Magic vs. Bird. Brady vs. Manning. Coke vs. Pepsi. These battles are as divisive as they are decisive. Fans of each side are set with their arguments and ready to defend their positions, no matter how much opposition they take.

A similar, impassioned fight is brewing in the world of marketing, as content marketing and native advertising are set to go head to head for budget funds. Companies are looking to achieve the best results while still running lean and mean, and the industry awaits to see if one strategy will deliver a knockout punch.

How is each defined? Well, depends who you ask, but this should give you a good idea of the differences:

Content marketing, as defined by the Content Marketing Institute, “is the process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” This content can be social-media posts, corporate-blog entries, bylined articles and infographics distributed through media pitching, social sharing or digital ads, to name a few.

Native advertising is paid content (typically an article) written by an advertiser, but appears in the publishers form as if it was written and sourced by the editorial staff at a particular online news source or blog.

To help cut through the clutter, below is a list of three questions to ask yourself before deciding whether content marketing or native advertising is the right choice for your brand:

1. What is my goal and how will I measure success?

Metrics are abundant — impressions, click-through rates, likes, shares, comments — and determining what to measure will give you a clearer picture of what success looks like for any campaign. If you are looking for widespread brand awareness, native advertising can give you millions of “potential” impressions and possible clicks back to your website, if served up to the right audience. If you are looking for engagement, however, content marketing could be the better choice.

For example, social content can be targeted to specific types of people and the platforms have decent back-end analytics that give you quality metrics and demographics, providing insight into who is engaging with which type of content. Combine these data points with an analytics software to develop a decent picture of a campaign’s success. Native advertising content is placed on a third-party site, so make sure to know what metrics the site can provide before launching a campaign.

2. What is my budget?

Compared to the price of traditional advertising, native looks like a steal. In the world of digital advertising however, it can be a heavy hitter. A study by Moz shows that sites such as Time, BuzzFeed andReal Simple have minimums for native advertising well in the five-figure range. While this would be workable for larger brands, small businesses likely don’t have $30,000 or more lying around to invest in content placed on Time.com (nor would it be the best use of limited funds).

In contrast, contributing thought-leadership pieces to influential media outlets is a cost-effective way to reach potential customers, and can be arranged through your marketing department or outside agency. Social media helps spread your content and even a small digital ad spend on these platforms can reach a targeted audience likely to engage with the content.

3. How important is it to reach a targeted audience?

Reaching the right audience at the right time with the right message is a mantra most of us probably have tattooed on us in some marketing initiation ritual. This trifecta of influence can be achieved, if content is properly targeted.

Content-marketing campaigns can give you more control over who sees your content and when. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow you to schedule and target marketing very specifically to the interests and behaviors of your potential customers, which can extend the life of your content as those individuals engage with it. By leveraging the hyper-targeting abilities of digital advertising as well, you can ensure that your content is seen by the right niche audience.

A large audience can be reached through native advertising, but ensuring the audience is the right audience can be tricky. Different sites offer different modes and levels of targeting, so look into whether you can target your ad beyond simple measurements of age, gender and marital status. In addition, most native-advertising campaigns stand alone, meaning they appear on one site only. To extend your reach beyond the site, you must either execute another campaign or promote the content on your own channels.

In today’s volatile marketing environment where marketers are struggling to find the ideal mix, the options are abundant. Ideally, content marketing and native advertising would be lovers, not fighters, working together to get the most quality eyeballs on your content. Whichever marketing mix you choose, make sure that they are all mapping back to your organization’s goals — not operating in separate silos.

Original Post