In recent years, global publishers have shifted their focus on the ties that bind loyal readers and their propensity to become subscribers. Therefore, we wanted to better understand loyal reader behaviors, starting with an analysis across devices and distribution channels. Here’s what we found.
Loyal readers no longer tethered to desktops
Believe it or not, loyalty is actually higher on mobile than desktop when we analyze our global publisher data.
Across the board, mobile visitors show more loyalty. We see the accessibility of these devices — a 24/7 window into what’s going on at any moment — driving this trend. This does not mean desktop traffic is going away, it’s just often tethered to a single place (e.g., work or home), whereas your mobile device moves with you all day long.
When looking at weekly visits by traffic sources across mobile and desktop experiences, we saw that app direct visitors are nearly 6x more loyal than platform visitors.
Where visitors are finding apps and how it impacts loyalty
Visitors coming to apps via deep links or direct traffic on the web do so three times more often than platform visitors, as we see below. That said, our research found that at this point loyalty is roughly the same when it comes to the major platforms (i.e., Facebook and Google Search).
What our channel loyal findings mean for content creators
“Subscription is an act of loyalty, and readers need some way of developing that loyalty and affinity for a publication before they’re likely to pay,” Josh Schwartz, our Chief of Product, Engineering and Data Science, recently told Nieman Lab on the topic of reader revenue and loyalty. The data we outlined in this piece suggests that publishers are increasingly aware of this journey to develop loyalty, using multiple channels (and increasingly, mobile-first experiences) to grow these relationships over time.
A few other takeaways from the research:
Shift in app experiences suggests new paths to loyalty
The data suggests that loyal readers want a direct path to publishers — a huge indicator that there’s value in improving app and direct to mobile experiences. That being said, friction along the mobile journey poses a massive hurdle in getting even loyal readers to move closer to subscription.
Platforms still have a prominent role in loyal readership
Yes, we’re seeing an interesting shift in visitor patterns that favor direct visits to apps. Yet, loyal readers are still coming from Google or Facebook. Our recent research shows that there’s still a case to keep your platform presence top of mind.
Movement matters when it comes to device-based loyalty
Loyalty among mobile visitors is growing rapidly. This finding makes sense when you think about today’s mobile-first readers. Don’t go abandoning your investments in desktop, especially since we still depend on this experience every day.
Overall, we see that loyalty among mobile visitors is growing rapidly, which makes more sense as we think about today’s mobile-first readers. Moreover, it points to an important shift in audience behavior — loyal readers want a direct path to publishers. This tells us there’s still a massive opportunity to improve app and direct to mobile experiences.
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.
A decade ago, The Power Of Pull described the amazing outcomes possible when we have the tools to find and access the people, content, information, and resources we need. Pull was seen as the mechanism that would put people in control. It would give them more choices and more information to make those choices.
Today, pull has been turbo-charged by mobile, a transformative technology (the impact of which the authors could not address in their book, so I will here). Mobile has become our collective default state. It eclipses all other digital technology and enables us to do exactly what the authors hoped we would: “collaborate in a complete re-imagination” of our experiences. From content to commerce, and from advertising to advocacy, mobile has left an indelible mark.
You could even say that, thanks to mobile, the Power of Pull has finally arrived. But it’s the advance of messaging apps and platforms that takes this to a new level. Pull brought us the toolset and the mindset to take charge of our content and experiences. Mobile amplified this ability exponentially. And messaging is giving us a new environment to experience both.
A new wave
The first wave of messaging saw the emergence of what I will call pull content, delivered primarily via app notifications. In this scenario, individuals granted permission and volunteered preferences (the choice of news categories, the frequency of alerts and notifications, the level of personalization). And that they opt-in is a must for audiences increasingly concerned about personal privacy. For this reason, content companies that delivered pull content could build trust and brand. In retrospect, it was this reach and impact that allowed the first wave to deliver scalable efficiency.
The second wave of pull, powered by mobile messaging apps and platforms, is destined to be even more transformative because it promises scalable connectivity. Messaging is a platform where companies can deliver interactive, personalized, and conversational experiences. And they can do it affordably at scale.
Messaging is also free to consumers. It also vastly reduces the blight of unsolicited communication. That’s because, as a rule, messaging platforms do not permit companies to send bulk messages as they can via SMS. And it’s growing in popularity. Analysts forecast that the volume of messages sent via the major messaging platforms is expected to exceed the number of SMS text messages by as much as 10x in 2020.
Pull and pictures
Messaging apps and platforms provide an ideal space for companies to forge relationships with audiences and drive connection with brand fans. They have also become the epicenter of our most frequent digital activity: messaging. In August 2018, app market intelligence provider Apptopia reported users globally spent a whopping 85 billion hours in WhatsApp over a period of just three months. (Compare that to 31 billion hours spent on Facebook).
Messaging platforms have experienced explosive growth in users and usage, outpacing some of the biggest social media channels. Together, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger alone have nearly three billion daily active users– that’s almost half the planet. In 2018 the Big Four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber) had 4.1 billion combined users. A whopping 72 trillion messages were sent across these platforms (compared to 1.6 trillion searches on Google).
However, people aren’t just messaging more or more often. Empowered by pull, are using the universal language of pictures. People share more than 4.5 billion photos, 1 billion videos, and 80 million GIFs per day on WhatsApp alone. A comprehensive analysis of people’s messaging behaviors on Facebook Messenger (conducted by Facebook) reveals that nearly 60% of respondents have sent emoji-only messages to communicate a concept. What’s more, over half indicated that messaging has replaced all other forms of communication.
United by their passions and interests (supported by a shared visual language), this audience craves instant access to what matters. There’s no room for trial and error. Content must be hyper-personalized, highly visual, and always to the point. Against this backdrop, messaging platforms offer the perfect petri dish to experiment with new approaches around content design and distribution.
Bite-size is back
Messaging platforms also unlock the potential of content companies to satisfy our appetite for bite-sized content. That means short videos, short-form content, graphics, and memes. Content that might feel out-of-place in-app or online is at home on messaging platforms. Media companies and publishers need no convincing. In fact, some new organizations are encouraging audiences to visually enhance the conversation.
The Washington Post, which distributes snackable news content via Viber, a messaging app used by more than one billion people worldwide, has had remarkable success with a series of news-related stickers. The packs count more than 2 million downloads since they were first launched in 2016. “The stickers we’ve created allow users to say what they want about news without having to type a complete thought and simply add delight and character to their conversation,” Amy King, Design Director of Emerging News Products at The Washington Post said in a recent interview.
The Washington Post is just one of a long line of news organizations — including the BBC, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, and Financial Times — that are experimenting with messaging apps as an additional distribution channel. For many, the primary focus has been on providing short news updates and links to related and relevant content. However, some companies have zeroed in on the interactive nature of messaging platforms. They’re adding a new dimension to bite-sized news and leveraging yet another aspect of pull: two-way conversation.
Micro-newsletters for mass audiences
Bloomberg has harnessed WhatsApp to send messages every day and hear back from users directly, Katie Boyce, Managing Editor, Digital, Bloomberg, stated in an email interview. “After big news would break, we started to ask our WhatsApp audience what they want to know. We would get such thoughtful feedback that we could then incorporate it into our reporting and send back updates,” she explains. “It was a much different conversation than what we get on our public social channels. We built up a very highly engaged audience.”
It also paved the way for Bloomberg to bundle bite-sized content into personalized packages that balance depth with the demand for distilled information. The outcome was a new format it calls the “micro newsletter.” The content is longer than a push alert but shorter than a typical newsletter.
Boyce describes the content as a “very conversational update three times a day at the end of each region’s news day, summarizing the big stories of the day.” It has been so popular with the audience that it prompted Bloomberg to “create multiple sub-groups around topics like markets or the Middle East so that we could send more targeted messages.”
Using this approach, which was nominated for a SOPA (Society of Publishers in Asia), a benchmark for world-class journalism, Bloomberg has done more than grow its numbers. It has recruited and audience of advocates eager to follow the discussion no matter where it takes them.
In December Bloomberg moved its distribution to Telegram, a messaging platform projected to hit 1 billion users by 2022. (Admittedly, Bloomberg’s move was driven more by necessity than inspiration as Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, made good on its promise to crack down on what it considers “non-personal” use on the platform. In December efforts turned to the gray area of newsletters. And it ruled that publishers will no longer be allowed to send out newsletters on WhatsApp.)
Within two weeks of moving the micro-newsletter messages over to Telegram, Boyce reports that Bloomberg “gained over 25,000 followers” on the new platform many of whom migrated from WhatsApp. But efforts to leverage the popularity of messaging platforms doesn’t stop there. Bloomberg is “continuously evaluating other ways to meet users where they are,” Boyce says. It’s a smart approach in the age of pull.
Messaging is the new frontier
As we kick off a new decade, it’s critical that content creators — be they media companies or marketers — understand consumers’ growing appetite for concentrated content on their terms and in the spaces where they choose to congregate. It’s a global phenomenon that sees audiences flocking to messaging apps, drawn by the simplicity of snackable content.
It also offers audiences the opportunity to “share and discuss news, away from the toxicity of political debate that threatens more open spaces,” according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019. Based on data from almost 40 countries across six continents, the report highlights this mega-trend. It notes that WhatsApp has already become a primary network for discussing and sharing news in western countries (where WhatsApp has a strong presence) as well as non-western countries including Brazil (53%), Malaysia (50%) and South Africa (49%). The upshot: “as more people use messaging services, news usage has also risen.”
Now that news organizations and media companies have an audience on these platforms, they must adopt the culture and language of these communities and capture the Zeitgeist to deliver on the promise of pull. A decade ago, companies were just beginning to develop this mindset, with the understanding that constant and instant accessibility of information was an audience demand and responding with models that would rebalance businesses and organizations to be powered by pull.
But there was a catch. We had the message, to borrow a concept from the visionary Marshall McLuhan. But without messaging platforms, we lacked the medium to deliver at scale. Today we have both. Mobile — messaging in particular — is where people spend their time. And content companies who build experiences that are right-sized and optimized can leverage this behavior to engage highly-receptive audiences.
With so many new and immersive ways to reach audiences on their mobile devices, it’s natural to wonder if email, now nearly 50 years old, has lost its luster. But before you make a call consider reams of researchthat show email rules as the most reliable way to reach consumers everywhere on the planet. Granted, email took a hit in the wake of the European Union’s May 25 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), legislation that raised opt-in standards for email campaigns. However, the cleansethat followed also produced audiences that are genuinely interested in receiving communications and content from companies that have their express consent. It raises the question: Can companies do more with email newsletters to drive deeper engagement with their content?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” That is if they move beyond offering collections of links to offering content that has a distinct voice, format and style all its own. This is the strategy championed by Quartz, a six-year-old mobile-first publisher widely credited with helping reinvent the email newsletter. The company, which was recently acquired from Atlantic Media by Uzabase, a Japanese business intelligence and media company, broke new ground in 2017 with the launch of Quartz Obsession. The edgy email deep dives into topics that have “seismic importance to the global economy” and reports an open rate of 78%, much higher than the industry average of 22%.
Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove – catches up with Adam Pasick, a senior editor at Quartz who oversees Quartz’s push team, which includes email newsletters, apps, and bots. Pasick discusseshowQuartz looks beyond the newsroom for content that inspires and engages audiences, and why it pays to publish newsletters with a “sense of purpose and cohesiveness.”
PAS:Katie Weber, VP of client partnerships for Quartz, is quoted as callingthe inbox “the new homepage for executives.”How do you choose and craft newsletter content that will consistently appeal to this high-value audience?
AP:I think we’ve certainly struck a chord with an audience that is more than the sum of the numbers. We have bespoke editorial and news coverage that we tailor for our products including the Quartz Daily Brief, Quartz Obsession, as well as the Quartz app for iOS and Android. Each has their own content and their own voice.
Sometimes we adapt articles from the main Quartz site, but most of the time we are writing the content from scratch. It’s the best way to treat each of those products as their own thing, with their own audience, their own appeal and their own writing staff to make the package complete. Quartz Obsession is a great example of this. We looked at just piping regular Quartz content into these products, but we found it to be an unfulfilling experience. It just fell flat.
PAS:I’m hearing that your audience is a demographic that values an element of serendipity and rejectscontent that feels stale. How do you keep your content fresh?
AP: We are constantly testing and rolling out new products, and the Quartz Obsession email is a great example. It’s had a hugely positive response out of the gate because it invites readers to go down a rabbit hole every day on one very kind of narrow topic. Then it opens your world by giving you a big-picture view of the topic in the context of the wider world.
PAS:You call it the daily “digression.” But is the starting point the daily news?
AP: The content is inspired by topics that are in the news. But we go a step further delivering more evergreen content that sheds light on the weird and wild tangents. In this way we fill a need that people have to be delighted and surprised with content that touches on the issues of the day but also takes some unexpected turns to inspire them to see and experience what is beyond the news.
Across all Quartz stories and products there’s kind of a common editorial DNA that should run through them. But we don’t only use Quartz stories as a starting point. We are agnostic in terms of where our stories start off. It can start with a Quartz story, we are also happy to use stories from other sources for the app and the emails. It’s not about driving traffic back to the Quartz mothership; it’s about finding the best stories for our audience no matter where they started off or where they may have originated.
PAS:You oversee several products, including apps and chatbots. What are the content offers and audience preferences across these platforms?
AP: Each of those products has its own advertising format, one that is appropriate and native to that platform. This ensures that we are not reliant on driving people back to Quartz.com. This is why we feature stories from other news outlet and then adapt it and tell it in our own way. Across all these formats it’s about channeling the news into a more casual conversational style, while keeping it very tight and concise. The tone that we are aiming for is one that is how you would write if you were describing the story to your friends.
The chatbot on Facebook Messenger presents content in a conversational format, so we use different tools to kind of mimic having a conversation with a real person. There are real people writing the responses, but it takes place in an automated algorithmic fashion. The starting point is often a push notification. Thenthe experience can go beyond what’s happening in the world to sharing ways you can enhance your world. For example, we’ve taken people through lifestyle ideas and inspiration like how to bake your own soda bread. We’ve experimented with different experiences and see audiences spend the most time on content around the news. But for chatbots, as well as apps, it’s also important to mix serious stories and with topics that are off-beat or lighthearted. You want to have a diverse story mix that doesn’t kind of beat people over the head with one kind of story. It should feel more eclectic.
Our app is available on the watch, so we know we touch reader’s lives in ways that are immediate. It’s about developing innovative ways to be valuable and offer value throughout the day and across platforms. So, you start the morning reaching for your smartphone and you scan the news on what happened while you were sleeping. The Daily Brief provides a kind of editorial intelligence service and it has a very loyal audience. With the app, that’s where readers dip in and out to learn something or be delighted with content and then get on with your day. Obsession comes in when your day is wrapping up, when you’re a little exhausted and you just need something to kind of take you out of your world and into an unexpected direction.
PAS: You provide me the news and experiences you think I want. Why don’t you ask me?
AP: We are assuming that if you found your way to us you that you also like the Quartz editorial. That’s why we purposely pick, curate, and write stories that fit in with our kind of Quartziness. And that’s our goal. It’s not about the capability to write something different for every individual person. It’s about having a purpose and approach to telling the story that resonates with our audience.
The story format is a dominant force in social media because stories-style content facilitates user interaction, which drives engagement. The proof is in the numbers with close to a billion Snapchat, Instagram (and IGTV), WhatsApp (Status), Facebook and Messenger, and Google AMP Stories accounts create and watch Stories. According to a new INMA report, Stories Format: News Media’s Next Social Opportunity, the format proposes a shift in journalism and a new venture for news publishers.
Stories are a mobile-centric social media storytelling format. It’s about using multi-media (video, audio, text, photos, emojis, etc.) across multiple social platforms to tell your tale. Stories also differ from newsfeeds in that they:
stay posted for at least 24 hours.
project the personality of the reporter
serve as an overlay and not dependent on newsfeed algorithms
can offer interactivity
receive top placement on every social media app
News organizations can use the Stories format as an way to connect with a younger, mobile centric audience. In particular, the news media should look to Stories users as a special force to channel real-time, fresh content around breaking stories. In this experience, the user also controls the pace and the order in which they consume the Stories content. News publishers can experiment with Stories and participate in the lean-forward Stories experience.
The Story Principles
The INMA report identifies eight key principles (creates the Snapchat anagram) for the news media to use to create effective Stories:
Suspense and Engagement – build intrigue about your story. Think about developing Stories with multiple uploads throughout the day to build suspense and keep your audience engaged.
Native and Niche – create exclusive content for Stories, nothing repurposed.
Artistic flair – exhibit artistic expression in your Stories.
Personality – ensure your Story captures the reporters personability.
Consistency – make sure your story is update and consistent with what’s happening in the world. Stories live for at least an hour.
Hype – build excitement for your story. Use your Stories as teasers for longer pieces.
Arrange and Prepare – think about storyboarding your Stories to help tell the linear narrative.
Thumb – include interactivity and use the thumb for clicking and scrolling. Polls, voting, quizzes and others are great ways to interact with users.
Who’s Telling Stories?
BBC News, NBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Financial Times are all employing Stories as part of their news storytelling repertoire. Examples include NBC’s Snapchat news show “StayTuned” has 4 million subscribers. BBC News runs a Friday quiz on Instagram Stories, which questions the audience on recent news facts.
Stories offer a huge opportunity for audience growth and a clear path to user engagement. More features will be introduced, and new experiences will evolve (think Augmented Reality). Monetization must now be a focus and there is a need for a new type native ad experience.
Before bringing your “A” game, you have to know your end game.
With digital publishers facing an ever-increasing need for a constant stream of new and clickable content, it’s not surprising that content creation strategies tend to prioritize quantity above all else. But there’s a smarter way to create content – one that focuses on both quantity and quality while simultaneously developing measurable KPIs.
This process of creating content with intent means identifying what purpose your content serves early in the content development process. The key to doing that is matching your content format and distribution channels with your business needs and developing scalable processes for creating that content as cost effectively as possible.
While every company’s needs are different, the process for deploying this content strategy works no matter what your content goals are. Here are five steps to making it happen.
Get Outside the Content Bubble
Before you start developing a content strategy you need to fully understand what purpose content serves for your business. Delivering content to as many people as possible is not necessarily the most important thing for every publisher. For some, the main purpose of their content is driving revenue or leads. For others, content is mainly focused on brand building or customer retention. However, for most companies, it’s all of the above.
Identifying your goals requires involving all stakeholders in the early stages of the content-planning process. From sales and marketing to social and SEO, make sure everyone’s voice is heard early and often. It will result in a more solid content strategy that aligns with your broader business plan.
Once you’ve mapped your content strategy with your business plan, you should determine early on what success will look like. If your goal is to drive traffic, figure out what your ideal traffic growth numbers are. If it’s revenue, do the same. Even if you don’t make your goals, setting them early on will give you something to aim for and help you measure your success later.
Keep in mind that your goals may change. You might discover that your intended audience is misaligned with the content you’ve created for one purpose, but in the process discover a new value for your content you hadn’t considered. Be open to adapting and evolving your goals as you learn what works.
Change the Channel
In the age of content everywhere, many publishers are struggling to find a strategy that targets their core audience and instead find themselves trying to be everything to everyone. With limited editorial resources that strategy rarely works. The result is too much content that doesn’t perform well in any particular channel and a watered-down brand that doesn’t resonate with any one, loyal group.
Before you start developing your content, assess where your desired audience likely lives and how they are most likely to find your content. Identifying a few key distribution channels will help you sculpt your content to maximize performance within a given channel.
Target Your Content
Now that you know what your content will be about and where your audience will find it, it’s time to make sure the content itself is packaged in a manner that aligns with those goals. That means identifying what formats and templates work best for your intended audience. While social media loves eye-catching images and clickable headlines, content designed to drive organic search traffic should be SEO-focused and formatted for search-friendly performance.
Aligning your content format to your end goals means again leveraging teams outside of content to gather data and advice on what works and what doesn’t. This will change over time, so a big part of targeting content requires a willingness to innovate and evolve over time.
The most important step in creating a strategic and purposeful content strategy is the follow up. Find ways to measure the actual success of your content initiatives that are focused on your company goals – not simply based on standard one-size-fits-all approaches. Measuring overall traffic or page views, for example, may not be the best way of determining if what you’re doing is serving your needs.
Make sure your approach to analyzing the success of your efforts is effective by bridging the communication gap between your decision makers and your data analysts. Too often, our data experts don’t understand our broader business goals and end up assessing the data in ways that are logical but not necessarily aligned with predicting the businesses’ desired outcomes.
While each of these steps may appear to be common sense, too often they get lost in the content planning process. Teams are siloed and often don’t discuss strategy until after the content is already created. Discussing each team’s needs and concerns early will result in better performing content and more efficient processes. It may also result in better understanding across teams and shared learning that results in better performance by each.
About the author
Jeanette Mulvey loves telling small business stories. From hardware stores in Saskatchewan to fashion designers in Milan, she’s traveled the world learning what makes entrepreneurs tick and hearing their struggles. As VP of B2B Content at Purch, she is responsible for content and social media and for Business.com and BusinessNewsDaily, where she strives to ensure both sites are the go-to destination for small business advice and inspiration. Follow her on Twitter @JeanetteB2B
Voice technologies are hot right now. Consumers are increasingly using voice-driven services on smartphones and smart speakers, which is changing the way content is sought out and consumed. This escalating trend has clear implications for marketers, content creators, and consumers.
Here’s how this market is evolving and what it means for media companies.
Mobile and the rise of voice-based tools
Nearly ubiquitous smartphone adoption has created opportunities for a plethora of new products and services, including those driven by voice. Perhaps the best known of these are personal digital assistants like Siri, which was introduced by Apple in 2011. It was followed by Alexa (Amazon) and Cortana (Microsoft) in 2014, and Google Assistant in 2017. Today, nearly half of US adults (46%) use these tools.
And as voice recognition programs become more accurate, they are impacting online search habits. In 2016, Google reported that 20% of searches on Android were already being made using voice. GlobalWebIndex also observed that, in the 34 markets it covered, 25% of those aged 16-24 had used voice search on their mobile in the past month. In fact, by 2020, comScore predicts that half of all searches will be conducted by voice.
Voice on Smart Speakers
Smart speakers are one of the top consumer tech trends right now. The 2018 Digital News Report, produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, found that in major markets such as the US, UK, and Germany, usage of these products had more than doubled over the past year.
A March 2018 study from Voicebot.ai and the voice app company, PullString, found that “19.7% of US adults [about 47.3 million] have access to smart speakers today. That is up from less than 1% of the population just two years ago.” By 2022, according to Forrester Research, 50% of US households will have a smart speaker.
The rapid adoption of voice technologies – from voice search to smart speakers – is noteworthy, especially when benchmarked against the take-up of many other more established technologies.
Why these technologies are growing
Typically housed in shared spaces like the living room and/or kitchen, smart speakers can be used by multiple people. Google has noted how “in a short period of time, voice-activated speakers have become part of people’s routines.”
Reasons for this include the ability to use the technology while doing something else (multi-tasking), the fact that people speak more quickly than they can type (speed), and increasingly “human” interfaces.
Indeed, “People perceive the devices as more than just an electronic toy.” Google found that “they’re more akin to another person or a friend.” In 2017 research with over 1,600 users of voice-activated speakers, 41% said that using the technology feels like they’re “talking to a friend of another person.” All of these traits are only going to grow as these technologies continue to evolve and improve.
What this means: Four key considerations
Given the rise of voice-enabled devices and tools, here are four strategic considerations and opportunities for brands and media companies:
1. Ensure your content is optimized for voice search
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) never stands still, but the voice revolution presents some new challenges. Recognizing this emerging trend, back in 2016, Campaign advised “savvy marketers” to “write content in a natural, conversational voice that answers the questions your consumers are asking.”
“Website content in the era of voice search isn’t about keywords,” they wrote, “it’s about semantic search and building the context related to answering a question.”
On smart speakers, as Trustpilot’s Jason Barnard and Chee Lo have explained, there’s a further consideration. Unlike traditional search engine results on desktop or mobile, where you get a range of options, voice searches tend to be highly specific and typically result in a single response.
As Rebecca Sentancereflected on Search Engine Watch, “the rise of voice search is transforming search engines into “answer engines,” which require a different strategy and set of ingredients for success. This strategy has come to be known as AEO, or “answer engine optimization”.”
There’s a raft of tip sheets and detailed articles on this topic for those new to this topic. In one of them, Bryson Meunier, SEO Director at Vivid Seats, recently outlined 12 recommendations in an article for Search Engine Land, advising: “Focus first on optimizing for conversational keywords and implement Actions for Google to get more traffic from voice search.”
2. Harness opportunities for content innovation and delivery
To date, most activity on smart speakers tends to be functional. Consumers typically ask for a weather updates, jokes, or travel directions. consumption of news content and podcast playback typically fall much lower on the list. But that doesn’t mean that publishers and media companies are not experimenting with content and new interactive formats for these platforms.
Publishers from NPR to Reuters, the New York Times and CNN, as well as local news providers such as the Tennessean, IndyStar, and Texas Tribune, are all creating short audio briefings designed to be heard on smart speakers. Apple’s new HomePod will feature content from the Washington Post by default.
Alongside more broadcast-like content delivery, 2018’s Digital News Report noted how “media companies like Quartz are also developing apps (or ‘skills’ as they are known) that allow conversational interaction with the devices.” One such experiment, produced by the BBC in late 2017, featured a 20-minute “interactive science fiction comedy story” for Amazon Alexa and Google Home – called The Inspection Chamber – which encouraged listened to “play your part through voice interactions.”
And in April 2018, Netflix launched an interactive audio drama to promote its Lost in Space reboot. According to Variety: “The audio adventure, which lasts between five and six minutes, features a branched narrative and multiple-choice questions and answers. It was recorded with participation of the show’s cast, and produced in collaboration between Netflix and Google.”
These examples show how international, national, and local players across the media spectrum are experimenting with content being heard through smart speakers.
3. Explore opportunities for consumers to make voice-activated purchases
Jeff Malmad, managing director, Head of Life+, for WPP Group’s Mindshare North America, argued at the Mobile Marketing Association’s Impact conference earlier this year that “depending on your marketing category… 30 percent of your sales will be from incidental loyalty, based on voice searches, and based on voice purchases.”
Although this functionality perhaps lends itself more naturally to other products (Malmad highlighted an advert featuring a couple placing their usual Starbucks order through the Alexa app in their Ford car), voice shopping is predicted to be a $40 billion market by 2022. That’s up from just $2 billion today.
It could be used by media companies for on-going, or one-off, subscriptions, memberships, micropayments, downloads, or access to exclusive content.
Either way, this is an emerging vertical which – like voice technology per se – that cannot be overlooked.
4. Determine if there are new revenue opportunities
Although the eCommerce functionality of this technology remains relatively nascent, companies like CNBC are exploring more traditional advertising packages, such as sponsorships, on these platforms.
John Trimble chief revenue officer of Pandora, has highlighted the advertising potential, given the ability of consumers to respond to audio messages in a manner not previously possible. As he wrote in Recode earlier this year:
“Radio ads have been around since the days of Marconi, but listeners to this day still can’t respond to an ad the way an Alexa user can interact directly with the device.”
That this happens in an increasingly screen-free environment will require creative solutions in order to unlock the commercial opportunities. Gartner has predicted that “by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.”
Screen-less, voice-only platforms, will not only represent a very different way for consumers to find information online. They will also disrupt a number of traditional online advertising models too.
This technology is still relatively nascent, but it’s playing out against a wider background whereby voice technology is becoming increasingly integrated into our lives. And, in case you’re not yet convinced that the voice market merits your attention, keep in mind that this trend is global and impacting devices of all kinds.
Alibaba sold 1 million Tmall Genie X1 smart speakers in the last four months of 2017, a device they plan to install in 100,000 Marriott hotel rooms across China. And closer to home, Roku TV’s will soon feature built in voice assistants, while Dish already allows you to search and surf for content using voice functionality in their TV remote control. In the era of the Internet of Things, domestic appliances – such as those from Whirlpool – can already be managed by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Undoubtedly, voice technology will become all-pervasive. In November, Amazon announced Alexa for Business, “a new service that enables businesses and organizations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale.” This is just one way that voice-triggered activities – from search through to content discovery and shopping – will move out of the home and into the office and car.
Voice search and screen-less content consumption are areas that are already beginning to take off. And this trend will increasingly impact media and information habits in the future. As a result, understanding the potential – and pitfalls – of this technology is an area that brands and publishers need to be exploring, if they aren’t already.
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off last month’s Google I/O by stating that “there is more great journalism being created today than ever before.” Pichai and Trystan Upstill, Head of News Product and Engineering at Google, went on to highlight the programs and products Google was working on to help publishers sustain quality journalism. A lofty approach by a company often on the receiving end of publishers’ ire. They are making an effort, however, by doing the work and committing the resources to change the narrative.
The core of Google’s strategy relies solely on the Google News app. Typically, social feeds aren’t aligned with publishers’ needs. This is because social lacks brand awareness, revenue opportunity, and data about the end audiences. Furthermore, social feeds are often blamed for creating “filter bubbles” that negate a holistic approach to a topic and disintermediate the publisher/reader relationship. The Google News app has put some serious work into addressing some, but not all, of these concerns.
Here are the top four concerns that they appropriately addressed.
1. Featuring the Publisher Brand
The publisher brand is well-featured and prominent in the app experience. This helps bolster publisher brand awareness and avoids the “I read it on Facebook” dilemma. (This is what over 50% of readers answer when asked which publisher authored an article they read online.)
2. Avoiding the “Filter Bubble”
The “Headlines” section of the new app lets readers view what everyone else is reading. This helps address the “filter bubble” effect that comes from a 100% curated social experience. Discovery of new content from outside your social circle or creating more engaging ways to expose interesting content is critical.
3. Delivering Full Coverage
Our favorite geek-out feature is “Full Coverage,” which is a link placed under most news topics. Full Coverage provides multiple points of view from many different sources. As stories evolve over time, Full Coverage hosts a timeline so readers can understand the changes in the storyline. To enable Full Coverage, Google uses temporal co-locality. In layman’s terms, Google can understand the people, places and things related to a story in real-time and then package them. Even tweets, fact-checking and commonly asked questions are included in Full Coverage.
4. Creating Better Content Experiences
In the ‘make it easier to consume content’ category, “Newscasts” is a new user experience for packaging content. It neatly combines articles, videos, quotes and other types of content on a single topic, no matter where you are in the app. Upstill referred to it as “a preview that allows you to get a feel for the story.”
At Outbrain, we applaud any effort that helps readers discover new content, and addresses publisher concerns. We aren’t ignoring the legitimate business issues publishers have with Google, but are more than willing to highlight a great product, we’re all readers at the end of the day.
There’s a good chance that you have a cell phone within arm’s reach right now, maybe in a pocket, next to you on your desk, or even in your hand as you read this post.
Even so, when you imagine a reader interacting with your site, do you tend to picture a person browsing on a laptop or do you see a commuter reading on her phone? Getting a clearer picture of how readers discover content via devices starts with checking in with the data.
As recently as 2013, peak dailymobile usage only accounted for 20% of traffic. Parse.ly network data shows that on average over 65% of traffic to publisher and brand sites in 2017 was “pure mobile.” Now, at the beginning of 2018, mobile and tablets drive 73% of traffic to our network.
With the mobile audience growing faster and bigger than ever before, it’s essential to understand the media habits unique to those readers. Here’s what the data suggests about people’s habits when it comes to when, where, and why we’re on our phones.
When: Desktop during workdays, mobile all the time
The times that people are more likely to browse on mobile vs. desktop vary. Desktop still has a weekday cadence (following peoples’ work schedules), whereas mobile is “all day every day,” including some morning and night-time peaks. People also tend to use tablets on weekends.
We also consistently see a drop-off in desktop traffic between 5:00 pm and 5:30 pm in every local timezone in the U.S.. Of course, this makes sense because many people head home from work around 5:00 pm.
Desktop ended 2017 at only 25% of total traffic across all our publishers, and kicked off 2018 at only 23% of traffic.This does vary quite a bit on a publisher-by-publisher basis. For example, some international publishers are almost all mobile traffic, and some subscription or workday reads lean desktop. However, overall, it’s a safe bet that mobile and tablet have firmly overtaken desktop for “casual” news reading.
Where: Five big movers of mobile traffic in 2017
When you break down the services or referrers that drove mobile growth in 2017, five bigs ones stand out. People are discovering content on mobile devices via:
1. Plain old Google Search
Google experimented a lot with highlighting premium publishers in their mobile search experiences, and unifying Google Search with Google News, which drove more traffic back to publishers’ sites.
Traffic from Google AMP increased by 87% in 2017. Not only that, but making AMP available to other platforms contributed to mobile growth. AMP drove 3% of visitors to our network by way of non-Google platforms, including Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
2. Google’s non-search connected services
These services include Google Now and Google Play Newsstand, mostly on Android. Though these services did not grow the most out of the five listed here, the absolute number of visits delivered was substantial, and contributed to Google overtaking Facebook as a primary source of traffic. AMP and Android platform dominance propelled Google’s shift from news search to content discovery.
Flipboard was the big independent (read: not Google or Facebook) traffic source growth story of 2017. Especially in the latter half of the year, as they launched their formal partnerships with major publishers, Flipboard grew over 300% over the year in mobile.
Twitter and Flipboard are now sending similar levels of mobile visits to publisher sites. Twitter has reinvested in news partnerships, mobile speed, and their mobile apps. Notable changes to the app include the shift to the 280 character limit, AMP embeds, and algorithm changes.
Why: We feel the need, the need for speed on mobile
Speed heavily factors into why people are browsing the way they do on mobile.
With people using their phones everywhere—in transit, waiting in line, you name it—it’s likely that they’ll be off wifi and on a network. The speedier the network connection, the better the experience. This resonates with a finding from a recent Pew Research survey: half of Americans say an unlimited cell data plan would help them get information to make decisions.
“A majority of digital news consumers report it is very important to them that ads not interfere with the news (63 percent); that the site or app loads fast (63 percent); that the content works well on their mobile phones (60 percent).” — American Press Institute
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Flipboard, and others were right, we think, to focus so aggressively on mobile page speed improvements. For example, Google recently re-emphasized the fact that their search algorithms would penalize slow sites on mobile.
It’s worth noting that just because people want content to load quickly, that doesn’t mean they want to move on from content quickly. Long-form articles get more than twice the engaged time of short-form articles on cellphones, according to a 2016 study from Pew Research.
Keeping up with the pace of mobile growth
With the fast growth of mobile, and especially now that Facebook referrals are declining, building direct mobile channels allows publishers to meet readers where they are.
People still spend a lot of time checking email, and having a “daily read” newsletter is a great way to drive traffic to your mobile site, without requiring a native iOS or Android app strategy. According to a study by Campaign Monitor, 41% of email opens happen on mobile devices, exceeding the amount of opens on both desktop and tablets. If you can’t build your own app, integrate your content into users’ habitual engagement with their email app.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that readers are less likely to click through on mobile. Campaign Monitor reports, “As more people consume email on mobile devices, the standard for compelling content is higher than ever.”
As mobile grows, checking back in with the data helps ensure that you’re connecting with readers when and where they are on mobile, and delivering content that resonates with them.
The shift to abundance is a very well-known trend in the media industry, and something that most publishers are struggling with. But the dynamics behind this trend are not unique. As soon as you get too much choice in a market, it starts to split in in two very different directions.
The Supermarket Effect
One direction is what I call the “supermarket effect,” where you focus on building scale with content that covers people’s general needs. This works great if you are big publisher, because then you can use your size to drive revenue, even though the value per article is extremely low.
But this is also where the problem is. Because, if your editorial strategy is to be a supermarket, being small just doesn’t work. There is no market for a smaller supermarket.
This is the problem we now see in the media. Most publishers have traditionally been centered around creating “packages of random content,” which, fundamentally, means the they are designed to be a supermarket of content. This worked great for a while. But in today’s world of abundance, it puts a lot of pressure on smaller publishers.
The Local Papers
We see this very clearly when we look at local newspapers (especially outside the larger US cities). Think of it like this: A local newspaper is like a small grocery store with a little bit of everything for the local community. And for many years, it was the go to place for everyone in its community. But imagine what happens when, one day, Amazon opens a Whole Foods store next door.
The answer is obvious, the smaller local store is outcompeted.
Being local is no longer viable, because you can’t compete with Amazon’s many advantages of being able to offer more items, at lower prices, with bigger marketing budgets, Amazon Prime, and a hugely scalable back-end logistic system.
We can see this in play when with companies like Meredith acquire Time Inc. Their strategy is to become a bigger supermarket by consolidating not just how many publications their own, but also how they work. And, as a strategy, this is a good approach if they can build up enough scale.
The Selective Approach
But this isn’t the only way to win the future. Another way is to become the opposite of a supermarket of content … which is to “get picked.”
People use supermarkets when they are just filling their daily needs without really thinking too much. So, the opposite of this is to get people to think and to choose to spend time with you. To do this we have to change the way we exist as publishers. Instead of focusing our editorial strategies around creating packages of content, we must start to build publishing products that people can (and will) pick.
Let me give you an example.
Most traditional magazines do reviews, but they are not designed for people who have a specific need. Instead, they are just published like any other article. This is not what people want when they are looking for a review. There is a very big difference between people who just sit down and flip through pages (or randomly come across links on Facebook), and people who are actually looking for answers. So, what we see now are companies like The WireCutter, which was created in 2011 by Brian Lam, to be a new type of review site that only focused on bringing you very high-end and very detailed reviews.
And look at what has happened. Because The Wirecutter designed itself around people when they need a review, they have become the destination for people to go to when they want to figure out what products to buy.
This is the difference between just having a “supermarket” editorial focus where the reviews are just another random story and having a “product” editorial focus where the content is designed to solve a specific need.
Product Makes Perfect
And this also applies to many other things. For instance, a traditional fitness magazine often has a wide-ranging selection of stories about health, nutrition, and exercise, but there is no real goal or structure to them.
Then look at the digital native publishers. They are not creating random articles. Instead, they are building fitness publishing products. They offer you actual training, they create meal plans for you, and they actively help you achieve your health goals.
Consider business publications: Are you just giving business people random news? Or are you helping them do their job better? Are you providing them with content, data, and insights that they can put to work?
On YouTube, for instance, YouTube itself is the “supermarket of random videos.” And, because of this, every single YouTuber knows that the only way to be successful on YouTube is to instead do something that people will specifically pick. So, every YouTube channel is defined around a very narrow focus, because you need that to create something for people to connect with.
YouTubers know that you can’t be a supermarket within a supermarket. Meaning, you can’t just give people a little bit of everything in a place where there is already a lot of everything.
This is now the reality of the media.
A few larger publishers will attempt to become the modern supermarkets of publishing and they may succeed. But next to this is another marketplace, where individual publishers create publishing “products” that are designed to be picked. The kind of specialty places that they turn to when they have a more defined moment and want something specific.
This is your challenge for the future. What will you do to get picked?
Thomas Baekdal is a media analyst and publisher of Baekdal Plus.
It feels like déjà vu all over again, harking back to the not-so-distant past when we had “Internet Slowdown Day” (2014) and “Internet Blackout Day” (2012) in support of net neutrality. Those battles seemed to have been won with the FCC changing its rules to protect net neutrality so that ISPs don’t block or throttle traffic.
The new FCC chairman Ajit Pai, formerly an associate general counsel at Verizon, recently released a proposal that would undo the Obama-era regulations that enforced net neutrality. Undoing net neutrality would give telecoms and ISPs the power to charge more or slow down services at will. Though they would have to be “transparent” about it (maybe in fine print somewhere).
In fact, as social media has become a larger source of news, and streaming video services are replacing traditional television, dismantling net neutrality regulations will upend how users access content. It also stands to change who can deliver news, information, and entertainment in the first place.
This is not a strictly conservative agenda — even Donald Trump’s supporters are now debating the potential consequences of upending net neutrality. Here’s a roundup of some of the winners and losers if the FCC’s proposal comes into play, with an eye on publishers and online content.
Internet Service Providers: AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, et al
ISPs will have more leverage over what they can charge consumers, and be in a position where they can slow or throttle the delivery of content from their competitors. Telecom companies have resisted net neutrality regulations by insisting they can offer more or less to consumers at different price points. In other words, offer audiences a wider variety. But that also means they can favor their own offerings, including streaming services. Take this example Wired’s Klint Finley assembled:
“When AT&T customers access its DirecTV Now video-streaming service, the data doesn’t count against their plan’s data limits. Verizon, likewise, exempts its Go90 service from its customers’ data plans. T-Mobile allows multiple video and music streaming services to bypass its data limits, essentially allowing it to pick winners and losers in those categories.”
The end of net neutrality signals that more packages like this one may become the norm.
Publishers Owned by ISPs
The publishers under the umbrella of large telecom companies could also get a leg up when it comes to favored distribution. Verizon owns AOL, Yahoo, HuffPost and TechCrunch content, among others. Comcast owns NBCUniversal Media, which includes all NBC channels, USA Network, Telemundo and a stake in Hulu. If AT&T closes its deal to purchase Time Warner, that means it owns HBO, CNN and TBS. Bundling packages that favor these subsidiaries could very well be a part of new subscription plans. The downside is that while one telecom might favor owned content, the others might throttle it.
The chairman of the FCC wanted to undo net neutrality rules for a long time, and with the odds of voting stacked in his favor, this would be a clear victory for his deregulatory point of view.
Deregulating the internet by abolishing net neutrality is in line with Donald Trump’s conservative government agenda. It’s a huge boost to an administration looking to favor business at all costs (and undermine Obama-era accomplishments).
Streaming video players: Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, et al
If AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which the Department of Justice is currently trying to block, comes through, that means that a telecom company owns HBO. Imagine what that could mean for HBO’s competitors? That’s exactly the situation that streaming video players find themselves in. The intuitive understanding is that the price of internet streaming will go up — for the streaming services that want to deliver video, and subsequently, the consumers who want to access those videos. Netflix has already announced that it will increase its monthly subscription rate, and loyal users seem intent to pay without fail. Yet this is with net neutrality still intact.
Ironically, streaming video players have succeeded where complicated and expensive cable subscription packages have not. However, as the internet looks to replicate cable subscriptions, it seems just as likely that not every Netflix consumer will be able to afford the cost of streaming their favorite content online.
Publishers not owned by ISPs
As the publishers who are part of large telecom conglomerates stand to receive the benefits of dismantling net neutrality, independent publishers could have the opposite experience. And that means everyone from the New York Times and Washington Post, which rely heavily on subscriptions; non-profits such as ProPublica; and local newspapers, which already struggle to compete with larger publishers of any kind online.
Small online local news startups have been trying to bridge the gap in coverage as newspapers have declined. This could hit them hard, according to Dylan Smith, chairman of the Local Independent Online News publishers.
“Giving a clear go-ahead for a tilted playing field would be the result if the FCC tosses out net neutrality,” Smith said.
Not having as many resources as larger competitors — but being able to access the same-speed connections — has enabled small companies to stay competitive and innovate when the odds were stacked against them. That’s how once-small startups like Etsy and Pinterest found their success. The chance that telecom companies would charge more for faster connections clearly puts such businesses at a disadvantage and could impact who will even be able to do business in the first place.
Technology giants: Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al
Tech titans have been some of the staunchest advocates for net neutrality. However, with telecom companies amassing more power if the regulations are upended, they too face potentially exorbitant rates. Sure, it’s hard to feel sorry for them, as they have plenty of money to pay more for a faster connection. But YouTube, Amazon Video, and now, Facebook Watch, have also made heavy investments into original video programming. An already competitive landscape stands to become much more volatile if the benefits of these video investments don’t outweigh the costs. And consumers will feel the trickle-down effects with the likelihood of more tiered-access and less access to programming they will want to watch.
If the internet becomes more expensive for different kinds of websites, services and content, this will likely lead to consumers paying more. Online education startups like CodeAcademy have made their mark offering courses online, for example. The internet, which helped equalize access to such opportunities, will now make them more stratified.
In the end, it might come down to the courts to stop the FCC’s move to roll back net neutrality protections. As Tim Wu wrote in the New York Times, Pai will have to prove that the FCC is justified in repealing net neutrality, and it will fall short in proving that telecoms haven’t been investing in infrastructure or that there has been harm done. For publishers and tech companies – and consumers – that’s the last best hope that the rollback can be stopped. Otherwise, cue Internet Slowdown Day 2.0.
In the early days of digital, media companies believed that more was better. However today, they are waking up to a hard truth. Stockpiles of content – without technology platforms to make it widely available in ways people find valuable, meaningful, and dead-simple – can destroy competitive advantage, rather than build it. National Geographic, an iconic brand with over 360 million social fans, including a significant audience across desktop and mobile for its editorial and video content, is exploring technology platforms and partnerships to open the aperture of the content they offer and the audiences they reach.
Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove – caught up with Marcus East, National Geographic executive vice president of product and technology. They discussed the company’s strategy to build strong emotional engagement with global audiences through deep personalization, intuitive access, wider app distribution, and an intelligent platform codenamed CHIP. National Geographic has no shortage of compelling content. Here’s a look at their strategy to deliver experiences to match.
PAS: You joined National Geographic from Marks and Spencer, where you ran e-commerce, digital product, digital operations and technology platforms. Before that you ran e-commerce solutions for Apple in EMEA, and later at HQ. How does your experience prepare you to define and drive mobile strategy at National Geographic?
ME: Spending half of my career in technology and the other half in consumer brands allows me to understand what it takes to deliver mobile content consumers love. Your app is only as good as the content and the utility that sits within it. And for us, the emphasis is on making sure that we’re investing in both of those areas. That means having the right technology platforms and the right app strategy, but driven by content. Ultimately, it’s the content that our consumers love and why they come to National Geographic.
PAS: So, we are back to Content is King…
ME: Yes, and everything we do has to be about making the content king. The content is what drives the experiences that consumers love. That’s fascinating for me because I’ve worked in e-commerce environments where consumer value is very much about utility. At National Geographic, it’s about bringing our brand to life on mobile. The reality is many of our consumers are right now interacting with us through their mobile the way they want, which may be on Instagram or it may be on Facebook. So, what we do need to be complementary to that experience.
Social reach and engagement is important to us. We have 360 million social media fans, and that’s an incredible footprint. However, we also think there’s an opportunity to build upon that and to extend and optimize our mobile experience for that audience that is dedicated and comes directly to National Geographic and wants to get deeper and further into the stories behind the pictures.
PAS: Your mobile app is work in progress. It’s already breaking some exciting new ground when it comes to helping users navigate and personalize content. We can’t all access it yet, so what can you tell me about the user experience you offer?
ME: Right now, we’re redesigning elements of our website to really be optimized for that mobile experience. Around 50% of our traffic comes on mobile, which is no surprise. At the same time, we’re also building a new app strategy, which we’ve launched and tested in one market: Australia. We launched the app with a telco partner, and we’re seeing a great deal of success there and that is informing our wider global mobile strategy.
Content is king in the app and so the experiences that we deliver through our app put the content front and center. We have a 129-year heritage of photos and articles and, more recently, videos. We don’t want the interface to get in the way of that. The interface has to allow our consumers to explore the content and go further. That means moving the navigation into the background so that it really highlights the content. We achieve this by thinking about what the consumer wants to do first, and there are three concepts. Rather than presenting consumers a complex navigation that groups content into pictures, video and articles, we’ve decided to design it the way people to engage with content. We have ‘Read,’ which is where users can engage with the editorial and the magazine; we have ‘Watch,’ which is where they can access to our video content.
Our app approach is about the consumer and the content. For this reason, the app experience also provides a level of personalization, allowing the user to specify what’s most interesting to them. Over time, the app will learn exactly what things are most interesting to that consumer based both on their preferences and on what they’re actually consuming.
PAS: The navigation is invisible and intelligent. What about the platform that powers it?
ME: We want users to log in to the app and experience the content that’s right for them, and we’re applying this same principle to our websites. We’re also looking at how we can, using some advanced techniques like progressive web apps, for example, to create a more personalized experience for consumers. This is why we want to build an intelligent platform to support the ambitions of our business.
So, what we’re exploring and building is what we’re calling a cohesive intelligent platform, codenamed ‘CHIP’. We’re building an innovation lab here in our headquarters in Washington, D.C. and we’re working with lots of technology partners and companies to explore all that. The idea is, as users come into our platform, we want to learn more about them, give them an opportunity to tell us about their preferences so that we can improve that experience, and let them see the content that’s most valuable for them. Offering personalized experiences where content is front and center – this is really the future of mobile.
PAS: It’s an ambitious strategy. But what is really interesting is how you are building the platform to deliver it because you are also orchestrating the best pieces of the other platforms, like social …
ME: I like your choice of the word “orchestrated” because the platform that we envisage is, you could argue, a virtual platform because we aren’t going to build every component of it. We are making it by orchestrating the right content management systems, the right personalization engine, the right distribution system. For some parts of the platform we may work with third parties, and for others we may build it ourselves. It all starts with experimentation; we are iterating in an agile way and building.
We’re unique in that we’ve got unparalleled global reach. We touch over 745 million consumers across 172 countries, and that’s every month. But it’s also across lots of different content types. People watch our TV channel, which is the most widely distributed in the world. People read the magazine, and they also interact with us in social.
As we build out and execute our digital capabilities we want to create a way to allow our consumers to go beyond how they experience our content today. Take consumers who read the magazine. We want them to also be able to consume our digital content on our website and watch our TV channel. It’s all about pivoting away from the different products and channels that we have and bringing it to life for the consumer and giving them new ways to explore National Geographic and the world around them through National Geographic.
PAS: You want to enrich consumers’ lives through content. That also sounds a lot like you may have a new twist on native advertising. Where does monetization fit in and how do you plan to also put content front and center in that experience?
ME: We’re exploring all the ways in which we can create the best experience, including sponsorships and e-commerce opportunities that can become part of that experience. Let’s imagine we have a consumer who absolutely loves penguins and they are on our website where they search for and engage with lots of content about penguins. We see that as an opportunity to maybe share with them details about our products that are related to penguins. It might be a penguin cuddly toy, or it might be a book about penguins, or ultimately, it may be a trip to Antarctica to go and actually see penguins in real-life. This is where we will have delivered on the ultimate promise of digital and making content part of everything that we do.
PAS: You also offer educational content. How does personalization of content and advertising extend to that audience?
ME: Ten years ago, media brands and publishers would’ve expected people to come to the website, do the work, go through the navigation and find the content that’s right to them. The Nirvana, for us, is to create a personalized experience, one that allows us to know enough about those two personas – the consumer and the educator. So, when they interact with our brand, we can give them access to content that is relevant to them, and that meets their needs.
To that point, one of the things that we’re embracing is the Jobs To Be Done paradigm that Clayton Christensen and other academics have proposed. Yes, we look at all the metrics as any media company would, but we’re also deep diving into what consumers really want and why they come to our website. Getting a deeper understanding of those consumers want to do, powered by technology. We need to have the right technology platform in place to do that in the first place. This will allow us to maximize the brand opportunity.
PAS: You can also maximize your opportunity by getting your brand in the hand of all your readers – across all 172 countries. How do you see this global opportunity and what are you doing to grasp it?
ME: There is a real opportunity at distributing apps using alternative channels and app stores. And it’s a cost-effective way to reach and interact with consumers and markets where we haven’t necessarily had a strong proposition. We recently did an audit of app stores globally – of which there are over 200 – to better understand their focus and their audience. We have a good relationship with many telco partners around the world that have their own app stores. Various technology companies have also come to and asked us to publish out app in their app stores as well. So, right now, we’re auditing to make sure that we, in a deliberate way, prioritize which of those app stores are right for us.
PAS: I am researching this alternative app store landscape, which is over 350 stores and counting. In China, for example, alternative Android app stores dominate…
ME: I was quite intrigued to see the range of app stores in China. From WeChat to handset maker, there is a wealth of opportunity. We also want to minimize the cost of being in all these different environments, and that’s why I attach so much importance to orchestrating an intelligent platform so that if our teams in Asia, for example, can identify a new app store and a new partner in the region and be able to embark on a relationship without having to build everything from scratch, and without having to do lots of development work.
The number of app stores is quite remarkable, and as you well know from your research, many of them are quite different – with different audiences and different demographics. So, it’s fair to say that in the short term our priority will remain the best known and most established app stores, but we are exploring all of them.
PAS: Of course, being in app stores – even if it’s just Google Play and iTunes – means investing effort to ensure brand integrity. As a global and iconic brand, how do you ensure this?
ME: On the one hand, protecting your brand online and in apps is incredibly important. One of the things I’m responsible for here at National Geographic is information security. However, I believe if you build the best experiences for your consumers, ultimately, that’s the best way to protect your brand. Consumers will come directly to you to get content because they know your website or app is the right destination – and the only way – to get the most up-to-date content and personalized experience. It’s all about creating a compelling content story and a compelling user experience because that will make sure consumers come to us first.
Peggy Anne Salz is the Content Marketing Strategist and Chief Analyst of Mobile Groove, a top 50 influential technology site providing custom research to the global mobile industry and consulting to tech startups. Full disclosure: She is a frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of mobile marketing, engagement and apps. Her work also regularly appears in a range of publications from Venture Beat to Harvard Business Review. Peggy is a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe. Follow her @peggyanne.