B2B Native Advertising: Does Forbes BrandVoice Really Work? [Research]

forbes-brandvoice-logoNative advertising, and more specifically native content publishing, is hot.

Nearly every major publisher already has a program or is working on one. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as marketers increasingly turn to content, publishers need to offer solutions to promote and distribute that content.

For B2B marketers, the Forbes BrandVoice program is one of the original and most established programs. BrandVoice marketers are able to publish directly on Forbes, presumably gaining access to an audience far larger and more valuable than what they could reach on their own.

But do native advertising programs that let marketers publish directly on a media property distribute content effectively? Do they really get the benefit of the media company’s audience? To find out, I gathered data on more than 340 articles, 15 marketers in the Forbes BrandVoice program and 3 Forbes staff writers.

Forbes BrandVoice: Disappointing Distribution?

The results were eye-opening.

Forbes BrandVoice Article Performance

Despite some of the single article successes from Forbes highlighted in an earlier overview of native advertising and the position of Forbes BrandVoice (“connecting marketers to the Forbes audience”), the average BrandVoice article only had 1,545 pageviews, approximately one-sixth of the average Forbes staff article!

Looking at the data another way, 97% of the Forbes journalist articles had more pageviews than the average BrandVoice article!

BrandVoice Traffic Vary Widely

The difference between the top and bottom BrandVoice marketers is almost as big as the difference between the BrandVoice marketers and Forbes staff journalists.

Toyota, averaging 5,882 pageviews per article, tops the list, while Oppenheimer is averaging just 882 per article, just 15% of Toyota’s average and 3.4% of the Forbes staff average! The chart below compares the median and average pageviews for each BrandVoice marketer’s articles.

Forbes BrandVoice Pageviews by Marketer

BrandVoice Potential Annual Content Distribution

The Forbes BrandVoice program allows marketers to publish directly on the Forbes platform. Some BrandVoice marketers use it extensively, with SAP and NetApp publishing 23 articles each in the last month. But across all 15 marketers, only 168 articles, or an average of 11 per marketer, were published in the last month.

Where you are already paying for the right to publish, marketers with higher publishing frequency are driving significantly more views of their content.

In order to estimate the content distribution each marketer may see from the BrandVoice program, I calculated theoretical annual pageviews based on the number of articles in the last month and the average pageviews per article for each marketer. This calculation likely underestimates the total for most marketers, as older content continues to drive results over time, but it does make for a useful comparison between marketers.

Based on this estimate, NetApp is a clear winner, on pace for more than 1.5 million page views. SAP is next in line, with a projected 878,000 pageviews. Both have the highest publishing volume in the last month along with strong average article results.

At the bottom of the list are Business Aviation, CenturyLink, and Oppenheimer Funds, with 53,549, 78,593 and 84,658 projected pageviews per year. These figures are likely artificially low as all three have lower than average frequency in the last month, but any way you slice the data, these marketers are clearly lagging the leaders.

In comparison, the average marketer, publishing 11 articles a month and receiving 2,500 pageviews per article, would expect approximately 330,000 pageviews a year, maybe 500,000 at the high-end as the program is optimized and content continues to earn distribution through the year.

Conclusion

With a rate card investment of $1 million per year plus content, BrandVoice represents a significant investment.

Marketers that have embraced a publishing mindset, producing higher quality content at higher frequency, are seeing the best results. Compared to other ways to increase content distribution (such as Outbrain, Taboola, and other relatively low-cost traffic buys), and considering the value of the Forbes audience versus these broader distribution options, NetApp and SAP are likely doing OK in the BrandVoice program, but it is not a grand slam.

However, most marketers are not publishing appealing content at a high enough frequency. Even with generous estimates, some are effectively paying more than $5 per pageview, likely close to $10 per pageview!

Does the quality of the audience, and any cache that comes from having content on Forbes, make up for the high cost of distributing content for these marketers? Unfortunately I don’t have access to their results to say, but based on this it is difficult to believe many were ready for the commitment they made or are getting the full value they hoped to receive from their investment.

Methodology Overview
Information was gathered for all 15 established BrandVoice advertisers listed in the BrandVoice discovery page.
For pageview statistics, the most recent 20 articles that were more than one week old were included. Toyota and IBM are newer programs and only had 18 and 6 articles, respectively, that were more than one week old.
For average articles per month, I counted the number of articles that were less than one month old, including articles from the latest week. All marketers had more than one month of published articles.
For Forbes journalists, I used the same methodology for pageview figures. The journalists selected were the very first and the very last in the Forbes Staff list and one selected from approximately the middle of the list.

Your Turn

Those are the numbers as I see them. What do you think, is BrandVoice, and other similar native content publishing opportunities, something that most marketers simply are not ready to take advantage of? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

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  • http://morgancantrell.blogspot.com Morgan

    Native advertising is teaching marketers to behave more like publishers, but until the quality of their content matches that of the media companies they advertise with, they shouldn’t expect the same results.

    Once they get to the level where they publish at the same quality, devoid of marketing speak, they might as well buy the media companies for their traffic and writers. Because that objectivity and balanced content coverage is an insurmountable challenge for most companies and marketers, I suspect it will never go that far.

    Pricing, benchmarks and KPIs will have to adjust according to results and media companies will be challenged by the fact that their advertising results are so dependent on the quality of their clients’ content.

    • kenny madden

      only make sense if the Native platform is rich with people you are interested in engaging with right? It’s the essence of being a native.

      If you are selling/marketing a technology product to IT buyers for example writing content for Forbes ( which is awesome) seems a bit odd and the opposite of Native.

      wouldn’t Native advertising be more relevant to finding out where the natives are first?

      • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

        Kenny, nice way to look at it. Where are the natives? I choose Forbes here because it is one of the most established programs that is relevant for B2B. Some of the tech publishers also have native offerings now as well though, and its just a matter of time before many of the vertical trade publications follow (although you could argue with their liberal use of contributed articles, many of them have had it for quite a while!)

        Thanks, as always, for the comments!

        • kenny madden

          your stuff always make me think sir. good stuff. i feel a picece of artwork coming on about Nat8ve advertising :)

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Awesome comment. I agree, the vast majority of companies are not ready to provide even moderately objective and balanced coverage, and that is why most companies here struggled, and the top performers didn’t even stay in a category that is particularly relevant to their business.

  • Tom O’Brien

    Eric, I do think that journalists have a “brand” themselves. That’s why organic readership of a Forbes article is much higher than a Brand Voice article. Readers/consumers are smart enough to recognize sponsored content so unless it’s immediatelty relevant or specific to their business or needs then they move on. However, if I’m SAP or others and I can subtly brand my message in a publication like Forbes, then why not. That said, I think it’s shortsighted and foolhardy to think that my B2B audience is only on Forbes. They’re everywhere, and if I’m spending good $$ on content marketing, then I must augment that budget with a sound content amplicfication strategy.

    • kenny madden

      exactly , if your audience are not “on” forbes then what’s the point? Proper Native advertising is integrating your brand and people into the daily experience workflow of the audience.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      I definitely agree that journalists gain their own following, but I don’t think it is nearly enough to explain the dramatic difference between brand content and journalist content here.

      I agree, if I can subtly brand my message and gain credibility from where it is published, there is value IF that message gets distribution. Sadly, what this showed is that many brands are getting very limited distribution through Forbes. Given the difference between the bottom few and the leaders, I personally believe most brands simply are not ready for a program like this, and the reason their content lags journalist content is, frankly, because it isn’t nearly as interesting.

      Thanks for the comment, I definitely appreciate it!

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  • EmilyRColeman

    Great article, Eric!

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Thanks Emily!

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  • mherman31

    I don’t work for SunGard Availability Services, but I am involved in some of the content direction consulting.

    SunGard AS is making a strong early showing (not quite 2 months yet). They’re averaging more than 3x readership over the average so far. FBV has pretty excited about what may likely become a case study some day.

    Referrals from Forbes.com are doing well, and thought leadership is growing via this resource. So far so good.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Glad to hear it. Let me know if you are willing to share more info, I’d be happy to schedule a call and share additional perspective beyond what I went into here.

      • mherman31

        Thank you Eric. I’ll keep tracking things and let you know something down-the-road.

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