Programmatic content: where storytelling & science collide

Programmatic content: where storytelling and science collide

You can’t just sit back and wait for readers to find you.

You can’t just sit back and wait for readers to find you – you need to find your audience. This is something that publishers have known for years, and as brands become media owners, they are facing the same challenge.

Whether you’re a publisher or a brand, there’s simply no point in investing time and money in creating great content if you’re not going to spend more time and money marketing it.

Beyond ‘Other stories you may like’

There are numerous ways in which brands can find an audience. For some time Taboola and Outbrain have been placing ‘recommended content’ from around the web at the bottom of publishers’ websites – for the publisher these are useful tools that generate ‘exit’ revenues, for readers it provides a link to another story based on things they probably like, and in turn provides brands with a means of driving traffic to their content. However, the quality of the audience provided by these links is variable, and the relentless drive towards lowest-common-denominator clickbait headlines is likely to see these blocks of links become increasingly ignored.

Social media platforms are undoubtedly more effective at targeting users with suitable content – both Facebook and Twitter allow brands to promote articles to users based on intent signals that they reveal while browsing the internet outside of these social exchanges. But successfully promoting your content to the right audience shouldn’t end with social media. That’s why we’re so excited about programmatic media.

Going programmatic

So what is Programmatic Content? Well, the idea is simple – brands produce content and distribute it across the web based on their target audience, interests and activity. This content is then served within a publisher’s editorial stream, identically matching both look and feel whilst being contextual relevant to their site. The story is clearly marketed as sponsored and when the user interacts with a call to action, they are taken to the brand’s destination.

On the face of it, content marketing and programmatic advertising are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Content marketing is a manual art, delivered through meticulous strategising and skillful application of tone of voice. It’s a thoughtful, high quality and conversational way to increase brand awareness and affinity. Programmatic advertising, on the other hand, is automated, scientific, and focussed on conversion. It’s measured by clickthrough rates and managed through exchanges with real-time bidding.

However, at a time when marketeers see content marketing as their biggest priority, a more effective means of promoting content at scale is going to drive investment in this space – we will undoubtedly see the art of content marketing and the science of programmatic technology collide.

The publishing paradox

At present, publishers charge huge premiums to custom-create native advertising because brands know their content will match the editorial look and feel, and slot in nicely with the independent content that surrounds it. However, it’s costly for a brand and offers limited reach. Programmatic content offers many of the benefits of bespoke native advertising, but applied across any website the target audience visits. We’re all familiar with adverts that follow you from site to site after you picked up some cookies; programmatic content allows a deeper relationship by following the user with genuinely useful content served up in a variety of ways.

Clearly the delivery of programmatic content introduces a number of issues for publishers. New ad formats from the IAB require handing over control of some of their most valuable real estate that once housed independent editorial content. And, as a publisher, you’re only going to do this if you can be sure that the content that will be served will at least be contextually relevant, of interest to the specific user, and not feel out of place (and of course, be clearly labelled as a promotional story). However, we know social media platforms can adapt and serve content based on our behaviour and interests, so if we can determine the right person, the time and the place to serve them content within a publisher’s site, then the effectiveness for brands will increase along with revenues for publishers – win-win.

The native debate

There’s still a debate to be had about the optimal experience for publisher, brand and reader. On Facebook or Twitter we are happy to click on a link and be taken off to another site, but what if we’ve chosen to visit a renowned media owner, are we happy to click on an article and be taken straight back out? Software company Nativo doesn’t think so, and we tend to agree.

Nativo provide a solution for publishers that keeps the reader on their site when consuming the sponsored content – until they click an exit link within the content. Their software also formats the article page to look like any other story published on that particular site. Essentially the sponsored piece of content replicates the websites user experience – the only difference is that it’s labelled ‘sponsored’.

Some may argue that this still doesn’t solve the disparity in tone of voice between sponsored content and publisher content. We believe that if a brand’s content marketing agency is doing it’s job well then they should be producing content that’s useful and entertaining to its target audience – if it’s being served to consumers based on their behaviour and interests, within a contextually relevant environment, then they should be happy to see it. A successful content strategy is critical for this to work.

A change is going to come

Lets be clear, direct publisher relationships are not going anywhere – there are numerous reasons a brand would work directly with a publisher to build custom-sponsored content, not to mention the PR and SEO benefits these relationships offer – it’s a key part of the content marketing mix. However platforms like Nativo and other emerging SSPs (Supply Side Platform – technology that enables publishers to manage their advertising inventory and maximise revenues) will allow brands to distribute content on a mass scale, to your exact target audience, while being contextually relevant and living within publisher sites. This is a good experience for the user – which means engagement will be high and, in turn, hugely beneficial for both brand and publisher.

It’s still too early to know how this will all play out, but it’s likely that the delivery of programmatic content will be commonplace within a couple of years. If the user experience is delivered correctly then the collision of these two marketing functions will help to refine a brand’s content strategy and truly increase the value and measurability of content marketing.

Say hello

Are you looking to refresh and strengthen your content marketing strategy? We’d love to hear from you – [email protected]

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