Though both content marketing and native advertising are useful components of an integrated marketing strategy, these two terms are often used interchangeably to describe the same thing. However, there are distinct differences between the two, and it's important that marketers understand how these concepts differ in order to use both of these tools as effectively as possible.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is defined by the Content Marketing Institute as "a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action." Content can be text, video, graphics or almost anything else that can be displayed on a screen, and it's used to reach consumers in an effort to drive organic pageviews and conversions. Content is usually hosted on a company's own website.
What Is Native Advertising?
The Native Advertising Institute defines native advertising as "paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears." Examples of native advertising include "Advertorial" articles in newspapers and magazines, infomercials on TV as well as sponsored content on websites and social media. This type of content is designed to persuade consumers who were not already interested in a product and drive inorganic conversions.
So What's the Big Difference?
Though content marketing and native advertising are both designed to drive conversions, they do so in vastly different ways. For instance, content about tire treads hosted on an auto parts company's own website is designed to inform consumers who are already interested in cars and might be searching for tire treads. However, an article about tire treads that an auto parts company pays to have hosted on a news website as a "sponsored post" is trying to reach consumers who may not already be searching for content like this. The Content Marketing Institute points out that one key difference between the two is that native advertising is simply one way among many that content marketers can distribute their content.
While content marketing and native advertising can work well independently, these different methods can actually complement one another if used in tandem. Consider the tire tread example above. A native advertising campaign that puts this sponsored content near news articles about cars could perform well and attract more eyeballs to your business or organization. If the piece includes links, it should feature at least a few to content hosted on your own site. In that way consumers can satiate their initial interest with native advertising, and then continue finding out more about your business with your own native content.
It's undeniable that content marketing and native advertising have a lot in common. When you boil them down to their most basic elements, both of these marketing concepts employ the noninterruptive model of using content to attract consumers. However, while one invites consumers to find it organically, the other is thrust into the spotlight via paid advertising. It is when you effectively use native advertising as part of your content distribution strategy that both of these tools can be used together to help market your business.