Originally appeared in O’Dwyer’s PR News.
Native ads have overtaken display as the most popular form of digital advertising, but the gaming of social channels and the mistrust of media based on cries of fake news threaten to usurp its value.
In general terms, a native ad is any paid content that mimics the design of the press-generated content available on the channel on which it appears. It can be a paid editorial that subtly weaves a brand’s value into the article. It can be a hashtag that a brand promotes to spur user engagement.
When done well, native ads can be informative and persuade the reader without violating their trust.
In the era of fake news, growing consumer confusion and mistrust, it’s more important than ever that native advertising content be true to this mission.
This article is featured in O’Dwyer’s Nov. ’18 Technology PR Magazine
Fake versus real content
Americans have been hearing a lot about “fake news” over the last four years. The term was actually coined by BuzzFeed editor Craig Silverman, who defined it as “completely false information that was created and spread for profit.”
The noise around fake news first reached a crescendo during the 2016 presidential election, when it dominated airwaves and altered the way some people perceived the mainstream media.
It’s still used in today’s tribal political warfare, which inaccurately calls out quality news content developed by respected news outlets as false. This misrepresentation can bleed over into mistrust of brand-based content. Consumers are struggling to distinguish between factual and manipulative content, as it can be hard to tell the difference between an outright lie intended to provoke a reaction and a sincere sponsored article designed to mimic objective content. Brands are struggling to walk the line between persuasion and transparency.
How has the relationship between consumers and brands changed?
We live in an era of values-based consumerism. In fact, a recent Forrester report found that seven in ten Millennials consider a company’s values when making a purchase — nearly 40 percent higher than the adult population as a whole.
Even among older generations, it’s becoming increasingly important for brands to declare — and act on — clearly defined corporate values. Customers today want authenticity from their favorite brands — whether it’s a declaration of corporate values or a shift toward more user-generated content.
Going forward, it will be increasingly common to see native ads that rely on user-generated content such as reviews and pain points. These ads will still match the channel’s form and function, but the content will be perceived as less advertorial and more authentic.
Why are native ads so effective?
As digital consumers, we’ve developed a remarkable ability to tune out unwanted information. Just look at the way browsing habits on Google have evolved. Five years ago, people started reading at the top of a search results page. Today, people have learned to start reading about a quarter of the way down, skipping over the paid ads and starting with organic results.
One of the reasons native ads are so effective is their ability to manifest as content developed by a credible third party instead of an advertorial.
According to a recent study by CMO.com, consumers are 25 percent more likely to look at a native ad than at a banner. These same consumers check out a native ad 4.7 times per session on average, versus 2.7 times for banners.
Native ads also have a significant impact on conversions and brand affinity. According to research published by Digital Relevance, native ads have been found to increase purchase intent by 18 percent and brand affinity by nine percent, when compared to traditional banner ads.
Brands are taking notice. According to Business Insider, native advertising will drive 74 percent of all ad revenue by 2021.
Where does public relations fit in?
PR practitioners have a responsibility to serve as brand stewards, helping companies define — and protect — their reputation. They also work closely with the media, leading to coverage that factually informs consumers of the benefits provided by their companies or clients. While it appears the PR person serves several masters, these roles can and should be balanced.
This becomes especially important when external factors such as fear mongering threaten to undermine credible content. PR must straddle the line between increasing brand awareness and affinity and producing honest content, both paid and earned.
When it comes to native ads, the following tips will help you develop a paid media strategy that’s positive and reflects well on your brand.
Lead with quality. While it seems obvious, it’s easy to find brands that don’t start with this commitment. Content must address a need, be written in a journalistic tone, adhere to the style of the publication and be non-promotional. Of course, depending on the content and publication, humor and creativity can be effective tools.
Educate on the value of transparency. Consumer trust is inherently fragile and, once lost, difficult to regain. PR professionals can help brands understand the value of transparency and honesty across every channel, including advertising.
Find the right mix of native ads and earned media. There is no denying the effectiveness of native ads, but a well-rounded outreach strategy will always yield better results. Earned media carries special value, whether it’s a contributed article or a high-impact feature story. It’s a little harder to earn coverage than cut a check, but the impact is worth the effort and will boost the efficacy of native efforts.
Craft ads that won’t leave your customers feeling deceived. Not all native ads are created alike. Some are virtually indistinguishable from editorial content; others are clearly marked as sponsored content. If a native ad feels promotional on any level, it can be interpreted as deceitful on every level.
What’s the future of native advertising?
Marketers and brands alike are extremely bullish on native advertising. When looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why. Native is having a tremendous impact on the advertising and PR worlds, with one forecast by eMarketer projecting 40 percent annual growth over the next few years.
Publications are equally reliant on native ads. For example, these ads are responsible for three-quarters of The Atlantic’s annual ad revenue.
With so much money driving native content, it’s important for PR professionals to get a handle on how best to navigate what can be a gray area and ensure that ethical and quality standards are maintained. Native’s long-term health and success will ultimately depend on providing value to the reader.
Search engine optimization is constantly changing. What worked last year (or even last month) may no longer be an effective strategy.
Just look at the way SEO has changed in the last decade.
Ten years ago, keyword-dense pages were viewed as the surest path to the top of search results. In response, marketers started stuffing keywords everywhere — on the home page, in half-baked blog posts, even on the background of pages in white (read: hidden) text.
After that it was backlinks. Google no longer trusted marketers to be honest about their sites, so it turned to external sources as a form of social proof. The more links pointing back to a website, the more relevance and value Google assigned it.
Of course, enterprising marketers quickly found a way around this as well. Websites full of spoofed content sprang up overnight, providing hundreds (if not thousands) of fake backlinks to companies.
Today, Google is taking a new approach to SEO. Instead of relying solely on content to determine results, the search giant is also looking at user experience.
The logic behind this is fairly simple — a search engine’s primary function is to serve people the best results. If a page is slow to load, riddled with pop-up ads or hard to read on mobile devices, it negatively impacts the user experience. Google views these pages as “poor” results and penalizes them in its search algorithm.
Making sense of the latest trends
Right now, the prevailing thought among SEO experts is that the following issues negatively impact a website’s ranking:
As a content marketer or web designer, this presents a unique challenge. How do you optimize your website for the future if the rules are constantly shifting?
Fortunately, everyone has to play by the same rulebook. The brands that find success are the ones that:
That last bullet point is especially important. It doesn’t matter if you rank highly for keywords your audience is no longer searching for — you need to meet them where they are already located.
If you want to rank higher in search results, your website needs to be optimized for the current best practices. That means a responsive design that works on all devices. It means pages that load quickly and aren’t bogged down by too many ads. It means informative content that’s easy to access and gives people a reason to stay.
Why does my bounce rate matter?
Imagine opening a report on your website’s traffic and discovering that your home page has a bounce rate of 50 percent.
In simple terms, this means that every other person who visits your home page leaves without clicking anywhere else on the site.
Are alarm bells ringing in your head?
They really shouldn’t be. As a general rule of thumb, a bounce rate below 40 percent is considered excellent. Anything between 40 and 60 percent is considered average. It isn’t until you hit rates of 70 percent and higher that there is real cause for concern.
Of course, no marketer worth their salt is going to be happy losing half of their potential customers. If 40 percent is considered excellent, why not push for 30 percent?
Lowering your bounce rate is one of the most effective ways to improve your website’s ranking in search results. If your rate is too high, Google assumes that you were a poor result for that search query.
How do I lower my bounce rate?
There are three things you can tweak to lower your bounce rate — your content marketing, your demand generation strategy and your website’s design:
If all three of these elements are working in lockstep, your brand should have a content marketing program that is targeted, easily accessible and front of mind for any website visitors.
At Karbo Communications, we specialize in content marketing programs that increase visibility and drives sales. Our team of marketers and search engine experts can help your brand cut through the confusion around SEO and deliver lasting results.
As today’s tech markets become increasingly oversaturated, it’s difficult to stand out and easy to resort to established buzzwords. Formulating the right message — and communicating it in a way that is unique and compelling — is crucial to ensuring your target market knows who you are, what you do and what your brand stands for.
Here are some strategies to ensure your brand’s voice is heard in a crowded space.
Talk about the specific pain points your solution addresses.
Companies competing in the same market tend to be locked into similar jargon. In an effort to create differentiation, some brands rely too heavily on technical specifications and data points. Instead, try speaking simply to the problem that your brand solves. What do your target customers need in their toolkit or solution? How can you articulate this, without relying on buzzwords like “innovative,” “comprehensive” or “transformative?”
Whenever possible, provide anecdotes or use cases that demonstrate how your product or solution can be applied in the real world. Customer success stories will always carry more value than any piece of sales collateral — it’s tangible proof that your product or solution can get the job done.
Discuss what you prioritize.
What are your motivations? If your answer is simply to provide a product or solution, you need to revisit your brand story. Try speaking to your values and how they have influenced your products and solutions. Nowadays, customers latch on to socially conscious approaches that understand not just their pain points, but larger issues in their vertical. State your goals and envision the long-term impact of your presence in the market. Doing so will provide a clear roadmap of where you want to go and how you can position your brand.
Offer your level of expertise and background.
People love a good story. Examples of success inspire not just minds, but also purchases. Build credibility with your own background. Discuss what influenced the rise of your product — especially if this resonates with common experiences or pain points in your company’s target vertical. Describing your experience will bolster your credibility as a thought leader and provide context for your brand’s offerings.
Less is more.
Make sure your language is accessible. Your messaging should successfully inform the function and purpose of your market without falling prey to unnecessary flash or too much technical jargon. Say what you need to say and nothing more.
…and that’s it!
Painting a unique picture of your brand requires a solid sense of identity, a clear understanding of your audience, and insight into current and future market trends. If you are able to concisely outline these aspects of your company, personal experience and product, you’ll be able to stand tall among your competitors as they chant the same, anemic buzzwords.
Philip Kotler, affectionately known as the “Father of Modern Marketing,” once defined brand positioning as the “act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market.”
It’s a lesson that any company, from scrappy upstarts to enterprise brands with a century of success, should take to heart — no matter your vertical or target audience, distinction is the key to effective positioning.
However, most companies fall short of this charge. According to Forbes, just one in four corporate brands is perceived as different from their competitors.
For brands looking to gain a competitive edge, the represents a tremendous opportunity.
We’ve all seen messaging that fails to accurately communicate a brand’s vision or key benefits.
Whether it’s a lack of differentiation, failing to identify market hot buttons or putting technology ahead of customers, poor positioning can render other marketing efforts futile.
Instead, your messaging should:
Successful positioning is not only knowing what to include, but what to leave out. As a brand, this means having a clearly defined vision, access to data, input from stakeholders and more.
The following are some of the elements that go into the positioning process:
Positioning overhauls are rarely a binary exercise.
Although driving sales should be the ultimate goal of any marketing effort, the way you get there — and the metrics used to define success — varies by your brand and starting position. Metrics that are top of mind for one company might not matter for others.
Just think about the business value of a reduction in negative sentiment. For an enterprise brand coming off a wave of bad press or a PR crisis, this carries tremendous value. For a startup looking to increase its share of voice, it’s not as important.
The ultimate sign of positioning success for any brand? When your competitors start parroting your messages.
At Karbo Communications, we specialize in guiding brands through the complete positioning process, from market research and internal audits to the development of positioning statements. The end result? Clear differentiation, nuanced messaging, increased market understanding, and a clear roadmap of trends and opportunities to leverage in the months ahead.
Exhaustive studies by people wearing white coats and smart glasses have determined that laughter is good for you. It’s really good, actually. Far outweighing diet soda or Skechers Shape-ups. The endorphin rush, the flushed cheeks, the bellyache—humor is the gift that keeps on giving, the sensory thwack that no drink or drug can ever fully satisfy.
But enough poetry, for this is a practical guide to the integration of humor in brand identity and its importance to innovation, ROI, paradigm shifts, and other industry jargon.
Humor isn’t easy. Ask any comedian who’s bombed in front of a boozy New York crowd. But that’s why it’s the best practice. Its subjectivity makes it the hardest to nail. Sentimentality in advertising is effortless. That recipe is as follows: one part sweeping exterior shots filtered like an Instagram sunset with serious-faced actors gazing off to somewhere, a stern voice-over, a dog, and ambient indie melodies.
Humor keeps the brand honest and shows the audience the tongue is firmly placed in the cheek. Look at the genius of Bundaberg Rum’s golf course interlopers or any of the bizarre Old Spice spots. They get the conversation started and once it starts, there’s no stopping it.
To get started, here are some quick tips for wild success:
1.) Know your audience—understand to whom you are speaking so intrinsically you could write their memoirs.
2.) Have a sense of creative direction—this helps the inventive and organizational powers of a dynamic agency (the good folks at, say, Karbo Communications) to take you where you want to go.
3.) Strategic flexibility—know what you’re trying to accomplish, but feel comfortable to go down a tangential road.
Simply put, the funniest things are rooted in truths. Old Spice is funny because it plays off this concept of beer-drinking, tree-throwing, damsel-rescuing dudeness that the brand has created and now embodies. They found their core tenant and invented their own language. It gets people talking and clicking and sharing. Less frequently does your friend say: “Dude, watch this video. It’s like the movie Philadelphia, just, you know, an ad for glue.”
So do it right. Don’t skimp or rush or shortchange your writers or settle for lukewarm content. If so, you’ll end up with lame jokes from a Britishy reptile that can’t even distract a six year-old.
Alex May, Writer
While the film was originally conceived in the ‘90s, Ang Lee’s Gemini Man wouldn’t hit theaters until October 2019. Lee’s vision for the film was ambitious: Gemini Man would feature the first convincingly human CGI character. According to Lee, “The story has been around for 20 years, but technology wouldn’t allow the story to be told.”
Lee was after unprecedented levels of cinematic realism, not only in the film’s digitally rendered effects, but in the complete experience of viewing Gemini Man. While movies are typically shot in 2K, 24 frames per second (FPS) 2D, Lee planned to shoot Gemini Man in 4K, 120 FPS stereoscopic 3D. The result would be a groundbreakingly immersive film, but would require processing and storing massive volumes of high fidelity data, a technological feat previously thought impossible. Adding to the technical complexity, that data would need to be available on multiple sets as Lee and his team moved to several locations in the U.S. and Europe.
Characterized by high resolution data utilized at high data rates, the Gemini Man workload presented a difficult challenge requiring a unique, custom-curated solution that standard proprietary solutions offered by most infrastructure providers couldn’t match.
Gemini Man’s I/O performance requirements far surpassed existing industry standards. Consider that the required 120 FPS not only exceeds industry standards, it also is greater than what the human eye is capable of perceiving, and the magnitude of the task at hand starts to become clear. Shooting 120 FPS requires the equivalent of 6.7 gigabytes of data per eye, but the physical limits of technology at the time (12.5 gigabytes) fell short of realizing Lee’s vision. Stereoscopic 3D adds to the complexity by requiring multiple and simultaneous viewing angles to be processed in parallel. To produce Gemini Man as Lee imagined required a tech partner capable of exceeding industry standards, as well as operating at the theoretical limits of HPC possibility to meet the film’s rigorous and unique compute and storage requirements.
To meet these challenges, Gemini Man’s Technical Supervisor, Ben Gervais, engaged Penguin Computing to design, deliver and support a custom solution, relying on the company’s expertise in understanding HPC workloads.
Leveraging over 20 years of experience driving open HPC advancements, Penguin Computing curated the market’s most innovative technologies available to develop a differentiated approach: a customer-defined architecture which consisted of design, consulting, and professional services coupled with FrostByteTM, Penguin Computing’s customizable software defined storage (SDS) solution.
To support the environment throughout the entire project as it moved from Georgia, in the U.S. to Budapest, Hungary and back to New York, Penguin Computing created high-performance storage hardware that was uniquely mobile. This enabled Ang Lee to record takes and review footage on location to determine if retakes were necessary without requiring the use of remotely located data centers with HPC capabilities.
Operating at the outer limit of technological possibility, Penguin Computing’s custom HPC solution enabled Lee’s 4K, 120 FPS stereoscopic 3D vision, thus redefining what is possible in HPC, and in film.
To tell this story, Penguin Computing enlisted the help of Karbo Communications to produce a case study video which visually communicated the technology innovation that was provided to Ang Lee to make Gemini Man possible.
Many of today’s enterprises rely on legacy Java applications to power their businesses, and face an urgent mandate to move to the cloud as quickly as possible in order to retain competitive market positioning, innovate their businesses and respond to unexpected events like COVID-19. Over time, these enterprises have amassed huge backlogs of 100’s and even 1,000’s of legacy monolithic Java applications to modernize, hampering business transformation initiatives and creating drag on IT departments. Manual modernization tools and projects are slow, costly and ineffective, and modernization strategies such as “lifting and shifting” and containerization without breaking into microservices yield limited benefits. Adding to the complexity, these enterprises often lack the resources and skills to modernize their enterprise applications.
That’s where vFunction comes in. vFunction eliminates the frustration and pressure of today’s cloud native modernization projects. vFunction enables technology leaders and developers to automatically modernize 1,000s of legacy apps, while removing manual processes and eliminating constraints like time, cost, risk, and limited skills.
vFunction hired Karbo Communications to launch the company from stealth and announce funding to boost awareness and accelerate the company’s go-to-market strategy. vFunction selected Karbo Communications due to the team’s expertise in SaaS, cloud and B2B technology markets, highly strategic approach to PR and content, proven track record of success building brand awareness, driving leads and growing sales, and communicating highly differentiated market positioning.
With budget cuts in schools and decreasing access to the arts, quality vocal instruction is increasingly difficult or expensive to come by. Harmony Helper was founded in 2017 to empower directors and singers of all skill levels with a comprehensive, convenient, easy-to-use, and cost-effective learning tool to improve singing performance anytime, anywhere. While competitors only provide part of the solution, Harmony Helper is the only app that utilizes patented technologies to provide singers with the access, convenience and control to practice harmonies on their own time and in any environment they choose. Vocal part mapping, sheet music scanning, real-time feedback, and part volume control are among the comprehensive features that prepare singers to deliver their best performance.
Harmony Helper hired Karbo Communications in 2018 to launch its flagship app and build brand awareness through media, thought leadership, advertising and event opportunities to drive app downloads, subscriptions and business growth.
When the agency began working with Defense.Net, the company was in stealth mode and had no customers or name recognition. A core focus in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) mitigation services brought it into a crowded market with three dominant players—Verisign, Akamai and Prolexic. As a result, differentiation, as well as creative and aggressive PR, would be critical to success. The objectives of our partnership were to establish market visibility, thought leadership and to drive sales via IT, networking and security decision makers at large enterprises. Defense.Net originally approached the agency based on Jay Adelson’s recommendation. Adelson is a four-time former client of the Karbo team–he was a founder of Digg, Revision3 and Equinix and was the CEO of SimpleGeo.
When Karbo Communications began working with Vineti, the company was in stealth mode and lacked a compelling messaging platform and market visibility.
While individualized medicine continued to gain traction, the commercialization of the latest cancer treatments lagged far behind. Medical practitioners and manufacturers were managing this complex process with pencils and clipboards in a computerized and data-driven world. Vineti was in stealth mode, but was poised to deliver the first commercial platform to expand patient access to life-saving cancer treatments by helping pharmaceutical companies accelerate life-saving treatment delivery, and ensure safety and FDA compliance for individualized cell therapies. Through the successful implementation of Vineti’s platform, more cancer patients would be able to receive last-chance treatments, better data would improve individualized medicine development and delivery and ultimately, more patients would be cured.
Vineti hired Karbo Communications in March 2017 based on the team’s strategic insight, successful track record in securing top-tier coverage and creative approach to storytelling. While the biotech space is a recognized and established market, technology as an important part of the access and commercialization of cell and gene therapies for late-stage cancer treatment is a relatively unknown space. Vineti wanted to increase awareness of both the market itself and their leadership.