What Sponsored Content is... and what it isn't

It’s actually quite difficult to give definition to a sponsored content. It’s sometimes easier to think of it in terms of what it does, rather than what it is and what it actually looks like.

You can find examples of sponsored content in different forms and across many different platforms. It ranges from content posted on social media to banner ads, video – and pretty much all points in between.

Clean and Simple Sponsored Content Definition

There are 4 clear factors that make up a complete sponsored content definition:

  • It is not a direct or 'hard sell' technique.
  • It usually takes the same form as the publisher's (editorial) usual content on a particular platform.
  • It aims to be useful, informative and/or entertaining.
  • It aims to influence public perception of the brand (in a positive way).

So, sponsored content is not about direct sales, it's about brand awareness. It's about building a relationship with potential or existing clients and customers.

Ultimately, it's about building relationships.

The Differences Between Sponsored Content and Other Types of Content

Sponsored content can be hard to spot simply because it can come in so many different shapes and sizes. It often gets confused with other types of advertising and brand messaging. However, there are some clear differences. In discussing the differences between what constitutes a sponsored content example, it’s a good idea to look at what sponsored content isn’t.

Press Releases are not Sponsored Content

Press releases are essentially brand news and announcements. And no one cares whether or not the announcement is deemed to be important by the audience; the brand itself considers the announcement to be essential.

Sponsored content differs because the audience's interests are the most important driver. Successful native advertising appears to the audience as being genuine, useful and entertaining. Sponsored content is sometimes not about the brand at all (at least not explicitly).

Content Marketing is not Sponsored Content

Sponsored content is a part of content marketing. It is usually intended to be entertaining, informative or to be useful (rather than just being yet another sales pitch).

Content marketing is a process, a strategy that a company follows to engage the audience and turn them into loyal customers or leads at least. Content marketing includes sponsored content as one of the powerful means to attract such users.

Editorial Content is not Sponsored Content

If you are looking for an editorial content definition, essentially it means any content that is not advertising-based. But, as with many things in media land, its waters are a bit muddy. In its truest sense, editorial content should be impartial, unbiased and balanced – but essentially it is the opinion of a publication. Therefore, it is often subjective. Editorial content should be ‘in tune’ with its audience – it can be the reason that audience comes to you in the first place. It is an issue of trust. The audience trusts what the editorial content says.

However, trying to define editorial content is difficult. The extent to which editorial content is ever truly impartial is debatable. Much editorial content is influenced by ownership issues or political affiliation, for example. Because editorial content has the power to influence others, it’s no surprise that it, in itself, can be ‘influenced’ too.

Advertorials are not Sponsored Content

Advertorials basically present advertising copy as editorial content as a means of appearing credible. Advertorials are a clever (some would say, slightly dishonest) marketing tool.

Sponsored content, on the other hand, is explicitly about a brand. The whole idea is to the make the audience aware of the brand - not to hide it away surreptitiously.

What About Native Advertising?

Sponsored content is often referred to as 'native advertising'. So, why is that?

Well, by 'native' we mean common to the media platform the content is being published on. For instance, native advertising on Facebook will look just like a Facebook post and on Twitter it will look just like a normal tweet.

As we're on the subject of the differences between content forms, check out our blog on 3 Differences Between an Article and a Press Release.

How Can You Spot a Sponsored Content Example?

Many media experts and analysts have tried to get to grips with this question. Content marketing specialists, Contently, conducted a Study on that.

The diagram below really highlights the difficulty people have distinguishing between sponsored content advertising and a genuine article. It seems that most would struggle to clearly define a content sponsorship. No wonder that so many people can't spot content sponsorship when they see it!

Why Do You Need Sponsored Content?

In simple terms, look at it like this: Everybody's doing it, so you should too!

In the digital world measurement rules: Numbers, stats, and analytics - it's how we judge success.

Back in 2014, EMarketer's Native Advertising Roundup reported that almost 75% of all media buyers were using native advertising. Over 90% expected at the least the same spend to continue in the coming years.

The Benefits of Sponsored Content

The most obvious benefit of sponsored content is in terms of revenue. In the U.S. alone in 2013, the total spending across native advertising was $1.3 billion. This is expected to come close to $10 billion by 2018.

Most publishers expect that native advertising will be 25% of all annual digital revenue - and that figure is only expected to go up.

But the benefits of sponsored content extend much further still. It is a fantastic way of raising awareness – either about a particular product or service, or about a brand, more generally. In competitive markets – or a market that you are new to – sponsored content can be extremely useful.

Of course, as well as raising brand awareness, sponsored content can allow you to educate and inform your target audience. The ‘education/information’ angle should not be overlooked, as through this you can grow a reputation as a thought leader/expert. Sponsored content essentially gets you onto people’s radar.

Once you become a respected and useful brand – one that can be trusted to provide rich and helpful content – increased traffic is almost bound to follow. From that comes an increase in leads and conversions.

Which takes us back to where we started – increased revenue.

How Do You Create Sponsored Content that Works?

There are a few things to avoid if you want to produce sponsored content that works good. Any product placement must appear natural and genuine. When it looks forced, vaguely unusual or raises even the slightest hint of surprise, it doesn't come across as being genuine.

Photography should be high quality. Avoid text duplicating too - it always smells of advertising! Don't use too many keywords and hashtags – it makes a text look spammy!

A big part of making sponsored content look genuine and natural is to ensure that it tells a story. It’s important that content doesn’t just focus on a particular service or product, or what its benefits and features might be (no matter how good they are!).

If content falls into that trap, it essentially feels like a sales pitch. Nobody likes sales pitches; but everybody loves a good story!

Storytelling creates a context for the audience. It brings an emotional level to the content and makes it relatable, genuine and reassuring. From that, trust and authority is built up.

Distribution of the sponsored content is the next crucial step. There are numerous distribution platforms that are available and package prices will be determined by a number of factors like including your email, displaying advertising or social media promotion. Most platforms offer a range of ‘package extras’ that you can choose according to your needs and budget. Prices are also determined by factors affecting the platform itself – its page rank, domain authority, and so on.

The other obvious approach is to partner with bloggers – again the ‘reach’ out a particular blogger will largely determine the pricing. There are various tools and networks available that essentially connect brands to bloggers.

The Conclusion: Sponsored Content Must Engage

Basically, it comes down to one simple thing: if the sponsored content is not high quality content, engagement will be poor. If it has 'the feel' of an ad, the audience won't buy it.

And vice versa, if the content is of high quality, it feels absolutely organic. It looks native.

Then, you have the content that brings you results!

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