Why Ad-Techs Needs to Put Their Content Marketing Hats On

When are ads not ads? That’s the question the content marketing industry is focused on, and one that the broader ad-tech space would do well to ask as well.

Traditional advertising is a fairly straightforward affair. The viewer knows an ad when he/she sees one, and accepts it in return for free content. But in an age where technology is making it easier to avoid ads — from DVR fast-forwarding to Web pop-up blockers — that traditional model begs refinement.

Enter “content marketing,” which is the practice of creating brand-specific content that’s paid for and placed like an ad, but to the viewer can come off instead as news or entertainment or any other piece of content that is seen less as a form of interruption and more as a welcome addition.

The need for this industry shift is made clear in a recent study that found 84 percent of Millennials don’t like or trust traditional advertising. Digging deeper into the study finds some interesting dots that we can tie together in a positive way. First, nearly half of respondents said they could not live without the Internet, more than their mobile phones or even their best friend. Second, while they distrust advertising, they do trust news reports and information coming from social media and to an extent company websites. Finally, they consume most of their media via websites, digital media, and social, over TV.

Taken together, it means brands should spend less time advertising, and more time being part of the digital media information ecosystem that Millennials are consuming. It becomes less about telling consumers about your brand, but showing your brand to a community of which they are a part. In other words, talk with, not just talk to.

There are plenty of articles already written about how brands can authentically participate in conversations with customers, so I’ll not spend time here reiterating the strategy behind the content. Instead, I’m focusing on the tools we as an ad-tech industry can provide brands once they determine how that conversation needs to happen.

In the ad-tech world, we can help this in a number of ways. Focusing on user intent is the key. That means applying the concepts of programmatic advertising to content as well. Engaging customers on social platforms through hashtags and the like is all well and good, but when you’ve created smart and relevant content you want it to appear wherever the eyeballs are that might most be interested in it. The same kind of behavioral targeting undertaking to put ads in front of the right viewers should be used to connect brands content with the right audience as well.

We will also need better metrics to measure the effectiveness of these content marketing efforts. ROI is a big stat for advertisers, but the metrics used to measure, say, a native advertising campaign, are not the metrics to successfully measure the effectiveness of a content marketing effort.

And finally, and perhaps most obviously is embedding social networking into any content application. We saw this firsthand when we created our Beachfront Builder video app creation platform. In addition to allowing YouTubers to create mobile video apps by linking to their YouTube channels, we found that we needed to also let them integrate their social networking accounts to the app as well. The result is viewers can not only view YouTubers’ videos from a dedicated app on their mobile phone, but also tweet or Facebook links and comments related to the video they just saw.

Advertising needs to be less of a closed, one-way conversation where the brand touts its catchphrases and jingles, and more of a discussion that takes place in the open with full transparency and participation. The ad-tech industry, as fragmented as it is with competing standards and overlapping features, can play a strong role in helping deliver this experience to the betterment of both the advertiser and the viewer.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.