by Juan Robin II
Today, your marketing strategy has become more important than ever before.
That’s because the Internet makes it easy for consumers to conduct research and discover new brands. With information and other resources so readily available, each business in every industry has competition to worry about.
You may have some successful content marketing tactics. That’s great, and you should continue using them.
That said, content marketing alone won’t be enough to reach the widest possible audience. If you want to create more brand exposure and gain an edge over your competition, you’ll need to do more.
Sponsored content may be the solution to give your company the advantage you’ve been looking for.
If you’re not sure what sponsored content is or how to use it, that’s okay. It’s not too late to get started.
I’ll explain how sponsored content works and how you can apply it to your branding strategy. Here’s what you need to know.
Understand the difference between native advertising and content marketing
The majority of your current promotions likely fall into the content marketing category.
Typically, content marketing is focused on the big picture and long-term goals. Marketers put emphasis on lead nurturing, resulting eventually in sales conversions. The conversion funnel is a great representation of how to tackle content marketing at each stage:
This is a continuous process. Take a look at some of the examples listed above you can apply to each stage of the funnel.
It involves things such as newsletters, guides, demonstrations, blogs, coupons, and videos. The list goes on and on. Sure, these promos raise brand awareness, but they also help drive the customer through the funnel.
Native ads are intended to increase brand exposure as well, but they differ a bit from your typical content campaigns.
We’ve all seen native advertisements before. Even if you haven’t realized it, you’ve definitely been exposed to them while browsing online.
Native ads are promotions mixed into headlines on a page. They are somewhat camouflaged to appear as though they are just another article.
Check out this example from the Yahoo homepage to see what I’m talking about:
I’ve highlighted the native advertising to make it obvious. If I didn’t, you might have missed it the first time you glanced at the list.
That’s because it follows the same format as all the other articles on the page. The title and subtitles are the same sizes. The colors and fonts replicate the content that’s not sponsored. The thumbnail picture is the same as well.
If it weren’t for the word “sponsored” written above the headline, you’d never know it was a paid advertisement.
With native ads, you pay for your space on the screen. Think of it as a virtual billboard.
These advertisements are intended to pique the interest of potential customers. Your native ads typically won’t be circulated through your distribution channels, which is different from your content strategy.
These two marketing strategies will work together hand in hand. A customer may initially discover your brand through a native ad, but your content strategy will drive sales.
Don’t be deceiving
You need to make sure your sponsored content doesn’t fool your audience. It needs to be clearly labeled as a paid advertisement.
In fact, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has laws in place that force businesses to disclose their relationship with brands that pay for advertisements.
In addition to being in violation of FTC regulations, you will be misleading your customers, which is a bad idea. You don’t want to get a reputation for being unethical.
This goes for the company displaying the ad as well as the brand being promoted.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say your company sells athletic sneakers. Plenty of websites rate sneakers.
You pay one of them to write a favorable review for one of your products. If that review isn’t clearly labeled as sponsored content, it’s in violation of the FTC endorsement guides.
There is no reason to be deceptive. That’s because the majority of consumers don’t have a problem with native advertisements.
Just because you’re buying an ad space on another website doesn’t mean you’re in control of their content.
Just make sure you stress the point that you want them to comply with the FTC rules. Even though it’s not your website, it’s your responsibility to make sure your ad is appropriately labeled.
Research your target market
To run a successful sponsored content campaign, you need to identify your target market. Figure out as much information as possible about this group of people and their consumption habits.
You’ll need to know things such as:
- what type of ads they are looking for
- the platforms they use the most
- which websites they visit
- what blogs they read
- their primary email service
This can help you properly display your sponsored ads.
For example, recall our first example of the Yahoo homepage. If you discovered the majority of your target market uses Yahoo Mail, it would be reasonable for you to consider displaying a sponsored ad on that website.
Sponsored content isn’t limited to just websites.
Today, sponsored content has flooded social media. If you determine your target audience has certain social media preferences, you can use that knowledge to your advantage.
We know 70% of hashtags on Instagram are branded. But just because a hashtag is branded doesn’t mean it’s sponsored content. Here’s an example to show you the difference.
With over 1.1 million people following Anastasia on Instagram, this promotion will reach a large audience.
Instagram recently implemented a new branded content feature to help businesses and influencers follow the FTC regulations we discussed earlier. As you can see, this ad is clearly labeled with the “paid partnership” location tag and “sponsored” hashtag.
We’ll discuss social influencers in greater detail shortly. But for now, make sure you find out everything you can about your target audience.
This research will help make your sponsored content much more effective.
Mix up your strategy
Sponsored content comes in all shapes and sizes. As you can see from the examples we’ve covered so far, they are all very different.
But depending on the type of ad you want to run and the audience you’re trying to reach, you can mix things up in many ways.
Try as many types of sponsored ads as possible to see which ones work the best. You can even run a sponsored email newsletter.
First, find a newsletter related to your industry and your target market. Reach out to them directly to see whether they are open to running a sponsored ad.
Figure out what your goal is ahead of time. This will make it easier for you to communicate your ideas to the company in question.
For example, you can approach them with thoughts such as:
- repurposing your current content in their newsletters
- growing the reach of your own newsletter
- running direct response campaigns with their audience
There are lots of ways to do this. In addition to traditional newsletter writing, you may want to include images and videos as well.
Set up a unique URL so that you’re able to track all the leads from this campaign. You shouldn’t have to rely on your new partner to send you their analytics.
Think outside the box. What other types of sponsored campaigns would boost your reach? Have you considered podcasts?
Look at how ZipRecruiter used this strategy to promote their brand by partnering with Daymond John’s podcast:
Advertising through podcasts can be much more beneficial than you think.
Research shows that 75% of people who listen to podcasts take an action after hearing a branded ad. People listen to about 90% of any given episode’s length, which tells us the majority of them aren’t skipping through ads.
Don’t get stuck in the idea that your sponsored content must be in the form of an article on the homepage of a website.
There are plenty of alternatives for you to consider. I strongly encourage you to give them a try.
Stay within your budget
The name says it all. Sponsored content is obviously going to cost you money. But that doesn’t mean you need to blow a fortune on it.
Like the rest of your marketing campaigns, your sponsored ads need to stay within a reasonable budget.
That said, there isn’t a set price for sponsored content. It will vary based on the distributor and platform.
These are some of the top factors to consider when it comes to how much you’ll spend on different types of sponsored ads:
- time user spends on page
- word count of sponsored articles
- CPM (cost per thousand impressions)
- page rank of website
- lead capture
- PPC (click-through rates)
- website traffic
- length of time ad is run
- quantity of ads
- email subscribers
- social media followers
It may sound complex, but it’s pretty straightforward.
For example, it’ll cost you more money to run an ad on a website that has a high ranking and lots of traffic. Social influencers with 100,000 followers can charge more than influencers with just 5,000 followers.
It’s up to you to go through these elements and decide how much you’re willing to spend to boost your reach.
Form relationships with social influencers
As I started to explain earlier, there are lots of different ways to run sponsored content campaigns. Social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, are all great places to start.
But since these social sites differ from traditional websites, you need to adjust your marketing campaigns as well.
The easiest way to do this is by leveraging relationships with social influencers.
Remember I said earlier that sponsored content should blend with the rest of the page it’s featured on? Well, the same concept applies to social media.
For a consumer scrolling through Instagram, the sponsored content should look like just another picture or video on their newsfeed.
For those of you who don’t have any relationships with social influencers, there are plenty of platforms on the web to help you get connected with these people. Some of my favorites include Buzzsumo and Klear.
I suggest you find influencers on at least a few of these social sites.
Working with several influencers helps broaden your reach and will ultimately expose your brand to a wider audience.
Allow your sponsored content to enhance your long-term campaigns
We’ve already established that sponsored content is a type of native advertising. This is different from content marketing.
However, that doesn’t mean the two types of marketing need to be done in isolation from each other.
Your long-term marketing goals always need to be taken into consideration throughout your decision-making process. Don’t forget about these things when you run a sponsored ad.
The best types of sponsored ads will compliment your content marketing campaigns.
Refer back to the conversion funnel I discussed earlier. Your sponsored content can increase your reach and generate leads. As a result, your content strategy can drive conversions.
Analyze your results
How do you know whether your sponsored content is working?
You can’t just run ads and hope for the best. It’s absolutely necessary you take time to measure your results. That way, you can make adjustments.
Get rid of ads that aren’t working and continuing running ads that are creating leads.
For example, you can use tools like lead gen forms on Linkedin to measure the success of your native ads.
You can also do things like setting up an A/B test for your sponsored content.
The whole idea of analyzing your results will help you stay within your budget—an idea I’ve discussed earlier. You may discover that some of your least expensive ads are yielding the highest results.
You can potentially drop some of your pricier campaigns to save some money. The only way you’ll be able to figure this out is through analytics.
Taking advantage of free advertising is great. But if you really want to gain an edge over your competitors and boost your reach, you’ll need to spend some money as well.
Sponsored content and native advertising is a nice change of pace from traditional content marketing. Understand the differences between these strategies and try to make them compliment each other.
Don’t be deceptive. Make sure your sponsored content is in compliance with FTC regulations.
Research your target audience so you can figure out which types of ads they want to see and what platforms they are using.
Don’t stick to just one type of native ad. Use multiple types of sponsored content to mix up your strategy.
If you want to run sponsored content on social media, your best bet is to form relationships with influencers on those platforms.
Stay within your budget, and analyze your results so that you can make any necessary adjustments.
Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to reach a wider audience by using native ads and sponsored content.
How does your business use sponsored content to increase your reach and generate new leads?