StackAdapt aims to un-muddle digital advertising and help brands control their message
Digital advertising is on the increase and for good reason: It lets companies track exactly how their ads are resonating with target markets — or not, while being agile, moving from social media to viral videos.
But this advantage comes with a challenge: channel fragmentation, or too much of a good thing. Unlike traditional mediums for advertising, digital is very decentralized with multiple entry points and overlap. Factor in the rise of ad blockers and it’s easy to see why many companies have not quite figured out how digital fits into their overall marketing strategy.
“In 2012, our experience was that brands directed between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of their advertising budgets to digital channels,” said Yuli Shumsky, director of programmatic systems for Toronto-based Media Experts, which works with brands such as Bell, BMW and Interac to purchase ad space across TV, radio, print and increasingly digital media channels.
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“In 2015, nearly 60 per cent of all media spends we saw was digital. The shift has been absolutely massive.”
“Top of mind for chief marketing officers is finding that edge to better connect with their customers so they get the most out of every ad dollar,” said Andrew Dooner, director, KPMG Canada. “How do you control how your message is consumed?”
StackAdapt, a native advertising platform based in Toronto that helps place branded content on more than 30,000 publisher sites, including ABC News, Reuters, USA Today and Popular Science, thinks it can help with that.
Since its launch in 2013, StackAdapt has partnered with more than 30 native advertising exchanges including TripleLift, AdsNative, InMobi and launched 1,500 campaigns on its self serve platform.
“We had 200 per cent growth last year and forecast 400 per cent growth this year,” Vitaly Pecherskiy, the company’s co-founder, said. This month, StackAdapt closed a $1 million series A round of funding led by Plaza Ventures to help deliver on its projections.
Put simply, native advertising looks and feels like what’s already on the page. “If you can fully integrate ad messaging into a site’s content stream and make it look and feel authentic, you create a halo around it,” Dooner said.
“There is a counter-balance around how you make it transparent so users know they are viewing advertising. There’s a fine line between building and eroding trust. You don’t want to be seen as an opportunist,” he said.
This is particularly true if the company creating the native advertising is itself a media player, which is the case as newspapers around the globe are looking for ways to drive slumping revenues.
“For the outlets truly trying to stand on journalistic integrity, decision makers have to think long and hard about walking that path,” Dooner said.
“The content has to align with your brand identity. It’s a nuance on a conversation that has already happened in newsrooms with respect to editorial content that has been sponsored by paying advertisers. Like any investment decision, you have to weigh the financial merits and impact on the brand and the segments of the market you are trying to serve,” he explained.
StackAdapt promises to deliver higher quality content that is more relative to end users, in effect making the connectivity play chief marketing officers are after. “We see ourselves at the crossroads of every major trend in the space: mobile, content marketing, native advertising, brands learning to become publishers,” Pecherskiy said.
The company sees native advertising as the next step in the evolution of content marketing, which started to come on strong about five years ago, with the goal of engaging target audiences with useful information as opposed to a hard sell. In this context, native advertising is a distribution channel to help brands reach their target audiences at scale.
But executing native advertising can be a challenge, particularly if it is hosted on a publisher’s site. How do you get readers? You can use search engine optimization, but that can take up to a year; you can distribute it on social media but that reach is drastically decreasing as the volume of content increases. Perhaps more important, once the content is hosted elsewhere, the brand no longer controls it.
One option StackAdapt uses is infeed, which involves sourcing audiences across the web through a paid channel so users get a taste of the content and are led back to a brand’s site for the full article or video. “All the stories we promote live on brand micro-sites because we see a clear trend that brands want to own this content. That’s a big change in the past five years,” Pecherskiy said.
“For example, GE has these content hubs where it shares thought leadership on the Internet of Things, Innovation, etc. They are not about selling products — at least not directly. They are about giving consumers a value add in the hopes they end up making a purchase. Large brands understand the importance of having this audience on their own property.”
For the outlets truly trying to stand on journalistic integrity, decision makers have to think long and hard about walking that path
StackAdapt’s differentiator is its focus on quality content and its willingness to turn away brands whose content does not meet its standards. “We fundamentally believe that content should be of value to readers. We won’t work with money-making schemes, penny auctions, etc. Our exchange partners know they will never get anything questionable from us,” Pecherskiy said.
If you imagine the consumer’s journey as a funnel where the top is about gaining awareness and the bottom is buying, StackAdapt is driving people to the top of the funnel with its ads, and if they like the ads they share them, said Media Experts’ Shumsky, who started working with the comany in 2015.
“While we pay for the ad to be there, there are a lot of interactions that happen after that are free. The way StackAdapt integrates shareable media into its ads and the way it positions its advertising, we see a lot of movement at the top of the funnel.”