Navigating the programmatic turn in content distribution
As programmatic becomes a viable means of distributing branded content, columnist Chuck Moran discusses the risks involving brand safety, viewability and verification and how brands can prepare.
Content is now a permanent fixture of the digital enterprise. Whether in-house or through third-party studios, whether as a C-level function or as the job of interns, brands are making content as a matter of course and distributing it to varying degrees of success.
In today’s fragmented media environment, the adage “content is king” has never been more true or relevant to marketing strategies.
The distribution channels for content continue to evolve and transform. At one time, brands produced content exclusively for the walled environments of their website and blog, and the understood norm was that it would (and did) contribute to search rank and visibility.
Then social media platforms came along and provided an even more powerful incentive for brands to create content. Before their algorithms tweaked toward paid executions, Twitter and Facebook rewarded the content-driven enterprise with unprecedented organic reach and demonstrable ROI in follows, likes and shares.
But still, the content was designed to stay within the brand’s walled environment, while promoted through a handful of focused, closed social platforms. As those platforms turned on their monetization engines, the organic exposure of that content began to wane.
Around the same time, brands began to expand their consideration of the open web as a component in their overall content distribution strategy. From a tactical perspective, this was about the marriage of programmatic pipes with content distribution — a trend which is gaining steam today.
The prospect of activating programmatic channels to amplify branded content distribution calls forth the many pros and cons that have already been explored thoroughly in the context of programmatic display. Concerns include quality, brand safety, viewability and verification in an arguably even higher-stakes environment.
As with programmatic itself, success comes not only from the new technology, but from an approach that understands both the immediate benefits of massive reach and the potential negative consequences of using that tech.
Viewability and verification
The issues of viewability and verification apply here much in the same way as they do with any advertisement executed via programmatic channels. Brands investing in sponsored content are increasingly demanding that their content be in-view and that the engagement against that content be only from real humans — such is the new table stakes in digital.
But the issues take on an added wrinkle with branded content, where the metrics for success extend well beyond the easily gamed click or CPM, and into all kinds of engagement-based metrics like time on brand, time on site, down-scroll velocity, etc. These new metrics provide advertisers with a more nuanced view of their content performance, but they also provide fraudsters with new venues in which to make a quick buck.
The expansion of content into programmatic channels signals that the quest for viewable, verified ads is more of an ongoing arms race than a quick fix; it demands constant innovation from verification companies and their supply-side partners.
Brand safety and adjacency
The issues surrounding brand safety and adjacency are endemic to media itself and should be taken seriously. The context for an advertisement is hugely important to the performance of the advertisement, especially on social platforms containing lots of unregulated, user-generated content.
This is true for all ad formats, but content distribution ups the stakes by making brand safety a two-way street. Because branded content appears next to regular editorial content, the integrity of the editorial feed becomes jeopardized by the quality of the content that’s placed in it.
Users have nowhere else to go if the branded content is ruining their user experience — either they install an ad blocker, or they leave the site altogether. A handful of forward-thinking players have begun to grasp that risk and are working toward solving it.
Opportunity is too big to pass up
Programmatic is poised to become one of the most cost-effective channels to distribute and amplify branded content, inheriting the mantle from the big social platforms. If leveraged properly, the programmatic turn in content distribution could be a serious boon for both sides of the ecosystem.
The opportunity to marry content distribution with programmatic channels is real — and huge. Minimizing the risks associated with it is not impossible, but requires an informed and cautious approach.
That approach should begin by working with programmatic partners that put the issues of quality, brand safety, viewability and verification front and center, not only in their sales pitch but in their core technology.