Regardless of industry sector or market share, every enterprise is in the content business - producing and distributing content through in-house channels or third parties. Content has traditionally been viewed as a necessity that provides information to customers and prospects – however more organizations now view content as not just a communication tool, but also a strategic marketing tactic.

In the chaotic online world of ‘fake news’ and endless choice, high-quality content is more important than ever, as content sources and distribution channels are continually evolving and transforming. Over time this evolution has been quite evident as we’ve moved from a focus on owned properties to social platforms and now the ‘open web’.

In the past, the walled environments of a brand’s websites and blogs were the homes of exclusively produced content, with the broadly understood benefits of improved search visibility and ranking at the back of marketers’ minds.

The rise of social media platforms heralded even more compelling incentives for creating brand content, as greater reach and ROI were unlocked. Before they swung the algorithmic bias in the direction of paid content, Facebook and Twitter provided highly rewarding platforms for sharing content, as organic reach potential rocketed and ROI became more tangible – thanks to follows, likes, and shares.

However, content still lived within the walled environment of the brand, albeit boosted by a few closed, highly focused social platforms. And as monetisation came to the fore on those platforms, organic exposure slowly declined.

But around this time, brands started to consider the open web within their content distribution strategies. Programmatic delivery channels were married with content distribution, starting a trend that continues to build momentum today.

Amplifying content distribution through programmatic channels obviously surfaces the same benefits, issues, and considerations that have been discussed around programmatic display. The existing concerns around brand safety, quality, verification, and viewability apply in this scenario too – arguably more so, given the heightened stakes of the environment.

Success will come from not only the new technology, but from adopting an approach that considers the up-front benefits of huge reach and the possible negative effects of using the technology in, tandem.

Dealing with viewability and verification

The dual concerns of viewability and verification rear their heads in the same way they would with any ad activity that uses programmatic channels. The demands from brands that their sponsored content is in-view and that engagement comes from real people are not going anywhere.

When it comes to branded content specifically, there are additional considerations, as further metrics are considered. Rather than solely discussing clicks or CPM – which can be easily disrupted – measurements such as time on site, time on brand, time-in-view, and even scroll speed are being demanded more and more. New metrics like these may provide more detailed insight into content performance, but they also open the door to new fraud opportunities.

There is no quick fix. The yearning for viewable, verified ads will continue, but as content moves into programmatic channels we’re reminded that there is still progress to be made. Both verification and supply-side companies need to continue innovating to move us closer to these lofty goals.

The brand safety question

The context of any advertisement is of vital importance when it comes to performance, making adjacency and brand safety a critical issue for all media. This issue is particularly clear on social media, where user-generated content abounds – without regulation.

Content distribution should be seen as bi-directional when it comes to brand safety. With branded content and editorial appearing alongside each other, the integrity of one directly affects the integrity of the other. Editorial feeds can be harmfully impacted by poor quality branded content as much as the reverse.

Here we arrive at the familiar issue of ad blockers. If branded content spoils the user experience then users will either leave the site or install an ad blocker, and neither of these options helps brands.

The programmatic opportunity

Programmatic has already proven its cost-effectiveness and efficacy in display advertising, making it a natural focus for the next step in amplifying branded content, and presenting a huge opportunity. With the right strategy in place, it stands to deliver significant benefits to both sides of the advertising ecosystem.

The risks associated are not insignificant, but can be minimised by taking a cautious, informed approach. For those venturing forth into this new sphere, close work with programmatic partners will be vital to addressing the issues of brand safety, viewability, verification, and quality. It’s up to brands and marketers to ensure that this rigour extends beyond the sales speak and through the technology being harnessed.


By Chuck Moran, vice president of marketing at RhythmOne

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