Covid-19 has affected everyone and everything. Health, work, relationships, education, dining, shipping, and shopping … every aspect of our lives has been impacted. And, according to Accenture research, this impact will leave an indelible mark on consumer behavior, particularly when it comes to how and with whom people spend their money.
In its report, “How COVID-19 will permanently change consumer behavior,” Accenture points out that the pandemic is reshaping industries in real time, “rapidly accelerating long-term underlying trends in the space of mere weeks.” And consumers are struggling to figure out how to shift many activities to digital alternatives.
Though some businesses are beginning to resume offline operations, many are holding off. And even when health officials and governments give the green light, many consumers will be hesitant to resume business as usual. But even more significantly, this experience will have accelerated and transformed many consumer behaviors.
Accenture has defined five new types of consumers, based upon the way in which they are responding to the crisis.
The Worrier (21%)
The Individualist (33%)
The Rationalist (39%)
The Activist (8%)
The Indifferent (11%)
Because consumer response to the pandemic varies widely, Accenture says that “the days of one-size-fits-all marketing are over.” Thus, companies will need to understand how different segments of their consumer base are reacting and develop customized and personalized marketing strategies for each type of consumer.
According to Accenture, the virus has accelerated three long-term trends:
1. The ever-increasing focus on health
Brands should heed this change and make it a priority to support healthy lifestyles for consumers, shoppers and employees. Having a “health strategy” will be a strategic differentiator in the foreseeable future.
2. A rise in conscious consumption
Consumers are more mindful of what they’re buying. They are striving to limit food waste, shop more cost-consciously, and buy sustainable options. Brands will need to make this a key part of their offerings (for example, by exploring new business models and caring for their own employees).
3. Growing love for local
The desire to shop local is reflected in both the products consumer buy (for example, locally sourced, artisanal) and the way they shop (for example, supporting community stores). Companies will need to explore ways to connect locally. This might be through highlighting local provenance, customizing for local needs or engaging in locally relevant ways.
Undoubtedly, ecommerce adoption has been one of the clearest trends accelerated by the pandemic. Accenture found that one in five consumers who ordered their last groceries online did so for the first time—but for consumers aged 56 years and above, this was one in three. The trend toward digital commerce is expected to continue even once businesses reopen. Consumers report that the proportion of instances they shop online will increase from 32% to 37% after the outbreak, illustrating the clear need for a substantial increased investment in this channel.
Time well spent
Many people will continue to work from home and travel less for the foreseeable future. Thus, offerings that keep them connected and improve their home-based experiences will be highly valuable. As parents and educators look toward the possibility of remote education becoming part of the standard curriculum, technological and informational tools that facilitate remote learning will be highly appealing.
Leisure pastimes have also significantly shifted. Accenture believes that the changes will cause long-lasting, or even permanent effects. According to the report, more than half (61%) plan to continue watching more news after the outbreak, while 55% will prioritize more time with the family. Entertainment, learning, and DIY have also seen a rise.
Covid-19 is a health and economic crisis that has a sustainable impact on consumer attitudes, behaviors, and purchasing habits. Companies need to pay close attention to their consumers’ evolving expectations and changing behavior in order to effectively serve them, and market to them.
The unprecedented events of 2020 have thrust brand safety into the spotlight yet again. As the digital advertising industry grapples with uncertainty, publishers and advertisers must wrestle with the challenges of a news cycle that’s dominated by a single, risky topic.
Web traffic is surging. However, news and media sites have been unable to turn those record levels of engagement into ad revenue. In part, this is because advertisers don’t have the tools in place to confidently navigate through the challenging content ecosystem.
Among other things, increased uncertainty has led to a growing chorus of advertisers questioning the limitations of traditional brand safety approaches, like keyword blacklists. They are also asking what else can be done to assure brands that their ads won’t appear in unsafe environments.
The answer to such questions may lie in the evolution of brand safety from a one-size-fits-all content ban into a more nuanced approach focused on brand suitability. “Brand safety” has dominated the conversation in digital advertising circles for years. However, “brand suitability” is nascent—having only recently entered the vernacular.
Brand safe, but risky business
Brand safety focuses on marketers’ need to prevent their ads from appearing alongside problematic or inappropriate content. Historically, it used a heavy-handed approach to block ads from appearing near content using certain terms. This was based on keyword blocking and URL blacklisting. What has become increasingly apparent is that those old-school tactics don’t offer the flexibility of customization and control that modern marketers need to safely advertise in today’s programmatic market.
Brand safety roared into public view in 2017. With numerous high-profile incidents involving ads from major brands, marketers everywhere quickly understood the impact of lax brand safety strategies on brand equity. The enormous risk and ensuing cost—both in revenue and brand image—was finally appreciated across the supply chain. From that point on, brand safety became a common discussion among marketers and publishers.
But things have progressed significantly since then. And the pitfalls of blocking specific keywords and whole URLs are glaring. The main problem with blacklisting based on exact matching keywords is that it misses one vital ingredient—context. Context is critical when defining suitable inventory versus isolating damaging content. Without context, the full meaning of the page is determined by a single word. However, that word could have various definitions and interpretations based on the broader story that’s written.
Consider the word “shot” as an example. An advertiser’s first reaction might be to block any content mentioning it due to the word’s association with firearms or injury. However, “shot” is also a word used in the context of healthcare (flu shot), sports (jump shot or chip shot), technology (moon shot), and photography (camera shot).
The same is true for “dead”—a word blacklist providers say is often the number one blocked term by advertisers. It might seem like an obvious choice for a blacklist. But blocking content associated with the word “dead” eliminates inventory associated with the hit TV show The Walking Dead, and popular movies such as Deadpool. Beyond that, pages featuring similar words like “dead heat”, “dead-pan”, “dead tired”, “dead lift”, and “dead zone” would also be blocked. This removes vast inventory (and potentially valuable placements) from the advertiser’s bid.
Words without context are a clumsy and ineffective filter to use for determining brand appropriate inventory. That’s why traditional brand safety tactics are largely ineffective.
The shift to brand suitability
Brand suitability is the logical evolution of brand safety. Where traditional brand safety tools rely on cookie-cutter approaches to avoid unsafe or inappropriate content, brand suitability is more nuanced. Brand suitability identifies the advertising environments that will help digital campaigns drive outcomes for the business and uses individual brand profiles, market research insights, and strategic positioning to find and target specific environments for advertising.
Publishers have played—and will continue to play—a monumental role in the shift from brand safety to brand suitability, due to the simple fact that they are disproportionately affected by the use of blacklisting and keyword blocking. These outdated tactics can limit audiences and scale for advertisers. And they rarely offer the robust protection modern brands need, so the impact can be severe.
The impact on publishers
Broad blacklisting and keyword blocking mean publishers cannot monetize their inventory in its entirety. Incorrect categorizations and over-blocking often mean that relevant and high-value impressions are lost along with the associated revenue. Compounding the effect of this is the fact that publishers are already operating in a cluttered, hyper-competitive online environment. Even if only a small percentage of content is blocked or incorrectly categorized as unsafe and removed from the bid, it can have a devastating effect.
The implications can extend far beyond missed revenue opportunities for individual publishers. Over-blocking and blacklisting can leave a lasting impact on the broader media and publishing industry. Advertising dollars being funneled away from reputable news and content sources also open up the door for content farms, low-quality journalism, and intellectual property theft, as fringe publishers try to game the system.
A better way
Advertisers want their messages seen by receptive audiences who have a positive contextual association. And along the way, their work can help fund reputable news organizations and publishers. It’s doubtful that any advertisers’ goal is to inadvertently penalize media organizations for covering current events and providing essential content to their audiences. While there will always be high-risk content that’s not appropriate for all advertisers, a blanket, keyword-centric approach is not the answer.
Brand suitability can help bridge that divide. It provides rigorous context-based protections for advertisers from appearing near unsafe, illegal, or inappropriate content. It also green lights significant inventory that is safe and suitable for most advertisers. Shifting to a brand suitability approach enables advertisers to confidently navigate the online news cycle. And, importantly, it helps publishers fully monetize their inventory, so the health of the advertising, news, and media industries is maintained well into the future.
In the current environment, the brand safety and suitability tactics used by advertisers are prompting debate within the industry. Many marketers, themselves impacted, are adjusting their strategies, halting or reducing investment, and tightening their risk tolerance. The result has caused a ripple effect across the publishing industry that underscores the vital role that advertisers play in supporting a free and independent press. Our society is dependent on high quality, factually sourced journalism. And the outlets producing this information are essential to keeping our public both safe and informed.
Advertisers, concerned about appearing adjacent to COVID-19 content, may resort to highly restrictive brand safety practices. Publishers, in turn, are concerned about the balance between editorial integrity and the bottom line. Here’s how both sides can align:
Publishers should seek a direct dialogue with their agency and advertiser partners. It is imperative that lines of communication are open. It is also important that buyers clearly establish and convey their brand’s suitability strategies and concerns. Mutual understanding of a brand’s perspective will open up opportunities for buyers to leverage the unique combination of content and audience engagement that only a premium publisher can provide.
Education and communication are first and foremost right now. We’re in a climate of misunderstanding when it comes to the strategies that brands and agencies are employing. Fundamental knowledge of the varying technologies, how they’re applied, and most importantly, how that aligns with the content where advertisers want their ads to appear is paramount.
For example, keyword blocking has been a part of the brand safety narrative for years. And It has been thrust into the spotlight amid the current crisis. Industry professionals now wonder about the impact of overblocking on impression volumes. And there’s understandable concern about how this type of approach can affect publishers.
Keyword blocking has value if used in careful moderation. However, it’s important to remind advertisers that the practice is just one piece of the puzzle. Advertisers should frequently revisit and scrub keyword lists to ensure that scale is not restricted by an ever-increasing list of outdated terms. Another valuable reminder for advertisers: use whitelists. In the same way that keyword lists should be frequently assessed, whitelists should be actively employed and reviewed to make sure that trusted sites are included.
Content categories are a great way to ensure that advertisers aren’t approaching brand suitability binarily. Instead, they must evaluate topics for appropriateness with different levels of tolerance. Finally, the increasing use of cognitive semantic technologies will also benefit publishers. By enabling marketers to only advertise in contexts that align positively with their brand values and allowing for greater flexibility, this technology opens up valuable opportunities to connect with consumers that might otherwise have been lost due to standard blocking practices
Verification technology is a powerful tool and has come a long way in the last decade. With solutions now leveraging machine learning and contextual, semantic technology, marketers can now elevate brand suitability strategies to reach consumers in thoughtful, appropriate ways without alienating publisher partners.
The shift toward cognitive semantic technologies, specifically, paired with increasingly sophisticated machine learning models provides marketers with greater flexibility. This allows for more nuanced, nimble approaches to address brand suitability. Contextual targeting works by taking a deeper look at the content on a given page and assessing its suitability based on the topics covered, whether the tone is negative or positive, and which emotions are conveyed. Evolving verification technologies help marketers protect their brands from unsuitable content. They also grant them the flexibility to reach consumers in the right places without limiting scale and negatively impacting publishers.
In times of uncertainty, it’s common to see marketers react reflexively and conservatively, with rapid adjustments in strategy. Although this approach is understandable, it bears potential side effects for publishers who see unexpected decreases in advertising. Technological advancements only help when publishers and advertisers bridge the gap and collaborate.
Recent initiatives, such as the 4A’s APB Brand Suitability Working Group for Trusted News Environments, have marked an effort by industry members to take further steps toward collaboration in hopes of aligning all players toward common goals. Anyone can understand that marketers want to avoid content that’s unsuitable for their brand values. But working together is necessary to underscore the importance of premium news and a free press.
It’s not news that we’re in uncharted territory. Covid-19 has shut down entire countries and the impact on our daily lives is unprecedented. For marketers, there’s uncertainty and fear. Many are wondering, “Should we be advertising at all during this time? And if so, “What type of messages and content are consumers are going to be receptive to?” For those in the former group, indications are clear: You should be afraid of going dark.
In a pre-Covid-19 world, marketers faced plenty of challenges in creating breakthrough marketing that reaches consumers, impacts their behaviors, and ultimately results in increases for their businesses. In Kantar’s Getting Media Right study (Oct 2019), 47% of advertisers polled indicated that they weren’t confident their organization is able to integrate multiple data sources to produce actionable insights. This indicates that even in “normal” times, it’s difficult to be successful.
And in fact, some industries are on the rise and spending more than this time last year, such as household supplies. This category includes products like batteries, paper goods and cleaning products, which have become some of the most crucial items in our “shelter in place” environment.
Brands are still advertising, but with adjusted or revamped messaging. In certain verticals, advertisers are beginning to reinvest dollars in media, most notably: household supplies, pharma, automotive, and consumables. Seeing this ad spend growth holds the promise of working toward a recovery.
Consumers are listening
And consumers want to hear from brands right now too. Research out of Kantar’s Covid-19 Barometer from March indicates that only 6% of Americans surveyed say brands should stop advertising. Additionally, around 80% of those surveyed want advertisers to continue communicating in an educational and encouraging way, without exploiting the crisis.
Kantar’s Link™ database has shown that when an ad connects with people through emotions and makes them “feel good.” This, in turn, helps drive preference and choice at the time of purchase. Ads that appeal emotionally and authentically are more likely to result in increased short-term sales and long-term brand equity.
In support against going dark during this time is the simple fact that audiences are spending more time with media and content than ever before – especially those which can be consumed at home. In the past month, consumers indicated 30%+ increases in TV and TV On-demand/streaming and 26% increase in online video consumption.
Connecting with consumers
Advertisers have an opportunity to expand into platforms where consumers are spending more time. So, they need to retool planning and funnel media dollars into these channels. Those who are ahead of their peers, having increased budget and optimized content to emotionally support their audiences, are beginning to expand into premium channels and platforms – like OTT – where they can effectively target more niche audiences. On average, premium online video is nearly 50% more impactful for brands than standard online media. Streaming and over-the-top content can also help drive measures like brand awareness and key message associations at nearly twice the average.
More time, more attention – more opportunities to connect with consumers, even if the sale isn’t immediate. Now is the time to grow relationships and lay the groundwork for future prosperity. Over 80% of marketers recognize the need to consider ROI as a mix of both short-term (sales) and long-term (brand). However, only 54% actually measure a mix, with a large portion – 38% – focused primarily on short-term as an indication of success (Source: Kantar’s Getting Media Right, Oct 2019). At a time like this, that may not be realistic for all industries, so consider how best to measure the effectiveness of your efforts.
It’s true, it’s a scary time. It’s easy to let fear and uncertainty take hold and influence decision-making. But, if you can overcome that fear, peel back the curtain and let in the light, you don’t need to be afraid of the dark.
As we approach Q2, we know that advertising spend is going to look dramatically different than it did in 2019. In large part, this will be part of the aftermath of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which includes nationwide shutdowns and disruptions to businesses. Here at MediaRadar we dug into our most recent advertising spend insights, as well as an analysis of Q2 2019, to better understand what is happening – and what is at stake in the coming months.
Our deep dive revealed that some industries under
duress will likely adjust their advertising spend, or have already begun to do
so. Others, however, are seeing their businesses flourish and are marketing
aggressively to take advantage.
Industries “at risk”
While all types of businesses are being impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, some industries are certainly getting the short end of the stick. Last year, in Q2 alone, more than $31B was spent on advertising across all media formats, and over 205k unique brands ran ads. When looking at industries that appear to be the most “at-risk” due to the impact of Covid-19 (restaurants and bars, films, lodging, US tourism, cruises, airlines, auto dealerships, foreign tourism and movie theaters) we saw that last year, these industries had about 12.5k brands advertising, collectively spending just over $2.6B on advertising in Q2 2019.
Restaurants and bars
The largest category in that group, in terms of advertising spend, is restaurants and bars. Last year in Q2 over 4.5K brands advertised, spending about $1.2B on advertising. The majority of this spend (91%) came from major chains, such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King. Now, as dine-in restaurants and bars are being ordered to close or shift to take-out/delivery only across the US, this industry is facing hardship. This crisis will not only change how restaurants do business, but how they promote products, too.
McDonald’s has already closed its dining rooms and moved all of its services to takeout. Other major chains have done the same. These businesses are not immune to the impact of coronavirus. However, they are also not at risk of going under like smaller local eateries. Instead, Charley Grant at the Wall Street Journal predicts they’re likely to take up even more of the market share after this is over as they will have the ability to rebound in a less-saturated market.
We have not yet seen any shifts in advertising
spend from these large chains, although we are seeing the first wave of brands
shifting their messaging. We’ve seen Outback Steakhouse and Panera Bread are
promoting their delivery capabilities, while Dunkin has shifted its marketing
to support their line of home-products like Dunkin K-Cups, Creamers, Coffee
Travel and tourism
While restaurants can temporarily pivot to
take-out and delivery, the travel industry, including lodging, US tourism,
cruises and airlines, are facing true hardships. In Q2 of 2019, the advertising
spend of these categories was about $850M, combined.
In terms of companies withdrawing advertising
spend, we will be keeping an eye on airlines, in particular. During Q2 of last
year, 72% of their budgets were spent on digital advertising, a format that is
bought – and canceled – on the shortest of notice. So far, the travel industry
has reduced its advertising spend with spending cuts starting mid-February of
2020. Comparing the first week of February 2020 to the first week of March
2020, we saw the travel industry decrease advertising spend by 30%.
Ads on the rise
While there are certainly businesses suffering due to the changes Covid-19 has brought to our economy, others will benefit from millions of Americans staying home for weeks on end. We analyzed a few of them to see how their marketing has changed in recent weeks.
streaming services have already seen how quarantines abroad have impacted their
business. For example, during the first week of quarantine in Italy, downloads
of Amazon Prime Video increased over 2x
when compared to the week prior. Meanwhile, Netflix downloads saw a 60% increase
in the same time period.
Armed with that knowledge, streaming services were quick to adjust their marketing strategies once Covid-19 began impacting daily life in the US. According to our analysis, streaming services increased their own ad spend by 155% WoW during the first week of March. Looking at the first week of March YoY, it was a 34% increase in ad spending. Two advertisers during this surge, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, spent $29M in advertising in just the first half of March 2020. That is 16% more than they spent during the entire month of February.
industry is also fully aware that many Americans will be spending much more of
their disposable income online in the coming weeks. Based on our data, in just
one month, eCommerce sites have doubled ad spend, jumping from $4.8M during the
week of February 17th to $9.6M in the week of March 9th.
e-commerce sites should be aggressive in the market right now, as it’s not only
good for business but, more importantly, it’s good for the economy. For
example, on Amazon roughly 50% of all
sales are from third party sellers, many of which are small businesses.
Furthermore, the company has announced they will hire an
additional 100,000 employees, explicitly inviting those who were
recently let go in the retail and food service industries to apply for one of
its open jobs.
Everyday there are heavy developments and news surrounding the Covid-19 crisis and its wide-ranging impact across nearly every industry. And, as the country grapples with the realities of the pandemic, brands are faced with the question of whether or not they should increase ad spend due to larger audiences spending more time at home, or decrease spending as a way to cut their own costs. Our study underscores that there is not one answer, and brands are moving in both directions as the pandemic continues to affect life across the country.
Every company today, regardless of industry, is a digital company. This has to be the case for a company to survive in the connected age.
What this means is that every company has an abundance of data. However, some just aren’t using it to the fullest advantage. That’s one of the reasons many companies choose third-party partners to help them wade through it and strategize a path toward stronger customer engagement.
So what have you got?
The first step to successfully reaching new customers and retaining current ones is by analyzing the data you have. What are current customers interested in? Does one age group, gender or economic background dominate the current customer base? What values and features appeal to them, and which ones don’t? How do they want to receive their information, and why?
One thing that insights provided by data analysis can do is help a company better tell its story. For example, when Proctor & Gamble’s Febreeze originally launched, it was a failure. So P&G hired a researcher from Harvard Business School to help them sort through their data and create new data by interviewing potential customers.
They discovered that the people who needed the product most had no idea they needed it, because they had gotten so used to their odors. With this knowledge, they adjusted their messaging, promoting Febreeze as a kind of “finishing touch” product you use after cleaning a room. Their new advertisements were incredibly successful.
So what do you need?
In other instances, new data forces companies to completely overhaul their digital infrastructure and find new ways to engage their audiences. This was our experience working with PBS in 2009. The data showed the company that users were moving away from broadcast television and towards web-based programming and content.
This posed a particular problem for PBS: The organization was spread out across 187 different member stations, and many of those stations had started to build out their own online viewing experiences. PBS needed a backbone – one strong enough to keep together different kinds of content, different mediums and different platforms.
So that’s what we did. We created a fully digital ecosystem that incorporated content from PBS and PBS Kids and built APIs that transmitted that content to iPads, set-top boxes, and smartphones across the country. As a result, PBS saw a huge spike in engagement. The PBS and PBS Kids app boast over 58 million downloads and their platforms stream hundreds of millions of videos each month.
Significantly, this new digital-first approach enabled the organization to generate even more insights that drove content and strengthened programming. But these huge changes all emerged from that core, data-driven insight. Without it, PBS would have floundered.
Real insights drive results
It’s important to note that not all data is relevant – it’s about knowing what the right data is in a data-saturated era. Data only matters if it gives insights into the people a company is trying to connect with. Then, this data has to be leveraged to communicate with customers in a memorable way. Too many people find their attention divided among multiple phones, laptops, channels, and platforms.
As we enter this new decade, take advantage of these key digital tools, but remember that even the most cutting-edge innovations aren’t what make a sale. It’s knowing who people are and helping them envision who they can be.
About the author
Jessica Hall is vice president of product strategy and design at 3Pillar Global and the co-author of The Product Mindset: Succeed in the Digital Economy by Changing the Way Your Organization Thinks.
Marketers know that thought leadership is an important part of a strategy to build awareness and trust, and to help their companies get a seat at the table. But until now, they have had a hard time proving it. The reality is that marketers are under pressure from all sides to prove their contributions to the bottom line.
After years of talking to clients about their challenges, Rob Mitchell, CEO of Longitude and Chairman of Thought Leadership Network, says he saw a gap in the market for a network devoted to promoting thought leadership as a career and to promote best practices. Thus, TLN was born, to bring “together thought leadership practitioners to share knowledge, experiences, and ideas.”
Mitchell thinks of TLN’s mission as “Thought leadership about thought leadership.”
Tia McPhee, Global Brand Director of The Financial Times and a Thought Leadership Network advisory board member says that she hopes the group’s annual slate of events allows thought leaders to learn from and support one another. But as the group started coming together, it was clear there was one challenge members were struggling with more than any other: measuring the effectiveness of thought leadership.
What is thought leadership?
The term “thought leadership” is familiar. However, defining it is difficult. Some might say, “You know it when you see it.” But in the age of content marketing—when every company is pumping out content—it can be even harder to separate real thought leadership from more run of the mill content marketing efforts.
“Content marketing can be part of a strategy to develop yourself as a thought leader,” says McPhee. She adds that content marketing is really the “delivery mechanism.”
“Good thought leadership starts with the strength of the ideas,” says Mitchell. To be a true thought leader, you need an original idea. Content marketing is just the avenue through which you deliver that idea.
What’s the goal?
More importantly, content marketing often focuses on short-term engagement metrics—think downloads and clicks. However, TLN’s research shows that the key to measuring the effectiveness of thought leadership is all about taking a long-term view.
When thinking about thought leadership efforts, it’s important to understand what this branch of marketing is really designed to do. According to the report, campaigns can do three things:
Reimagine—Pivot the business to a new reality.
Renovate—Build on past successes and move into new areas that will attract attention from both new and existing customers.
Reinforce—Strengthen customer loyalty and retention for existing, mature products and services.
But the question remains: How do you know if you’re achieving those goals?
A measurement framework
In order to help TLN members better prove the value of their work, the group has compiled a report that details the metrics that matter most, six principles of effective measurement, and provides a checklist to make sure efforts align with business goals. Mitchell says the report is the result of “trying to distill” his years of experience, combined with primary research—speaking to clients and advisory board members—and even bringing in outside experts to get a new perspective.
“Alignment” is the foundation of the three-tier effectiveness model presented in the report. “It is all about ensuring that there is buy-in from every relevant function in the business, as well as agreement about the overall goals,” says the report.
Next, you have to take a look at engagement, though Mitchell warns against putting too much weight on short-term metrics. He wants to “shift the focus a little bit.” Mitchell says, “Right now we measure what’s easy to measure.”
He sees a need for a “shift toward alignment, influence, and impact.” Mitchell suggests spending 40% of your time tracking alignment, 40% on impact, and 20% on engagement. Ask yourself, are you changing behavior? That’s how you really know you’re having an effect on customers.
“These longer-term metrics are harder to measure,” says Mitchell. And therein lies the challenge. In order to determine if your thought leadership is moving the needle on influence and impact you need to track whether your perception of expertise is increasing, customer lifetime value (CLV), meetings generated, and profitability. You’ll also want to understand how your content is contributing to the marketing pipeline and generating qualified leads.
Reading that list may have you scratching your head. Really, how do you know how your expertise is perceived? Can you really know how many meetings your thought leadership campaigns have generated?
Admittedly, the “influence and impact” metrics are the hardest to track. They will require that you invest in customer surveys and other in-depth outreach efforts that go beyond simple engagement efforts. However, Mitchell and McPhee promise that putting in the effort to track these numbers will go a long way to understanding your effectiveness.
Ultimately, says McPhee, TLN and the report give you “the tools to make your case.”
“Tribal subscription marketing”
But for publishers like The Financial Times, thought leadership is a slightly different animal than it is for other brands. After all, McPhee asks, what are you doing as a publisher if you aren’t regularly putting out interesting new ideas? Good journalism isn’t necessarily the same as thought leadership. But publishers are embracing the practice as a way to build loyalty and enhance CLV.
For instance, The FT launched its New Agenda which McPhee describes as “a rallying cry to business leaders to think about responsible capitalism.” In practice, it’s a collection of the publishers’ best pieces around the idea of protecting “the future of free enterprise and wealth creation by pursuing profit with purpose.”
She says she’s seen the model replicated across other publishers—think Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” It has led to what some in the industry are calling “tribal subscription marketing,” which creates a sense of belonging among readers.
“Thought leadership can get people behind you,” says McPhee. That’s as important for publishers as it is for any other brand—especially in the age of digital disintermediation and a near constant fight for every subscriber.
“Providing expertise in thought leadership—both in terms of the content itself and the measurement of its impact—is an obvious addition to what the FT can offer clients,” adds McPhee. Ultimately, thought leadership may be just what you need to find new ways to add value for your subscribers and potential sponsors.
“Democracy dies in darkness.” It’s an amazing rallying cry, a banner that supporters of The Washington Post flock to. As a tool for signing up potential subscribers, it has the benefit of setting out a core belief that many people share. It conditions the people who support (or profess to) democracy to consider The Washington Post an ally, by appealing to their emotions.
Creating that sense of belonging to a club is a key component of most subscription and membership marketing. You see it across most of the general news titles, from the offers made to “our readers” to the appeals to shared values. It’s even more obvious in the transition to membership rhetoric being offered by news titles, which have made that sense of belonging the central tenet of their marketing messages.
However, as digital subscriptions become the
default primary revenue stream for many newspapers, the marketing messages they
use to create that sense of kinship is changing. Driven by competition and an
electric political climate, some publications are inverting that message. For
many, the strongest sales pitch they can make to subscribers is not by setting
out the values they stand for – it’s the values and people they stand against.
changing nature of newspaper subscription
We’re entering the second stage of digital subscriptions. Many publications are altering their membership and subscription marketing messages as more people become habituated to paying for news online. The Guardian, for instance, made a considered decision to move from a message of survival to one of sustainability when it hit one million paying supporters.
Where once it was the sole preserve of the
specialist B2B and information provider, now the viability of consumer-focused
subscriptions is well established. As a hangover from those early days of B2B
success, however, some newspapers still make the exclusivity of their articles
and analysis the central focus of their subscription marketing.
John Barnes is the managing director of Sloop Media and a veteran of B2B publishing. He explains: “There’s been a swing back to quality journalism, which doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be funded everybody in the media is benefiting from that.”
The Times & Sunday Times in the UK, for
example, was an early entrant into the subscription space. The paper has always
made the case that readers can only
be assured of news quality by paying to support its journalists.
Even for publications without the prestigious
history of The Times, the message that information must be directly funded
through subscriptions is widespread. The Information, a tech-focused publisher
that charges $399 annually for access, justifies its high price that way. Founder
Jessica Lessin told the New York Times: “I’ve said this from
the beginning, and I continue to say this, but you can’t give away what you
expect the reader to find valuable.”
However, due to their positioning and the
nature of their content, many news publications have found it difficult to
justify using the exclusivity of their content as the selling point for a
subscription. After all, in the age of information overload you’d be hard
pressed to find a generalist newspaper that isn’t covering the same beats as
many free-to-access online outlets. Consequently, they have made their
political affiliation or stance the core of their proposition – for better and
In the UK, for instance, The Daily Telegraph
recently ran an advertisement for its subscription options that used its close
ties to the UK government as the primary message. The current prime minister is
a former Telegraph columnist.
of my enemy
Therefore, many newspapers have decided to
lean into tribalism, making it clear that the best reason to support them is
that they provide a bastion for a particular way of thinking. You see this most
clearly in the messaging of the single subject newspapers, like the UK’s pro-EU
The New European and Scotland’s pro-Independence The National. However, it’s
equally true at many of the larger titles as well. Nobody’s abandoning the
ideal of objectivity, but they’re making a particular slant central to their
Barnes explains that “The big newspapers – the
Guardian, The Washington Post – you know, the media organizations that have
almost been singled out by Donald Trump… I think they definitely are playing
that card of ‘who’s going to hold him to account unless we’re here?’”
The “Trump Bump” has been a boon for left-leaning papers, with the NYT in particular being singled out as the paper of choice for the swathes of the public who oppose him. (Though arguably, the publication has parlayed that into some smart investments in future subscription growth).
In a sense, what those publishers are doing is
just an extension of what they’ve always done in print. After all, a particular
political niche is practically a prerequisite in an incredibly competitive
landscape. What’s changing is how explicitly some titles are making opposition
to their competitors and politicians their sole marketing message.
In the UK, the 10-month-old Byline Times is a
newspaper defined by opposition. It has made criticism of most other UK titles
the way it appeals to disenfranchised readers.
What the others won’t say
Its executive editor Stephen Colegrave told
me: “That’s a very strong part of our positioning. We launched originally with
the positioning, which is on our masthead, of publishing what the other papers
don’t say. So, we’ve had quite a strong position in terms of getting
subscribers by actually welcoming people back to newspapers and acknowledging,
like most of our audience, that we stopped reading newspapers a long time ago
because we didn’t trust them.”
In particular, he singles out the fact that a handful of billionaires own the vast majority of UK newspapers as being of concern to a large enough proportion of the public to be worth launching a newspaper that explicitly is not billionaire owned. The recent outcry over the mere suggestion that a member of the Murdoch family might be about to take the role of Director-General at the BBC would seem to back up that assertion.
That move towards more adversarial positioning isn’t just cathartic for the journalists at a title. There’s a commercial consideration too. As the latest Digital News Report from Reuters demonstrated, people are more likely to trust and (therefore pay to support) the titles with which they share political leanings. Freed from the need to chase scale, but now yoked to the need to create community to aid conversions, publications are fostering tribes.
Consequently, even as Byline Times moves into
paid-for marketing, Colegrave believes it would be folly to change tack on its
adversarial messaging. “We have to maintain the same positioning. It’s very,
very important for us because that’s what Byline is, while also maintaining the
newspaper as a central part of that message. So, it’s more about how we
communicate that positioning to people who don’t know anything about us.”
It remains to be seen what will happen to that
marketing message if the incredibly polarized political landscape cools down.
Until then, however, the fact that newspapers are prioritizing converting
smaller numbers of like-minded supporters over appealing to vast audiences
across the political spectrum means that adversarial marketing is here to stay.
If creating a community is key, then it’s as easy to do that through defining
what you are against as what you stand for.
One of the world’s biggest consultancies, Accenture – home to arguably the largest media auditing operation – has announced it would be leaving the business. Presumably, this is because the firm sees more opportunity on the media buying side of the equation, which it has pursued in earnest via acquisitions and other investments in recent years. For media companies, the implications are varied and sometimes conflicting.
Pro: one less watchdog on the job
For too long, Accenture was able to play both the “objective” auditor and media buying provider. However, the tension finally became too much, in part due to the refusal of some of the world’s largest ad agencies to be audited by the company any longer. And, with a media buying operation that generates more than $10 billion annually, it just didn’t make sense to run the comparatively smallish auditing operation any longer. Media companies benefit by having one less aggressive and well-known watchdog lumbering around the marketplace. And, let’s face it, no one likes auditors.
Con: more pervasive data-driven media buying themes abound
Companies with roots in management consulting that buy media for advertisers apply rigorous, data-driven methodologies to their offerings. That’s why digital media buying was so appealing to them in the first place, because it played to their strengths. Accenture Interactive is arguably the largest digital media buying operation in the world today, and will now have no reason not to invest even more aggressively in its ad buying activities moving forward. This in turn will spur others in the category like Deloitte Digital or even IBM to think about bolstering their media buying chops as well — after all, if Accenture is doing it, it’s at least worth consideration. Media concerns will need to respond by continuing to bolster the quantitative benefits of their products in packaging, promotion and delivery — something the duopoly excels at.
Pro: strategy and planning priorities can be streamlined
Accenture has more than 500,000 employees roaming the world and counts 75% of the Global 500 as customers. Though the company isn’t literally everywhere, it covers more ground than just about any other non-government, non-retail company on the planet. (By comparison, IBM has 350,000 employees. And WPP, the largest advertising agency, has 130,000.) Accenture’s staff is also well-trained to identify opportunities to cross-sell different services into the client base. With media auditing off the menu, media companies can focus their efforts exclusively on figuring out how to deal with Accenture’s ad buying operation. That, of course, is a no small job in itself.
Con: Accenture’s media buying advantages will accelerate faster
Media buying has always been a tricky business, which is why so many big advertisers opted to farm out the activities to agencies like WPP, Omnicom, and Publicis. The introduction and rapid growth of the digital channel has increased complexity substantially, and emphasized the reliance on data and analysis. This, in turn, opened the door for newcomers like Accenture and Deloitte to enter the sector.
Formed in 2009, Accenture is by most accounts the largest digital media buyer in the world today, employing more than 25,000. Having been a major player for a decade now – as well as auditing the operations and books of likely dozens or even hundreds of large global advertisers – Accenture is ideally positioned to understand the weakness and pain points of media companies in a unique and disruptive way. Without having to worry about conflict-of-interest concerns related to the soon-to-be-defunct auditing business, media executives should be on the lookout for inventive new media buying negotiating tactics.
At the end of the day, Accenture’s exit from the media auditing game should be a net positive for media companies, if only because of the ability to focus on one aspect of Accenture’s offering moving forward: the media buying operation. More predictability typically results in fewer surprises and better outcomes.
That’s not to say the media auditing business overall will contract much. Media buying remains a volatile segment and not long ago was the target of an FBI investigation. Indeed, most market analysts agree that the explosion of the digital channel has resulted in more inefficiencies in the marketplace, many of which remain unaddressed. If nothing else, this event is yet another reminder that traditional media companies need to continue to invest in packaging products and their features and benefits in a data-centric manner, as the impact of quantitative-based buying methods will become increasingly pervasive in the future.
If you open
a podcast app, like Castbox, Spotify or Apple Podcasts, the content available
is immensely vast. Hundreds of thousands of podcasts in every thinkable
category, available with the tap of a finger and a slip of an earbud.
learn something about unconscious patterns that drive human behavior? Try NPR’s
Hidden Brain. Can’t get enough true
crime stories? Try season one of Serial, which might be credited to starting the
whole podcast craze. Perhaps the newest, burgeoning fiction podcast category
might be more your speed. Short 20-minute audio experiences tell a story over a
handful of episodes. Featuring the voice talent of actors like Rami Malek and
Josh Gad and complete with sound effects and music, they create a new kind of
digital audio content that hasn’t existed before.
become an easy way for people to learn and relax. And with the ability to
listen across devices, and with a multitude of available app choices, you can
start a podcast on a phone to make a lengthy work commute go faster. When you
get home, pick up where you left off by casting to a Google Home device and
make mundane chores like washing loads of dishes seem not so boring. These new
listening scenarios have created new opportunities for brands to engage with
potential customers in places and times that previously were more difficult to
people are consuming podcast content, but are the ads that go with them
resonating with listeners and delivering an impact back to the brand? Kantar
conducted an analysis of 12 podcast ad campaigns which were inclusive of automotive,
CPG, finance, technology and other brand categories. Findings indicated that ads
in podcasts contributed to increased brand awareness at a near identical rate
to other channels, including in comparison to traditional radio and display. However,
when looking at lower-funnel metrics, like Brand Favorability and Purchase
Intent, podcasts emerged with lifts 37% higher than other media channels in
aggregate. Results like these suggest that listeners are connecting well with
the ads that run within podcasts and this resonance is translating to strong brand
consumers are spending more time behind personal devices, podcasts aren’t just
a shiny new way to spend coveted ad dollars. As discovered in Kantar’s Getting
Media Right study in 2019, marketers are recognizing the impact and potential
of podcasts, and plan to funnel more of their budgets to podcast advertising in
2020. This intent to increase spend puts the medium just behind planned dollars
devoted to online video and social, but ahead of traditional channels like
radio and online display.
reported in 2019 that podcast ad spend was estimated at nearly $679M and with
the presence of podcasts on media plans expected to soar in the next year, it
could easily surpass more commonly used media channels as a relatively uncluttered
way to engage with both niche and broad audiences.
of ad types have emerged, from companion banners in-app and dynamically
inserted pre-recorded ads to baked-in voice-overs read by the host in the
middle of the podcast, and the ever present “this podcast is brought to you
by…” opening message. So, there are plenty of opportunities for advertisers to
fully leverage the podcast platform and engage listeners from multiple angles.
advertising in podcasts will help define the effectiveness of different podcast
ad formats and how they create varied content experience for consumers. However,
with the superior ad effectiveness seen so far for podcasts and high brand
interest, the medium should be a fast-growing channel with loads of potential
for media companies to deliver unique advertising opportunities to in a
“quieter” media environment.
There’s a blackhole in the video game universe. A massive, bare chest Jeff Goldblum is lounging on a London lawn near a bridge. And the golden arches have inverted.
Surely some sort of revelation is at hand!
Oh no wait: It’s just brands going viral.
Inspired by Fortnite’s bold strategy of taking the massively popular game offline for nearly two days to tee up the release of a new virtual world, we decided to investigate several so-called “publicity stunts” to see which ones were the most impactful in generating reader engagement.
To do this, we checked how these campaigns impacted readership about the companies on the Taboola network of news publishers. We’ve seen that successful marketing can often generate significant news coverage and create a viral effect.
Taboola’s data include readership of more than 1,300 US news websites including national, local, and digital-native organizations. The scope of the network offers a broad view of what’s capturing people’s attention.
With that in mind, let’s see which stunts sparked the biggest spikes.
The Fortnite black hole
Fortnite has become one of the rare titles of this generation to transcend gaming to become a cultural phenomenon. Its player base has expanded into the hundreds of millions over the past two years.
Naturally, people totally freaked out when the game’s universe was sucked into a black hole leaving behind only a dark screen and a cryptic string of numbers.
“It then, to the internet’s collective shock, stayed that way. Confused players joined forces to decode mysterious numbers, play a hidden minigame, entertain themselves with speculation, and spend more than 35 hours staring at what basically amounts to a screensaver.”
It didn’t take long for people to realize that this was the game’s way of teasing the beginning of a new season and the introduction of a new world for players to shoot to control.
In the meantime, millions of people read news articles about the phenomenon. We saw readership spike more than 10x above its daily average.
International house of what now?
Who doesn’t love IHOP? The food is decadent. The blue roof is iconic. And “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity” is honestly one of the all-time great names for a menu item.
You could invert three of the letters in IHOP and not a thing would change. But when the company inverted that fourth letter, a great mystery ensued.
After several days of anticipation, “IHOb” revealed the b stands for burgers because, yes, they also serve burgers. A month later, IHOP admitted the supposed name change was a gimmick all along.
Readers seemed to find the gag palatable. Traffic spiked like an 8-year-old’s energy level after eating IHOP pancakes with blueberry syrup.
IHOP isn’t the only food chain to cause a stir by inverting its branding. A McDonald’s in California flipped the golden arches in honor of International Women’s Day and the company changed its logo on its social media channels to match.
McDonald’s said this gesture was meant to recognize “the extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere and especially in our restaurants.”
We saw increased readership about McDonald’s related to this move. But it was not necessarily a triumph of publicity. The gesture received harsh backlash as people criticized the company for the wages it pays its workers.
Payless pranks influencers
Fashion influencers flocked to Palessi’s popup shop in Santa Monica, California, to sip champagne and try on shoes listed for up to $1,800. The line to get in extended well out the door. Photos were posted to Instagram.
No one suspected the supposed luxury kicks normally sell for as low as $20 until discount retailer Payless ShoeSource revealed it was behind the entire production.
Well played, Payless.
The farce earned a big bump in readership for the company. Unfortunately, the spike was overshadowed a few months later by the news that Payless was imminently closing all of its US locations.
Tesla boldly goes
Here’s one only Tesla could pull off.
Yes, that’s a Tesla Roadster in outer space.
The electric car company was able to pull off this extraterrestrial feat because of its association with SpaceX (since Elon Musk founded both companies).
So when SpaceX needed to show off the capabilities of its Falcon Heavy rocket during a 2018 launch, it brought along the Tesla as the payload to add some extra flare to the event.
How epic was this stunt? Business Insider’s Mark Matousek wrote, “Tesla created the world’s best car commercial without spending a dime on advertising.”
Both companies saw significant bumps in readership around this event.
Pizza and potholes
Most of us likely have experienced the utter disappointment of receiving a pizza from a delivery person, only to open the box and see a pie that looks like it’s reached us via a carnival ride.
Domino’s created its “Paving for Pizza” campaign aimed, perhaps symbolically, to address this issue by fixing potholes in towns across the US. In theory, this would create a smoother ride for their delivery people.
A road condition meter on the website promoting the campaign shows the supposed carnage various degrees of road disrepair wreak on pizza.
Domino’s even put its own branding on repaired roadways to make sure citizens knew who was responsible for the fix.
This campaign did not see the same type of traffic spike as the others. When it launched in June 2018, there were a number of stories that caused a small bump in activity as indicated by the red arrow in the chart below.
It’s possible this campaign had more of a slow burn effect though. It seemed to create increasing buzz at the local level as it expanded to new towns.
And despite the lack of readership at launch, there were a number of positives. PRWeek highlighted the campaign’s success on social media. It also covered the sheer number of requests the company received from towns that wanted to be part of the program, which included over 15,000 zip codes.
Sex sells, but at what cost?
Your scientists marketers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
If the advertising maxim “sex sells” is true, then this one might be the new gold(blum) standard. See for yourself.
Unlike the other companies we’ve discussed so far, we didn’t actually see a spike for now Now TV when measuring readership in the UK. Taboola’s semantic AI looks for terms in headlines and the first few paragraphs of a story to categorize them into topics. Since Jeff Goldblum is such a big star, most of the story headlines about the statue gave him top billing and mentioned that it was organized by Now TV deeper in the stories.
With this in mind, we also looked at news stories about Jeff Goldblum and did find a bump in readership when the statue first appeared. As you can see below, it wasn’t the biggest Jeff Goldblum news of the past two years. That honor went to the revelation that Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill would all appear in the next “Jurassic World.”
The competition is fierce for the attention of readers and customers.
The stunts that not only successfully garnered “earned” media for brands but also significant audiences for those media sites can be categorized into three themes: providing a public service or pushing for social good (Domino’s/McDonalds), generating intrigue (Fortnite/IHOP/Payless), or creating a spectacle (Tesla/NowTV).
The successful stunts for brands were the ones that best aligned with their public image. A lighthearted brand like IHOP with playfully named menu items can get away with shenanigans if it’s all in good fun. While Tesla and SpaceX, both known for being on the cutting-edge of technology, took those reputations to the next level with the space car stunt.
Journalists have the important responsibility of giving readers context about these stunts and holding brands accountable when their plays for attention miss the mark. However, when done right, these stunts not only deliver significant PR, they drive interest and traffic for media companies as well.
Note: Taboola’s news publisher partners have access to data on trending topics in the Topic Insights part of Newsroom, a real-time audience analytics platform. There’s also a publicly available version of Topic Insights on the Taboola Trends page.
Taboola is always looking for interesting ways to use data to help bring context to how news readers are interacting with real-world events such as measuring which presidential candidates are getting the most attention and measuring the huge impact of a coordinated media effort to increase climate change coverage. Please DM @franberkman on Twitter if you’re doing any research or reporting that you think this type of data could help support.
The digital advertising landscape is constantly—and rapidly—evolving. Both publishers and advertisers will continue to see shifts in their businesses in 2020 as new technologies gather increased market share. Those who can harness these innovations to forge stronger connections with customers will have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and drive revenue.
Staying on top of industry trends is crucial for brands vying for consumers’ attention. However, it can be equally challenging and time-consuming. The team at Lineup Systems compiled a list of predictions for publishers to kick off the conversation. Here are a few of the key takeaways:
Publishers will optimize for voice search
As we gain clarity on which technologies and business models signal trends rather than fads, voice technology is first in line. Voice began generating buzz in the marketplace in 2019, and its growing popularity is undeniable.
“There’s a lot of potential surrounding voice technology, and how to monetize it is the next challenge,” says Sarah Hartland, marketing manager and editor of Lineup Systems’ industry blog, the Newsroom.
It’s clear that the next generation of consumers will search for and buy products primarily through voice technology. By 2022, 55% of households are expected to own smart speakers. And voice searches are estimated to make up half of all online searches. Voice is on track to become a $40-billion channel. This means publishers need to optimize their digital content for voice search to get ahead.
“It’s very positive that publishers are having discussions around voice even if they haven’t quite nailed down how it’s going to generate revenue,” Hartland says.
Publishers will get increasingly creative with subscription models
Subscription models will continue to be relevant in 2020 and present exciting opportunities to reach audiences. Publishers need only look at the profound impact the direct-to-consumer model has had on the retail industry for inspiration and motivation.
The impressive success of subscription models can be largely attributed to personalization. The curated nature of subscriptions helps alleviate the overwhelm that consumers often experience when faced with too many choices. As a result, people are willing to pay for personalized experiences that one-off purchases simply can’t deliver.
Publishers who make the effort in 2020 to understand how their audience wants to consume their content will reap the benefits of the subscription model trend.
Data privacy regulations will benefit brands
Data privacy regulation is top of mind for advertisers and publishers alike due to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), effective on January 1, 2020. Compounded with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ePrivacy Regulation, this new law signals that data privacy is an issue the digital advertising industry must continue to grapple with. Therefore, it’s time for publishers and advertisers to get creative.
“Because publishers can no longer rely on third-party data, they have to find or build new consent management platforms with first-party data in mind,” says Tiffany Kelly, digital product manager at Lineup Systems.
It’s crucial that publishers diversify their revenue streams and clearly articulate their value to consumers in exchange for opt-in consent. This will help mitigate the impact of consumer privacy laws on their businesses in 2020 and beyond.
Contextual targeting is part of the solution, because unlike audience-based targeting, it reduces the need to use personal data to reach people and has resulted in purchase intent increases of up to 63%.
“We have to recognize this shift as a positive thing,” says Hartland. “Nuances like double opt-ins and cookies can be a pain to figure out. But it will ultimately lead to some exciting long-term benefits around industry leadership, audience loyalty, and data quality.”
Getting in the game is the only way to win
It’s true that as new technology enters the marketplace, it brings challenges with it. However, brands that can adapt can make this work to their advantage in 2020. Publishers and advertisers who can find creative ways to harness the capabilities of new tech will have an opportunity to strengthen their relationships with consumers and drive revenue.
For seven more trends that will dominate 2020, plus a list of ways you can keep up throughout the year, check out Lineup Systems’ free white paper on digital advertising trends.