Native and content marketing are without doubt the fastest growing sectors of the digital marketing landscape.
They provide companies a scalable and efficient brand-building vehicle, as well as bring in much needed revenue for local digital publishers, all without getting on our—the reader/viewer’s—nerves. It’s no wonder native and content marketing spends are expected to increase by almost 45 percent over the next two years.
But this could all disappear faster than it has appeared due to the lack of one thing: trust.
As the newly appointed co-chair of the IAB Singapore’s Content Committee, I thought it was the right time to discuss trust, the role it plays in the content-marketing ecosystem and what the risks of losing it would mean for everyone involved.
As consumers continue to be bombarded with advertising throughout their media day, developing trust and sustained transparency in the digital marketplace is crucial. These are the two 'T's that will shape the industry going forward.
If a brand is deemed to lack transparency and respect for the end-customer, it risks undermining the experience for all parties in the digital ecosystem: consumers, content providers and marketers. The ramifications of this would be huge, leading to the same kind of general consumer apathy that plagues traditional forms of advertising.
Houston, we have a trust problem
I attended a fascinating presentation earlier this year where Iain Twine, CEO of APAC for Edelman, presented the Annual Edelman Global Trust Barometer. In the 15 years that Edelman has carried out this survey, this was the first year where a greater proportion of respondents were found to be less trusting of brands and messages.
While this is a sorry statistic, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me.
If you dig deeper into the data you’ll see that three of the four major institutions in the world received a lower trust rating from consumers over the past 12 months. Trust in the media is down by 2 per cent, business is also down by 2 per cent, and even NGOs (surely we still trust our NGOs?) are down by 3 per cent globally.
On the bright side, Edelman’s barometer does show that consumers in Southeast Asia have a more trusting disposition toward brands than consumers in other developed markets. I suppose time will tell if marketers here are able to retain this trust.
It’s clear that society as a whole has challenges with trust. So as you might expect, the advertising world is really trying to push this deteriorating trust back up the hill.
For over 10 years advertisers have paid little attention to the way they interact with people online, favouring 'distraction' methods over the harder (but ultimately more valuable) pursuit of trying to work with the content, context and customer experience to connect with people.
As a result, Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising research shows us that fewer than 50 per cent of people either completely or somewhat trust key digital advertising channels. Banner ads, the traditional mainstay of building brands online, are at the bottom of the pile on a mere 42 per cent (only slightly above those text-based mobile ads that we know but don’t love).
But wait, there are fresh buds of hope
Surprise, surprise: Brands are also becoming trusted creators of content.
Last year, research by the Content Marketing Association in the UK showed that 82 per cent of people liked getting content from brands, as long as it was valuable. In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer showed that more people trust companies to create content than they trust trained journalists.
Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising study illustrates the great differences in the levels of trust in digital media. While most forms of advertising languish at the bottom of the list, towards the top you will find high trust opportunities, such as branded websites, that should form an important part of any brand’s digital marketing efforts.
Sixty nine per cent of consumers report they completely or somewhat trust branded websites—more than any other form of online or offline media. Consumer opinions and reviews posted online (68 per cent) and editorial content (67 per cent) follow close behind, and both can be a powerful addition to a brand’s digital marketing mix.
Another survey by HubShout in May 2014 was encouraging because it showed that other forms of content marketing, such as recommended content links by the likes of Outbrain, sponsored content and some forms of paid social enjoy relatively high levels of trust from consumers.
All in all, content marketing is looking to be a win-win-win in the digital world. Publishers get user trust back, brands get high consistent user engagement with new monetisable areas on their pages. Marketers create relationships with consumers based on trust and real value exchange instead of push messages and distraction tactics. And as for us, the consumer, we enjoy non-intrusive advertising in the form of interesting and entertaining content, which actually provides us value.
Time for the industry to take control
But there are noxious weeds growing within content marketing, which we need to root out. Practices that threaten respect and transparency could impact the relatively fragile content-marketing ecosystem.
The first threat is spammy ads masquerading as content to try and trick people into making that coveted first click. These are ads made to look like content, which are then allowed to reside on premium publisher sites. Normally peddling money-making schemes, breakthrough health cures and fake review sites, these ads are very effective in getting that initial click.
But remember that trust is like an eraser: It gets smaller and smaller after every mistake.
Every click on these is a mistake and moves the consumer further away from the advertiser and more importantly the publisher.
In order to maintain this trust, a tip is to keep the end user or the person consuming the content in mind. If the goal is to help this user find the most interesting content possible, it will automatically help the industry prioritise stakeholders.
This means that providing interesting content to the reader comes first, followed closely by helping publishers better engage their audiences. Then, and only then, should the industry prioritise brand buyers in helping them get their content in front of an engaged audience.
One would think that because the brand buyer delivers revenue, it should be our first priority. However, this is not the case. Remember, if we lose the trust of the reader or publisher, there will be no audience to reach.
If content marketing is to fulfil its promise of defining how brands are built in the digital age, then more companies need to take this stand—one where the reader gets first priority every single time.
We trust action over words, so we need to see more companies in the ecosystem—vendors, publishers and advertisers—taking a long-term view on this to protect its long-term viability and value for all involved. If we don’t, then we will find ourselves in the same wasteland of banner ads, where few people even notice them. As a result, brands don’t value them and publishers don’t get paid for them.
To support the steady growth in native and content marketing, trust and transparency are key. Otherwise, content marketing will just fizzle out, and I know you wouldn’t want that to happen.
Anthony Hearne is regional director, SEA, India & New Markets, for Outbrain and co-chair of the IAB Singapore Content Committee.