Rameet Arora: Standing out by blending in- Making native content work on the internet | HT Brand Leadership Series

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Standing out by blending in: Making native content work on the internet

  • Rameet Arora
  • 22nd Oct

Native advertising has historically been highly effective—both for marketers, as well as publishers. This collaboration helps create an engaging dialog that speaks to potential customers—using content and context that are more likely to drive meaningful interactions, as compared to outright advertising. In fact, a 2016 study found that native content resulted in a 59% higher recall than display advertising. Today, I’m sure the numbers would be much higher.

Many marketers, including me, have for long struggled with the fact that our ambition of leveraging the internet for its rich, interactive content possibilities has often been stifled by the steep investments and bandwidth required to create and populate self-owned platforms with quality traffic.

The HT Brand Studio was founded essentially to address this marketing opportunity – and challenge. Over the past two years, we have partnered with over 100 top brands across industries and leveraged our innate storytelling skills, to have evolved conversations with our audience on behalf of partner brands. Some of these campaigns have won awards, some have received global recognition, and many of these have translated into long-term relationships with our clients. What ALL of them have taught us, however, is that we cannot compromise on quality. We’re proud to partner with brands that understand this, and who have enabled us to create fantastic campaigns through collaboration.

I emphasize on collaboration here, because native content cannot grow without this clear understanding among the brand, the creative agency, and the publisher. The combined might of a publisher’s content capability and audience, the customer’s choice of environment, and the “softer but harder” sell is a potential win formula for brands.

So, what works in native advertising and what doesn’t? How do we increase the probability of success? How do we master the art and science? Is there a list to think through? A check list to reward perhaps? And that led me to the following:

First: Chase the right audience for your message. Choose environment by exclusion (remember, your customers have already made their choice of platform) and allow your idea to mould into the medium. Corporate mandates, no-go for adult sites, and respect for the message (financial performance, for example) are some things that could lead to an exclusion list. Vanity, the boss’s preferred media, and lazy choices, shouldn’t.

Second: If you ever saw tourists in local attire trying to experience the culture of a place, you’ll see where I’m going next. It isn’t good enough to dress up. A resident can tell a native from a mile. So, don’t try and construct the native product. Wherever possible, rely on the platform’s ability to mould your message.

Third: If you have constructed a message (for example, an infographic that only your data can provide or a great video), look for platforms that will use that natively, but with brand attribution. To give an example from Brand Studio’s own work, our content partnership with Tata Communications saw fabulous native engagement on Livemint, because the target for the campaign and Livemint’s own audience overlapped on several count.

Fourth: The best briefs are media neutral. We all accept that. And the best execution platforms come with their own unique take on executing the message or idea.

Fifth: Native is not only equal to just article. It could take many forms, from microsites, videos, and infographics to full-fledged immersive campaigns that also have on-ground legs. At HT, we did all this and more with Tata Tea Jaago Re, where we not only created a content hub for every stage of the campaign but also helped convert that content into action through an active petition drive.

Native content is finally marketing, not disguised editorial. The power of native is about consistency and seamless user experience, which leads to greater engagement and, in my view, more effectiveness. That’s what earns the premium. Brand attribution is and should be an integral part of this, both for the publication and for the brand. All research so far, including my own, proves that people click through what they want to. Content quality and packaging is the single biggest variable in this equation. Brand attribution is not. In fact, my gut says, if anything, customers reward transparency.

The future of the internet is undeniably linked to mobile consumption. The future of monetization of content platforms on the mobile internet will largely depend on the success of seamless, native formats. Facebook’s timeline is conclusive proof. Closer home, Zomato’s native templates are another example to look at. And finally, Indian publishers—including us—are rapidly evolving their capabilities in partnered content.

The limit, I believe, is only our imaginations.

Rameet Arora
COO & Head of Digital Brands,
HT Digital Streams

With over 19 years of experience in the media and advertising industry, Rameet believes that the foundation of every successful business rests on how well it caters to its consumers. Prior to this, he was the Chief Marketing Officer (Global) at Zomato. He has also worked with brands such as McDonalds India and Viacom 18.