4.1 times more views on average per session and improving purchase intent by 18 percent compared to banner ads. And with spend forecasted to grow 33 percent to $5.7 billion in 2016, it may seem like a very viable option for publishers.

Native is still in its infancy, though. While two-thirds of advertisers are increasing their native budgets, it still only accounts for less than 5 percent of the average total ad spend. And many publishers pursuing this business model have come up against its flaws. Scale and cost of execution is one. Consumer trust is another – when editorial-looking content is controlled by a brand there can be backlash, as seen with The Atlantic’s sponsored content from the Church of Scientology lauding its leader David Miscavige.

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By Maxime Cordier

Purch is a US based digital company which has been increasingly gaining attention lately due to an injection of cash from investors. ADTEKR focuses on Purch for the latest Spotlight article to discover why the company is so valuable.

In the advertising industry, original business models are the rule rather the exception, as the $135 million recently raised by Purch demonstrates. As a business at the cross-roads of traditional advertising, e-commerce, and digital advertising, Purch’s growth shows no signs of slowing.

What does Purch do?

Purch combines digital advertising and e-commerce through the portfolio of websites it owns and operates. These sites, most of which are product review sites, connect buyers to sellers using a data-led platform which makes product information more digestible for consumers, whilst allowing sellers to advertise their products to a large audience.

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By James Hercher Many industry analysts expect B2B media marketing budgets to finally reach pre-recession levels by the end of 2015, following a drop-off in 2009 that removed almost one out of every $5 spent on B2B outlets.

And those revenue streams are migrating to programmatic technology and new native strategies to develop brand awareness.

One of the reasons B2B businesses haven’t fully embraced programmatic is because B2B publications were slow to build the tech stacks more common in the consumer-facing publishing industry, said CEO Tony Uphoff, whose publication works with Krux for programmatic ad serving, but is building out its own ad tech stack.

Because B2B pubs tended to live off lead generation instead of advertising, they weren’t forced to survive by squeezing every half-cent’s worth of efficiency out of their page views.

The shift to programmatic is notable because as recently as last year, trade shows and print advertising accounted for almost 70% of all revenue pulled in by B2B media. B2B publishers have been focused on building ad tech competency in recent months out of a need to diversify away from those aged industry pillars, print and live shows.

Purch, which operates a portfolio of B2B sites, introduced a new native advertising product in late 2014 that has already become “the thing we’re most excited about,” said company CRO Mike Kisseberth. The ad unit takes editorial content that gets good traffic and engagement, strips other ads and highlights aspects that are key for a specific customer.

Purch has also built an internal auction solution, referred to as RAMP, which allows them to do the kind of pre-bid inventory management that is now surfacing as a priority for many B2C publishers. has also developed its own auction, which it calls Finch, to go along with a suite of recent native products.

“We see a very, very big business in content we create on behalf of the customer,” Uphoff said.

Even as ad tech products become more important in the B2B world, Kisseberth reinforced that the most value a B2B publisher can draw from its platform isn’t building inventory (i.e., more viewers), it’s funneling people into the demand and lead-generation stage.

David Fortino, VP of audience development at NetLine, a network that connects some 15,000 B2B publishers, from bigger players like Purch to niche bloggers, also stressed the importance of understanding how B2B’s marketing is optimized to a profoundly different outcome, which is obscured if you just try to conceive of it as “sales” or “conversions.”

“There’s no concept of CPM for a company like NetLine ,” said Fortino. “That user funnel, for us, is leading to face-to-face meetings, Skype sessions, an educational process.”

Kisseberth emphasized the same thing, pointing out that the B2B publisher’s elongated marketing relationship with individual users pays off because of how much more valuable the ultimate sale ends up being.

“We’re educating people on decisions that are very expensive,” echoed Fortino. “If you buy a pair of shoes online from some piece of marketing content, that’s fine even if the shoes aren’t great. But you can lose your job and do material harm to your company if you pick the wrong CRM.”

That’s part of why many B2B companies are developing new native strategies, said Uphoff. For clients that are startups or not the brand names that have been B2B’s bread and butter – IBM, Oracle, Adobe, Microsoft, Intel – having solid leads delivered every month doesn’t pay off because they need to build a thorough level of trust.

That means a newfound emphasis on white papers, editorial-style posts and thought leadership opportunities, which all point toward native offers. Uphoff said’s “brand engagement” (sponsored content) accounts for 35% of the company’s total revenue, with expectations that it will be 50% of revenue in the near future.

And that, bear in mind, is coming in large part from advertising products the company didn’t even offer as recently as 2013.

Another crucial factor is the pool of budgets available to some B2B companies. Unlike consumer publications, B2B outlets target the kind of trade marketing budgets that could otherwise go to reducing prices for in-store sales or for purchasing better shelf position with a merchant.

These under-the-radar expenditures can sometimes outstrip the amount a CPG company spends on advertising in a year.

“B2B is easy to overlook,” said Uphoff. “It isn’t sexy providing the custom content marketers need to sell back-end office processing software. … But it’s profitable, and smart people are seeing that it’s best done programmatically.”

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By Anna Pappachristos

Native, sponsored, branded—no matter the name, paid content has become an indisputable force within the media space.

Altimeter Group defines native advertising (see also: sponsored or branded content) as a form of converged media that combines paid and owned media into a form of commercial messaging that is fully integrated into, and often unique to, a specific delivery platform. Simply stated, this practice allows publishers and advertisers to establish interdependent relationships that enable both parties to boost the bottom line and advance audience engagement.

But, as behaviors change, media brands must establish one solid definition on which to build an enduring foundation. “As the digital ad industry continually evolves, sometimes the definition of native is changed or altered from moment to moment,” says Mark Yackanich, CEO of Genesis Media. “It can be in-feed, sponsored content with multiple distribution strategies, non-traditional ad forms, and more, all under this one umbrella term. As we refine what constitutes native advertising and add more ad formats to the mix, it’s important for everyone to be on the same page so that we can have quality conversations about the best ways to approach each.”

Thus, as native advertising becomes more common throughout the media industry, publishers and brands must understand the best practices behind successful content creation and strategic execution. Here, we outline the five biggest mistakes made within the space and how collaborators can realign their approaches to avoid such missteps moving forward:

DON’T: Become consumed by this new flow of income.

Because media companies often struggle financially, native advertising provides an additional income that aligns with the overall publication, while increasing revenue simultaneously. But, when blinded by dollar signs, publishers frequently lose sight of what’s truly important—maintaining editorial integrity.

“If content isn’t properly vetted, and publications are simply blinded by the money, the advertisements will hurt the brand’s credibility in the eyes of the consumer,” explains Austin Paley, corporate marketing communications manager for Blue Fountain Media. “If the outlet is approving anything just because they want the money, it’s compromising the integrity of the publication, which in turn, hurts the quality and quantity of their readership. Not only will the publication lose its brand loyalty—it will eventually lose the sponsors, as well.” Thus, publishers must blend native advertising with editorial content in ways that add value both figuratively and financially.

DO: Put quality content creation ahead of bottom-line results.

Andrew Graham, co-founder of Clear, explains, “The objective of native content is to own the area where what’s newsworthy overlaps with what advances the sponsor’s business interest. In recent decades, the ad business has focused on persuasion, and journalism has always been about publishing the truth as it presents itself. For native ads to work in news outlets, it has to resemble real news. So one definitive element has to be articulating traditional news values in a way that conveniently benefits the sponsor in some tangible way.”

However, Paley notes that many traditional journalists see native advertising as selling out because the publication is displaying an advertisement that appears to be editorial content in exchange for money. But, because most media brands have editorial control over what runs and what doesn’t, they can ensure everything is done as authentically as possible. For instance, 90 percent of all online news audiences cite relevancy as the top factor in sparking interest with regard to in-feed sponsored content. Consumers want to engage with content that educates no matter the underlying motives. Thus, publishers and advertisers must collaborate to develop content creation methods that allow the publication to retain its tone and integrity, while also supporting the advertiser’s goals.

DON’T: Position native advertisements as editorial content.

Publishers often sabotage native advertising strategies by failing to label content as such, as 81 percent of readers believe brand familiarity and trust are crucial for sponsored content success. Audiences are more receptive to such advertisements that appear in publications they already trust.

“Failing to clearly label native content can result in disappointment, frustration, and lack of trust from the audience,” explains Mike Kisseberth, chief revenue officer for Purch. “Media companies often treat native content as second class to editorial, but since it should be labeled clearly, it needs to exceed expectations and value. Native content should be held to the highest bar on quality.” Consequently, the more skeptical readers become with regard to the content they consume, the more likely publishers risk compromising or losing audience trust.

DO: Set forth specific guidelines for sponsored content creation.

Substandard content can trigger loss of readership, thereby significantly hurting the brand and publisher. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, recommends that publishers implement rigorous review processes to guarantee content aligns with editorial quality throughout the publication. Publishers should establish creative guidelines or adopt the suggested steps below:

  1. Designate separate editorial and native content development teams.
  2. Establish specific editorial standards for sponsored content.
  3. Sell sponsored content as ongoing programs, not short campaigns.
  4. Refuse to publish content that fails to meet the standards of the publication.

DON’T: Focus on selling the given product or service.

Sponsored content customarily goes beyond classic advertising methods to generate added value that ties back to both the overarching mission of both the brand and the publication. Therefore, content that fails to meet such standards typically falls flat, as this content appears self-serving in the eyes of the audience. Marco Hansell, CEO ofSpeakr, emphasizes that brands can’t just sell because, if the audience doesn’t gain anything from reading this sponsored content, all energies to educate consumers will have gone to waste. Sponsors, henceforth, should focus on creating content that provides information and facilitates dialogue, for audiences are no longer as receptive to one-way selling propositions.

DO: Provide added value that drives loyalty and brand advocacy.

Beyond all else, sponsored content must be relevant, transparent, trustworthy, and valuable. Only then will paid media transcend old and new ways of advertising. Paley highlights that publishers must consider their target audience when accepting native advertisements. Publishers have every right to refuse offers that fail to meet their criteria. Ideally, publishers will only accept content from brands that share the same core values as their audience. Publishers should also limit the amount of native content that appears each week or month to avoid alienating audiences, for consumers want to know they can depend on the given publication for genuine value, not just paid promotions.

DON’T: Create content that fails to resonate with the given audience.

When native content doesn’t align with the publication’s usual voice, readers defect, for they lose trust in the publication and lack interest in the content. For instance, The Atlantic‘s infamous sponsored ad for the Church of Scientology (which has since been pulled from the site itself) stands as the prime example of misaligned content, as this native advertisement failed to match up with the publication’s usual editorial. Paley adds, “The controversial topic was praised in an article that wasn’t parallel whatsoever with the typical guidelines and subject matter that the team produces on a regular basis.”

The Economist also missed its target audience by teaming up with BuzzFeed in anunlikely partnership to share top stories from the year in question. While BuzzFeed typically caters to more playful topics, this list abandons The Economist‘s more serious approach to news in an attempt to disseminate information in an unexpected, yet awkward fashion that fails to resonate.

DO: Align native advertisements with the publication’s voice and overall promise.

Sponsored content that does align, on the other hand, allows the sponsor to spread brand awareness and provide valuable content that educates and enlightens. Netflixrecently ran an ad in The New York Times, for example, that promoted “Orange is the New Black.” However, this content went beyond promotional by offering fresh information on women in the prison system and even included video interviews thereby remaining true to the publication and boosting awareness simultaneously.

Starbucks also partnered with The Onion to promote its Doubleshot Espresso bypublishing an article that captured the comical essence of the site perfectly. This native ad maintains the satirical vibe The Onion is famous for, while also spreading the word about the brand’s newest product.

Both examples demonstrate an integral understanding of the publication and how, through content, both can establish symbiotic relationships that foster collaboration and growth.

DON’T: Assume that native advertising will further brand awareness.

Rebecca Lieb, vice president, content marketing at Teradata Applications, notes that, native advertising is one tactic that may not be right for every brand or publisher. Sponsors, in particular, must assess whether or not their values align with that of the publication, as well as determine which channels would be best when attracting their desired audience. Native advertising only succeeds when consumers embrace the content, as paid media operates under an “opt-in” mentality. Audiences must obtain value that they could not gain elsewhere. Therefore, instead of producing sponsored content with the intention of increasing brand engagement and awareness, advertisers must first verify the KPIs that will drive desired actions so they may achieve their end goals.

DO: Establish content creation strategies that boost consumer engagement.

Ultimately, as consumer behaviors change, sponsors and publishers will have to alter their strategies in order to sustain relevancy and engagement. “Advertisers will be forced to find better ways to integrate their advertising into the natural workflow of a consumer,” Hansell emphasizes. “This does not mean just shoving a display ad in the same real estate as a consumer’s normal content. This means actually adjusting their advertisement strategy to include well thought out native advertising plans that seek not just to advertise, but also add value to the consumers they are reaching.” Sponsors will need to monitor audience preferences and behaviors in order to provide content that continuously educates and delights.

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By Michelle Castillo

Purch—the online tech and science publisher of sites like Live ScienceTop 10 Reviews and— will allow brands to buy native ad pages that also contain editorial reviews, further blurring the line between advertising and editorial.

The new offering, called the Purch Performance Package, will allow companies to sponsor pages that contain editorial reviews of their products. The company said reviews will remain objective, but all the links to additional content and other advertising will be hand-selected by the marketer. Purch’s sites are viewed by more than 78 million people monthly.

In test rollouts on Top 10 Reviews, mixing the two types of content has lead to a 10 to 20 percent click-through rate on ads on sponsored pages, according to Purch CRO Mike Kisseberth. The industry average for banner ads hovers between 0.2 and 0.5 percent.

“It’s a cleaner experience for the user. They get the content they are looking for, and the promotional content featured is much more related to the thing they were seeking out so the connection rate is very, very high,” he explained.

The customizable content will be rolled out to all of Purch’s publications that feature tech reviews, including Tom’s Guide and Tom’s Hardware affiliated pages. In the future, Kisseberth said it’s not unlikely that it’ll allow the offering on any of its content pages, such as a Live Science page on diabetes. “We could optimize these pages to channel interest in that category so they can reach the performance goal that the brand seeks,” he said.

The concept of selling links inside editorial pieces isn’t unique to Purch. The New York Times used to offer Ricochet, which allowed brands to buy advertising around a specific editorial piece of their choosing for a certain period of time. CNET Replay allows brands to promote positive reviews of their products on CNET’s homepage. Companies likeinPowered allow marketers to search through its platform for editorial articles written about their products or brands, so they can seed those stories on social media or pay inPowered to place selected pieces in native advertising.

Altimeter Group analyst Rebecca Lieb said authoritative, third-party content is known to be more compelling to consumers than anything an agency could come up with, and it’s making ecommerce sites more important. “Purch Performance Package is basically another form of converged media, and we’re seeing more and more forms of converged media where they’re taking earned media and popping it in an ad unit,” Lieb added.

However, some have brought up the ethical concern that native advertising may encourage positive reviews of certain products in order to boost ad sales. To combat those fears, Kisseberth said the Purch Performance Package will only be offered for items the editorial staff has independently given a positive review.

“If it’s a crummy product, there wouldn’t be a lot of interest in the marketplace for it anyway,” he pointed out. “Plus, we will continue to monetize all the pages we have with traditional methods, as well as the Performance Package.”

But, Gartner vp distinguished analyst Andrew Frank said filtering out positive reviews is akin to having brands solicit endorsements. Pressure to turn a profit could squeeze editorial staff members into pushing positive content, and consumers may also confuse advertising for editorial content if it isn’t clearly delineated. “We’re reaching a new kind of slippery terrain in this particular case,” he warned.


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