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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

With advertising rocked, it’s a good time to revisit fundamentals

June 10, 2020 | By Tim Bourgeois — Digital Media Auditor and Consultant @ChiefDigOfficer

Even during tumultuous times, foundational principles persist. Indeed, the tried-and-true techniques we know to be reliable — best practices, if you will — can be most useful during times of upheaval. This is particularly true when it’s difficult to make sense of what’s happening around us. 

To wit: in recent months I’ve tried to keep my elementary school-aged children in check by focusing on the basics. Maintaining bed times, good hygiene and regular exercise has been a constant struggle. But I’d like to think these guardrails have helped to keep the train from careering off-the-tracks. 

Comparing parenting to the advertising industry is absurd at face value. But the concept of best practices and fundamentals is not. It’s possible conditions have bottomed-out for the media and marketing category. Really, the only thing we know for sure is that we’ll be facing uncertain business conditions for many months and possibly years

Here are some ideas that might help with navigating the bumpy terrain and making it successfully to the other side. 

Stay top-of-mind with important audiences

It’s human nature to search for safe cover in the face of a crisis and wait until it passes before getting back into the fray. And that’s certainly what a lot of brands are doing when it comes to their advertising budgets right now. But it’s not sustainable over the long haul. The silver lining of lockdowns and restricted movement policies is more time for human connections (via digital platforms, that is). Find reasons to regularly make contact with important people in your network — customers, prospects, employees. Be a resource, for new ideas, as a sounding board, or just sharing a funny story or video. 

Next steps: Develop a “nifty-fifty’” list of the people important to you and design a communications strategy for outreach. 

Audit, assess, and improve

The last place most of us look for improvement possibilities is internally, but it’s a good place to start. Big publishers, in particular, have hidden gems in the form of underperforming — or just abandoned — digital properties that can be resuscitated with modest effort. Once identified, use our guide — How To Maximize The Value Of Digital Properties — to drive performance gains. Remember: content is king on the internet, even old content that might have been forgotten. 

Next steps: Get together with a colleague and make a list of the websites your company has launched over the past 10 years and assign them a status – dead, dormant or in-market. It won’t take long and you might be surprised at what you find. 

Be generous

It’s difficult to be generous when resources are scarce, but it’s also an opportunity to stand out. In a business context, “generous” has a lot of different meanings. For publishers, making excess ad inventory available for free to longtime customers or hot prospects is one way. Providing complementary, limited time subscriptions to products is another. I know of several companies that armed their sales teams with freebies to offer in April. It has paid huge dividends in May and June — in the form of market share and long-term competitive advantage. And then there’s always straight-up gift giving: one of my colleagues found a way to delight one his most important audiences that cost a few hundred dollars and will deliver goodwill for years to come.  

Next steps: Figure out what your organization is able to part with for free and who would benefit the most from its acquisition. 

Retool for success

When the economy does finally rebound, publishers will still need to wrestle with legacy challenges — mainly, how to compete effectively against Facebook and Google. We’ve addressed this topic in past postings, and many of the same recommendations still apply: make it easier to buy products, emphasize unique brand strengths, and help media buyers track and communicate their successes in a more meaningful way. At the same time, ground continues to shift underneath the duopoly and social media platforms. And there’s a steady drumbeat of opposition and concern about their policies, which will only intensify in the leadup to the November 2020 elections. 

Next steps: Make it an organizational priority to further plans for competing more effectively against Facebook and Google. Publishers need to be front-and-center with media buyers when advertising levels return, and conditions could be more favorable than anytime over the past decade given the state of media and politics.  

There’s no debate about the enormous challenges that the media, marketing, and advertising industries will continue to face through at least the remainder of 2020 and likely longer. But, assuming that existing the business altogether is not the goal, publishers must make well-calculated moves to adjust and ultimately thrive. Some actions will be subtle and geared towards incremental progress. Others will need to be more aggressive, either for reasons of survival or to take advantage of unique market conditions. 

About the author

Tim Bourgeois is a marketing advisor who helps brands optimize ROI on advertising, technology and agency investments through digital marketing audits and strategy engagements.

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