The North Star is a fascinating display of universal intelligence. It is considered the anchor of the northern sky. As it glows brightly, it helps us determine the right direction to go. In many cultures, it's also seen as a symbol of inspiration and hope.
Sometimes in marketing, we lose sight of our North Star. Many well-laid plans can go off in the wrong direction, especially when it comes to native. We can find ourselves a bit like lost, thirsty travellers in the open desert, waiting for salvation.
Recently, I've seen huge corporations with seemingly accurate maps wandering in the desert. That made me wonder… "If these behemoths are making this mistake, what are other brands doing?" So, I figured I’d try to guide any lost souls out there in the right direction.
Look farther ahead
To find the North Star, look beyond the tactics and the buttons to click and instead focus on the vast open sky. In other words, the big picture.
Humans are very good at making simple things complicated. The real challenge is turning complicated things into easy ones.
For instance, you might be worried about what native ad networks to choose for your next campaign. Maybe you want to try native programmatic but have no clue where to start. Or perhaps you're drowning in creative thinking, trying to figure out what content, creatives and ad copy combinations will resonate best with your audience.
Before tackling any of these, you should stop and ask yourself a simple question: "What's my goal with this campaign?"
Your answer might be: "I want to get a lot of engagement on my ad and the maximum clicks possible to this article."
Now you're getting somewhere.
With a specific goal in mind, you can map out an initial strategy that can be further refined once you’re ready to get more specific. It could look something like this:
- Platform: TripleLift
- Programmatic deal: High CTR network of premium publishers
Bidding: Target CPC
- Content: Long-form article around a controversial topic
- Creatives: Image of a popular celebrity
- Copy: Curiosity angle
By gazing out into the open sky, you have found the North Star that can guide everything you do afterwards. It can help you choose the right platform, the perfect objective and bidding strategy, the right programmatic deals, the content to promote and your creative strategy.
You might want to go as far as using the popular SMART strategy for goal setting. This will give you and your team or agency partner a process to follow, precise directions and improve accountability. Think of it as the "SMART Native Goal."
All stars look the same
When all stars look the same, you don't have focus. Without focus, there's no North Star. Without a North Star, there are no goals. Without goals, you're just wasting ad dollars, trying every approach that comes to mind.
When advertisers have no North Star, they’re likely to start complaining. "This platform doesn't work, that one doesn't work… nothing works."
Truthfully, it is their goals that are not working. Their native strategy looks like this:
- Platform: whatever is cheapest
- Bidding: "CPA 'cause that's what my mates are doing"
- Content: the highest performing organically (not too bad)
- Creatives and copy: "I'll put something together" (aka last-minute)
This approach will get you campaigns that simply don't work. If they do, you got lucky. The problem is that it is hard to duplicate luck at scale, especially with native ads. You need a process to follow every time.
One I particularly like is what I call the 3:2:1 Method. This means pairing three headlines with two creative variations or vice versa. After you find the winning image and copy combination, you can do a 1:3 split, mixing the best headline with three untested images in a new campaign.
Going in all directions
Some native advertisers seem to try all possible paths until they reach their destination. On the way there, they burn a tremendous amount of energy and resources and make mistakes that could have easily been avoided.
I've worked with executives that had elaborate media plans. But nothing seemed to make sense. They wanted to create awareness and at the same time generate leads at a "good" CPA. Some said they just wanted engagement only to switch course mid-flight to ask for conversions too.
This is what their native strategy typically looks like:
- Goal: "Want to maximize ad spend… maximum reach, high engagement and a low CPA please."
- Platform: "As many as possible" (most with a minimal budget, making the algorithms work against them)
- Content: "Promote our entire blog, we want all the exposure we can get and fast"
- Copy and creatives: "You’re the expert, tell us what to run" (fair enough)
Folks, do not confuse your buying team or agency partner. Give them clear directions that will help them do a better job. Share with them your primary goal for every native campaign and make it as clear as possible.
I'm always delighted to meet executives that answer something like, "We want sales, breaking even at least" to my question, "What's your goal for native?"
When the meeting is over, we have a clear and solid native media plan to share with the brand that can help them reach their business goals.
There's only one North Star
Setting one big goal per campaign – and making sure to set it before launching – will go a long way toward keeping you on the right path instead of wandering in the wilderness. Much trouble can be avoided if the path is clear for everyone. Once you find your campaign's North Star, all the pieces should fall in place.
With the North Star approach, you won’t get lost.