Voice technologies are hot right now. Consumers are increasingly using voice-driven services on smartphones and smart speakers, which is changing the way content is sought out and consumed. This escalating trend has clear implications for marketers, content creators, and consumers.
Here’s how this market is evolving and what it means for media companies.
Mobile and the rise of voice-based tools
Nearly ubiquitous smartphone adoption has created opportunities for a plethora of new products and services, including those driven by voice. Perhaps the best known of these are personal digital assistants like Siri, which was introduced by Apple in 2011. It was followed by Alexa (Amazon) and Cortana (Microsoft) in 2014, and Google Assistant in 2017. Today, nearly half of US adults (46%) use these tools.
And as voice recognition programs become more accurate, they are impacting online search habits. In 2016, Google reported that 20% of searches on Android were already being made using voice. GlobalWebIndex also observed that, in the 34 markets it covered, 25% of those aged 16-24 had used voice search on their mobile in the past month. In fact, by 2020, comScore predicts that half of all searches will be conducted by voice.
Voice on Smart Speakers
Smart speakers are one of the top consumer tech trends right now. The 2018 Digital News Report, produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, found that in major markets such as the US, UK, and Germany, usage of these products had more than doubled over the past year.
A March 2018 study from Voicebot.ai and the voice app company, PullString, found that “19.7% of US adults [about 47.3 million] have access to smart speakers today. That is up from less than 1% of the population just two years ago.” By 2022, according to Forrester Research, 50% of US households will have a smart speaker.
The rapid adoption of voice technologies – from voice search to smart speakers – is noteworthy, especially when benchmarked against the take-up of many other more established technologies.
Why these technologies are growing
Typically housed in shared spaces like the living room and/or kitchen, smart speakers can be used by multiple people. Google has noted how “in a short period of time, voice-activated speakers have become part of people’s routines.”
Reasons for this include the ability to use the technology while doing something else (multi-tasking), the fact that people speak more quickly than they can type (speed), and increasingly “human” interfaces.
Indeed, “People perceive the devices as more than just an electronic toy.” Google found that “they’re more akin to another person or a friend.” In 2017 research with over 1,600 users of voice-activated speakers, 41% said that using the technology feels like they’re “talking to a friend of another person.” All of these traits are only going to grow as these technologies continue to evolve and improve.
What this means: Four key considerations
Given the rise of voice-enabled devices and tools, here are four strategic considerations and opportunities for brands and media companies:
1. Ensure your content is optimized for voice search
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) never stands still, but the voice revolution presents some new challenges. Recognizing this emerging trend, back in 2016, Campaign advised “savvy marketers” to “write content in a natural, conversational voice that answers the questions your consumers are asking.”
“Website content in the era of voice search isn’t about keywords,” they wrote, “it’s about semantic search and building the context related to answering a question.”
On smart speakers, as Trustpilot’s Jason Barnard and Chee Lo have explained, there’s a further consideration. Unlike traditional search engine results on desktop or mobile, where you get a range of options, voice searches tend to be highly specific and typically result in a single response.
As Rebecca Sentancereflected on Search Engine Watch, “the rise of voice search is transforming search engines into “answer engines,” which require a different strategy and set of ingredients for success. This strategy has come to be known as AEO, or “answer engine optimization”.”
There’s a raft of tip sheets and detailed articles on this topic for those new to this topic. In one of them, Bryson Meunier, SEO Director at Vivid Seats, recently outlined 12 recommendations in an article for Search Engine Land, advising: “Focus first on optimizing for conversational keywords and implement Actions for Google to get more traffic from voice search.”
2. Harness opportunities for content innovation and delivery
To date, most activity on smart speakers tends to be functional. Consumers typically ask for a weather updates, jokes, or travel directions. consumption of news content and podcast playback typically fall much lower on the list. But that doesn’t mean that publishers and media companies are not experimenting with content and new interactive formats for these platforms.
Publishers from NPR to Reuters, the New York Times and CNN, as well as local news providers such as the Tennessean, IndyStar, and Texas Tribune, are all creating short audio briefings designed to be heard on smart speakers. Apple’s new HomePod will feature content from the Washington Post by default.
Alongside more broadcast-like content delivery, 2018’s Digital News Report noted how “media companies like Quartz are also developing apps (or ‘skills’ as they are known) that allow conversational interaction with the devices.” One such experiment, produced by the BBC in late 2017, featured a 20-minute “interactive science fiction comedy story” for Amazon Alexa and Google Home – called The Inspection Chamber – which encouraged listened to “play your part through voice interactions.”
And in April 2018, Netflix launched an interactive audio drama to promote its Lost in Space reboot. According to Variety: “The audio adventure, which lasts between five and six minutes, features a branched narrative and multiple-choice questions and answers. It was recorded with participation of the show’s cast, and produced in collaboration between Netflix and Google.”
These examples show how international, national, and local players across the media spectrum are experimenting with content being heard through smart speakers.
3. Explore opportunities for consumers to make voice-activated purchases
Jeff Malmad, managing director, Head of Life+, for WPP Group’s Mindshare North America, argued at the Mobile Marketing Association’s Impact conference earlier this year that “depending on your marketing category… 30 percent of your sales will be from incidental loyalty, based on voice searches, and based on voice purchases.”
Although this functionality perhaps lends itself more naturally to other products (Malmad highlighted an advert featuring a couple placing their usual Starbucks order through the Alexa app in their Ford car), voice shopping is predicted to be a $40 billion market by 2022. That’s up from just $2 billion today.
It could be used by media companies for on-going, or one-off, subscriptions, memberships, micropayments, downloads, or access to exclusive content.
Either way, this is an emerging vertical which – like voice technology per se – that cannot be overlooked.
4. Determine if there are new revenue opportunities
Although the eCommerce functionality of this technology remains relatively nascent, companies like CNBC are exploring more traditional advertising packages, such as sponsorships, on these platforms.
John Trimble chief revenue officer of Pandora, has highlighted the advertising potential, given the ability of consumers to respond to audio messages in a manner not previously possible. As he wrote in Recode earlier this year:
“Radio ads have been around since the days of Marconi, but listeners to this day still can’t respond to an ad the way an Alexa user can interact directly with the device.”
That this happens in an increasingly screen-free environment will require creative solutions in order to unlock the commercial opportunities. Gartner has predicted that “by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.”
Screen-less, voice-only platforms, will not only represent a very different way for consumers to find information online. They will also disrupt a number of traditional online advertising models too.
This technology is still relatively nascent, but it’s playing out against a wider background whereby voice technology is becoming increasingly integrated into our lives. And, in case you’re not yet convinced that the voice market merits your attention, keep in mind that this trend is global and impacting devices of all kinds.
Alibaba sold 1 million Tmall Genie X1 smart speakers in the last four months of 2017, a device they plan to install in 100,000 Marriott hotel rooms across China. And closer to home, Roku TV’s will soon feature built in voice assistants, while Dish already allows you to search and surf for content using voice functionality in their TV remote control. In the era of the Internet of Things, domestic appliances – such as those from Whirlpool – can already be managed by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Undoubtedly, voice technology will become all-pervasive. In November, Amazon announced Alexa for Business, “a new service that enables businesses and organizations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale.” This is just one way that voice-triggered activities – from search through to content discovery and shopping – will move out of the home and into the office and car.
Voice search and screen-less content consumption are areas that are already beginning to take off. And this trend will increasingly impact media and information habits in the future. As a result, understanding the potential – and pitfalls – of this technology is an area that brands and publishers need to be exploring, if they aren’t already.
The blind reliance on algorithms to sort and target content has resulted in a tidal wave of fake news. The resulting consumer sentiment is that all companies, not just Facebook, should guarantee greater transparency and accountability around the content they produce and the audiences they reach. While we have an opportunity to improve how we use technology to weed out disinformation, we also have a responsibility to invest in human effort to ensure the spread of high-quality news, not low-quality content.
UPDAY has embraced this view. The mobile news app owned by digital publishing house Axel Springer pairs machine learning with human judgment to deliver users personalized news and information aligned with their explicit preferences and implicit requirements. Operating in 16 countries across Europe, UPDAY has established eight editorial “hubs” where teams of local journalists review content from the top news sources to pick top stories and news consumers will genuinely appreciate.
Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and content marketing strategist at MobileGroove – catches up with UPDAY CEO Peter Würtenberger to discuss how the company’s approach to news curation and aggregation has allowed it to build partnerships with publishers, deepen engagement with users, and optimize content delivery to a plethora of devices and platforms.
PAS: AI and algorithms have a legitimate role to play in matching audiences with information they will likely appreciate. But we also see what happens when judgment is left to the machines. How do you maintain a balance?
PW: Fake news happened because companies relied 100% on technology, and this is what we have avoided at UPDAY from the start. Part of it is because, unlike the Apple, Facebook, and Google, we come from the newspaper business where journalists are the most valuable resource, not an overhead. Axel Springer is one of the leading publishers in the western world, selling over 1.5 million copies of the Bild newspaper daily. This was possible because we relied on journalists. At UPDAY, rather than leave news decisions to algorithms, we combine the intelligence of machines with human judgment to deliver personalized news that doesn’t trap audiences in a filter bubble.
The algorithm aggregates news—what you want to know—by understanding your personal interests and preferences out of approximately 300 hand-picked sources per country. There’s a dedicated team of Content Engineers that carefully checks each source in each country before integrating it into our source set. The human—in our case, eight editorial hubs in Europe where editorial teams on the ground curate news and information – judges and delivers what audiences need to know. This is the news of the day that matters, and we rely on a team of trained journalists in their fields to make this call. It’s about serving up the best of both worlds, the best of what technology and humans can offer when they work together.
PAS: You are aggregating content from original sources and packaging it with the help of personalization for your users. Tell me about your audience and their usage.
PW: The feedback we have from our users since day one is that they feel safe and confident that they are reading what really matters to them. This tells me that a user-centric approach to deliver the perfect and personalized mix of stories is working out very well. Users are engaging with UPDAY and highly appreciate the variety of our media brands. Our sources include the top 100 publishers in each of the markets where we are operating in.
We launched UPDAY in March 2016 and last year we counted around 10 million users. Today we have more than 20 million users spread across 16 countries, which makes us the fastest growing news app in Europe. A user session is around 5 minutes. We have more than 3 billion page impressions per month. And we aggregate more than 3,500 sources.
By the way, the publisher also gets a massive amount of traffic from UPDAY, and in some cases 10% even 15% of their mobile traffic comes from Upday. We aggregate their content—snippets with headlines and some body text from the publisher which they provide as part of the RSS feed—and, when the user clicks on the story, we send them directly to the property of that publisher. This is what publishers appreciate most. Unlike Facebook, which keeps all interaction and news consumption in its ecosystem, we drive traffic to publishers.
PAS: You deliver personalized news across over a dozen countries and languages. Do you rely on translations and localization to keep it relevant, or is there something else at play?
PW: We don’t translate any of the content, because that wouldn’t serve the user’s interest. Instead, we serve the users with their local sources in the local language. Our local team of journalists—the quality control, so to speak—is responsible for selecting the 30 to 40 most important top news stories per day and curating them, so they appear in the top news section we show to the user.
Clearly, this isn’t the way all media companies approach localization. Some agencies prefer to translate content from English to Spanish, for example, in order to serve it to large audiences. But we don’t believe this is the right way. In our view, it’s a better experience to source the local sources and media brands in the local language. And that’s the beauty of UPDAY—and now we see that other products and offers are changing to do it this way, too. I can only say we have been doing it like this for over two years and it’s great to see how others are understanding why this is the better way to deliver news and now come up with similar offerings.
PAS: You have engineered the algorithm that you pair with the human intelligence of your editorial hubs to deliver personalized news. How does this combination work to ensure the delivery of more relevant advertising alongside this news content?
PW: Our editorial competence and the understanding of the user behavior enabled us developing an offering that addresses various needs of the advertisers and brands. UPDAY offers a premium user experience with a flow of content and integrated native advertising which does not disturb the flow. It’s not a layer ad that users see and click it away. It’s in the natural stream of the news stream, showing every sixth card on average. It’s also the approach that kicked our monetization forth.
We started with an offering for so called direct sales – premium formats adjusted to the needs of our clients. We talked to clients and agencies and they booked display ads and video ads. At all times, our priority was to develop an advertising offering that enhances, not interrupts the user experience, where we could be the platform that brings advertisers closer to users. Our understanding of the users’ interests plays a crucial role here.
We also integrated a programmatic technology into UPDAY. It became the second phase of UPDAY’s advertising. But we established our capabilities as an SSP. We did this together with AppNexus and with Google. We started with programmatic native advertising that was perfectly aligned with our content. On UPDAY every news card has a photo, a headline, and text— native advertising looks similar to that and attracts the users with a great strength. Together with the data, it boosts our capabilities to deliver the right advertising in the right moment to the right user.
PAS: So, what are you seeing –and what are the lessons for other media companies that seek to monetize their assets and audiences?
PW: Our click rates are beyond expectation because our experience pairs human sense with data intelligence. We are seeing between 0.5% and 0.8% for display and more than 1% for native ads – regarding formats which are non-intrusive and integrated in the flow of UPDAY news. We’ve also seen native campaigns where we get between 5% and 6% click-through thank to our optimization measures. Overall, this is far above the industry standard, which hovers at around 0.1%.
It’s a combination of our human salespeople with our ad tech that leads to a success. We have teams that go to the companies and brands and say, “Hey, we have a high-quality, Europe-wide platform which is a perfect place for your marketing communication.” Once the brands realize there is more than Facebook, they are on board. We are running direct campaigns for SEAT in five major markets as a result. This is premium advertising with higher CPMs on a high-quality platform. We rely on human teams to understand what brands want to communicate and work with them—and really show them–what is possible on our platform. It’s a dual play between people and a constantly developed advertising product, and that is the play that gets advertising right.
If I look out at many media companies out there, they are still filling their pages with what they have been showing for last 20 years. It’s nothing more than a copy of the first page in their newspaper. Advertising is similar. It overwhelms the user with too many blinking parts, banners and annoying interruptions. This is a mistake, and so many content companies are still stuck in this rut. I would recommend content companies change this by introducing more user-friendliness and personalization into what they offer and how they deliver it. For the companies that make the algorithms—the Facebooks and Googles that read the user signals to personalize the content and advertising—they should look for ways to introduce a human touch and ‘humanize’ their tech because that is what they are lacking. It’s got to be user first —and the advertising needs to be highly personal and highly relevant.
PAS: You are also aligned with technology and your partnership Samsung is evolving to take you beyond the smartphone. What are the new opportunities on the horizon?
PW: It started out as a strategic partnership between Axel Springer, an expert in journalism, news, and creating a digital information brand, and Samsung, an expert in engineering and building devices. We pair our learnings from the news business and our learning algorithm with Samsung’s leadership position in devices and distribution. Remember, globally Samsung is far bigger than Apple.
However, it’s not just about having a larger share of the smartphone market. It’s about the breadth of devices and platforms where we can provide news content. We are already on the smart watch, and we are also the news source on the Family Hub that Samsung enables on its smart refrigerators. Most recently, Samsung has integrated our news app on their ambient QLED TV screens. These are screens that just turn on when you pass them, and UPDAY news is what consumers will see when they interact with that screen – across 12 countries in Europe.
Now other industries are contacting us. The car industry is asking us to develop an integration for smart cars to deliver personalized news in the car. We are thinking about how we can provide news in this environment, and it’s clear that the news we aggregate will also have to be read out-loud to the consumer.
PAS: But that also brings challenges as humans can’t scale, and your editorial team will have to…
PW: It has to be scalable. And you do this by making sure all the content comes from a single platform. If we were to start building content data platforms for each of the platforms we serve — for smartphones, watches, fridges and now TV — we would be dead from the sheer complexity of it. All those different devices and platforms must be served from the same content engine, from the same algorithm engine, and from the same journalists who are curating the content. This is what we have built and manage.
It’s one content platform, and you see the same content — even the same headline — on all four platforms. But it will get more complicated when we add voice—and voice is coming. It’s very early in the market, and there are great text-to-speech engines around, but this is just the beginning. Some of our main challenges will be: How to deliver the most relevant content in the most convenient and appealing way to the audience? There are legal issues to solve and we have to consider ways to monetize most efficiently, of course.
Print media was disrupted by the Internet and mobile is disrupting online. Now voice is poised to disrupt everything we as an industry have known or done so far. The best preparation for a media company is to be paranoid. Watch everything, experiment everywhere and execute on the ideas with potential. It’s why we maintain and motivate a startup culture in our company determined to stay alert and always be open to drastic change. It’s better we disrupt ourselves from within than risk being disrupted by a trend or technology beyond our vision.
While America and its citizens are more diverse than ever before, the newsrooms representing them are still overwhelmingly white. In today’s political climate, the need to amplify a wide range of perspectives is of critical importance. We at the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, along with Google News Lab, the News Integrity Initiative, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies believe diversity in the newsroom is the future of digital media.
To support this ideal, we’ve launched the Maynard 200, a fellowship program that will train 200 diverse journalists in the next five years, focusing on three tracks: entrepreneurship, leadership, and storytelling. We will recruit participants to fill spots in each track. They will receive training as a whole cohort and get specialized training for their respective area of focus.
According to the 2017 American Society of News Editors Diversity Survey, the average newsroom workforce at all 661 legacy and digital sites polled was about 16.6 percent minority. For many of the journalists of color working at these outlets, the structures that were in place to support their professional development have been wiped out. Without professional development, this already too-small group is less likely to continue in their journalistic careers.
The Maynard 200 will combat this issue head on, by bringing journalists from varied but complementary backgrounds together to learn and build their networks. We envision Maynard 200 as the beginning of a movement of people of color who will articulate the value of diversity across media.
In the digital space, the situation is even more acute. Clear pathways to and through many new online outlets have never existed or are under resourced. Many of these outlets also suffer perception bias, which is the belief that simply because the outlet is staffed with younger more progressive thinkers, there isn’t a need to be intentional about addressing diversity.
We recognize that many of tomorrow’s journalism entrepreneurs and leaders of color now operate on their own, or as independent contractors, tasked with their own professional development and left to fend for themselves in finding mentors, supportive peers and access to capital. We also know that storytellers of all types seek to contribute to the narrative of their communities. These non-traditional voices don’t hail from top journalism programs. They may work for small independent outlets with little access to training or mentorship.
Impact Architects LLC, together with Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, developed a survey from November 2017 through February 2018 to be administered among journalists. The survey’s main goal was to identify challenges, needs, and desires of journalists to help inform the design and implementation of the Maynard 200 education initiative.
One of the most outstanding findings from this survey was the lack of mentorship and support for journalists. Of the 509 journalists surveyed, less than one quarter (23%) of respondents said they are currently receiving coaching or assistance from a mentor. Additionally, respondents were relatively evenly split as to whether their employer provides training opportunities, with half saying “no” (49%) and half saying “yes” (40%) or “unsure” (11%). More than half said that their employers don’t offer paid leave for participation in training, conferences, and/or workshops.
The Maynard Institute is uniquely positioned to serve these professionals and create a movement across the media. By offering training, networking, and professional support for young journalists of color, the Maynard 200 seeks to remind the media of the paramount importance of diversity, and expand their impact not only in the next five years, but for generations to come.
Yes, we see this program as a means to re-establish Maynard as a leader in the eyes of a new generation of media professionals. But it’s much bigger than us.
It’s about creating a movement, a rallying cry for journalists of color at a time when the integrity of journalists and journalism are under constant attack. It’s time for us to take action and support a more diverse media workforce so that the media can better reflect consumers and serve its vital role to inform the public.
About the authors
Evelyn Hsu is co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Prior to joining the Maynard Institute, she was a member of the faculty of the Poynter Institute, and before that, she was an associate director of the American Press Institute. She has worked as a reporter for The Washington Post and for the San Francisco Chronicle. She is a past national president of the Asian American Journalists Association.
Martin G. Reynolds is Co-Executive Director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education overseeing external affairs and fundraising. He also directs the Reveal Investigative Fellowships. Reynolds is the former editor-in-chief of The Oakland Tribune (CA), and was a lead editor on the Chauncey Bailey Project, formed to investigate the slaying of the former Oakland Post editor. Reynolds is a lead trainer for the Maynard Institute, focusing on cultural competency and community engagement. His journalism career spans two decades, and includes the co-founding of Oakland Voices, a community storytelling program that empowers residents to contribute to the narrative of their lives.
Today’s consumers expect brands to navigate the social media landscape more responsibly. A new Edelman Trust Barometer study shows that consumers across nine countries expect brands and marketers to think about content and context and to boycott certain environments when purchasing media. Consumers are aware of the influence advertisers have in the marketplace, given their impact on revenue. Edelman’s research shows that people lack confidence in social media and look to brands to leverage their influence to act on social media problems such as fake news and data integrity
Environment clearly matters, and brands are accountable for their choices. Nearly half of all consumers globally agree it is a brand’s own fault if its advertising appears next to hate speech. They also feel that the points of view that near a brand’s advertising and marketing messages are an indication of that brand’s values and what it stands for.
Additional findings from Edelman ‘s review of social media in 9 countries includes:
Only 40% (34% in the U.S.) trust that social media platforms will address fake news and hate speech.
60% (61% in the U.S.) report that they do not trust social media platforms to behave responsibly with user data.
40% (38% in the U.S) say they have deleted at least one social media account in the past year because they did not trust the platform to treat personal information properly.
Nearly two-thirds (62% and 48% in the U.S.) said that they want government to play a stronger role in regulating social media.
Importantly, consumers want brands to apply pressure on social platforms to protect them from inappropriate use of content and misuse of personal data. Nearly seventy percent of consumrs agree that brands should pressure social media to do more about false information and fake news and protect users from offensive/harmful content and to ensure personal data is protected and used ethically.
Consumers are demanding transparency and privacy protection from social platforms. However, they have little trust in them to fix these problems. And they clearly value the efforts that brands make to influence these issues. This represents an important time and opportunity for brand marketers to step in, act and enforce on behalf of the consumer. This with help rebuild trust in the media marketplace as well as in the brands that do so.
When it comes to content creation, B2B and B2C are a lot more alike than most publishers think.
The philosophical and practical distinctions between these two types of content developed over decades and publishers have come to view them as being so different that they can’t be managed or marketed jointly. Nothing could be further from the truth. The digital democratization of access to content means that B2B and B2C publishers are no longer targeting different audiences at different times. Instead, all content – regardless of topic – is in competition for the same audience.
The smartest strategy for both kinds of publishers is to reconcile the differences between the two and gain the benefits of learning from the best practices of each. Here are four ways to start thinking differently about the divide between B2B and B2C content so that you can build a content plan that leverages the pros and cons of each strategy.
B2C publishers consider readers to be “consumers” – not only of their content, but of the goods and services publishers are marketing. B2B marketers and content creators think of their audiences as entities: businesses, teams, or departments.
In the age of B2Me marketing, it’s time to start thinking of them – all of them – as people. Everyone who comes in contact with your content is a person with ideas, desires and problems. Content that helps inspire those ideas, stoke those desires and solve those problems will be relevant to all readers – whether they are watching a video on the couch on a Saturday afternoon or in the office reading an article about accounting software.
Luckily, your content is created by people who have a lot more in common with readers than you might think. Regardless of content format or subject matter, the first step in any content plan should be to encourage your writers and editors to focus first on who is reading and why. Thinking about the external impact content will have versus focusing on the internal process of creating it is the first step to building successful content strategies for both B2C and B2B.
Forget Selling. Start Relating
Once you start focusing on your audience early in the process, it will change the way you think about creating and delivering content. B2B content, in particular, has long been focused on marketing or selling rather than informing, educating and partnering with readers. When content is focused exclusively on customer acquisition, it’s a one-way conversation that offers little to the reader, but asks a lot in return.
In this way, B2B content creators need to get better at emulating B2C content strategies. Creating content that is relatable and engaging rather than promotional and focused exclusively on selling, builds relationships with readers first. Once you’ve established a bond with your audience that is based on first offering them something they need, you’ll be in a better position to start connecting in a way that is multi-directional and requires something of them in return.
B2C publishers, on the other hand, have a lot to learn from their B2B counterparts when it comes to creating content that is monetizable beyond traditional advertising and paywalls. B2B publishers have developed multi-stream revenue strategies that allow for content monetization across multiple platforms and at various stages in the buying process. B2C, on the other hand, rarely takes monetization opportunities into account early in the (non-native) content creation process. Too often, B2C sales teams are playing catch up trying to market and generate revenue from content after it’s complete, rather than partnering with content teams during the creation process.
B2B teams have taken the early lead on developing content creation processes that align editorial efforts and sales goals from the outset. The fear that too much input from advertisers will taint traditional editorial processes and impinge on journalistic freedom have resulted in an unwillingness to develop new ways of working together to identify your end-game and develop content designed to get you there.
Open Source Content
The next hurdle for both B2C and B2B publishers will be adapting to the post-expert age of content creation. No longer do readers care who is creating the content they’re consuming. An Amazon review often holds as much sway with readers as a carefully researched professional review. While expert-written, fact checked content is still essential, smart publishers on both sides of the business are finding ways to incorporate user generated content (UGC) directly into their strategy.
Commenting and social interaction are no longer enough to bridge the worlds of expert content and UGC. Instead, both B2C and B2B need to find ways to partner with amateur content creators and provide platforms for them to participate in the content creation process as part of the overall content strategy.
B2B has done that well with community content and crowd-sourced user reviews but struggles with integrating social media and building lasting relationships with outside contributors. B2C has done a great job leveraging social media and integrating it into content. However, building communities around key B2C media brands has been less successful.
In the age of proactive, publisher-driven content distribution we all need to learn from each other. Yes, today’s consumers seek out content they desire. But smart publishers are constantly on the lookout for ways to anticipate their needs and deliver the right content in the right channel. This shift in this content distribution dynamic will drive a continued evolution of digital content away from B2C and B2B distinctions and require both types of publishers to think more broadly by embracing as many of these strategies as possible.
About the author
Jeanette Mulvey loves telling small business stories. From hardware stores in Saskatchewan to fashion designers in Milan, she’s traveled the world learning what makes entrepreneurs tick and hearing their struggles. As VP of B2B Content at Purch, she is responsible for content and social media and for Business.com and BusinessNewsDaily, where she strives to ensure both sites are the go-to destination for small business advice and inspiration. Follow her on Twitter @JeanetteB2B
The idea that digital is the new TV is no longer just an idea, but a reality for many media consumers. A recent report from the measurement company Zenith predicts that next year will be the first year that internet usage globally will eclipse TV time; the same will be true in the U.S. by 2020.
However, that doesn’t mean linear TV — to pinpoint the old-fashioned kind of television programming long associated with the word “TV” — is heaving its last breath. Yes, scaling up against the tech behemoths like Google, Facebook, and Netflix, which are squeezing into the programming space, is a tall order. But linear TV companies can survive by accelerating innovation their own way. They must focus on targeted and addressable ads, emphasize brand safety, and become more like their streaming competition.
Deconstructing TV Advertising
Traditional 30-second commercials still have a place in U.S. television programming, particularly around high-profile events like the Super Bowl. However, alongside the growth of over-the-top television has been the tendency for people to skip over ads with the press of a button. As early as 2010, 86% of TV viewers skipped over ads while catching up on programming saved by their digital recorders. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are attractive in part because there is no advertising.
At least not in the form advertising blocks or commercial messages. But there is a less obvious form of advertising happening on streaming services more often than ever: the old-fashioned product placement. Whether show characters eat a certain kind of food or use a particular app, advertisers are working it to get their products writteninto storylines. KFC’s deal with Netflix to appear in “Stranger Things” is a clear example of product placement in action.
And the revenue makes the trend clear. While the actual number of product placements executed this year declined, the value of each integration has been increasing since 2009, according to Patrick Quinn, president of PQ Media. He predicts the U.S. product placement marketplace will exceed $10 billion this year, thanks largely to more valuable plot integrations — which, essentially, amounts to a more creative form of advertising. So, for linear TV to thrive, it will need to get even more clever with product placements and make them a bigger part of the mix.
Working the Data and Brand Safety
At the same time product placements are booming, and some advertisers are becoming less incentivized to spend money on the diminishing demographics tuning into traditional TV, digital has also had a leg up in another realm: targeted advertising. The wealth of data our digital footprints leave behind has made it easier to cater ads for the niche interests of an individual.
But that’s not to say there isn’t opportunity for cable providers to experiment with targeted ads as well; AT&T, for example, already sells addressable TV — the linear TV version of targeted advertising — through DirecTV, which it purchased a few years ago. With AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner finally approved, this is the chance for AT&T to up the ante and try to scale this up further. The telecom giant has already been working to build a team to focus on addressable ads.
Indeed, one of AT&T’s rationales when purchasing Time Warner was that it needed a bigger advertising platform to compete with the Facebook-Google duopoly. What it lacked prior to scale is what Time Warner can offer: inventory. The pool of content that Time Warner brings to AT&T’s ad platform gives it a fighting chance against Google’s dominant ad buying platform. While Google has had to deal with objectionable content appearing alongside adverts on YouTube, AT&T has the chance here to emphasize its brand safety. And that is what the company, and others, have been pointing out.
A (Realistic) Look to the Future
Still, even if addressable advertising presents a huge economic boost for linear TV — according to the investment bank Credit Suisse, it’s a potential $100 billion opportunity — that doesn’t mean anything AT&T wants to do will happen overnight. Aside from DirecTV and other apps in their own ecosystem, channels under the AT&T-Time Warner banner will have to work out deals with cable companies — which distribute the majority of Time Warner programs — if it wants to use AT&T’s data to beam ads to every house in the country.
While “audience-based” TV ad buying is growing, it’s still minuscule in comparison to traditional TV ads. It makes up only about 10 percent of total TV advertising, according to research from eMarketer. “In terms of the future, it continues to be much more of an addressable (data-driven digital) world as consumers go over-the-top, but that doesn’t mean traditional demographic targeting won’t still play a massive role in the TV advertising ecosystem,” Aleck Schleider, SVP of client and data strategy at the video advertising platform Videology, told Axios’ Sara Fischer. “Especially because the digital TV ad space is still so fragmented and demographic advertising is very unified.”
What’s more, it may very well be that TV commercials still have a future — but in a shorter form. A recent study by the Advertising Research Foundation found that six-second ads on broadcast and network TV capture more attention per second than standard 30-second commercials.
Bottom line: The best bet for linear TV companies is to forget about being linear TV companies and put digital innovation at the top of the priority list. Working toward quality addressable advertising is one way. So too is emphasizing the brand safety issues that tech giants are struggling with (while ensuring that there’s action behind the talk). And maybe the best bet is working to make advertising better, whether it’s with more creative ad integrations in network TV or shorter commercials to appeal to our ever-decreasing attention spans.
The 2016 election, Cambridge Analytica scandal, and GDPR represent a tidal shift in how the ad tech and digital media industry will monetize their audience moving forward. And it’s overdue. Demographic data doesn’t define a person’s identity. People define themselves by what matters to them, by their interests, hobbies, and values, and they show this in what they read about online.
As we talk about technology in the publishing industry, we should consider what kind of tech will move us towards monetization through context-based advertising. This protects data privacy, and has the potential to finally gain an advantage over the platforms where many digital advertising dollars have shifted.
Consumer mistrust of platforms
When consumers found out that Russia played a role in the 2016 election via bots on Twitter, propaganda on Facebook, and even local events in the U.S., we were forced rethink the role social media played in our community. Were they purely a platform? If so, to what degree did they need to police the content and users? Further, if they had so much knowledge about their users, why couldn’t they prevent a malicious influence like Russia from infiltrating their platform?
The Cambridge Analytica scandal certainly didn’t help this cause, and weekly stories break about Facebook continuing to acknowledge privacy and data issues. This has planted the seed of doubt about whether these platforms and the underlying data could be trusted—not just by the general public, but by the marketers who provide the revenue stream for Facebook.
New privacy-conscious controls for consumers
GDPR was borne out of a general concern that consumers had a lack of control and transparency around their digital data—data that bore the monetary fruits of now enormous companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. That data also created the massive ad tech industry that developed complex methods to personalize and optimize ad targeting to the point where most experts in the industry still don’t quite know how the ecosystem works.
GDPR, in some ways, marks a boon for platforms and the end of an era for the ad tech industry. Any platform that collects its own massive amount of first party data (like Facebook, Google, Twitter), can relatively easily get the consent of the population. Ad tech, though, faces the burden of getting consent through 3rd parties, where the value of giving consent was not only unclear but potentially non-existent. The type of re-targeting and personalization that was prevalent before will start to change under GDPR as publisher-direct relationships with consumers become increasingly important.
So where does this all lead, in terms of current industry trends? There’s no lack of interest in moving from a programmatic model to more of a subscription-based model. But most of the innovation and investment in digital tech has been focused on ad-tech, data collection. We need to simply “do better” from an advertiser and consumer perspective given these trends.
From the advertiser side, the credibility of their 3rd party data is eroding with GDPR. There are some publishers that are large enough (or are building collectives) to create their own first party pools of data. However, none of them can reach the scale or targeting capabilities of companies like Facebook and Google. Marketers know this, and if they want the best targeting they’ll still go to the duopoly.
That said, because consumer privacy is becoming top of mind for more and more people, marketers are also worried about the experience around ad campaigns they run. They want to create an experience that doesn’t creep people out (for lack of a better term). Interest- or context-based advertising, as a result is coming back into favor for the privacy-conscious brands and marketers.
Targeting ads based on consumers’ interests or the context of what they’re reading instead of their personal data benefits everyone involved. Consumers maintain their privacy and build trust publishers. Publishers can then pass on this trust to brands who want their consumers to know that they care about their privacy. And, publishers who are armed with the right contextual data can still provide an advertising experience that’s targeted, but doesn’t violate consumers’ concerns.
Not only does data around interests protect anonymity, but it speaks to the core of who people are. Marketers who try to understand what matters to their audience through attention data—the topics and stories they pay attention to online—will have a leg-up on connecting that audience with content and products that they want.
This year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report contains some signs of hope for the news industry. According to the report, “Change is in the air with many media companies shifting models towards higher quality content and more emphasis on reader payment.” However, as the report points out, these emerging trends are fragile, unevenly distributed, and are emerging in the wake of many years of digital disruption, which has undermined both consumer and publisher confidence.
Based on a YouGov survey conducted with 74,000 people in 37 countries, this is the seventh in an annual series of reports that track the transition of the news industry towards an increasingly digital and multi-platform future. Among the many challenges highlighted in the report is a low level of trust in the media in most countries and concerns about fake news. The business side continues to struggle despite a rise in reader revenue, as it has failed to offset continued declines in print and digital advertising revenue.
Here are 6 key takeaways from Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018:
The use of social media for news has started to fall in a number of key markets after years of continuous growth. Usage is down 6% in the United States and is also down in the UK and France.
Globally, the use of messaging apps for news is on the rise. WhatsApp is now used for news by around half of the sampled users in Malaysia (54%) and Brazil (48%) and by around third in Spain (36%) and Turkey (30%).
Across all countries, the average level of trust in the news in general remains relatively stable at 44%, with just over half (51%) agreeing that they trust the news media they themselves use most of the time.
By contrast, 34% of respondents say they trust news they find via search and fewer than a quarter (23%) say they trust the news they find in social media.
Last year’s significant increase in subscription in the United States (the “Trump Bump”) has been maintained. The average number of people paying for online news has edged up in many countries, with significant increases coming from Norway (+4 percentage points), Sweden (+6), and Finland (+4).
Privacy concerns have reignited the growth in ad-blocking software. More than a quarter of consumers now block on any device (27%). More than four in ten (42%) now use blockers in Greece (+6) with significant increases in Germany (+5) and the United States (+4).
The report concludes that the many changes this year serve as a reminder that things that once seemed certain (such as the importance of Facebook and the online advertising model) can quickly shift. The entire space continues to rapidly evolve, with technologies like voice-activated interfaces and artificial intelligence are on the rise, which will bring new opportunities as well as challenges. While the future of news remains uncertain, the report does provide hope that quality content will be increasingly rewarded in the future.
These days, it’s hard to trust any tech company with your personal data. Between hacking, leaks, misuse, and unfettered tracking, you can’t blame consumers for being more than a little wary. Sure, companies use our information for lots of reasons. However, when you compare two tech giants – Facebook and Apple – there are distinct differences in their approaches to collecting and using personal information. And the distinction says a lot about building a business model based on devouring data.
Their diverging approaches could be written off to business model differences. Facebook sells access to a massive data set to serve up ads to granular groups of people that meet advertising objectives. Apple’s goal is to sell hardware and use data to customize your experience. While plenty of people don’t trust either company, it is interesting and illuminating to contrast the two systems.
Right on Cue
Eddie Cue set out to do just that when hewasinterviewedbyDylanByers on stage at South by Southwest in March. He sees a big difference between how his company approaches privacy and those from other companies like Facebook and Google because of what he sees as the fundamental difference in how they make money.
“We’re not collecting a ton of information about you, where you are, what you do, etc.. We are really not interested in it in most cases. When we do, we keep the minimal amount that we need in order to do exactly what we tell you we are going to do with it. We don’t make our money off of advertising,” Cue said in March.
Apple emphasized user privacy long before its rivals did. The company built end-to-end encryption into iMessage and FaceTime from their inception. Apple also makes it exceptionally easy to encrypt your entire hard drive; in fact, this is a core feature of the Mac laptop operating system. And Apple Pay is designed in way that really enhances privacy—by not storing actual credit card information on users’ phones or computers and instead using one-way encryption for payments.
Ben Goodman, vice president of Global strategy at identity management firm, ForgeRock sees Facebook as more like television network than a hardware company. He believes that this accounts for the differences in the way they approach privacy.
“There is a misconception that Facebook is selling our personal data. In reality, Facebook is collecting data to enable high levels of personalization and targeting in advertising. When you view their data privacy through those lenses, it is easy to understand why Apple prioritizes privacy by not having personal information leaving the device; meanwhile, Facebook wants users to be comfortable with sharing as much personal data as possible,” Goodman said.
Certainly Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged inhispreparedstatementbeforetheU.S. Congress earlier this year that his company needed to be more careful with user data on the platform. ‘But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy,” he told Congress in April.
That’s not to say that Apple doesn’t get questioned about its approach to privacy even as it tells people how much better it is. Cue’s boss Tim Cook was more than happy to danceonFacebook‘smisfortune when its privacy woes surfaced earlier this year. Cook said that what differentiated them from the others (besides what Cue had articulated at SxSW) was encryption, not allowing sensitive data to leave the device, and collecting less information than everyone else.
But when Apple released the iPhone X last year and with it brought 3D face recognition to the device, itdidraiseprivacyconcerns, especially since that was being shared with some third-party apps on-device. (How do you think you can make that personalized animatedpoopemoji?)
Then, at the most recent WWDC keynote, Apple introduced in-browser Safari tools toblockFacebooktracking. Apple software executive Craig Federighi pointed out that Facebook Like buttons and comment fields on a web page can be used to track you whether you click on them or not. Starting in the next version of Safari, you can choose whether you want to allow that or not from a warning box that pops up whenever these entities are on a page you are viewing.
Just this week, the company updated its App Store guidelines in a move aBloombergreport suggests could be directed at a Facebook book app called Onavo Protect. “The iPhone maker’s updated App Store Review Guidelines ban applications that “collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/ marketing.” This could give Apple grounds to remove the Onavo app, although the software is still available despite the rules kicking in last week,” according to the Bloomberg report.
Of course, GDPR is forcing everyone’s hand to at least some extent as the EU implements a new set of regulations designed to put the user in control of his or her own data. Other countries including the U.S. might not be far behind.
As Cue pointed out, attitudes have shifted about privacy, but Apple feels it was ahead of the curve. “If you look over the last 10 years, when we started talking about privacy and security and all these things, they weren’t top of mind, and in a way most people were [thinking] ‘Who cares?’ It wasn’t that important, but now people realize the importance of it and what the ramifications of it are,” he said.
And as consumers see how some companies have been misusing their data, they are beginning to compare the privacy records of the biggest tech players. And perhaps they are seeing that while none has a perfect record, they may not all be equally bad either. As consumers decide who to trust, who to do business with, and who to block, companies will need to do more than comply with regulation. They’ll need to develop a strategic approach to data, and business, that respects consumers’ privacy expectations.