The media industry is in the midst of huge changes that are demanding new revenue models, innovative new product configurations and a willingness to explore untapped markets. With traditional advertising channels eroding, the time is ripe for new approaches to native content programs.
Most existing programs are tailored to big brands, but they can be expanded to include new voices while driving recurring revenue and soliciting valuable content from an untapped market: small business owners and executives, who are responsible for the majority of our country’s job growth and innovation. By adding this human-centric model to their thriving brand-centric programs, media properties can unlock an enormous market opportunity: entrepreneurs and executives who now view personal branding as a professional mandate and view publishing as a way to establish themselves as experts and thought leaders. Media brands can capitalize on this trend by expanding native offerings to address these changing and unmet needs in the market.
Quality and relevance
HuffPost had burgeoned to 100,000 unpaid bloggers before it ended the program in January 2018. The model enabled fast growth: more content meant more ad sales, or so it was assumed. But advertorials, link-selling, poor quality and lack of oversight degraded the integrity of the platform.
HuffPost’s woes reflect a classic dilemma for media companies: You can scale a network quickly and risk poor quality or scale it slowly and sacrifice financial value.
The solution is a native content contributor network that solves both problems. Contributors pay for access, but they must also be vetted with an explicit set of guidelines (i.e., revenue, market position, track record of achievement and industry recognition). And their writing should be held to the same journalistic standards as professionally reported posts. The pitfalls of an open network are thus eliminated, and content quality is improved. Plus, the sales team gains stronger positioning by selling an exclusive, invitation-only product to buyers who know that they were selected based on their credentials.
Thinking outside the advertising box
Native offerings tailored to individuals and small companies can be bolted onto both new platforms and existing programming. For example, media companies might consider building membership-based professional groups where being a content contributor is a benefit. Or brands with established conference businesses could offer publishing opportunities to their clients’ sponsored speakers or panelists before and after their events to help to establish the speakers as thought leaders. Again, these should be top-level professionals.
Whatever the variation, the model is one of recurring revenue rather than the constant grind of a sales team pitching and selling RFP-based advertising. Price points for individuals and small companies will be less than for brands, but if the offering is positioned as an ongoing membership-like program, it becomes a source of recurring revenue that builds a strong and more sustainable book of business over time. Media companies will need to rethink their sales strategies and tooling, but with the major changes in programmatic advertising, this shift is already underway in most houses.
Abundant market opportunities
Currently, the majority of branded content programs target large mid-market and enterprise companies with big budgets who represent a small percentage of potential business clients for media brands. A program targeted to smaller companies and their key personnel will allow media brands to verticalize and diversify their existing product portfolios, creating a variety of reliable prospect pipelines.
Media brands need to identify their key B2B stakeholders, the executives and industries with strong affinity to the brand who would perceive value in having their thought leadership published on the media property. For example, business publications can get market insights directly from the news-making CEOs; an automobile publication might tap a vintage car restoration business owner to speak about vehicle maintenance; medical journals can hear from doctors, chief scientists and academic researchers.
Native content programs should improve—never detract from—a high-quality experience for readers, who should know that contributors are vetted, world-class experts. Proper editorial staffing, oversight, checks and balances and strict editorial guidelines should be established to further ensure a premium reader experience. Unlike a lot of today’s custom content, this approach to content should never descend into the advertorial category but should remain focused on knowledge and expertise sharing. And full transparency is absolutely essential: The site must be clear that the content is native; all procedures that are in effect for larger native buys must hold true for the individual as well. FCC disclaimers and standards should be strictly enforced.
Done right, a more diverse, inclusive, criteria-driven native content contributor program can provide readers with fresh content from new voices, media companies with new and sustainable sources of revenue that do not rely on advertising sales and thought leaders with new channels on which to share their perspectives. It’s a triple win.
Don’t miss Brandweek, coming up September 23–25 in Palm Springs. No panels, no sales pitches—just three days of interactive discussion, problem-solving, entertainment and networking. Learn more here.