Who Will Control the Native Advertising Value Chain?

The display advertising value chain is dominated by ad exchanges and programmatic buying. But who will control the emerging market for native advertising, which depends on human factors to drive real value and scale?

Here are the four critical elements of the native advertising value chain, how they create value, and who is best positioned to control them:

1. Content creation

As Edelman’s Steve Rubel pointed out: “Very few brands have truly operational ‘newsrooms’ that are producing content with enough scale and — this is key — quality to match what the press does daily.”

Creating a newsroom is exactly the right way to frame the goal for scaling content creation to drive native advertising.  To be publishers, brands must develop the capacity of publishers. They must have newsrooms that can consistently produce fresh, high quality, engaging content. To make native advertising work, they need a continuous supply of new content, because there’s no value for consumers in constantly recycled stale content (not like running the same display ad creative over and over).

The organizations best positioned to help brands create newsrooms are the ones that already have newsrooms, that already employ journalists who create high quality content — publishers and… PR firms.

Publishers like BuzzFeed and Forbes, who are at the vanguard of scaling native advertising, have created dedicated newsrooms for brands. They are leveraging their own deep knowledge and experience with running newsrooms and creating high quality content at scale. Publishers also have the unrivaled advantage of being able to leverage their own publications to optimize brand content, i.e. the best way to figure out what content works is to publish it.

In recent years, PR firms have been hiring more journalists than news orgs have, and have great experience running newsrooms for brands.  While PR firm newsrooms haven’t traditionally been focused on content marketing, they do know how to create content that meets the standards of big brands, and they have developed boutique businesses in digital around content marketing.  PR firms have also traditionally been in the business of developing relationships with publishers based on providing editorial value, rather than transactions, so they are well positioned to develop a native ad media buying capacity, which could compete with that of existing media buying agencies.

Of course, media buying agencies still control most of the brand advertising budgets, and publishers and PR firms may well seek strategic alliances with these buyers.

Not to be counted out are the many boutique content marketing agencies, which already create content for brands, often in partnership with the big agencies.

A publisher, PR firm, or agency that develops a robust newsroom for brands, and can cost effectively scale the creation of high quality brand content, is best positioned to control this element of the value chain.  (And most likely to get bought up by the big agency holding companies that own the media buying agencies, control the budgets, and always end up owning all the pieces of the value chain.)

2. Feed management

The only way to scale the distribution of content produced by a “brand newsroom” is the same way that publishers manage content distribution at scale — feeds.

Manually uploading advertising content, one piece at a time, like traditional display ad creative, isn’t going to cut it. Not for the firehose of newsroom output.

A feed is simply a stream of content, but it’s a powerful mechanism for delivering continuous content value. It’s no accident that Facebook organized its core stream of social content as a “news feed”.  Twitter is essentially a never ending feed of 140 characters. Feeds define the content consumption paradigm for mobile, where consumers will increasingly consume most of their content.

Feed are how brands can efficiently organize and manage native advertising content across campaign goals, products, audiences, and markets.  The brand newsroom churns out content, which is curated into feeds that are then plugged into publishers for distributing the content as native advertising.

In fact, for media buyers, “feed management” is what campaign management becomes in native advertising.  Instead of flighting creative, you’re managing a continuous stream of content.  The ideal native advertising interface for a media buyer allows them to take a feed of brand content coming from the newsroom, set a campaign budget, and then choose the publishers (and even specific publisher sections) that are the best fit for the brand and for that particular feed of content.  They can choose the publishers that perform best for each content category, and specify any other targeting criteria.

Simply check a few boxes, and a content feed becomes a native ad campaign.

A native advertising platform designed to manage feeds at scale, that automatically imports content from brand newsroom and enables brand content feeds as native ad campaigns, will be best positioned to own this link in the native ad value chain.  It’s a platform capability that any player who wants to own and control brand content creation will need to have.

3. Editorial control

Publishers with the most respected brands — which have the greatest value as a context for native advertising — will not cede control over their editorial content streams to an ad network that programmatically controls the selection of brand content.

Denying publishers editorial control over native ad content is the enemy of scale. Publishers that value their brands — which is the greatest asset that any publisher has — simply won’t go for it.

The key to editorial control is providing an efficient workflow for editors to select native ad content that fits the publication brand and will be valued by readers, and to share that editorial judgment across a network of editors.

A native advertising platform designed for content curation, efficient newsroom workflows, and enabling network effects for editorial judgment, is best position for this dimension of the value chain.

4. Native ad publishing

Brand content is only truly native if it’s published in the publisher’s CMS, not merely presented on the surface like a display ad. That’s a key to the native advertising value chain for publishers like BuzzFeed and Forbes, who give advertisers direct access to their CMS.

But manually entering brand content in a publisher’s CMS won’t scale across hundreds and thousands of publishers.  Just as brands need feed management to scale the distribution of their content, publishers need deep integration with their CMS on the backend to scale native ad publishing.

A native advertising platform that natively integrates with a publisher’s CMS — from open source CMSs like WordPress and Drupal to the proprietary (and even home grown) CMSs of large media companies to print editorial systems — is best positioned to control native ad publishing.

In fact, the term “native ad publishing” much more accurately describes the true content aspirations of native advertising, which is about shifting the value for brands from advertising to publishing.