Why content marketers need to rethink their approach to ads

The world of advertising is changing and content marketing can lead the way

Content Desk has been a hotbed for advertising insight in recent weeks – from BuzzFeed’s banners to conquering closed audiences. And with good reason: the industry is evolving and ads are experiencing a renaissance.

But they remain in an odd position in the world of content. The humble ad doesn’t build brand loyalty, rarely engages audiences and is notoriously ineffective at driving purchases. Listen carefully, though, and you can hear commercial teams reluctantly bolting banners and mid-page units (MPUs) on to their websites, newsletters and magazines.

Sometimes it can feel like the commercial compulsion to drive profits outweighs strategic vision.

But is the trade-off really so bleak? If the ad industry really is changing all the time, content marketers should be riding the wave – or, better yet, setting the tone.

Changing metrics

Publishers have a problem. The need to prove profitability with impressions and click-through rates can be all-consuming.

Building interest and loyalty across all forms of communication should be the aim – whether ads or content. This may mean moving away from impressions and CTRs, and instead thinking of more valuable metrics to focus on. Time-based measurement is one example – selling ads based on dwell times (and therefore time spent watching an ad).

It’s a tactic some publishing giants have been using for some time. In 2014, Digital Context Next researched industry interest in time-based metrics. A survey found some big names including the Financial Times, ESPN and the Wall Street Journal were actively looking into the idea, with 80% of respondents claiming they would be interested in using time-based metrics to price and sell ads.

By 2015 some had already taken the plunge. The FT led the way with cost-per-hour billing, claiming brand familiarity and recollection among readers increases the longer an ad is in view. The Economist followed shortly afterwards.

The fact that B2B content marketers haven’t taken this up more enthusiastically is peculiar. Operating on knowledge banks and closed-off platforms, where impressions are likely to be lower but session duration much higher, commercial teams have the perfect opportunity to profit by reorientating their focus. B2C firms are already doing so – why aren’t B2B?

Change the conversation

Expecting a sudden shift to time-based advertising is wishful thinking. Departing from an agreed formula based on impressions and click-through rates will take time, particularly as there are no real industry benchmarks to prove their worth to advertisers. Furthermore, to really get time-based metrics working, firms will need to diversify their ad output – think in terms of tailored animations and videos rather than static banners.

Nevertheless, if B2B firms produce ads that are more stimulating and geared towards a specific audience, they can be both engaging and lucrative. And this is the tip of the iceberg.

Why restrict selling to time-based metrics? Bounce rates are another good way of proving engagement, and again a metric by which low-traffic B2B sites often outperform their high-volume B2C competitors. What about audience segmentation? As programmatic advertising picks up pace, audience insights become both accessible and imperative. Publishers who can prove they are nailing down a specific audience, difficult to access anywhere else, could rake in the cash if matched up with the right advertiser.

Shifting operations to focus on a whole new batch of metrics may seem extreme to most. But the overarching point of all these suggestions is that B2B content marketers are well placed to work fruitfully with advertisers going forward, despite their traditional reluctance.

For content marketers, thinking differently about ads can make them a blooming commercial and engagement opportunity for the years ahead.

Editor's pick

Most popular