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There are two pillars that SaaS marketers usually focus on: owned marketing channels and paid social advertising.
And how’s that going? 🙄
To stand out from the competition (there are 17,000 SaaS companies in the U.S. alone!), SaaS brands are exploring alternative marketing methods — like native advertising.
Should you follow the trend and start with native advertising? Is it worth the time and money? How do you make native ads work for SaaS?
In this post, you’ll find the answers to these questions and more.
What Is Native Advertising?
Before we get to the pros and cons of native advertising, we need to be clear about what exactly we’re referring to.
Native advertising is a form of paid advertising where ads are displayed within dedicated content recommendations on publishers’ websites so that it matches the surrounding content.
The idea is that the native ad merges seamlessly with the rest of the page’s content so, unlike display ads or banner ads, readers usually can’t distinguish these ads (or “recommended links”) from the content:
These platforms partner with thousands of publishers, like Huffington Post and CNN, and allow you to manage your campaigns just like you would through Business Manager on Facebook.
Native ads generally have higher click-through rates (CTRs) than display ads. And instead of negotiating each placement with publishers, programmatic advertising allows you to run your native ads through a native ad network, like Taboola or Outbrain.
Native advertising is a fairly broad concept, though most guides include paid social advertising formats among native advertising examples. However, you can’t directly compare native ads and Facebook Ads. In other words, native advertising is an alternative to Facebook advertising, but not its synonym.
Native Advertising Examples by SaaS Companies
We’ve already mentioned that more and more SaaS companies are stepping into native advertising. It’s time to prove the point.
Here are three examples of SaaS companies successfully using native advertising.
1) Brand Awareness: Chatfuel
A no-code chatbot platform, Chatfuel primarily runs native ads across the Outbrain network. Their ads typically aim at building brand awareness. Chatfuel also uses large-scale brand awareness campaigns to build remarketing audiences for other paid advertising channels, like Facebook.
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2) Lead Generation: Monday.com
The campaign below is a classic example of attracting leads with a set of free templates.
3) Signups & Downloads: Grammarly
Grammarly’s native ads are distributed across the Outbrain, Taboola and Revcontent networks. Their campaigns are conversion-driven and mostly promote product landing pages – the practice is less popular than the use of educational or entertaining content as a pre-sell landing page.
Is Native Advertising Right for Your Promotion Strategy?
Now, let’s take a look at all the pros and cons of adding native advertising to your digital marketing campaigns.
PROS: The Benefits of Native Advertising for SaaS
You’ve just seen that top SaaS companies are investing heavily in native ad campaigns, and for good reason. Here are three good reasons:
1) Lower Competition
The approach is still relatively new for SaaS marketers. You won’t need to bend over backwards to make your ads stand out from dozens of other ads of your competitors.
And since your audiences don’t see similar ads over and over again, you won’t need to combat creative fatigue, which happens when people get used to certain ads and ignore them or just stop seeing them.
2) Cheaper Clicks
The average CPC for Facebook Ads is $1.72:
Meanwhile, the average CPC on top-notch native ad platforms is $0.6 for desktop ads and $0.3 for mobile ads.
If your campaign goal is building brand awareness or collecting a remarketing list, doing it with the help of native ads will be way more cost-effective.
3) Better Alignment with Your Content Marketing Strategy
SaaS brands rely on content marketing to generate demand, build authority and boost user acquisition. If that’s the case for you, content distribution must be one of your pains.
Originally created to help journalists and publishers distribute content, native advertising is a perfect channel for promoting articles, tutorials, press releases, and other types of engaging content.
CONS: The Peculiarities of Native Advertising
While offering a lower level of competition and audiences that aren’t exhausted yet, native advertising has its drawbacks. It’s not a panacea for everyone willing to lower their CPC and reach new users. And SaaS marketers should be particularly careful with it.
There are some peculiarities that might affect your future campaigns or even prevent you from adding native advertising to your marketing mix. Here are the top three:
1) You Can’t Reuse Your Facebook Ads
New advertisers often try to duplicate approaches that have worked for them on Facebook or other paid channels when building their first native ad campaigns. That’s the right way to build campaigns that don’t work.
Native advertising isn’t similar to paid social advertising. These two have different goals, reach different audiences and require completely different approaches.
Here’s how native advertising is different from advertising on Facebook:
- Ad creatives. While a creative with graphic design and text on it works well on Facebook, native ad thumbnails should resemble the look of editorial content.
- Messaging. For higher traction, content promoted with native ads (ideally) should fit well with organic content. When possible, advertisers should attract audiences with messaging that educates or entertains before moving people to the buying decision.
- Goals. SaaS marketers successfully build email lists with native ads, but it takes a strong strategy to start driving sales through this channel. If you want to acquire paid users right away, native advertising is probably the wrong way to go.
- Targeting. It’s best to avoid granular targeting and display your native ads to broad audiences. Advertisers who got used to narrow audience targeting on Facebook experience difficulties with this phenomenon.
- Budget. Marketers know it’s best to start a new campaign on a low budget to see whether it’s worth scaling at all. This approach works well on Facebook. But even though CPCs of native ads are cheaper, you won’t break even with a very small budget. These ads need more time and budget to realize their full potential and collect enough data for you to make informed decisions on further optimization.
2) You’ll Need to Create Content
The messaging that works best re: ad content and ad format for the audiences of publishers’ websites differs a lot from what has been working well for you on other channels.
With this in mind, you’ll need to explore content formats you haven’t been using for your paid campaigns previously. These include long-form articles, videos, quizzes and case studies.
Since the process of creating dedicated landing pages requires a lot of time, you need to make sure you have enough resources for the project to move forward.
3) It’s Part of Your Promotion Strategy, not a Solo Strategy
If you need to pick one strategy for converting prospects into paying customers, don’t choose native advertising.
6 Must-Follow Strategies to Promote Your SaaS Brand with Native Ads
Ready to overcome all the challenges and enjoy the benefits of native advertising? Here are six ways to use native advertising for your SaaS company:
1) Map Your Campaigns to the Customer Journey
Before you start creating your first native ad campaign, think of your goals. Where does the approach fit in your marketing strategy? Do you want to increase brand recognition or drive leads who are already familiar with your solution?
It’s true that broad targeting will allow you to reach incredibly large audiences. However, you shouldn’t make your native ads appeal to everyone who sees them. This way, you risk creating a campaign that doesn’t appeal to anyone at all.
That’s why before building a landing page and designing creatives, you need to identify your goals and understand where in the buyer’s journey your ideal audience is.
2) Use Pre-Sell Landing Pages
A pre-sell landing page is a page used by advertisers to pique the interest of potential customers before driving them to a product page. This approach is often used to boost engagement and increase conversion rates of native advertising campaigns.
These are the most effective formats for a pre-sell landing page:
Using a pre-sell page also helps to better understand what makes your audience bounce. If they drop before they click through and see an actual product page, you need more engaging content or a more compelling call to action (CTA). If they bounce right after they finally reach your product page, you’re most likely reaching the wrong audience.
Moreover, a well-thought-out quiz is not only an engaging lead magnet but also an effective tool for lead qualification. By including the right questions, you can pre-qualify leads and segment them accordingly.
3) Use Ad Creatives to Narrow Your Target Audience
Recommendations for avoiding highly specific targeting options don’t mean your ads should appeal to everyone. The truth is, you should be using your ad creatives to filter out irrelevant audiences and engage with people who fit into your target personas.
Get as specific with ad headlines as your campaign goal requires. Don’t waste your money on gaining clicks with the help of clickbait headlines.
Even if you don’t run a sales campaign, you don’t want to capture audiences that have nothing to do with your product. Use words and phrases that will catch the attention of your specific audience:
- mention your category
- highlight customers’ key pain point
- or even refer to your brand name
4) Give Your Campaigns Time to Realize Their Full Potential
Native ads won’t deliver fast results. It takes a few days or even weeks (depending on your campaign budget) for native ad platforms to figure out the best pacing, publishers and placements for your ads. Avoid rushing into conclusions and making optimizations when your campaign has only been live for a few hours.
As has been said, it’s also good to start with a decent budget so that you can collect enough historical data and optimize towards your goals as soon as possible.
5) Keep a Close Eye on Your Publishers
Both B2C and B2B SaaS is a very specific topic, and it’s likely that there are many publishers that aren’t of interest to your target audience. That’s why you should keep a close eye on your performance by publishers and exclude sites that don’t perform well.
It often happens that certain publishers drive a lot of clicks from audiences that aren’t high-quality, making you waste hundreds or thousands of ad dollars.
You can also try to do some competitor analysis (the SWOT method is a good place to start):
After the analysis, you can bid aggressively on your competitors’ publishers. This is easily done with Anstrex, or any other competitive analysis tool for native advertising. By searching for their brand names or niche-specific keywords, you can see competitors’ ads and get a list of their publishers in a few clicks.
6) Do Message Testing
If you start with a completely new approach to your advertising strategy without knowing what works well, you risk spending too much time and money on preparing campaigns that will never reach their goals. Fortunately, there’s a way to lower the risks.
Allocate a small budget to prove the concept before even designing landing pages. What kind of message do you want to include in your campaigns? Build ad creatives around this message and run them for a few days with an empty or just irrelevant landing page. This way, you’ll see whether the message itself is good enough or whether you need to A/B test a different angle.
With this approach, you won’t see whether the message converts or not, but you’ll save the budget you might have spent on building landing pages that don’t gain clicks.
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Is Native Advertising a Good Alternative to Facebook Advertising?
The answer depends on your motivation:
- If you want to use native ads to scale your Facebook Ads, the answer is “no.”
- If you’re looking for a channel that’s not overcrowded with the competition yet, the answer is “probably.”
Before making any conclusion, revisit your goals and ask yourself: “Are we ready to build a dedicated strategy?” Without considering all the peculiarities of native advertising and adjusting to them, your SaaS brand won’t benefit from it.
For those who don’t want to rely on the Facebook-Google duopoly, native advertising is a perfect way to diversify their marketing mix and increase their reach.