Standing in New York's Times Square gives one the perfect visual of how display advertising works. These messages vie for our attention by trying to be bigger, brighter, and louder than other messages also trying to stop us in our tracks and take notice.

Though those messages have a certain appeal, savvy digital marketers have a different way of reaching their target audiences. One could argue that a successful online advertising campaign has many more differences than similarities to the Times Square ads. The most notable difference between the two is that online marketing has the potential to be effective even when it's subtle. In fact, one type of advertising that's gained popularity over the past few years, native advertising, is sometimes indistinguishable from the environment where it appears. And, if you have yet to discover the power and potential of this medium, you'd do well to keep reading.

The 411 on Native Advertising

"Native advertising is a form of online advertising that matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears," according to Wikipedia. Readers perusing Time magazine's website, for example, are presented with a variety of content, including articles written by Time's editorial staff, alongside those written by advertisers, like Outbrain.

The word "native" refers to the content's coherence with other media on the platform. The general rule of thumb when using native advertising is to stop thinking about advertising and start thinking more about engagement.

Some of the advantages I've seen with native advertising include...

  • Positive user experience. By being less intrusive, good native advertising enhances a user's experience, which makes it desirable for brands to be associated with positive online experiences.
  • More shareable. When was the last time somebody shared a banner ad with a friend? Native advertisements, on the other hand, not only get their immediate audiences to take action, they even generate shares similar to well-written editorials. (See Point 3 below for the caveat to this statement.)
  • Better click-through rates. Due to a higher audience engagement, native advertising creates a substantially higher click-through rate than other forms of digital advertising. A person is more likely to complete Navy Seal training than click a banner ad, according to Solve Media. Our company's experience working with an unnamed university client on a native marketing campaign, on the other hand, contributed to a reduced cost per click (CPC) of 40% and an audience response rate that was 400% higher than previous online advertising campaigns.

As it is with any type of advertising, there are specific steps that must be followed to achieve the desired results.

Here are three native marketing best practices you should keep in mind:

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Daniel Wilkinson is executive vice-president of Jellyfish Online Marketing, a global, digital marketing agency.

LinkedIn: Daniel Wilkinson