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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How publishers can differentiate their sponsored content initiatives

March 16, 2022 | By Ron Silva, Director of Publisher Account Management – Nativo@nativo

Sponsored content is making a comeback. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by the World Media Group, advertisers plan to increase or maintain their budgets in content-led advertising through trusted digital media channels. The study also revealed that brands are pursuing a “more sophisticated approach to brand integration in content.” 

Publishers are suited to capitalize on this significant change and take more control within the ecosystem resulting in more direct sales revenue. 

The (re)rise of sponsored content

In the new age of privacy-first advertising, leveraging content as part of campaigns will hold an even higher value. With many targeting strategies up in the air, advertisers must shift from seeking customers to attracting them through authentic content.

Many publishers offer sponsored content to deliver high-impact integrated programs through their direct and trusted relationships with readers. In fact, many publishers are in a powerful position because they have the behavioral data, such as time on content and content consumed, to understand their reader’s frame of mind while on their site.  

Empowered with this knowledge, they can build deep partnerships with advertisers by acting as a consultant on how to take their readers through a customer journey that helps tell the brand’s story while delivering on performance. From titles to imagery and ad placement, publishers have the audience intelligence to provide strategic direction for successful content production and execution.

In the end, publishers can deepen their relationships with brands by consulting on sponsored content. The proof can be found in Forbes’ success; the company attributes 40% of their direct revenue to their content solutions.

Future success requires evolution

However, as World Media Group’s research revealed, it isn’t enough to offer sponsored content anymore. Advertisers have become more sophisticated. And they expect more from their partners. 

Publishers must evolve and provide differentiation in these strategic areas:  

  1. Driving audiences to the content 
  2. Tracking beyond the pageview 
  3. Scaling efforts

First point of differentiation: owned and operated traffic

Leveraging 3rd party sources to drive audiences to sponsored content has worked well for years. But as advertiser expectations rise, so will the need to evolve the way publishers attract traffic. 

Publishers will need to scale their audiences and drive traffic from their owned and operated properties in this new era. It is a critical component of a publisher’s differentiation. That’s because consumers trust your brand, and advertisers are inclined to invest more into trusted media sources. 

Publishers that don’t have the scale within their owned and operated properties can create strategic partnerships with other publishers or networks to help drive traffic to sponsored content. And for those who have the means, the best option is to acquire new titles which offer greater control, profit, and scale of 1st party data. 

But getting your audience to the page is only a third of the battle. 

Second point of differentiation: thinking beyond pageviews

The next phase is measuring and optimizing to ensure the content drives engagement. We all know the importance of measurement. However, it has gotten more complex as privacy moves to the forefront of advertising. Pageviews will not suffice. So, onsite conversions offer an opportunity for publishers. 

Integrating elements such as forms for downloadable content, newsletter sign-ups, and calculators (to name a few) are ideal tactics to build an engagement tracking system. By coupling these engagements with content-based metrics such as scroll depth, publishers can optimize the placement of essential design elements to inspire engagement with the brand.  And by maintaining these opportunities within the publisher’s ecosystem and leveraging 1st party data, publishers can provide their advertiser’s deep insight into campaign performance and even attribution with these onsite conversion events. 

Third point of differentiation: scale execution

The final phase is scaling efforts to grow revenue through sponsored content. The tactics outlined traditionally require a hefty investment or impact labor resources. And from what we see, this is often the biggest roadblock to implementing these integrated advertising programs. 

Publishers need to embrace technology to scale these integrated advertising programs considering the full breadth of campaign management. This includes: 

  • Content Creation – strive for simplicity yet flexibility to enable creative, operations, and sales to build an integrated program quickly without sacrificing quality. Simplicity empowers pre-sales efforts and streamlines the content production process.
  • Campaign Management – should be seamless. In the new era of content-led advertising, sponsored content should integrate with publisher CMSs and serve sponsored content seamlessly into the site.
  • Optimization – Beyond DCO, operations will have more elements to optimize. Thus, they will find the tools that can deliver optimization across the integrated program and which will enable operations to focus on campaign and client strategy.

Just as sponsored content evolves, so will the need for strategies and solutions to support its growth. Advertisers expect audience addressability, trusted partnerships, and ultimately an opportunity to tell their story. Today’s publishers need to focus on innovation to capitalize on sponsored content’s renewed opportunity in addressing advertiser expectations. 

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