Native content is one of the most powerful tools a brand can use in its content and storytelling strategy. It’s also risky, because when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t. And the one reason native content doesn’t work is that it doesn’t behave like a native.
Native content is meant to do exactly that: seem like a native of its surroundings. Let’s take the Forbes website as an example. We’d expect to see articles about business, innovation, technology, or leadership. Websites like Forbes offer brands the opportunity to contribute native content to the site. This content should sound and look like it’s written by Forbes’ own team of journalists and writers.
Native content is therefore different from a traditional advertisement which is clearly promotional. It should address issues that a reader would expect to see in a Forbes article. It should be written in a style typical of a Forbes article. It should adhere to Forbes’ editorial guidelines. It should look like it belongs. In other words, it should behave like a native. Buzzfeed is known for its native content, from Mattel-sponsored Which Barbie Doll Are You, to a public health announcement by Cancer Research UK in the form of an Expectations vs Reality post about sunbathing.
One big draw of native advertising is the audience reach. You get to meet your audiences where they spend their time. It also helps to close some of the distance between brand and audience, and sometimes can make a brand’s message more credible.
Platforms such as Forbes and Buzzfeed, and many others, often make it clear that the content is brand-sponsored. This transparency is important, so that audiences know that this is a paid placement. But if audiences know that it’s a paid post, does it make them more suspicious of the content?
The answer lies in the content itself. If native content doesn’t behave like a native, then yes, audiences mistrust it. If it’s genuinely valuable, if it sounds like it belongs, and if it gives your audiences information, entertainment, inspiration, or anything they need and enjoy, the potential for mistrust is reduced greatly.
So it comes down to the hard work of creating content that fits. Content that’s useful. Content that’s taken into account your audience’s cultural capital, their sense of imagined community. This is why native content is challenging, but also why it has the potential for incredible influence when it’s done right.