Native Advertising in an Online World: 3 Questions for Marketers

They are called many things. Advertorials. Sponsored content. Special report. Advertising features. To me, these native advertising concepts are content produced by either the publisher or the brand themselves to indirectly, subtly put forward their marketing message to their target audience.

You also see them everywhere. Advertorials in newspapers and magazines have been around for ages, but it’s only in recent months that the buzz for “online native advertising” has begun roaring. Education marketers are used to putting their “story” in a print publication by buying an “advertorial package” – essentially a display ad space (expensive) plus a writeup (not as expensive).

But putting advertorials online? Definitely something new…or at least to the education marketers I have been working with. There are distinct differences between university advertorials in print and online; a smart education marketer will ask:

What ad space am I buying? Print ad space is a limited premium, measured by the inches and circulation. That is clear and direct (and probably so because it has been around for so long). But online, you have to consider multiple touch points – where readers can see your advertorials, click through to the full advertorial page, and engage with the content fully (for example, reading it till the end of the piece at the very least).

So what touch points? A prime spot on the website home page, perhaps another prime spot on a secondary home page, being listed in the publisher’s email newsletters, promotion on their social media assets such as Facebook and Twitter – these are the “spaces” education marketers will buy.

What content am I buying? In both print and online, content can of course be produced by the education marketers themselves. They know the subject, they have the connections, and they can do fact checking easily. The benefits a publisher can bring to the table are their editorial expertise – the ability to do more with the same story to bring out more engagement from the readers.

Let’s consider the usual topics advertorials by education marketers will usually cover:

Good title: New business program by University X brings new development to the area of sustainability

Better title: Ten ways students of the new business program by University X can make the world a better place

Good title: Mr. X, recent graduate of University Y, makes waves in the local entertainment industry

Better title: Rising entertainment stars bring forth school learnings to a silver screen near you

The ability to spin a story, to find a hook to engage the reader, and to be different from other advertorials are keys to success to make native advertising work for education marketers.

Final question: What do I want my readers to do? In online advertorials, the possibilities are numerous. Click on a banner ad or link to go to the advertisers’ course page, register online for an information session, or simply like the page and share. This is where education marketers can be creative, and make the most return out of their investments.

Let’s face it: native advertising like advertorials is not a new concept. But with publishers such as BuzzFeed, Forbes, and Atlantic leading the way in offering innovative digital solutions to their customers, it’s high time that education marketers relook at how they are using advertorials to attract prospective students. The digital space is new, exciting, and brimming with possibilities…one that a smart education marketer can no longer ignore.

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