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Delivering Quality Content, via Programmatic Ad Buying and Native Advertising

Native advertising has quite the rap. It involves brands integrating their messages directly into content (oftentimes it’s in print or online format, but it takes other forms such as podcasts too), which means it looks and seems like an editorial piece. The problem with this, of course, is that it often feels like the readers and consumers are being tricked to read a piece of content marketing as opposed to an editorial piece. Many people view native advertising negatively because of this, which is entirely understandable. Native advertising seems to often blur the lines between editorial content and advertising (or “church and state”, as it’s referred to). I love myself some John Oliver, and I think he explains the conflict quite well:

Besides this, native advertising has other drawbacks in comparison to traditional advertising. The analytics for it are mediocre, and targeting isn’t refined enough for it to be more appealing than digital usually is. And even with analytics, it’s hard to tell if brand awareness is created by the native ad itself or all the PR surrounding it.  The folks from the StartUp podcast discovered this, and spent a whole podcast discussing it.

But here’s the thing – native advertising has the potential to be really innovative, and often is. When done properly, it meshes beautifully with the editorial content it appears alongside, and delivers its own creative and relevant content to boot. All while being aesthetically appealing! And, as Ad Age points out, it should be transparent. In the video above, John Oliver is totally right: sticking a tiny logo somewhere on a piece of content isn’t being very transparent. As marketers, it’s important to be honest with the audience you’re providing content to, regardless if the content is presented through native advertising or some other format. Emphasizing the clear line between advertising and editorial content upholds journalistic integrity and creates trust between the brand and its audience. While some publishers aren’t being very upfront about the sponsored content they post (I’m looking at you, Buzzfeed), others are looking to improve native for the better.

The Wall Street Journal’s Custom Studios, their take on a native advertising platform, clearly defines what is sponsored but also catches the audience’s eye by delivering quality content. The New York Times, Forbes, and the New Yorker all do this as well. Maybe it just takes publishers known for good journalism to get the job done right? It comes down to having standards on both sides, and the best content (in either form) you can give to readers. Putting compelling advertising next to high-quality content, and delivering it to the right people at the right time is what good content marketing is all about, and excellent native advertising is a perfect example of this.

Another big trend in paid advertising is programmatic ad buying. It’s complicated (even when it’s explained to you like you’re eight), but seems a whole lot like eBay (or eTrade) for ad space. Instead of bidding for media space in the more traditional way, much of it is now done automatically similar to trading stocks online. It’s a billion-dollar industry, and (as I keep emphasizing) it should come down to making advertising better for the audience. ComScore recently announced its plan to provide better insight for media buyers in programmatic, that will create trust for both publishers and buyers while (hopefully) making for better paid advertising and content. Programmatic’s benefits are immense, and it factors in consumer data, marketing goals, and more to help deliver the best quality content through formats such as native advertising.

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Unsubscribe No More: How Emails Can Add Value to Your Inbox

I have a not-so-secret confession: I dislike receiving emails. Oftentimes I feel like certain brands and businesses are spamming me with boring content and information that’s completely irrelevant to my life. On average, I’d say I delete about 70% of the emails I receive before even bothering to open them. These are usually promotional ones offering me discounts on things I neither need nor want, or are simply advertisements with my name attached to make them seem more “personal”. And don’t even get me started on unsubscribing – hitting the “unsubscribe button” and getting another email notification telling me I’ve unsubscribed from a list. Doesn’t that seem awfully redundant to you too? Recently, though, I went through my inbox and cleaned it out. And I discovered something: some emails actually contain really relevant and compelling content, but these are very much outnumbered by the spam-like ones. It’s time for brands to fix this problem.

Email marketing can be used for brand awareness, lead generation and conversion, and customer retention. Social media trends change drastically, and organic reach is being removed as an option on many sites such as Facebook. Email allows businesses to reach consumers organically, and at a level that often feels more personal than with other channels. Companies like MailChimp and TinyLetter specialize in helping people and businesses send great emails, and they send millions of emails every day. Email is crazy cost-effective, and has a ridiculously high ROI to boot: for every $1 spent on email marketing the average return is $44.25, which makes it nearly 40 times more effective than Facebook or Twitter. And just like other forms of inbound marketing, it all comes down to the content in your message. Remember when people used to get excited about having a full inbox (we’re talking Kathleen Kelly, 1990s-level excited, people!)? Well, delivering the right content at the right time to the right segment might get your mailing list looking forward to your messages again, and not selecting “unsubscribe”.

How do you find out what my audience is interested in and finds valuable, you ask? Segmentation and listening, of course! Combining your emails with other inbound channels like social media guarantees contact, as well as looking at your email reports and analytics helps you become fully-attentive and listen to what your leads and current customers are saying. A/B testing anything you can in your emails really helps businesses and brands discover what works and what doesn’t – and you can really split test about anything, from call-to-action buttons to even the text. But this is only part of making your content and emails personal. Tailoring each email to the person who’s receiving it (both in the subject line as well as throughout the copy) deepens your relationship with your recipient and helps them feel connected to you.

Both Hubspot and Constant Contact have lists regarding the best practices of email, and how it can extend your reach and increase your ROI. Here are some commonalities and highlights:

  • Treat your contacts like the real people they are
  • Keep your subject line short and simple, and to the point
  • Go beyond the inbox: Integrate social media, blogs, and more with your email and include links to all these within your copy
  • Don’t use a purchased list: Always ask permission, and request that your recipients opt-in (not opt-out)
  • Make sure to follow up with your emails, and find out what your readers do and don’t like
  • Segment and personalize your list based off interests, stage in the buying process, demographics, and more
  • Focus on the benefits! Why does subscribing to your list, getting your newsletter, or buying your product benefit them?

Things like newsletters consistently add value to your recipient’s lives, and give them informational content they can look forward to (as opposed to only the promotional variety); According to The New York Times, “An email newsletter generally shows up in your inbox because you asked for it and it includes links to content you have deemed relevant. In other words, it’s important content you want in list form, which seems like a suddenly modern approach.” This also follows the 80/20 rule of inbound marketing: 80% informational content, 20% promotional. We look to our inbox for a variety of things, such as news, social content, and yes, promotional messages. By optimizing emails to cater and add to that variety of content, businesses extend their reach and turn leads into customers easily and organically in ways that other channels simply don’t allow for.

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Land, Ho!

No, my sadly un-punny title is unfortunately not referencing Jeff Tweedy’s fictional band on Parks and Recreation. Nor is it about sailors or explorers finding terra nova. I’m actually here to talk about landing pages.

As we know, inbound marketing is all about relationships. Part of a relationship, regardless of the type, is making that crucial step after getting to know someone: getting their contact information. How else are you going to create and maintain a relationship without being able to stay connected? For businesses and their leads, that step is seen in the form of a landing page.

Landing pages are website pages specifically designed to convert visitors into leads. High quality landing pages also allow businesses to successfully segment their audience into different markets, which means reaching the right people, at the right time, at the right place. As I’ve discussed numerous times before, content is everything. But with landing pages, context is equally as relevant. I’ve also mentioned Hubspot’s buyer’s journey and its various steps: awareness, consideration, and decision. An ideal landing page should be catered and customized toward your particular visitor, and whatever step they’re at in this journey (in fact, according to this Hubspot blog post, you should have at least 15 different landing pages to create maximum success – increasing the number of landing pages from 10 to 15 can raise conversions by 55%). A good landing page has a mixture of a lot of different things, and Mashable’s article on successful customer acquisition lists the three most important:

  • Make it clean and simple to use
  • Give a clear call-to-action
  • Make the design attractive

Minimalism is back, people. Simplicity is the new black, and embracing whitespace is a big deal. Clutter, in whatever form, is distracting and annoying. Removing it from your landing page removes distractions, and keeps visitors focused on that big end goal (also, your landing page is NOT your homepage). According to Copyblogger, the most successful landing pages are usually the most simple: one column of relevant, content-filled text with social proof and maybe a nice webinar generates far more leads than a busy site with too many links to click. It’s actually best if you remove any sort of links on your landing page: chances are, those visitors won’t come back.

Content is all about creating relevant information for a unique visitor and (at the end, the teeny-tiny 20% of your content) showing them how they can benefit from your services as a business, whatever they may be. The Content Marketing Institute summed it up nicely on their blog: “You need to entice visitors to opt in for your content. Just stating the title of your video or white paper is not enough to do this. Add some copy that explains the benefits of requesting your material. For example, I like to include short bullet points that highlight what visitors will learn when they check out the content.” After all, you’re asking your visitors and potential audience members to create a relationship with you by having that call-to-action: you’d better make it personally tailored to them, informational, and harmonious to whatever point they may be at in the buying process to keep them coming back for more.

You know how after you’ve gone to a nice get-together at someone’s home, or gone on a really good date with someone, you thank them for the evening and tell them you look forward to spending time with them again? Well, guess what? Businesses should be doing that as well. We as consumers usually get thanked for doing business with someone (in my case, buying shoes I don’t really need), but we don’t ever get thanked for providing them a little bit of our souls: our email addresses. By including a thank you page after a visitor has successfully been converted into a lead, you can further entice the customer with downloadable content and help encourage actions (like, for instance, maybe social media calls-to-action) that will help further the relationship even more.

Okay, so I’m kind of leaving out one big thing that I’ve discussed before: testing. A/B testing allows businesses to test which landing pages, call-to-actions, and even thank you pages are most successful at maintaining those relationships. I won’t go into too much detail about it (you can read my thoughts on the wonders of split testing here), but it’s incredibly useful and simple, and absolutely necessary to help cater your content and the context it’s presented in to each individual visitor.

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