Why Native Advertising Is the Opposite of Porn
By Todd Wasserman for Mashable

A bold title for a practice that sparks heated debate: Native advertising. Is it a convergence of paid and owned media that benefits both advertisers and consumers by being helpful and editorial? Or does it simply dress paid content up as authentic journalism, in an effort to trick readers into clicking?

The answer is both – it’s all about execution. Done poorly, native advertising irritates consumers and reflects negatively on both the brand and publisher. Wasserman shares the cautionary tale of Atlantic Media and the native-advertising industry’s first big flop: An article commissioned by the Church of Scientology that “read like warmed-over PR.” The backlash resulted in honesty and apologies, the best course of action. Technology is leading to unprecedented transparency and savvy, intelligent consumers don’t appreciate advertorials masquerading as content.

But when done right (by providing helpful or entertaining content), the fact that it’s paid placement won’t matter to the audience, says Kimberly Lau, vice-president and general manager for The Atlantic Digital:

“If it’s done well, they don’t care.”

If advertisers give the audience something worthwhile, they will watch, comment, and share it with their friends. In one example, people are drawn in by these 15 fearless and cute cats (of all things), surrounded by Target logos, tweets, and links to other branded content. It’s obvious that Target is the advertising partner, but the actual clips are all about cats. Target gets to show its fuzzy, funny side – perhaps driving traffic to its pet products – and people get to feed (and share) their love of silly animals. A win-win.

Tweet This: Survey Finds Advertisers Most Bullish on Social Media
By E.J. Schultz for Ad Age

The newest finding from a survey of advertisers isn’t surprising: Spending in digital media is increasing. Digital is on the rise with more than half of the respondents planning to raise their outlays next year. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed predict increases in social media spending, reflecting the importance of communication and engagement. In second place are video sites like Hulu and YouTube with 40% planning to commit more resources to those networks. And investment in digital is outpacing traditional channels: Only 31% of surveyed professionals plan to increase spending in cable TV, 20% in broadcast TV, and 14% in magazines.

I’m excited by the focus on customer conversations and content. However, it takes more than money to make your social media successful. Targeting the right social media channels and understanding psychological motivations can lead to better user engagement and relationship management.

Sharing is Caring
By Elyse Dupré for Direct Marketing News

The increase in social media spending noted by E.J. Schultz is justified by the 24/7 demands today’s consumers place on brands. It’s important to adapt to the shift in customer expectations, but it’s also necessary to be realistic: You can’t be respond to every inquiry in a timely manner. This is where reviews prove to be a helpful tool. They serve as authentic testimonials and often preemptively answer frequently asked questions.

In the retail channel, brands that respond to reviews where customers are buying find compelling benefits – by soothing the concerns of other shoppers, writes Dupré:

“Shoppers who saw a brand respond to a review in which the product owner misused or misunderstood a product were 186% more likely to purchase than those who didn’t see the response… In addition, consumers who saw a brand respond to a negative review by offering a product refund, upgrade or exchange were 92% more likely to purchase and had an 88% increase in product sentiment than consumers who didn’t see the response.”

Be as timely as you can and address the review in a public forum. Everyone likes to be heard and see a brand try to right a wrong. In fact, 71% of consumers who see a brand’s response change their perception of that brand.

The Science Behind Using Online Communities To Change Behavior
By Sean Young for TechCrunch

While this article is primarily focused on building supportive communities for those battling addiction, I found it interesting to imagine how the psychological needs mentioned are ones that play into brand-consumer relationships – something we’ve written about before. Understanding the why behind people’s behavior helps brands respond the way our customers want us to.

Young highlights five needs that are core components in creating strong communities and positive user engagement:

  1. The Need to Trust.
  2. The Need to Fit in.
  3. The Need for Self-Worth.
  4. The Need to Be Rewarded for Good Behavior.
  5. The Need to Feel Empowered.

The need to fit in is a powerful one. Remember high school? Other people’s attitudes and behaviors strongly influence our own. If you correctly handle negative responses, you turn many critics into happy ambassadors. The positive attitudes of your community will influence new members and potential customers.

Now more than ever, there is an ease of access between brands and consumers. When a customer calls for change and a brand delivers, both walk away feeling good. Self-worth and empowerment lead to higher self-esteem for both parties – and I’d argue, stronger affinity for the brand amongst those consumers who are made to feel special and heard.

Trust is the most valuable commodity a brand can build. Consumers share their thoughts, experiences and difficulties with your online community, making them vulnerable. When you respond you are simultaneously rewarding their good behavior and proving your brand can be trusted to care. A positive response will lead to your customers placing more trust in your brand. Notes Young:

“When we trust people, we’re more open-minded, more willing to learn, and more willing to change our behavior.”

The statistics from Elyse Dupré’s article reinforce the idea that people are more willing to change their minds and purchasing behaviors when a brand responds honestly and directly. Reaching out and voicing a concern is a leap of faith. Rewarding your customers with action increases goodwill and creates a stronger relationship.