The Native Advertising Success Formula: 5 Key Ingredients For Niche Publishers

The rules of attention economics in the world of digital media have changed. Your audience is now banner-blind and ad-blocked.  (Think attention span of a goldfish.)

What can niche media companies do to attract and retain reader attention online?

Since attention spans and ad space are shrinking, publishers need to shift to a new way of thinking. Three changes that come to the forefront:

  1. The customer is always in control. The old rule was “the customer is always right.” What’s changed? The customer is now firmly in control. No one wakes up in the morning thinking about your brand. They think about what kept them up last night, what they need to do today, what they want to be one day.
  2. Story matters. (More than ever.) An old Hopi proverb states that “he who tells the story rules the world.” In an era of consumer empowerment and spreadable media, it is stories that are shared, remembered and responded to. Stories are the currency for culture and conversation.
  3. If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead. The dynamics of influence and information exchange have fundamentally shifted, and the new neural network is people-driven. This is word-of-mouth at scale.

This brings us to the next question.

How can publishers keep up with their readers’ constantly changing interests and still reach them effectively?

Publishers spend all this time, energy and resources to do research in order to analyze their competition and audience data. Then there’s CRM planning, process development, optimization planning etc. Publishers also have created all this great, niched content to deliver to their audience.

But they can get stuck in distribution phase. Media companies are now on the hook for always-on publishing and “everywhere” distribution. One good way to manage this cycle is to look for strategic partners that can help you succeed.

This is where native advertising fits in.

It is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed. They are pay-play, information-based and delivered in-stream. And they are the new “advertorial”–but with bigger expectations.

Native advertising also provides an opportunity to support larger media plans. This includes thought leadership, educational content, guides and more. Each phase in the buyer’s journey can now be supported by content.

There are 5 keys to a native advertising success formula:

  1. Audience insights: Don’t play down your audience expertise. Native ads give you permission to engage and demonstrate your strategic thinking. Positioning yourself as the expert has real-world value.
  2. Consultative sales: Embrace solution-based selling. Think partner not product. Study your clients and lead with thoughtful questions. Share insights.
  3. Quality editorial: Your native ad standards must mirror your editorial mission. Develop ethics guidelines. Build a team of content creators and journalists.
  4. Beyond distribution: Act like a publisher but think like a media planner. Start by providing compelling placements across an integrated channel mix. Make it something your user would actually want to see. You can also consider non-traditional content delivery like events, case studies, etc.
  5. Pilot to scale: Start small and learn fast. Bring on your best advertisers as pilot partners in the effort. Develop tiered packages and expand your team as demand grows.

Native ads can move your audience from curiosity to conversion.

Most of all, native advertising works. They are much more than the old advertorial model. Mobile friendly by nature, they meet consumer demand. Plus they avoid ad blockers. The results? Native ads are viewed and clicked more.



Andrew Hannelly  More about Andrew Hanelly:  After spending time on both the publisher and agency side of the media business, Andrew now has his dream role which straddles both. He is Creative Director and partner at, which helps publishers generate revenue and helps brands develop audiences. Andrew got his first taste of the niche media world at Active Interest Media, helping to translate print success to digital prowess across the organization. He then spent nearly a decade at a content marketing agency as SVP Strategy.


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