Content advertising: An Interview with Outbrain
Content advertising is a discipline which has gained significant traction in recent years. It has become a means to grabbing internet users’ attention and engaging them as banner blindness, ad blockers and small-screen browsing on smartphones makes it increasingly hard to reach your audience with traditional online advertising.
Content advertising is generally concerned with promoting, through paid channels, an advertiser’s content which is favorable to the brand yet informative to the user. Content advertising is used by many brands as a means to engaging audiences and scaling up advertising activities. As Leverate has shown with several clients, content advertising can be an effective way to promoting a brand by delivering engaging and valuable content in a highly targeted fashion.
We met with Outbrain’s Miko Levy, Vice President of Customer Acquisition. Outbrain is one of the dominant platforms for paid distribution of content and a major driver behind the rise of content advertising as an important part of advertisers’ online media mix.
MIKO, TELL ME ABOUT OUTBRAIN. WHAT DO YOU OFFER ADVERTISERS?
Outbrain is the leading discovery platform bringing content and audiences together. We’ve grown into a worldwide business that serves more than 250 billion monthly content recommendations, reaching in the region of a billion users every month across the globe. Outbrain is popular with marketers who are looking to drive value through content, such as blog content, web articles or earned media. We really see all sorts of advertisers whether it’s one of the top brands, start-ups, publishers, or blogging hobbyists. All types of businesses have got great content that they want audiences to discover and engage with in order for them to meet their marketing objectives.
WHAT IS THE VALUE TO ADVERTISERS OF SPONSORED CONTENT IN COMPARISON TO OTHER DIGITAL AD FORMATS, E.G. DISPLAY ADS, PPC AND FACEBOOK ADS?
The true value of content comes from the fact that it actually provides people with information. Many forms of advertising, such as display ads, are placed with the intent of getting the user’s attention and get them to click to the website. When users are served content instead they’re engaging with it, and via this value exchange, building a deeper relationship with the brand and business, beyond a mere interruption or click driven to a website.
IS SPONSORED CONTENT AN ADD-ON TO AN ADVERTISER’S ONLINE CHANNEL MIX? SHOULD IT REPLACE SOME CURRENT ONLINE ADVERTISING ACTIVITIES?
Considering the fact that millennials have become the most desirable audience for most brands, advertisers must adapt to the changing climate of their consumption. Millennials watch fewer ads and have more control over what content they consume. They research before they purchase, and often do so through their mobile device. They want their content but have no patience for unwanted interruptions on their pursuit. In fact, 25% of Internet users will block ads this year. In the next few years, I think most brands will realize the declining value of TV, radio, and billboard ads. Instead of focusing on native, programmatic, and RTB, it will be about what it takes to get the right viewers to the right content. Choice-based marketing is the way of the future. The key is to ensure that the content is unique, tells a story, and adds value to consumers.
HOW DO COMPANIES AND AGENCIES WORK WITH YOU? WHAT TOOLS DO YOU OFFER FOR BUYING, MANAGING AND EVALUATING CAMPAIGNS WITH OUTBRAIN?
It’s very straightforward. One route is through our self-serve platform. All a company or agency needs is $10 a day and they’re set to get started. They can set the daily budget and specific time periods of the campaign as well as choose which publishers and sections that they want their content to feature on. In addition to this, there is a number of data metrics available about the performance of the campaign in terms of impressions, click-through rates, conversions, and many others in order for advertisers to optimize.
NO MEDIA CHANNEL IS GOOD FOR EVERY MARKETING PURPOSE. FOR WHAT PURPOSES ARE SPONSORED CONTENT DISCTRIBUTION THE BEST OPTION?
I would advise advertisers to stay away from content advertising if it’s used to push ad content with little or no value for the consumer. It’s not going to work well. Basically, there are three ways to grab a consumer’s attention and engage them as part of their online journey: One way is search where you need something, you google it and choose the best search results. Another one is social, where you share, comment, like etc. Whoever reaches my friends is also a friend of mine and gets my attention. Discovery, the third way, is about whatever interests the user and wins his attention on leading premium publisher platforms. This is where we come in. Understanding that a potential customer will consume a number of content pieces before making their purchase decision or taking action provides an opportunity to control and influence as many of these content encounters as possible. Discovery is successfully deployed to drive everything from brand equity and awareness, conversion and acquisition, app downloads, engagement and amplification of earned media.
HOW CAN AN ADVERTISER SET HERSELF UP FOR SUCCESS WITH SPONSORED CONTENT DISTRIBUTION? WHAT ARE THE KEY FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN?
A common denominator of successful content advertising campaigns is that they clearly define who their audience is and outline specific goals when setting up campaigns. This will inform what type of KPIs they should track, content they should create, how they spend their campaign budget, campaign duration, targeting they should consider, and many other factors that shape campaign management and, ultimately, performance. A key part of reaching the right audience through content campaigns is testing out multiple headlines and images to see what resonates best with them. Of course, advertisers must also define a specific budget. We recommend starting out with 5 to 10 times your target CPA and letting your campaign run for a minimum of 3 weeks. The next step is defining targeting tactics. By default, when the campaign is set up, it will automatically target all audiences.
IS SPONSORED CONTENT DISTRIBUTION MAINLY FOR BRAND ADVERTISERS OR DOES IT HAVE VALUE FOR DIRECT RESPONSE CAMPAIGNS, TOO?
The value of sponsored content distribution can certainly drive sales and app downloads, among other direct response measures. For example, Outbrain worked with fitness app 8fit to promote interesting articles about health and fitness across its network of premium publishers. The goal was to ultimately drive app downloads and subscriptions, and promoting its content through Outbrain enabled 8fit to reach a new audience and significant increase downloads and registrations.
HOW DOES SPONSORED CONTENT FIT INTO THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY AND WHAT KPIS SHOULD ADVERTISERS MEASURE IF INCLUDING SPONSORED CONTENT IN THEIR STRATEGY?
Outbrain’s sponsored content is tailored to target specific audiences and the overall goal of companies and advertisers. It is key to see what resonates best with your audience by testing out different tactics and campaigns. KPIs will be informed by how effectively users are engaging with your content.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT OUTBRAIN AND OTHER SPONSORED CONTENT DISTRIBUTORS CURRENTLY FACE?
Any service that has reached the size of Facebook or Google must be prepared to adapt to new issues that arise and attempts from those who choose to try and deceive and manipulate. Fake content and its closely related cousins are an industry wide challenge. As publishers, media owners, brands and content discovery leaders we all know that our entire business models are based on consumer trust. It’s so important that brands work with partners who employ maximum transparency. If a content link is paid for it should be clearly disclosed to the user and they should easily be able to determine where the content is coming from. Brands should also look for partners who are concerned with creating conditions for preventing and removing undesirable content in support of their partners. For example, strict content guidelines that clearly outline what is acceptable, and what is not and are updated regularly to adapt to the evolving media landscape; manual tools to allow marketers additional control over where their brand appears and strong and continuous investment in all types of fraud detection.
MIKO, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR SPEAKING WITH US.
This blog post is an adapted version of an article that featured in Leverate Media’s company magazine ‘Leverate ONE‘.