The news topics driving audience attention look different today than they did in March. Covid-19 affected people in just about every part of their lives. Therefore, it affected the news cycle in almost every ad category.
The initial declaration of the global pandemic sparked a dramatic increase in traffic to publisher sites across the board. That traffic boom has since waned and we’re left with different audience interests.
We wanted to know exactly what those new interests look like. To do this, we dove into readership on the Taboola network of U.S. news publishers.
Taboola’s data includes audiences at more than 1,300 U.S. 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. Here’s what we found:
Coronavirus continues to dominate news in almost every news category
Across all news categories, news about the global pandemic has declined. However, it still eclipses audience attention over any other topic.
Even as traffic levels out, news about the virus is still driving more traffic than other topics by almost a billion pageviews a day. And it’s likely to stick around.
Finance, Business and Industrial, & Real Estate
As the stock market fell, news audiences interested in finance, business, and real estate rushed to learn about investment opportunities, hear advice from the experts, and purchase shares.
Money management advice and the news about the real estate market—specifically whether or not it was a good time to buy or sell a home—came in after investment topics.
Recent protests and events related to racism and the Black community in the U.S .have led to a surge in traffic regarding social institutions, racism, and crime.
These topics previously drove traffic for news sites. However, other topics like work, dating, and the impact of the Coronavirus on our society and wellbeing had been at the forefront.
The impact of Coronavirus created a surge in traffic around May, as states began to roll out plans for re-opening, marked in red in the graph above.
Science, Computing & Technology
Even when they’re staying inside, news audiences still want to hear about the weather. They are specifically interested in major weather events like tornadoes and storm clusters.
Recent news about internet technology companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have also captured their attention. They triggered an entirely new surge in traffic beginning in May, as these companies grapple with how to manage political content on their platforms.
It’s also worth noting that news related to new releases of mobile phones, personal computers, and other consumer technology continues to drive traffic for publishers.
Family and Parenting, Pets, & Home and Garden
For families, Coronavirus meant educating children at home, and in some cases, taking care of them during the workday. In tandem, for many people quarantine provided an opportunity to adopt pets, leading to an increase in traffic for topics related to pet care.
Shopping, Style & Fashion
Fashion companies really had to adapt as sales dropped and strategies shifted. Audiences are focused on clothing specifically, and the impact that the global pandemic will have on those brands.
They’re also tuned in to news related to big retailers. In particular, how their businesses are faring the recession, and whether or not they have plans for re-opening.
Arts & Entertainment
People’s plans to keep busy were entirely digital. And many publisher audiences were interested in the fate of the shows and events they could no longer attend.
Around May, those topics became just as interesting as news about movies and TV shows, a big source of entertainment for people in lockdown.
It’s worth noting the two gaping holes missing from these graphs. Sports and travel news cycles were entirely interrupted as both industries ground to a halt.
While some of these trends are specific to events in the recent months, others could impact publisher news cycles long-term. Keeping a pulse on the topics that engage news readers will continue to serve news publishers in increasing both engagement and traffic with their content.
Reader interest in coronavirus content has begun to wane. In fact, since March 30, we’ve seen traffic to Covid-19 articles is down nearly 25%.
As Covid-19 fatigue sets in, we wondered how audiences would interact with non-coronavirus content. Therefore, we looked to past data on highly-engaging content to find insights that may help inform content strategy in our near future.
Do readers spend more time with great content? Yes
We began by analyzing content with the Top 100 articles with the highest engagement from last year (otherwise known as our Most Engaging Stories) against articles published in 2019 with at least 10,000 pageviews*. That data was then compared to our findings on coronavirus and non-coronavirus engagement (as of April 3 of this year) to get a glimpse of what to expect from readers moving forward. Here’s what we found.
For starters, the Top 100 articles of 2019 had a much higher Average Engaged Time compared to the others we analyzed, as we see below.
We’ll narrow this finding to two hypotheses. The first is that the majority of these articles are simply longer, and therefore command more of the reader’s time. The second is that they’re actually more engaging, with audiences actively reading longer.
When we add our Engaged Time data to the mix, it suggests the latter. Readers placed a higher value on this content, or understandably, spent more time with the captivating pieces when you account for scroll and click behavior. Audiences spent an average of more than two-and-a-half minutes (141 seconds) with the Top Stories compared to an average of about 39 seconds with articles that had more than 10,000 pageviews.
Compare this to our latest data on coronavirus-related and non-coronavirus articles, which found readers spent an average of 40 seconds and 36 seconds, respectively, with articles that had far more pageviews (>800,000 since January).
Therefore, while coronavirus content has understandably drawn the world’s attention, it still doesn’t come close to the Engaged Time we saw for high quality journalism last year.
Why this matters to publishing and media organizations
Content creators will likely feel validated by these findings. In fact, some publications have made it a focus to produce fewer, yet more substantial, pieces in lieu of cranking out lightning fast content. When it comes to being a more engaging piece of content, those efforts appear to be rewarded.
Is social media a factor in non-coronavirus engagement? We think so
We also saw that the Top 100 articles from last year have much higher proportions of referrals from search and social channels. This suggests that their offsite success contributed to their higher Engaged Minutes tally.
The data also shows that, in general, the Top 100 articles had higher search traffic as a percentage of total pageviews, as shown below.
In comparison, our long-term findings have shown that once critical information is widely known, traffic begins to decline, particularly in search. This finding was supported by our newest data on referrals to coronavirus content, as shown here:
Why this matters to publishing and media organizations
While “going viral” isn’t necessarily the goal for writers and their publishers, the popularity of the Top 100 stories with audiences from external platforms had a sustained impact on engagement. We see that organic channels (i.e. getting the eyes of multiple outlets or social media readers) was significant to the Total Engaged Minutes of these pieces. As coronavirus coverage slows down, these attributes can signal a return to the engagement norm.
Can engaging pieces attract more loyal or new readers? Our findings say yes
In our analysis of new versus loyal visitors, we found that the Top 100 have higher proportions of new visitors. The data suggests that these more engaging articles manage to transcend a site’s typical audience and draw new readers’ interest.
Why this matters to publishing and media organizations
This should also come as good news to media and publishing as they look to transition to non-coronavirus content, all while maintaining the strong traffic momentum from the past few months.
Today’s digital publishers are also as focused on retention as they are on acquisition, especially when it comes to generating reader-driven revenue. In this instance, we see an engaging story as a chance to introduce new readers to content. It also presents a better opportunity to create returning (i.e., loyal) audiences that will read more than a single article.
What to make of a post-coronavirus content world: Our takeaways
Overall, our data suggests that highly engaging stories will display certain qualities as readership (and production of) coronavirus-related content declines. Those included:
A higher Average Engaged Time among readers
Greater search and social media referral traffic
New visitors (a possible benefit from the aforementioned social media boost)
What does this mean for content creators trying to recreate the positive impact of an engaging piece of content moving forward?
Longform still has a place, but isn’t the only distinguishing factor for the most engaging reads. Audiences made more time for long, captivating narratives.
The Top 100 stories we analyzed were given a boost by search and social media, whether on the backs of their organizations or influential readers that elevated them. Good practices across SEO, promotion and re-promotion are key to maintaining momentum for prolonged periods.
Engaging pieces are not just for loyal readers. Content creators can use these marquee pieces to attract new visitors as well. One way to attract new audiences is by leveraging a wider set of platforms (such as mobile aggregators) where your content’s quality will also command a high level of attention.
*A note from our Data Science team on engagement methodology:
The plot above shows the distribution of Average Engaged Times for the two groups of stories, normalized so that the total area under the distribution curve equals 1.0. We see that about 40% of the Average Engaged Times for stories in the Top 100 group take values greater than 150 seconds, while almost none of the stories in the other group have an Average Engaged Time greater than 150 seconds.
We can interpret this to mean that the probability a Top Story has an Average Engaged Time greater than 150 seconds is about 0.40, while the probability a story with 10K+ page views has more than 150 seconds Average Engaged Time is practically zero. If we take the average of each small bin of Average Engaged Times weighted by the probability that the Average Engaged Time falls within the range of the bin, we can get the mean Averaged Engaged Time for each group.
Comments for news organizations’ digital publications took a blow when NPR closed its online comments section in 2016. Even before NPR’s monumental decision, other organizations including The Verge, Reuters, and Recode had also bid adieu to online comments. The feature was increasingly viewed as an incubator for name-calling, insults, and sometimes harassment. And the trend continues. In just the past year, USA Today and OregonLive added their names to the growing list of news outlets that have had enough of supervising online trolls and bots.
Comments definitely don’t always bring out the best in people. Some commenters use the shield of anonymity to share derogatory and abusive messages, communicate hate toward certain racial groups, or turn a constructive discussion into a name-calling match. And negative comments can even influence readers to have a more unfavorable view of the story itself.
Some national and regional newsrooms have employed comment moderators, but monitoring thousands of comments requires considerable labor. The task of deleting uncivil comments oy leads to emotional exhaustion for the moderators. However it turns out that deleting the litany of racist, sexist, and hompophobic comments also decreases trust in the news organization, according to a 2019 Center for Media Engagement study. While comments sections once held the promise of democratizing news discussions, that optimism seems to have backfired.
The death of comments may be exaggerated
Is this the beginning of a slow dive into obsolescence for comment sections?
Not necessarily. Despite the woeful forecast from some commentators about the death of comments sections, experts who study reader engagement warn critics against hasty obituaries. The number of news organizations that have done away with comments sections do not represent the industry as a whole, says Andrew Losowsky, head of Coral by Vox Media, a system that aims to bring publishers and journalists closer to their communities.
In fact, comments sections can bring great value that often goes overlooked. Done right, comments sections can increase reader loyalty and engagement, and even boost subscriptions. Simply deleting comments sections, Losowsky says, makes sense when those sections turn into vitriolic spaces. But he says this move can also be “incredibly short-sighted.”
The key for news organizations is to develop a strategy. News outlets should think of their comments sections more deliberately. The need to ask questions like: What does it mean to involve people in the conversation? And, what sort of conversations do news organizations want to foster? From there, news organizations can ask pointed questions for readers to answer in the comments sections.
Managing the unmanageable
One way to make handling the volume of comments more manageable is by implementing artificial intelligence to help with the task of comment moderation. The New York Times is one outlet that actually expanded its comments section in 2017, with a machine learning technology called Moderator, which helps to moderate up to 12,000 comments a day. The technology scores each comment based on whether a human staffer might reject it based on inflammatory or inappropriate behavior. It then decides whether to keep or delete the comment based on that score.
Local news organizations, however, often lack the resources of larger sites. With revenues falling for smaller outlets, securing funding to implement a comments moderation system — much less hiring an employee specifically to moderate comments — might land quite far down the priority list.
Innovating with engagement
That doesn’t mean some local news sites aren’t experimenting with their own initiatives, though. The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, which has a daily readership of around 270,000, implemented Coral about nine months ago. The platform uses AI to detect and remove toxic comments. Commenters at The State also need to sign into and register their email addresses to Coral separately from their subscriptions. This means that Coral users tend to be more engaged.
“We still see some of the bluster and posturing that can be negative in comments. But by and large, the comments that we do get are a lot more focused on the actual story,” said Cal Lundmark, southeast audience growth editor for McClatchy.
In addition to more constructive comments, general engagement on The State’s website flourished for Coral users. Active Coral commenters read twice as many stories on The State’s website per visit compared to other subscribers.These visitors spend almost 16 minutes longer on the site per visit as well.
Interaction breeds civility
When journalists interact with commenters, they can actually encourage civility in the comments sections, according to a report from the Democracy Fund and the Engaging News Project, now known as the Center for Media Engagement. The study found that journalists who answer reader questions and participate in discussions make the tone of comments sections more constructive.
It is effective even when local reporters only have enough time to dip into the comments sections rather than engage regularly. It “creates a sort of bond between the reader and the news organization, where people feel less okay to say nasty things,” says Gina M. Masullo, associate director of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.
Reporters at The State have been doing exactly this as part of the recent initiative to re-strategize the comments section. “The time in their day when they can really just stop and say ‘I can respond to some comments’ is pretty limited,” Lundmark said. “So it does take teamwork… between the audience team and the reporters themselves.”
In addition, news organizations can benefit from highly “person-centered” messages, according to Masullo’s research at the Center. These are comments from journalists that acknowledge a commenter’s anger, but also ask the commenter to keep their language civil.
“It worked across three different experiments that we did,” Masullo said. “I think it’s because even people who are angry like when somebody validates that they have a right to be angry.”
Social media, mediated
For the news organizations that have deleted comments sections over the past few years, engaging with their audiences is far from dead. In its one year update after doing away with its comments sections, NPR’s public editor Elizabeth Jensen declared the move a success. She cited other ways of communicating with readers such as newsletters as garnering more attention. Journalists respond to readers and listeners through social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, Jensen wrote, and discussions also remain civil in closed Facebook groups.
Plus, it makes sense to take the conversation to social media if the community already regularly engages there, says Lynn Walsh, assistant director of Trusting News.
“We have to be realistic: Are people going to log into the website to comment when they may not already be engaging there actively?” Wash said. So, maybe “we should reach people by going to where they already are instead of asking them to come to us.”
But Losowsky warns against relying too much on social media to foster discussion.
“What you’re saying is that your engagement with your most loyal and engaged users belongs to a third party that you cannot control. And that data and that relationship belongs to them,” Losowsky said. “So if you say instead we will let Facebook manage this, then Facebook owns that relationship with your readers. You do not own it, they do. And they control it.”
So what does the future hold for comments and will news organizations abandon comments sections while reaching out to readers on other channels? Or will they attempt to take on the challenge of molding comments sections into places for constructive feedback?
Research continues to explore how to make comments sections into constructive spaces. Maite Taboada at Simon Fraser University, for instance, is working on a system to identify constructive comments that news organizations can highlight to create civil dialogue. And innovative organizations like Hearken develop different ways to tune into to readers and commenters, in addition to making listening to communities a fundamental directive in the reporting process.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will make the internet a better space,” Masullo said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s gonna be a combination of human and technological solutions. But I don’t think we should just say, ‘oh you know, this is a dismal mess and there’s no hope.’ Because I really think there is.”
just returned from our annual summit where a couple hundred senior
executives gather in a closed-door meeting to discuss the most pressing
issues and exciting opportunities that we, as an industry, have before
us. It was my sixth year of having the honor of setting the table to
open the executive summit, after more than a dozen years listening from
Everyone in the room is a premium publisher – with the exception of
a handful of supporting sponsors, speakers, and invited guests. The
attendees at the DCN Next: Summit are among the most knowledgeable
people in the business of digital media anywhere. It is a daunting task
to capture the proper sentiment for the direction of our industry at a
gathering of such key leaders. That said, here are the main points from
my kickoff remarks this year.
This new year also marks the start of a new decade, 2020.
Yes, perfect vision. Optimal focus. As we begin this decade, I believe
that DCN’s members are uniquely positioned. As a group focused on
creating premium content experiences, we have never lost sight of the
importance of our audiences. We’ve remained steadfast in their trust and
our direct relationships.
I see three key facets to this 2020 vision:
we find ourselves rightly renewing our resolution to put the
expectations of our audiences first. To meet, to exceed, their
expectations. To be their trusted ally.
Second, we’ve defeated the myth content has to
be free and finally defined what it means to be premium. It simply
means to have real value worth paying for whether by distributors or
given too many years of platform dominance – in which they have
indiscriminately hidden the real costs to their services and vacuumed up
as much consumer data as possible while, at times abusing trust – we
find ourselves in the best position to align with new user expectations.
To believe that data is the lifeblood of the Internet is to look past
the trust and audience expectations which underpin it now, and in the
some of those who seek to cravenly capitalize on consumer attention
merely to collect data and target ads, we celebrate an unwavering focus
on the wants, needs, and expectations of our audiences. The experience
across platforms can be rich and elegant. But even more importantly,
digital allows us to use multimedia to tell stories in ever more
engaging ways, better informing the public – something that has never
been more important.
In this case bringing it altogether, I’d like to point to the brilliant Wall Street Journal report
on Google’s ad tech business. It informed a public conversation and
made its way not just across the industry but into meetings of
regulators investigating Google – this is true impact in journalism.
Storytelling at its best
technology enables us to better tell our stories, it also becomes more
deeply embedded and entwined with every aspect of our audiences’ lives. The New York Times 1619 Project
was one amazing example featured at a DCN Storytelling Member Day. It
not only brilliantly told the story; it reexamined the legacy of slavery
and made its way into other media – not just audio and video but it
also found its rightful place in classrooms and libraries as educational
material – this is true impact in journalism.
The past couple of years have been particularly promising around subscription-based and other Direct-to-consumer (DTC) models. While ad vendors chase “DTC”, the latest acronym in their alphabet soup, DCN’s members have always focused on direct, trusted relationships with their audiences.
While concerns have loomed around subscription fatigue, recent DCN research
found the opposite. In fact, consumers aren’t even aware how much they
are spending on subscription products. (DCN’s research shows an average
of $54 per month across 4.3 products). So, it’s clear there’s room for
more! And we now see that younger audiences who grew up in digital are
willing to pay for satisfying experiences. The DCN research backs this
up showing that they see value well beyond their cost.
we build our subscription-based offerings, and optimize ad experiences
across platforms, we must keep these audience experiences top of mind.
We serve neither our audiences, nor advertising partners, if we do any
members – and the industry as a whole – are seeing a hearty appetite
for audio and video content. We see robust revenue around licensing of
our content and IP, which also allows us to impact ever widening
audiences. This is backed up by a renewed effort to preserve copyright
over their art, notably including last year in the EU.
We are also seeing true diversification in our busiess models.
desktop display eroded over the past years, mobile display has offset
it. And other forms of advertising including native, sponsored content
and leads have helped drive growth. Video advertising, where inventory
can be created, continues to carry the highest price and growth in
advertising. And arguably the most important growth of all, we’re
seeing direct audience revenues grow more than 20% per year where
content companies are being paid directly for their content recognizing
its premium value.
estimates that a combination of 16 media firms will spend $100 billion
to produce content in 2020. In fact, it has been predicted that more
than $35 billion will be spent on streaming video content alone. And
with over 60 media companies among the DCN membership, we know that the
total investment will be much higher. And rightly so. Hulu has been
investing in premium content for its streaming video platform. So is CBS
All Access. Disney+ launched in the last few months with an absolutely gorgeous experience. Peacock will launch in April and then HBO MAX a month later. And those are only a few examples.
we continue to monitor the power of platforms, their own investment in
content demonstrates that information and entertainment are the
lifeblood of social experiences online. And now the platforms are
starting to pay for it. No
DCN member is surprised that film, television, news, sports and other
topics engage audiences and ignite conversation, debate, and discussion
it delivered on the big screen, small screens, smart speakers, or the
myriad delivery channels in the digital content ecosystem, the work our
members do forms a nexus of cultural impact. We have reached new heights
of digital storytelling. And, undoubtedly our craft, the art of
storytelling, will continue to surprise and delight as its evolution
continues in the decade to come.
while we face challenges like broad-swath and blunt keyword
blacklisting masquerading as “brand safety” and the ease of data-driven
scale, we also see signs that marketers too are shifting their focus to
quality contexts and making genuine customer connections.
it is “easier” to pull a series of data-driven levers and reach
purportedly targeted audiences with generic messaging. However, as a
growing number of consumers opt out of advertising and intro tracking
prevention, savvy marketers too are reviving the art of storytelling.
They have a renewed understanding of the power of delivering compelling
messages in trusted, engaging, inspiring environments and an
appreciation for the cost to their brand when it’s associated with
experiences that abuse customers’ expectations. They see that being part
of exceptional experiences creates the kind of cultural resonance and
relevance that a click cannot compare to.
get me wrong. Certainly, data is a powerful tool for understanding
audiences. It is also critical for storytelling and we see it leveraged
in stunning executions to create vivid narratives built on numbers.
user expectations around data collection and use are of critical
concern. With increasing consumer awareness around data practices online
and looming enforcement when they’re abused, we must continue to focus
in on what’s best for our audiences and only then for our marketing
partners. The ability to micro-target, to force an action with a digital
ad is not the same as engaging audiences around trusted content. It is not the way to build long-term customer relationships.
Fans and friction
up to us to keep our customer focus razor sharp as we embark on this
2020 vision. We need to minimize complexity and reduce friction while
continuing to innovate and enhance experiences for our audiences.
Certainly, challenges abound including news deserts impacting local
communities, anti-press rhetoric from none other than our own President which sends dangerous signals globally, and continued platform competition and unequitable marketplace control now under investigation by Congress, FTC, DOJ, states, the EU among others.
I’m feeling good this year about where things are headed. I’m feeling really good. And I’m thrilled at the programming lineup we assembled for our annual summit to talk about it.
I’ve seen in my time in digital, particularly the years I’ve been
fortunate enough to spend on the team at DCN, has taught me is that we
are at the forefront of something great here. We are on the frontlines
of storytelling and communication. We have the power to shape minds, to
touch hearts, to fill the world with laughter and tears. Here’s to 2020
bringing the roar of the crowd as we focus on what matters most: the
audiences we serve.
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.
However, we find that many publishers continue to focus
investment on web while either treating their existing apps as side projects or
not developing an app presence at all. Given the rapid shift in consumer media
consumption and shift in the publisher landscape, combined with digital
dominance by the “duopoly” (and soon triopoly), the time is now for publishers
to prioritize their mobile app presence.
The mobile app user experience (and native apps in
particular) is superior to mobile web for both content and advertising, which
is probably a core driver of consumer engagement in-app. Native apps are
typically faster, lighter, more interactive, and can often allow offline
content browsing. They’re also easier to access for consumers, especially if
apps are loaded on to the home screen of a smartphone.
These benefits extend to ad experiences in-app as well, where advertising growth continues to explode and expected to reach $77 billion in the US this year. Mobile app ads have evolved beyond just traditional display and rewarded videos, which are typically fueled by app-install spending.
The market has evolved to include video, outstream, and
native formats, many of which provide more innovative and interactive
experiences then web since these ads can tap into the native features of
smartphones (i.e., Bluetooth, GPS, gyroscope, camera, compass, etc.).
Measurement is also greatly improved with the IAB’s Open
Measurement SDK, which facilitates 3rd-party viewability and
verification measurement in-app, and this is poised to further accelerate
mobile app ad spending. In addition, mobile apps are relatively immune to ad
blocking which is pervasive in web environments.
Better personalized ads
Mobile app inventory for publishers could become an even more critical component of a wholistic digital ad strategy as industry concerns around data privacy escalate and tech giants clamp down on tracking and personalization in browser environments. Apple’s ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention) in Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers have placed significant limitations on cookie usage and hence programmatic ads on mobile web. And Google is rumored to be evaluating similar restrictions in Chrome, which would then effect the majority share of mobile web browsers.
Mobile apps represent both a hedge against these limitations
and a superior environment for personalized advertising. In-app ad targeting
can leverage Device IDs, which are tied to specific users rather than browsers,
as well as more accurate location (GPS) and detailed demographic/behavioral
data (particularly if the app requires registration).
Ultimately, mobile apps provide a new path for publishers to diversify their revenue streams. Not only do apps provide more opportunities for advertising, but also a channel for subscriptions, in-app purchases, e-commerce, etc. In-app subscriptions actually fueled growth in consumer spending in non-gaming apps by 120% since 2016. App stores also provide an easy way for engaged audiences (which are generally more prevalent in-app than web) to subscribe and make payments for transactions.
It’s time for publishers to start investing in mobile apps,
which should no longer be an after-thought. While mobile app development and
maintenance is not an easy task for many publishers, it should be considered an
integral part of long-term digital strategy and a major growth driver. A
successful transition of web users to app users can result in significant increases
in loyalty and engagement, leading to new revenue opportunities while defending
publishers against threats in a rapidly changing digital landscape. Mobile apps
are no longer just a game (pun intended).
Financially, it’s not the best of times for many local news companies in the U.S. Revenue losses continue as local publishers’ transition to digital platforms. While financial sustainability remains in question, overall findings from the new Pew Research Center survey show that consumers are engaged with local news. The favorite go-to for local news is TV (41%) with online access following closely behind (37%). About one in ten prefer a printed newspaper (13%) or radio (8%) for their local news.
Unfortunately, despite their reliance on local news, Pew’s research also reveals that consumers are not aware their financial woes. Seventy-one percent of U.S. adults think that their local news media is doing very or somewhat well. Yet only 14% directly pay a local news source either through subscription, donation or membership.
Going online for local news is a common practice for nearly all Americans. A full 89% get some of their local news digitally. This breaks down almost equally between those accessing websites and apps (26%) and social media (25%) I
Mobile is a big driver of reading local news online. Just
over half (51%) of those surveyed consume local news on mobile devices, 27% on
desktop/laptop, and 19% use both mobile and desktop. News alerts also factor
highly into usage. Forty-two percent of consumers consume local news alerts on
their mobile phones.
Local news plays an important role in the community. Eighty-five
percent report that it is important (very/somewhat) for local journalists to
understand the history of the community. Eighty-one percent think it’s
important (very/somewhat) for local journalists to be personally engaged in the
In all, almost two-thirds of consumers (63%) report that
local journalists are in touch with their community. However, far fewer (37%)
feel that local journalists are influential in the community. Not surprisingly,
people who view their local journalists as connected to the area give their
local news media higher ratings than those who do not.
The survey shows a key function of local journalism is to provide news to help local residents navigate their daily lives. Top news topics important to daily live include weather (70%), crime (44%), traffic (41%) and news about changing prices (37%).
The majority of consumers report that their local media is doing well on the job. Seventy-one percent say local media is reporting the news accurately, providing “news that you use daily” (67%), “keeping an eye on local political leaders” (66%), and “reporting news thoroughly” (65%).
Local news often tells the inside stories of communities. It plays a unique role ensuring news is relevant for a local audience. Importantly, innovation is in the works for local digital news. A number of industry initiatives are underway. Google recently announced their Local Experiments Project, a new partnership with McClatchy to fund the creation of three local digital-only, multi-platform publications. Facebook is also investing $300 million in journalism projects including a non-profit venture that focuses exclusively on local reporting. In each of these initiatives, publishers are part of the digital transformation of local news to ensure the presence of community engagement.
The digital media industry is not exactly heading into 2019 with unbridled optimism. However, with great challenge comes a sense of clarity and focus. And we have to hope that it’s finally registered that building a media company on Facebook traffic alone won’t sustain another year. An actual connection with the audience will make or break media companies going forward. As Brian Morrissey from Digiday put it: “Among the biggest lies publishers have told in the past few years, “We don’t buy traffic” ranks rather high.” Without a doubt, consumer engagement needs to top publisher strategies for 2019.
Where to look for inspiration? A whole crop of brand publishers—admittedly free from the constraints of CPMs and programmatic ad-tech headaches (often with ex-journalists at the helm)—find ways to focus on building impressive audiences who contribute to revenue, without subscriptions. Imagine such a world! Maybe the traditional publishing world can learn something from these marketers (and one pretty radical publisher) when it comes to connecting with an audience.
Here are five big ideas to focus on in 2019:
1. Harvard: Get specific about your intended audiences—plural.
Resist the impulse to paint with a broad brush.
“When it comes to targeting, we start by asking that question upfront—Who’s the primary audience and the secondary audience?” said Mike Petroff, Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University. “The audience affects what we’re writing and how we’re evaluating and measuring. If the content is not hitting the right audience, it’s not successful.”
Petroff also distinguishes between audiences for specific channels. “With The Daily Gazette newsletter, we know the audience, we can understand the type of news a student needs vs. alumni or staff,” Petroff said. By understanding the nuances of the newsletter audience and their behavior, Petroff’s team can better serve all their readers. “We’re able to say, ‘Wow, this story really resonated with this audience but not at all with other audiences.’ We can give that info to certain editors about intent and what they can learn for future stories.”
2. Billy Penn: Ask your audience questions and listen to their feedback.
Okay, Spirited Media is clearly a publisher through and through. However, they’ve taken such a radical approach to local news, that their advice gets included in this list. Data and market research are important for understanding audience behavior, but so is getting feedback directly from real people.
Danya Henninger, Editor at Philadelphia local news site Billy Penn, wondered if she should change the structure of their daily newsletter. “Our sister websites, in Denver (Denverite) and in Pittsburgh (The Incline)—they both start their newsletters with a personal note and then get to the news,” Henninger said.
Should Billy Penn follow suit? She brought the question to her readers: “At one point I asked, in our morning newsletter. I said, ‘Hey, how about if we do this note up here.’ And got several replies, ‘Please don’t do that.’” Henninger learned that her readers valued the format of the newsletter as it was, a brief recap of their news for the day.
3. Delta Sky: Create and empower quality content.
It pains me that this advice still needs to be shared but even in 2018. But let’s face it, quality isn’t something we can take for granted when it comes to content.
We asked Sarah Elbert, editor-in-chief at Delta Sky magazine, what constitutes quality. She replied, “Stories that don’t underestimate their readers.” And it’s working for her team:Sky’s readership among 22- to 44-year-olds has grown 32% in the past year and they’ve found that people are spending more time with the magazine.
Specifically, “it’s about finding the most alluring places to visit and bringing new elements of these destinations to life—whether it’s an adventure angle in Iceland or an urban tour of Seoul. And finding people who are just doing really cool, innovative things.” More generally, quality content includes the “kinds of stories that make the reader want to find out more. It’s about stoking their curiosity and engagement with the world.”
Creating stories that don’t underestimate readers also means trusting your writers. As Elbert said, “We allow our writers to have their own voice and we don’t dumb-down the content.”
4. BarkBox: Create an environment that people want to be a part of.
“Our philosophy as a company has always been that we’re not the party promoters—we are the DJs at the party,” said Stacie Grissom, Head of Content at BarkBox. “We’re responsible for creating the atmosphere that makes customers want to participate in the peripheral conversations rooted around our product.”
“We try to create content that sticks to your bones a bit more than just social memes and social videos,” Grissom said. “Our goal for BarkBox is to create a really entertaining experience.”
To that end, not only does Grissom have writers and social media people on her team, she also has comedians. The Bark approach is a marriage of data-driven decision-making and sheer creativity. “We tend to pursue a lot of things by thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if?’”
5. eMarketer: Don’t make your content frustrating on mobile.
Mobile is driving growth in time spent with digital media, according to data from eMarketer. An audience-first content strategy should also connect users with content that meets their mindset across devices, including when they’re on their phones. Often, that mindset is killing time in small increments.
Nicole Perrin, Senior Analyst at eMarketer, noted that content creators need to be “respectful of the user’s attention when [they] only have five minutes to look at [their] phone.” Ensure that experiences aren’t interruptive on mobile devices.
“As a user, I often get very frustrated consuming content, whether it’s on desktop, laptop, or phone, by how interruptive the experience can be with advertising,” Perrin said. She also urged creators to be smart about recognizing subscribers across devices. Removing friction from the user experience whenever possible can help you deliver value to prospective users and current users alike.
Big ideas for 2019
To make it out of 2019, and beyond, business as usual will not be business as usual. Big bets will have to be placed, and bold moves will have to be made. Making sure you’re constantly exploring strategies and tactics that make an audience want to connect with you is the best way to go on the offense, instead of spending your time playing defense against a constantly shifting market.
Here’s to learning from unexpected sources and trying new things in the new year.
Consumer engagement is a critical component of news publishers’ direct to consumer revenue strategies. According to the International News Media Association’s (INMA) new report, Unpacking the Reader-Subscriber Lifetime Customer Journey, every publisher component from content to membership programs and e-newsletters, must reflect a strong and unified value proposition to consumers in order to be habit-forming.
The report includes highlights of Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Power of Habit, explanation of the science behind a habit formation. Scientists refer to this as “the habit loop” and it can easily apply to reader engagement. Every habit has a cue, routine, and reward. Duhigg explains that people stop “thinking” when they perform habitual activities. In fact, about 40 to 45% of what people do every day are routine based decisions (habits) rather than conscious decisions. Publishers should aspire to their content being habit forming.
However, to create a new habit, there needs to be a clear and distinct reward. It’s even better if the reward is immediate. Interestingly, Duhigg believes educating people about the “habit loop” helps to change their behavior. If the reward is clear, consumers understand the payback of their actions and accept them more easily. Rewards don’t just need to be monetary or transactional; they can also be emotional.
The report also identifies the importance in shifting focus from top of the funnel acquisition metrics to the consumer lifecycle and conversion metrics. The Wall Street Journal did just this and now trains its journalists to think about three key metrics:
Reach: How many consumers are reached by WSJ content at any given moment? Consumers are identified in two distinct groups a) subscribers and b) potential subscribers.
Quality: Are the consumers reached the ones who will return to consume more content? Will they promote WSJ content to friends and family?
Habit: Is the routine habit forming? When you build a reading habit, the consumption cycle continues.
The INMA report also features Matt Skibinski, from The Lenfest Institute, and cites his definition of engagement: “when readers find your content, products, and brands valuable enough that they are willing to pay for it.” Skibiniki believes publishers should look at the occasional reader, the regular reader and the one-time reader to classes of readers will help identify the different signals of engagement.
The INMA report finds consumer engagement to be the most important outcome of direct to consumer revenue strategies. It’s when habits and emotions create a pattern of repetition. It’s also when retention trumps acquisition in a publisher’s relationship with its audience. And INMA concludes that the greater the engagement, the greater the consumer revenue.
Ten years into the iPhone and global App Economy and all the rules have changed. For nearly a decade, app makers focused on app downloads and installs, the lower-funnel activity that powered staggering growth in the early days of the app store. Now, this focus has shifted due to a dawning realization that sustainable success is the result of a strategy that drives engagement and activity deeper in the funnel. The focus has rightly shifted to app retention.
A defining moment was the observation by mobile measurement company Adjust, which found that on average users delete apps 5.8 days after they used them last. Significantly, Entertainment apps have the shortest lifespan, with users deleting this app category less than one day following their last session.
What’s worse, the average app loses its entire user base within a few months. Media apps may offer fresh content to nurture engagement, but even that appeal can grow stale. A recent report that provides an overview of Media and Entertainment engagement and retention metrics reveals 43% abandon the app a week after they install it and 67% of users churn within two weeks.
Indeed, 2018 will go on record as the year our fascination with the hockey-stick growth of the global App Economy as measured in app downloads (pegged to grow globally from 205 billion in 2018 to 258 billion in 2022) was replaced by the sober realization that the average retention rate for mobile apps plummets after just the first three days.
It follows that 2019 will be the year we see an avalanche of interest and activity aimed at finding new and better ways to encourage app engagement, app retention, and drive lasting loyalty.
It’s a given that effective marketing is personal and relevant, aligned with who your consumer is and understanding of their individual needs. However, apps introduce a new dynamic: activity. To deliver marketing and messaging users will accept and appreciate, marketers must also segment audiences according to what they have or haven’t done in-app.
If you want users to keep coming back to your app, you need to understand user profiles (age, gender, geography). But you also need to grasp user behaviors and the patterns that point to churn. (Have they launched the app in the last 3-5 days? Where did they drop out before committing to a subscription? What did they choose as news preferences and how often would they prefer updates?)
Unfortunately, the work required to segment audiences and – more importantly – market to each user segment differently has moved beyond human capacity. It requires marketers to sift through billions of data points (trillions if you count the input from the smartphone sensors).
In a recent interview Anand Jain, Co-Founder at CleverTap, a mobile marketing platform company sharply focused on the science of app engagement, told me marketers typically tend to use “less than 5% of the data available to them to make decisions.” However, it’s not just because marketers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data. Marketers, he said, also increasingly struggle with bias. “Preconceived notions about what the data is ‘telling’ them about how users should – and must – act in their app or react to marketing messaging is blinding marketers to the smart ways they could be prioritizing and personalizing campaigns to match every user’s unique engagement preferences.”
Removing bias to deepen engagement
That’s where machine learning can play a major role. It has the capacity to weed out human bias and help marketers open the aperture of how they view and engage their audiences.
Right now, marketers tend to operate according to rules. If users haven’t done x in the app for a certain period of time, reach out with y message via the channel that makes the most sense (push, in-app messaging, text, email, social). But without a deep understanding of who the audience is and what will bring them back (insights that emerge when marketers wield all the data, not just 5% of it), the outcome—even if it is personalized to address the user by first name—has many similarities to one-size-fits-all marketing.
Good marketers are clearly customer focused and likely have a strong intuitive sense of their customers’ behaviors. However, they will undoubtedly achieve greater success by understanding the vast amount of customer information that digital makes possible. This is the first step to architect strategies that will allow them to achieve customer intimacy at scale.
Engagement is emerging as “the” performance metric that matters across the every stage of the marketing funnel and every step of the user journey. But keeping users active and interested remains the biggest puzzle marketers have yet to crack. That’s where machine learning shines. It gives marketers a much greater ability to tailor engagement approaches to specific audiences, even specific customers, based on the probability that they are very likely, likely and even less likely to churn. The opportunity and ever-present challenge of mobile is its intimacy. To retain customers, every offer, incentive, “nudge” in the desired direction must strike a personal note.
You thought marketing to Millennials was tricky? Meet Gen Z. They’re not only digital natives, they’re social and mobile natives too. To gain insight into this generation, MNI Targeted Media Inc. commissioned a study of Gen Z behavior, surveying students at major universities about their media consumption habits. And we learned a lot.
This generation, born between 1995 and 2012, are mobile-first, and rarely seen without their phones in-hand. But don’t put them down just because they’re constantly staring at their smartphones: Gen Z-ers are socially fluid change agents with tremendous purchase influence.
They may be young, but they’ll be voting soon – and they’re more fiscally savvy than you think. Gen Z is entrepreneurial, saving up for and buying the things they want. Their purchase decisions are partly influenced by their peers and personalities they admire. But take note: These influencers also need to align with Gen Z values and marketers will want to recognize that Gen Z are influencers and entrepreneurs unto themselves.
It’s equally important for marketers to keep messaging relevant and authentic. Interestingly enough for Gen Z, celebrities aren’t their “go to” source. For a generation that lives on social media, their influencers can be their fashion forward friends, political influencers or even fellow Gen Z members who have already gained notoriety on their own terms. In this regard, context matters and the platform on which they engage with influencers will be as important to marketers as their messaging. Businesses that take the time to understand how this generation consumes media, how they grow to trust and how they shop and make purchases stand to benefit.
This generation is smart, and they’ll see right through attempts to “buy” them. But if you approach them with authenticity and engage them on the channels and platforms where they’re most receptive, you may just win them over. Publishers need to adhere to these same insights, with an appropriate responsiveness when there is urgency from their audience. We can look to the recent news of ABC canceling its #1 ranked comedy Roseanne after the star’s bizarre Twitter rant. In this case, we saw the network put authenticity and value before revenue – which in the end I suspect will pay off in spades.
The key to making a connection with them is to make sure you know and understand all the channels in which they consume media – that means podcasts, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, for starters. There’s more to it than just advertising or posting on these channels: you have to speak their language. You will want to have subject matter experts who really understand how Gen Z communicates on each channel so that your content is authentic. The language across channels varies, and the nuances will be important. Getting it wrong could mean losing this audience’s confidence for the long term.
With this in mind, here are six laws of marketing to Gen Z:
1. Keep your content platform-specific
This generation moves through social channels seamlessly, and they understand the value of the storytelling within each platform. They expect the brands they follow to do the same. You need to know the rules of engagement for each social network, and map custom content for each in a unique way. Here’s what they expect across channels:
Snapchat – A way to share real-life moments
Instagram – How they showcase their aspirational selves
Twitter – Their top news source
Facebook – A source of general information
2. Keep your prices competitive and your quality high
This is a generation of savvy shoppers. They like to save money and they know how to compare prices. If a competitor is selling a product for less, they will buy it for less. That said, they respect good quality, and will pay more for a better product.
3. Let them tell the story with their own original content
If you give Gen Z customers an opportunity to create user-generated content related to your product or brand, they’re likely to do it. There are big payoffs to relinquishing control of your branded content:
They like seeing their peers using products – and it will create a positive ripple effect.
They like posting content to their own channels.
They like getting noticed, and your brand benefits from going along for the ride. You get to enjoy the dividends by driving engagement and reinforcing your brand identity.
4. Be authentic
Millennials had a reputation for insisting that brands be “real,” but Gen Z takes it a step further. They want to feel like they know the people behind the brand, and they like brands that care about the issues that are important to them. Brands like Tom’s and Bob’s that donate to charity do well. Mattel’s support of same-sex marriage and Dick’s Sporting Goods halting sales of assault rifles were both Gen Z-friendly moves.
5. Want to capture them in-store? Consider testing AI
6. Ask them for feedback, and then listen to their responses
As digital, social and mobile natives, Gen Z is comfortable engaging in discourse with brands they care about. If you’re unsure about how a particular campaign or message you’re working on will resonate, solicit their opinion. They’ll respond, and they’ll be honest.
Adding Gen Z employees to your organization is the best approach to engaging them as consumers. These young adults have a language and a style of their own that is hard to replicate. So, bring in the real deal, and integrate them in with your older team members. Not only will this help your organization better understand how Gen Z moves through the world, it will ensure you’re not embarrassing yourself by posting three-month-old memes to your social channels. Gen Z team members will make sure you’re always authentic, and that your messaging is always current and on fleek.
I mean, on trend.
Vicki Brakl is Vice President, Marketing of MNI Targeted Media Inc., and its three business units, Targeted Media Health, MNI, and Harpoon Digital. A 16-year multi-channel marketing veteran with a rich background that spans executive management, strategy, branding, positioning, promotion, experiential and event planning, public relations and internal communications, Vicki has extensive experience developing innovative multi-platform brand plans and media strategies. Her previous roles include client and agency-side positions at PepsiCo, several below-the-line Omnicom agencies and a few startups in the CPG, Publishing and private-public partnership sectors. She has crafted and executed high-impact marketing plans for Pepsi brands, Walmart, Bank of America, TD Ameritrade, Citibank, Skinny Water, and countless others.
Our lives and devices have become inextricably intertwined. Five years ago, mobile devices eclipsed desktops to become the platform that defines our daily routine. Mobile is our go-to for advice, assistance, and access to content and experiences. This attachment to mobile and apps turns up the pressure on brands and content companies to engage with consumers in ways (and contexts) that demonstrate a deep understanding of their needs and a genuine desire to put people first.
Fulfilling consumer demand for content that is relevant, valuable, and in no way intrusive is not a mere courtesy; it’s a business imperative. Mobile has created a strong sense of entitlement among consumers — particularly Millennials and younger generations, which are accustomed to instant gratification with a swipe or click. The outcome is an audience of empowered consumers who want what they want, when and how they want it.
Mobile also forces companies to obsess around what I’ll call the “appropriateness” of the how, what and when of their side of this two-way conversation taking place on mobile. In a sense, mobile has rewritten the rules of engagement. Mobile is a fiercely personal device that requires companies to ask for consent and earn trust. A major trust factor is showing that they understand and appreciate what consumers want and value most. Missing a step and delivering inappropriate experiences has negative consequences.
Recent research from Forrester suggests that companies lack the skill set- mindset required to meet customer expectations. Despite “skyrocketing” mobile adoption rates globally, the analyst firm observes that most companies “struggle to engage with consumers via mobile.” Specifically, only 32% say they have systematically integrated mobile into their marketing approach, and less than 56% say they use mobile to transform the customer experience.
Underestimating the pivotal role of mobile is everyday life represents a dangerous disconnect with business best practice. After all, mobile is not another screen. It is the screen. The 2017 Mobile Maturity study, conducted by digital media and digital marketing solutions company Adobe and based on a survey of 4,000 consumers across the U.S. and Europe, reveals that over 90% of respondents consider mobile to be their “primary device.”
The Age of Empathy
People are more connected that ever. And they also demand to be heard. They hunger for experiences that are genuine. Companies must show they listen and care, and cultivating these capabilities is at the center of Empathy Marketing.
In daily life, empathy is all about the ability to take a walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s the action of understanding and being sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of another human being. In a company-to-consumer scenario, empathy is an approach fueled by hard data and soft skills to deliver people content and experiences that are amazing, appropriate and deeply engaging.
Empathy Marketing is mobile-first and consumer-centric, wielding the unique ability of the mobile channel to deliver personally- and contextually-relevant content and experiences that move the needle. But it’s not about technology. Companies must also move our hearts, with approaches that show they listen and care. Based on nearly two decades of research and writing about engagement marketing examples and best practice, I have identified 3 approaches (the 3Cs) that demonstrate empathy and drive results.
The 3Cs of Empathetic Marketing
Content, context, and, now, cognitive. It’s the capabilities mix that allows companies to move from acting mobile-first (table stakes at this point, by the way) to being people-first. At its core, this approach builds on a deep understanding of the consumer to anticipate needs and requirements and pinpoint proper moments in the mobile journey to interject with meaningful and useful suggestions or assistance – or simply show presence. The input is data, but not just from mobile.
Companies that have a broad range of content assets should connect the dots in the online, offline, mobile, social, and digital ‘sessions’ that define our daily routine. These insights will allow them to deliver what consumers want (when and how they want it and on their preferred platform) even before they want it. The output is a clear flow of content and experiences that feels as if it has been designed specifically to satisfy the individual’s need-state. Algorithms help. But companies should also act human, asking questions and responding in ways that indicate they are genuinely interested in listening and, above all, learning. Communications (notifications, text and email) are careful and crafted to show companies are there for their audience and dedicated to making their lives better.
Companies can blame the new breed of on-demand apps, such as Uber, for setting the bar high. Apps and experiences that have succeeded in reducing time, friction, and frustration have created the consumer expectation that everything should be so simple. Avoid complexity at all cost. Start with a design that reduces clicks to content and keeps what’s important in “thumb’s reach.”
However, it’s not enough to embrace design that reduces friction. Fuel interactions with deep customer connection and automation where it counts. Avoid making consumers repeat actions or input information, particularly if they already provided at an earlier stage of the journey. Build in features and functions allowing consumers to save settings, store what they have read (or want to read later), make lists, and share with their communities. Think about the actions your content is likely to inspire plan to make sure their individual path-to-action is hassle-free. This starts with a review of your landscape to identify options and partners (for example, complementary content companies and apps) essential to delivering consumers a one-stop experience.
Borrow a page from the Ubers of the world — companies that offer services from the source down the last mile to the customer — and position your content within a tight-knit ecosystem with you at the helm. For example, if you have travel content, pair it with sites or apps that allow consumers to book a hotel or trip directly from the same page in the app or on the website in the all-important moment of inspiration. Remove the wait, reduce the friction or just enable an impulse action. Whatever you do, demonstrate a laser-focus on making experiences easy and enjoyable and consumers will reward your efforts with intense loyalty.
Effective approaches move the needle, creatives move the heart. Acquire and retain audiences with the help of authentic marketing creative that shows you understand and uphold what is important to them. The right creative resonates with your audience. Making that match requires a firm grasp of data that goes beyond demographics and location. Do your research, starting with consumer studies and surveys to open the aperture of how you see your audience. Harness psychographics to understand where your audience is coming from and help you map a journey that is aligned with their lifestyles and life stages (not just the stages in the funnel). There are no blueprints. But there are valuable lessons and guidelines if you have the vision to look outside your vertical.
A great example is finance, which has seen a massive decline in consumer trust and brand love. Mobile fintech apps and startups are gaining traction with the help of approaches that show they understand what their audience want and are sincere about helping them to achieve life goals. It starts with something as simple as imagery that is inclusive. For example: showcasing women in campaigns creatives and empowering them with the feeling they can take control of their financial future. Effective assets and advertising demonstrate traits women value most (trustworthiness, dependability, and accessibility). Companies can adapt these key takeaways to power approaches that drive consumer connection and deepen trust.
As the saying goes: Actions speak louder than words. This is a connected age where consumer crave authenticity. So, companies must use everything they know about their audience to deliver experiences that address needs, anticipate interests, or simply go the distance to make their life better. Anything less shows disregard for the individual and tells consumers you’re not listening, or worse, you simply don’t care.