Publishers are reclaiming their voice when it comes to how and when they are reaching their most important readers. As the market continues to feel pressure from ever-changing trends of the duopoly, publishers are putting more effort into direct relationships with their audiences and leveraging actionable intelligence from data. This means much more than ad targeting today. Data allows publishers to better serve their readers and, as a result, better profit from true engagement.
A study by the American Press Institute
surveyed over 4,000 consumers of news and found that 78% respondents value getting
reliable, accurate facts. An audience survey conducted by The New York Times,
found that 73% polled believe “that it has never
been more important to support quality journalism.” As consumers are willing to pay for quality journalism,
publishers are looking to leverage these trends to deliver their best content
and form meaningful reader relationships that will sustain the media business.
Although the vast majority of readers don’t
subscribe, those that do are the that do are the most impactful. They spend
longer on site and drive greater revenue. Of course, it is important to
remember that there is no one-size-fits-all for subscriptions. Solutions will
be different for every publisher and publishers must adapt to audience
behaviors quickly, as they change often.
paths to subscription
For example, some audiences respond well to metered
paywalls. Among digital subscribers, it was found in the same study by the
American Press Institute that 47% of respondents became a subscriber after they
reached a limit on free access. Other audiences engage after enjoying a
newsletter. Deciding on what content to show and when to show it is something
that needs to be finessed in order to satisfy audiences (and hopefully entice
them to subscribe).
Yet, even as subscriptions become a focal point, advertising revenue still accounts for the majority of publisher revenue, despite per-ad revenue declining. At the same time, readers are getting savvy about how they choose to consume content, bouncing quickly from pages when they are blanketed with disruptive ads. Publishers that deliver a clean website experience are more likely to build long-term relationships with readers.
Engagement is key. But getting there is not
easy. One route is personalization.
In fact, publishers who successfully drive subscriptions share a common theme
in understanding the importance of integrating both analytical and editorial
teams to provide deeper reader personalization in this digital era. This can mean content
personalization, but it can also take the form of personalizing subscription
offers based upon customer behavior and preference.
Hearst Newspapers has integrated various
initiatives where their growth is fueled by data. The publisher’s goal was to
evolve its digital properties into a portfolio of diversified subscription and
ad-supported sites. Through the use of AI, Hearst analyzed over two years of
subscriber data and can now identify what users are going to convert and where,
as well as analyze pre- and post-subscription patterns.
Editorial teams at The New York Times use
content analytics platforms to understand readership in real-time. They also centralize
the data for actionable intelligence that helps them better serve their
audience. (We’ve seen customers who take this kind of approach increase
conversions up to 200%.)
Data enhances the reader experience and makes
valuable connection for publishers by allowing editors adjust content
strategies based on where audiences come from and how they convert.
By being data informed, publishers can better
understand reader engagement as well as how that readership consumes their
content and what helps convert them from casual readers to seriously committed,
and even to become subscribers.
As online advertising has shifted predominantly to programmatic channels, personalized advertising has also exploded as marketers are able to leverage data at scale to reach their consumers. However, user privacy has increasingly become a global focal point for both consumers and the advertising industry as a whole. Both publishers and advertisers now need to adapt their methods in reaching consumers beyond just personalized, audience or behavioral targeting.
Leveraging data to make more informed ad targeting decisions is a breakthrough versus previous methods where ads were un-targeted. Personalized ads are a win for all parties. It is better for:
Users (connects them to more interesting and relevant ads)
Advertisers (results in higher return on investment)
Publishers (delivers higher CPMs and increased revenue)
Unfortunately, not all targeting is created equal. Certain industry practices have resulted in unpleasant user experiences. Needless to say, these should be avoided (i.e. excessive/ sticky re-targeting where ads follow users around the web).
Users should have the right to avoid cookies and personalized ads via an opt-out option in ads, or via their web browser settings. In Europe, GDPR legislation that went into effect in May 2018, now gives consumers in the EU even more control over their personal data – publishers in the region (as well as global publishers with European consumers) now need user permission for cookies for advertising purposes. It is striking to see that according to our measurement (GDPR barometer) which tracks the implementation of the new legislation in European countries, an average of only 5% of users opt-out from cookies. Therefore, 95% of consumers when asked are willing to consent to data-driven marketing! Contrary to negative press, users are generally not as annoyed by personalized ads as one would believe.
This article will dive into the realities facing publishers and brands today, and how to think differently about creating a more holistic solution when targeting users that is safe, compliant, and thoughtful about user experience.
The Shift Toward User Privacy
A number of pitfalls have emerged around user privacy that could potentially challenge personalized advertising tactics in various content consumption environments.
GDPR, The California Consumer Privacy Act, Canada’s PIPEDA have all changed the way we think about user data and consent. Teads’ barometer of CMP (Consent Management Platform) adoption reveals that approximately 50% of European publishers’ traffic is filtered by a CMP. This means that almost half of traffic today would not be compliant for personalized advertising in Europe.
Ad targeting leveraging user data will become increasingly difficult in the foreseeable future given the expansion of government regulation. And if you’re not a large walled garden (i.e., Google, Facebook, Amazon), you will become more disadvantaged due to a lack of first-party data at scale.
Social Media & Politics
As hundreds of millions of consumers leverage social media and share substantial amounts of personal information online, the risks of data misuse and even potential hacking of that data continue to increase. This risk was best exemplified through a series of scandals impacting Facebook ranging from Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of user data, to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election through targeted propaganda on the platform, to the most recent findings that Facebook shared user data with over 150 companies.The industry is now seeing huge consumer backlash against social media platforms as well as questions from marketers alike, which could ultimately add more fuel to the user privacy fire (while also providing a window of opportunity for publishers to provide a better marketing environment).
Beyond government regulation and industry self-regulation efforts in user privacy, technology companies are also implementing measures to prevent ad tracking and hence personalized ad targeting online.
Apple has been leading the charge for consumer privacy and most recently introduced Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.0 (ITP) on Safari for iOS 12 in September 2018
Safari now blocks first- and third-party cookies and cookie trackers are now completely, which represents 50% of mobile web browser share, rendering the majority of mobile web inventory useless for user tracking and ad retargeting.
Mozilla followed suit by enabling Enhanced Tracking Protection in its latest Firefox web browser.
Automation and data targeting at scale also have another downside for marketers beyond violating consumer privacy concerns: brand safety.
YouTube, which has heavily relied on its wealth of data and scale, has had a lengthy, recurring history of brand safety violations. Ads have run in objectionable environments ranging from pedophilia videos to extremist and hateful content.
Hundreds of brands have pulled their ads from YouTube in the past two years.
Contextual targeting tools not only provide a solution to avoid these brand safety snafus, but also ensure marketers reach the right audience that they’re paying for.
The Need for Context
Given these increasing challenges, contextual advertising, in addition to personalization, should be considered in a holistic advertising strategy. It serves as an effective, complementary solution in providing the right message to the right user. Contextual advertising also provides an advantage to premium publishers, particularly those lacking their own first-party data or enough scale to leverage data targeting.
Programmatic ad delivery is now the norm, and marketers have become increasingly reliant on user data to target their audiences. This over-reliance on data now creates substantial risk in the form of potential legal and monetary punishments, loss of consumer trust, limited scale as platforms adapt and negative perceptions towards brands appearing in questionable environments.
Contextual advertising – the targeting of ads based on the context of the content that a consumer is reading, watching or listening to – is not a new concept, but it is now an increasingly relevant and important tool in marketer’s toolkit as data becomes more challenged. Publishers can leverage context to extract the most value out of the content that they create to better compete against the walled gardens (which often only provide low quality scale). Marketers can still reach the most relevant (and likely more interested) audiences by placing ads in relevant environments. Users can still receive relevant messaging even when they’ve opted out of cookie-based targeting.
Whether it’s semantic, visual or audio analysis, the tools are available for contextual targeting in almost all content outlets.
A Holistic Targeting Solution
It is crucial to think about how to create relevant ad experiences for users leveraging both personalization and context. Publishers should think about a holistic strategy including targeting via dynamic creative optimization using their first- or third-party data, leveraging interest graphs to understand what content users are consuming, and analyzing content and identifying keywords on their pages to build the right context.
In order to adapt and succeed in a quickly evolving landscape for data and user privacy, we believe publishers and marketers need to exploit both identity and interest to maximize their potential reach and deliver the most optimal messaging.
The blind reliance on algorithms to sort and target content has resulted in a tidal wave of fake news. The resulting consumer sentiment is that all companies, not just Facebook, should guarantee greater transparency and accountability around the content they produce and the audiences they reach. While we have an opportunity to improve how we use technology to weed out disinformation, we also have a responsibility to invest in human effort to ensure the spread of high-quality news, not low-quality content.
UPDAY has embraced this view. The mobile news app owned by digital publishing house Axel Springer pairs machine learning with human judgment to deliver users personalized news and information aligned with their explicit preferences and implicit requirements. Operating in 16 countries across Europe, UPDAY has established eight editorial “hubs” where teams of local journalists review content from the top news sources to pick top stories and news consumers will genuinely appreciate.
Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and content marketing strategist at MobileGroove – catches up with UPDAY CEO Peter Würtenberger to discuss how the company’s approach to news curation and aggregation has allowed it to build partnerships with publishers, deepen engagement with users, and optimize content delivery to a plethora of devices and platforms.
PAS: AI and algorithms have a legitimate role to play in matching audiences with information they will likely appreciate. But we also see what happens when judgment is left to the machines. How do you maintain a balance?
PW: Fake news happened because companies relied 100% on technology, and this is what we have avoided at UPDAY from the start. Part of it is because, unlike the Apple, Facebook, and Google, we come from the newspaper business where journalists are the most valuable resource, not an overhead. Axel Springer is one of the leading publishers in the western world, selling over 1.5 million copies of the Bild newspaper daily. This was possible because we relied on journalists. At UPDAY, rather than leave news decisions to algorithms, we combine the intelligence of machines with human judgment to deliver personalized news that doesn’t trap audiences in a filter bubble.
The algorithm aggregates news—what you want to know—by understanding your personal interests and preferences out of approximately 300 hand-picked sources per country. There’s a dedicated team of Content Engineers that carefully checks each source in each country before integrating it into our source set. The human—in our case, eight editorial hubs in Europe where editorial teams on the ground curate news and information – judges and delivers what audiences need to know. This is the news of the day that matters, and we rely on a team of trained journalists in their fields to make this call. It’s about serving up the best of both worlds, the best of what technology and humans can offer when they work together.
PAS: You are aggregating content from original sources and packaging it with the help of personalization for your users. Tell me about your audience and their usage.
PW: The feedback we have from our users since day one is that they feel safe and confident that they are reading what really matters to them. This tells me that a user-centric approach to deliver the perfect and personalized mix of stories is working out very well. Users are engaging with UPDAY and highly appreciate the variety of our media brands. Our sources include the top 100 publishers in each of the markets where we are operating in.
We launched UPDAY in March 2016 and last year we counted around 10 million users. Today we have more than 20 million users spread across 16 countries, which makes us the fastest growing news app in Europe. A user session is around 5 minutes. We have more than 3 billion page impressions per month. And we aggregate more than 3,500 sources.
By the way, the publisher also gets a massive amount of traffic from UPDAY, and in some cases 10% even 15% of their mobile traffic comes from Upday. We aggregate their content—snippets with headlines and some body text from the publisher which they provide as part of the RSS feed—and, when the user clicks on the story, we send them directly to the property of that publisher. This is what publishers appreciate most. Unlike Facebook, which keeps all interaction and news consumption in its ecosystem, we drive traffic to publishers.
PAS: You deliver personalized news across over a dozen countries and languages. Do you rely on translations and localization to keep it relevant, or is there something else at play?
PW: We don’t translate any of the content, because that wouldn’t serve the user’s interest. Instead, we serve the users with their local sources in the local language. Our local team of journalists—the quality control, so to speak—is responsible for selecting the 30 to 40 most important top news stories per day and curating them, so they appear in the top news section we show to the user.
Clearly, this isn’t the way all media companies approach localization. Some agencies prefer to translate content from English to Spanish, for example, in order to serve it to large audiences. But we don’t believe this is the right way. In our view, it’s a better experience to source the local sources and media brands in the local language. And that’s the beauty of UPDAY—and now we see that other products and offers are changing to do it this way, too. I can only say we have been doing it like this for over two years and it’s great to see how others are understanding why this is the better way to deliver news and now come up with similar offerings.
PAS: You have engineered the algorithm that you pair with the human intelligence of your editorial hubs to deliver personalized news. How does this combination work to ensure the delivery of more relevant advertising alongside this news content?
PW: Our editorial competence and the understanding of the user behavior enabled us developing an offering that addresses various needs of the advertisers and brands. UPDAY offers a premium user experience with a flow of content and integrated native advertising which does not disturb the flow. It’s not a layer ad that users see and click it away. It’s in the natural stream of the news stream, showing every sixth card on average. It’s also the approach that kicked our monetization forth.
We started with an offering for so called direct sales – premium formats adjusted to the needs of our clients. We talked to clients and agencies and they booked display ads and video ads. At all times, our priority was to develop an advertising offering that enhances, not interrupts the user experience, where we could be the platform that brings advertisers closer to users. Our understanding of the users’ interests plays a crucial role here.
We also integrated a programmatic technology into UPDAY. It became the second phase of UPDAY’s advertising. But we established our capabilities as an SSP. We did this together with AppNexus and with Google. We started with programmatic native advertising that was perfectly aligned with our content. On UPDAY every news card has a photo, a headline, and text— native advertising looks similar to that and attracts the users with a great strength. Together with the data, it boosts our capabilities to deliver the right advertising in the right moment to the right user.
PAS: So, what are you seeing –and what are the lessons for other media companies that seek to monetize their assets and audiences?
PW: Our click rates are beyond expectation because our experience pairs human sense with data intelligence. We are seeing between 0.5% and 0.8% for display and more than 1% for native ads – regarding formats which are non-intrusive and integrated in the flow of UPDAY news. We’ve also seen native campaigns where we get between 5% and 6% click-through thank to our optimization measures. Overall, this is far above the industry standard, which hovers at around 0.1%.
It’s a combination of our human salespeople with our ad tech that leads to a success. We have teams that go to the companies and brands and say, “Hey, we have a high-quality, Europe-wide platform which is a perfect place for your marketing communication.” Once the brands realize there is more than Facebook, they are on board. We are running direct campaigns for SEAT in five major markets as a result. This is premium advertising with higher CPMs on a high-quality platform. We rely on human teams to understand what brands want to communicate and work with them—and really show them–what is possible on our platform. It’s a dual play between people and a constantly developed advertising product, and that is the play that gets advertising right.
If I look out at many media companies out there, they are still filling their pages with what they have been showing for last 20 years. It’s nothing more than a copy of the first page in their newspaper. Advertising is similar. It overwhelms the user with too many blinking parts, banners and annoying interruptions. This is a mistake, and so many content companies are still stuck in this rut. I would recommend content companies change this by introducing more user-friendliness and personalization into what they offer and how they deliver it. For the companies that make the algorithms—the Facebooks and Googles that read the user signals to personalize the content and advertising—they should look for ways to introduce a human touch and ‘humanize’ their tech because that is what they are lacking. It’s got to be user first —and the advertising needs to be highly personal and highly relevant.
PAS: You are also aligned with technology and your partnership Samsung is evolving to take you beyond the smartphone. What are the new opportunities on the horizon?
PW: It started out as a strategic partnership between Axel Springer, an expert in journalism, news, and creating a digital information brand, and Samsung, an expert in engineering and building devices. We pair our learnings from the news business and our learning algorithm with Samsung’s leadership position in devices and distribution. Remember, globally Samsung is far bigger than Apple.
However, it’s not just about having a larger share of the smartphone market. It’s about the breadth of devices and platforms where we can provide news content. We are already on the smart watch, and we are also the news source on the Family Hub that Samsung enables on its smart refrigerators. Most recently, Samsung has integrated our news app on their ambient QLED TV screens. These are screens that just turn on when you pass them, and UPDAY news is what consumers will see when they interact with that screen – across 12 countries in Europe.
Now other industries are contacting us. The car industry is asking us to develop an integration for smart cars to deliver personalized news in the car. We are thinking about how we can provide news in this environment, and it’s clear that the news we aggregate will also have to be read out-loud to the consumer.
PAS: But that also brings challenges as humans can’t scale, and your editorial team will have to…
PW: It has to be scalable. And you do this by making sure all the content comes from a single platform. If we were to start building content data platforms for each of the platforms we serve — for smartphones, watches, fridges and now TV — we would be dead from the sheer complexity of it. All those different devices and platforms must be served from the same content engine, from the same algorithm engine, and from the same journalists who are curating the content. This is what we have built and manage.
It’s one content platform, and you see the same content — even the same headline — on all four platforms. But it will get more complicated when we add voice—and voice is coming. It’s very early in the market, and there are great text-to-speech engines around, but this is just the beginning. Some of our main challenges will be: How to deliver the most relevant content in the most convenient and appealing way to the audience? There are legal issues to solve and we have to consider ways to monetize most efficiently, of course.
Print media was disrupted by the Internet and mobile is disrupting online. Now voice is poised to disrupt everything we as an industry have known or done so far. The best preparation for a media company is to be paranoid. Watch everything, experiment everywhere and execute on the ideas with potential. It’s why we maintain and motivate a startup culture in our company determined to stay alert and always be open to drastic change. It’s better we disrupt ourselves from within than risk being disrupted by a trend or technology beyond our vision.
When Andrew Chen, mobile growth guru and General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, revealed research that showed the average app mostly loses its entire user base within a few months it triggered an avalanche of interest in understanding the characteristics of an exceptional app. Chen suggested standout apps owe their high metrics and user appeal to efforts early in the funnel to build consumer connection and demonstrate value. He also warned that sending “spammy notifications” was a strategy sure to backfire.
Fast forward, and more companies are following his advice, using notifications to enhance the app experience, not annoy app users. In a recent interview, Doug Vance, Vice President, Product Development, ABC News, discussed how the company has harnessed push notifications to help consumers personalize breaking news alerts. It’s part of a wider strategy to put consumers in control of their news experience, on smartphones and on the web.
Takeways and Tips
The ABC News journey to redefine the push experience started in 2016, when it made the decision to relaunch its platforms to serve a national audience with election coverage that was highly engaging and locally relevant. The process—segmenting the audience according to their explicit news preferences and then automating campaigns to deliver notifications that would activate, not frustrate, users–taught ABC News three key lessons around the right way to personalize push.
1. Capture audience attention with high visibility.
As Vance sees it: it all starts with having a conversation with your users in a way that really “speaks” to them. Determining the news consumers want more of, or want to avoid altogether requires continuous dialog that is not limited to the times when a user opens the app. “We didn’t offer this via the app; we offered it directly within the app,” Vance recalls. To this end ABC News automated the process including questions [about user preferences] in the news feed in what the company internally called an Election Module that users would see every time they opened the app.
2. Build trust through frequent interaction and education.
Marketing wizard Seth Godin once pointed out that frequency, familiarity and “saying it more than once” are essential to building customer relationships. The same factors are essential to powering effective push notifications. With this in mind ABC News didn’t assume consumers would jump on the opportunity to personalize their news consumption from the get-go. It reinforced this feature with frequent interactions and opportunities educating users about the “how” and “why” of volunteering information about their interests.
“In the summer leading up to the election, we gave users the opportunity to answer questions (about their news preferences) in the app and tell us, “Hey, look, I really love politics, so send me everything that you think is important about the election,” Vance explains. Users could also choose to receive fewer alerts, and they also had the option to ignore the question altogether and just scroll past it. The point is: users were in complete control of their experience. On election ABC News had the data to deliver users real-time results based on their explicit interests. What’s more, the 2016 election emerged as the “high-water mark” in how ABC news could deliver personalized push and engage audiences.
3. Let users fine-tune their local experience.
ABC News reasoned that users who opted in for new alerts would be most interested in what was happening in their own individual state and want to how more about how their state voted in the presidential race. To meet this expectation, the company ensured that push notifications were aligned with users’ preferences and user location. “We saw that giving users more granular control over the news alerts they received and then using geo as a means to segment and personalize these push alerts served us very well.” In fact, push was one of the most-used features in 2016, with ABC News sent over 25 million alerts to its user base. “Overall, we saw a massive increase in the open rates of regionalized push notifications and, more importantly, we didn’t see increased uninstalls due to the huge volume of the alerts we delivered.”
Building on these best practices has allowed ABC News to chalk up an impressive 2 million-plus user base for push notifications in native apps. The challenge will be to grow that number and deepen engagement. This is where a multi-channel approach to user education can pay dividends.
Information about the app and personalized push alerts as a value proposition figure prominently in every aspect of how ABC News interacts with its audience. During the recent Mark Zuckerberg hearings before Congress, the company cut into regularly scheduled network coverage to remind viewers that they can download the ABC News app to follow developments and get more from the story.
Encouraged by engagement metrics that have in some cases doubled thanks to personalized push for news ABC News is evolving its strategy. An example is Start Here, a new daily podcast where ABC News’ approach to push doesn’t just let users opt in for alerts that tell them when a new episode is published. The platform allows users to open the podcast from the in-app notification and play it right there. ABC News is also focused on doing the same for its digital originals and features brand, allowing users to set and receive an in-app notification when a new documentary is published.
Push notifications are expanding in their uses and use cases. They span alerts that deliver short, relevant, time-sensitive messages, to in-app notifications that can deepen users’ engagement by removing the friction (and the clicks) that separate people from the content they love. The question is not whether to use push, but rather how to prioritize and sequence push in its many forms and formats to drive app engagement, not abandonment.
Push notifications are growing up, and content companies are getting smarter about ways to deliver them. Once, they were little more than generic (often spammy) alerts deployed to grab our attention. However, push notifications – in all their forms and formats – have evolved to become regarded as the “first mobile-native messaging channel.” Deployed properly, push notifications don’t simply trigger us to check our lock-screen; they can inspire us to engage with content frequently and care about outcomes.
ABC News is using push to power personalized news experiences that are as unique as each user, aligned with a deep understanding of user interests and ideal contexts. Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and content marketing strategist at MobileGroove – catches up with Doug Vance, Vice President, Product Development, ABC News. Vance is responsible for product development and strategy for ABC News digital properties including ABCNews.com, GoodMorningAmerica.com, mobile apps, OTT channels and other emerging platforms. They discuss how the company is extending its push strategy to drive consumer connection and keep the conversation going inside the app and beyond the smartphone.
PAS: You offer a general news app and you pursue a goal to deliver the right news to the right person at the right time. What role does push play in the mix of capabilities you have built to reach and engage with your audience of more than 100 million users across devices and platforms every month?
DV: Push notifications sit at the center of our wider strategy to drive relevancy through personalized news and communications. More than two million users are subscribed to our personalized push alerts on native platforms, iOS and Android. Another half a million or so are subscribed on our Apple News channel. That’s a solid reach, and it’s because of how we use push is aligned with how consumers interact with their mobile devices. As we know, mobile devices are truly the most personal devices we own. Therefore, it was obvious to us that the way to reach and engage our audience starts with understanding how we can deliver the most relevant news offering on the mobile device and then take those learnings to the other platforms that are growing quickly for us.
Relevancy is not about blasting users with several alerts per day. It’s about sending alerts when you are confident your audience will appreciate them. For us, it starts with breaking news. We call them Everyone Alerts because they go to a multi-million size audience. These are the alerts we think our entire audience needs to know or would want to know. We take this very seriously. We don’t want to interrupt people on their very personal device unless we think it’s critical. Generally speaking, we send one or two Everyone Alerts per day. Then there are the personalized alerts we send to segments of our user base that we’ve created based on their interests. This can be between 5 to 10 personalized alerts around broad topics – like the conflict in Syria, all the way down to granular topics, like the recent Parkland shooting – that our users tell us they want to follow as it unfolds.
PAS:That’s a lot of user choice, but it also requires automation to deliver and track results. How do you orchestrate the types of push you offer to fit what your users have said they want and drive results for your business?
DV: We’re very interested in delivering an experience that will give the users the freedom to interact with push without necessarily having to open their app. It’s removing a step in the process that gets them faster to the content they want. Of course, they are not opening the app to do this, which means the industry KPIs that track the success of notifications through open rates need a rethink. We work with Braze (formerly Appboy) to deliver and personalize the types of push we offer and together we’re also working to better understand what comes after open rates.
It’s critical to understand this. If a piece of content that’s delivered in a push notification – let’s say a headline, an image, or a video – gives users the ability to take action or to share that notification, we have to know what to measure and what the data and analytics are telling us. This is the first step to tracking the success of these types of push notifications. Granted, in-app push that may not result in an app open, but it is an interaction that contributes to a user’s overall happiness with the state of our app and the service that we’re offering. As an industry, we need to understand these new types of push. It will be a big focus for us in 2018.
In the news space, a lot of our alerts are reactive, reacting to things that are happening in the world and therefore notifying our users about those events. Our audience development team stands ready 24/7 waiting to send those notifications segmented and personalized to users’ interests and geo. When we know about events that are going to happen in advance, we can script out how we will handle that from a push perspective well ahead of time. Take the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle coming up in May. We see incredible interest in these types of stories, so we’re actively planning our strategy for that event. We’re going to launch a few new features in our app to coincide with that event, which I can’t disclose now.
PAS:Your success in personalizing push notifications and measuring the results beyond the open rate has produced a wealth of best practices. ABC News is part of the Disney ABC family; how do you share learnings across the company?
DV: We see it as a two-way street within the Disney Company. The Walt Disney Company owns eight local stations in some of the biggest markets in the U.S., and there’s a product group within the company that specifically manages local news applications. Of course, we work very closely with them. We’ve been updating them over the past few years on the success of our personalized push notification strategy. When they launched a new suite of local news apps in late 2017, personalized push and the ability to follow topics was a strong focus of their apps. Their research also confirmed that audiences were seeking more personalized experiences. Now, users can receive more information about micro-targeted communities in New York or LA, for example. Local stations have seen remarkable success and audiences are excited about their experience with personalized push.
More recently our sister company ESPN launched a big update to its native app offering. It now includes ESPN+, the first-ever multi-sport, direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service from The Walt Disney Company’s Direct-to-Consumer and International group. As part of that update, they’re also giving users more ability than ever to personalize their newsfeed. They can make that newsfeed personal around the teams they follow and the sports they like the most. They’ve shared learnings regarding how to encourage users to add favorites – for example, their favorite teams – and to then use that information to better personalize a newsfeed and push offering. Throughout the company, we are sharing information, and multiple groups within the Disney Company use Braze as well. Together we’re learning, and to benefit from learning from some of the best-in-class companies under the Disney umbrella allows us to continue to experiment and excel.
PAS:Finally, you talk about learnings and their importance in your roadmap. Can you share a few?
DV: We’ve talked about the millions of our users who are subscribed to personalized push alerts in our mobile apps. But our Web audience is much bigger than our native audience. This is why we are bringing the learnings from our native platforms into our web platforms. Today when you go to abcnews.com on your desktop or phone or tablet, you’ll see interest iconography. When you’re scrolling down the homepage, you’ll see a band – a series of modules – that will show you updates on the latest interests that you’ve set. You’ll receive notifications on the web for those interests just as if you had set those interests on the phone. We’ve also introduced login and registration to allow cross-device syncing as part of this experience.
It’s what our users told us they value most. If they’re spending the time to set up their interests and curate their experience in their mobile apps, they want to have that same experience on the website. So, if we think an alert or a notification rises to the level of sending to everybody on their mobile phone, we’ll send that alert to everyone who’s subscribed to Web Push as well. It’s the same with personalized push. We see the web as another channel for personalized notification.
If you want to deliver push that users will appreciate, you need to start by explaining the value proposition of push to your audience and make it a core part of your overall offering. Don’t make it a tab in your app. It has to be everywhere. At ABC News we overlay our videos with interest iconography that allows users to favorite topics from within a video, from within a headline list, from within an article itself. It also has to be core to what you do as an organization. Push isn’t just a product feature; it’s part of the ethos of the entire organization. From the editorial process to the user experience, push has to be pervasive.
Let’s face it. A publisher’s job is never done – and it’s never easy. Regardless of the ever-evolving relationship publishers have with Facebook and other social media platforms for sharing content with the world, one thing remains clear: You either need to give readers the content they want, or they aren’t going to engage with what you’re offering.
Personalizing the content that you send to your audience can have a dramatic effect on engagement and time on site. Let’s look at three ways publishers can improve editorial strategy, increase consumer engagement and build brand loyalty by customizing the content that readers see.
As a publisher, your content development and editorial teams already have a pretty good sense of whether a story is best served by an article, video, audio, interactive experience or some combination of the above. They know the story and they have a good sense of the medium best suited to convey that story, but do they know the audience most likely to read – or watch or listen or explore – that story? And if they do, or they think they do, does your content dev team understand how that audience prefers to receive content? Now we’re getting into a murkier area.
Using audience data gathered from a DMP or other audience platform, you may learn that 70% of people watching videos at least three times in the last five days are men, 40% are age 25-34, and 35% are interested in sports. Armed with this knowledge, you can direct your video production team to create videos about football – or soccer, if you live in a country that’s not America. Knowing the composition of your content consumers allows you to publish (or republish) content specifically tailored to their content consumption preferences. When content is relevant, consumers will be engaged for longer and they will be more likely to return for more.
While content customization helps to modify the types of content your editorial team produces, how can we ensure that the user is getting the most relevant content, in any medium, as they navigate around your digital properties? You may be able to tee up relevant content based on the current article (or video, etc) a user is reading or watching, but what percentage of your site traffic have you seen before? 25%? 50%? For the remaining users who you have no previous data on, how do you ensure the first pieces of content is something that user is likely to engage with?
In addition to making more relevant content by medium, why don’t we reduce the irrelevant content pieces? Content wouldn’t be displayed to users who are not interested, and instead would only be shown to consumer who are interested. This is where Content Personalization comes into play. By linking your digital audience data to your Content Management System’s (CMS) engine, a profile’s rich behavioral attributes can be reviewed and analyzed to ensure each piece of content is served up to each user on an individual basis. This maximizes the chances the user will click or engage – and remain on your site longer.
Now, instead of four out of 10 articles being relevant you can become even more relevant by decreasing the total number served up – it’s now four out of eight articles! It’s not perfect, but we’ve already increased from 10% relevancy to 50%. That an increase of 500%!
So now we can ensure the right content is served despite the users’ interest or demographics, but we can’t just keep showing the same article or type of article to the same user.
Content Recommendation can help solve for that. As a user browses the page, to one side or at the bottom of the article a selection of relevant articles should be offered to the reader as additional content to consume. If the user is reading an article about sports, but also have interests in finance and politics, perhaps the list of articles being recommended is one article each of sports, finance, and politics. Integrating your audience data with a content recommendation engine (either proprietary or third-party like Outbrain) will allow these relevant articles to show based on behavioral affinities.
Whichever direction you choose, one thing remains true: When content is relevant, consumers will be engaged for longer and they will be more likely to return for more. And in today’s very competitive world, saturated with blogs, articles and videos, using the insights you have on your audience to show them what they want will make them more loyal and give you a leg up on the competition. Are you ready to get started?
Strategies for differentiating their premium news and entertainment companies in an environment of disruption, trust issues, and monetization challenges were the focus of the annual closed-door members-only Digital Content Next (DCN) Summit held Feb. 8-9 in Miami, Florida.
DCN CEO Jason Kint updated attendees on consumer privacy, net neutrality, and press freedom policy initiatives. He said that pressure on platforms will increase this year and that advertisers will seek greater transparency. Kint cited findings from DCN’s new Distributed Content Revenue Benchmark Report, which found that publishers only garner 5% of their revenue from social platforms. However, he also touched upon the growth in paid content, on-demand video, and promising signs of sustainable advertising models.
For the digital media industry, Trust has reached a crisis level, Kint said. He and other speakers throughout the event pointed to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which reveals a low consumer perception of the media, platforms, and advertisers—particularly around digital.
An absence of trust has been a driving factor toward regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. and abroad. It has also profoundly affected digital advertising, one of the mainstays of the industry. Kint applauded DCN members for embracing DCN’s new tool for rebuilding trust: TrustX. The cooperative private programmatic marketplace serves as a collaboration platform for marketers and publishers to create innovative advertising solutions that drive measurable value and improve the consumer experience with confidence and safety at scale.
Kint was far from alone in extolling the importance of trust in the digital content marketplace, however. Fatemeh Khatibloo, principal analyst at Forrester Research cited the building blocks for trust, which include integrity, competence, transparency, privacy, and data security.
David Sable, Global Chief Executive Officer, Y&R, noted that trusted brands employ honesty, environmental sustainability, and kindness. He also pointed out that millennials are keen to identify trusted news sources. Building trust starts early, according to Sean Cohen, president, International and Digital Media, A+E Networks, citing how brands such as the History Channel have become a trusted source for students.
While Edelman’s barometer noted a five-point jump in trust of journalists, a social media-weaponized world has given way to readers and viewers expressing anger, often anonymously and without consequences, as vividly reported by a panel of journalists— Arianna Davis of Refinery29, Jorge Ramos of Noticiero Univision, CNN’s Brian Stelter, and Katy Tur of MSNBC Live.
Brand Quality and Context
People won’t pay for brands that don’t focus on quality, noted Andrew Essex, former CEO of Tribeca Enterprises and Droga5 [pictured, top]. Quartz President and Publisher Jay Lauf also emphasized value-based selling over commodified volume selling.
Context is critical, he said, adding that marketers “are terrified” about ads appearing on an exploitive YouTube video or inadvertently funding fake news on Facebook. And Hearts & Science research on negative reach confirms advertising appearing next to content a consumer finds offensive does more harm than good according to the agency’s president Zak Treuhaft.
And, in a world dominated by memes and disembodied news delivered via social platforms, “Context is king,” according to Sean Cohan, President, International and Digital Media, A+E Networks. For example, he pointed to the History brand’s increased emphasis on providing a larger historical context for today’s news, such as the history of sports figures’ involvement in political protests.
Disruption and Opportunity
Disruption has led to a competitive marketplace imbalance as DCN member companies try to transform their business models, as Kint noted. At the same time, disruptive technologies, such as voice assistants, can create significant opportunities.
Loren Mayor, COO, NPR, spoke of the station’s mission to connect with people through storytelling journalism and is using on-demand audio and podcasting to enhance audience growth and engagement.
Smarter use of data and respectful personalization were subjects that came up in a number of conversations and presentations. More-informed data will help drive value, according to Lou Paskalis, SVP, Enterprise Media Planning, Investment and Measurement Executive, Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Marcus East, EVP, Product & Technology/CTO, National Geographic, said that successful brands create personalized experiences and help consumers save time and money, create emotional connections, offer life-changing elements, and promote positive social impact.
That said, in today’s uncertain digital environment, the hallmarks of reputable journalism have reemerged as critical for consumer trust and attention. Michael Anastasi, VP News, USA Today Network, Tennessee pointed to importance of the Indianapolis Star’s investigative coverage of U.S. Olympic gymnastics doctor Dr. Larry Nassar, which stands out in a time of local news outlets’ survival uncertainties.
Anastasi said that USA Today leverages its local/national symbiosis on to inform some of its stories. He cited the brand’s coverage of the opioid crisis across all platforms—and with national, local, and individual ramifications. The comprehensive coverage was made possible through a sponsorship from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
In addressing financial sustainability in non-profit journalism, ProPublica President Richard Tofel noted significant growth in donation-based revenues since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The non-profit model seems to be working for ProPublica as Tofel said that they launched with a staff of 25 nine and a half years ago and now number more than 100.
Diversification and Monetization
Unsurprisingly, revenue was a key topic at the Summit. And while advertising remains a critical focus, diversification was a dominant theme. In all aspects of monetization, good consumer experience and engagement were essential. As Ed Davis, EVP & CPO Advertising Products, Fox Networks Group put it: “Attention is currency.”
Maggie McLean Suniewick, President, NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, showed off the many ways the company’s Olympic coverage is tapping into a wide range of platforms to engage target audiences wherever they might be. Bloomberg Media’s initiatives include global partnerships that help it transcend the competitive U.S. market according to Scott Havens, Global Head of Digital, Bloomberg Media. And The Washington Post has launched 15 products specifically designed to engage consumer interaction according to Jarrod Dicker, The Post’s VP of Innovation and Commercial.
The History Channel is leaning into new platforms and partners with The New York Times on stories and photo spreads. Sean Cohan, President, International and Digital Media, A+E Networks said that the company is seeing doubled social engagement, significant newsletter interest, and substantial boosts in YouTube video revenues.
Marty Moe, Vox Media President, said his company focuses on finding ways to grow quality, scale, and audience across its eight brands while retaining relevancy on each platform. However, diversification brings challenges such as tracking and measuring performance on multiple platforms, noted Christy Tanner, EVP & GM, CBS News Digital CBS interactive.
Dr. Jens Mueffelmann, CEO, Axel Springer Digital Ventures GmbH, President, Axel Springer USA, said his company’s success in global acquisitions is based on later-stage investment, development and partnership. While its successful classified ad profits have stunned critics, Mueffelmann urged companies to “stay paranoid” and continue to keep a close eye on emerging digital technologies and players.
On the heels of the news that The New York Times added 157,000 digital subscriptions in the 2017 fourth quarter, pushing its subscription revenues – which comprise 60% of overall revenues – to more than $1 billion, COO Meredith Kopit Levien encouraged everyone to get into the subscription business. It’s important to understand what drives subscribers, she said. For The New York Times, it’s the resources to create better original content, including 250 daily stories, a popular crossword puzzle and a cooking app, she said, noting “our strength is as a brand.”
While challenges in trust, brand quality, disruption and diversification continue to throw roadblocks up in the news and entertainment industry, Kint emphasized that for DCN members, there is strength in numbers, citing The New York Times’ subscription victory as a victory for all DCN members because of what it symbolizes for the industry.
At the core, DCN members are focusing on what they do best and continue to innovate and experiment in order to best serve audiences.
“All of our members have a direct and trusted relationship with your audience and with your advertisers,” Kint told the packed conference room. “They come to your brands because they know what they’re going to get when they give you their valued attention or valued advertising dollars.”
Consumers are swamped with video content options. New services continue to emerge in a fragmented marketplace of distribution platforms. It’s overwhelming for consumers and, as a result, much video content is left undiscovered and unwatched. Today’s video publishers need to do more than create (or acquire) must-see content. The need to attract and engage consumers and provide a return on investment to marketers.
Consumers have an appetite for new content. Half of consumers (55%) report they are looking for a new TV show or movie to watch at least once per week; 83%, a few times per month. Close to three-quarters (72%) of consumers are watching more video content than a year ago and just less than half (46%) are paying for more content.
Yet, consumers are frustrated with the content discovery process. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers agree that they often struggle to find something to watch, despite there being many choices available to them. Further, the findings show that half of consumers (50%) are frustrated when they search for content to watch compared to finding content to read (37%) or music to listen (32%).
Interestingly, pay-per-view customers (38%) enjoy searching for new video content to watch more than cord-cutters (31%) and cord-nevers (23%). Even cord-cutters are bothered by the process of finding content to watch. In fact, 74% agree that despite there being a lot of choices available to me, I often struggle to find something to watch and 61% also agree that searching for something to watch is frustrating.
There are several key influencers informing consumers viewing decisions. Streaming content plays an important role in content discovery. Eight in ten of all consumers (79%) and 90% of consumers under the age of 30 years old agree that streaming services play a large role in their discovery of new video content. Social media also helps consumers find what to watch (50%), especially for those under the age of 30. Interestingly while there are frequent discussions on social media about video content to watch, consumers don’t necessary based their viewing choices on these discussions.
Further, less than half (48%) of respondents said they are influenced by what their friends and family watch. Meanwhile, FOMO (fear of missing out) reportedly also drives 25% of consumer viewing habits.
Pay-TV subscribers and non-pay TV streamers differ in the top influences on new content discovery. Personalized recommendations appear to be missing its mark ranking number six for pay-tv subscribers and ranking number four non-pay TV steamers.
Browsing is still a popular way for consumers to find video content to watch. Almost half of consumers (47%) report that they came across a new show they recently watched while browsing for something to watch. The other top responses included commercials/advertisements looked good (44%), read a great review (32%), recommended to me based on another show I previously watched (27%) and people I know wouldn’t stop talking about it (23%). Consumers are also unpredictable. Eighty percent state that what they choose to watch is largely driven by their mood on that given day.
While 79% of consumers report they’ve watched a TV show or movie based on a recommendation from a content service and 90% state like what is recommended to them, personalized recommendations are still not the go-to source for consumers. Four key contributing factors as to why personalized recommendations are not working for consumers include:
Friends and family know better
Personalized recommendations are the shows the services are promoting
Not sure if the recommendation will be liked
Don’t want to waste time on starting a new show that may not be liked
Consumers want more clarity as to what is behind the personalized recommends. Consumers report they are more likely to watch personalized recommendations if additional context is included:
Provide criteria for high rating; provide details such as fast-paced, exciting, good characters (83%)
Allow to access reviews directly from platform (75%)
Quantify likelihood of enjoyment based on previous viewing habits or others with similar profiles (72%)
Offer specific reasons for poor ratings, for example, boring (72%)
Ability to link to reputable critics’ reviews directly from platform (68%)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help consumers find more content to fit their taste. AI can assist in content curation organizing content by themes. It can also use consumer insights to classify and target consumer segments to test recommendations. AI can look beyond genre categories and include a director, favorite actor, sub-sub-sub-genre, decade, special effects, costumes, etc. Personalization needs to be even more adaptive and include a temperature reading of mood. Content platforms should ask consumers how they feel. After all, 80% report their video content selection is often based on their daily mood.
Expanding the search function beyond individual platforms is also important to consumers. They not only want to know what to watch but where to watch. Helping consumers navigate the video content marketplace will assist the content selection process so that video gets found – and watched.
As we head into 2018, there are very few things as certain as the growing relevance and impact of the healthcare sector and health technology. As I look to the year ahead, here are my top 5 health tech predictions:
1. Native advertising will be the drug of choice for pharma marketers
Pharma marketers have a dual challenge of raising awareness about both medical conditions and the products that treat them. Native advertising and content marketing address both objectives by allowing marketers to capture mindshare in highly relevant environments while satisfying brand safety and regulatory requirements. Pharma marketers will recognize this value and shift significant budgets from TV and print to this digital line item.
2. Radical health personalization
The combination of data from wearables and apps, along with known digital behaviors can create a very powerful recipe for personalized healthcare. From smart devices that communicate with each other to relevant sequential advertising, messaging to consumers will take on a far more individualized approach. Your smart coffee maker might remind you to take your cholesterol medication in the morning, and you will receive ads across multiple devices throughout the day reminding you to refill your allergy prescription, prompting an alert on your phone to go off when you are within one mile of the pharmacy while you are on your way home from work.
3. GDPR will drive development of transformative targeting capabilities
GPDR impacts the way data can be used to target consumers. These new guidelines place even more stringent regulations around health data, genetic data, and biometric data. Strategic alliances among publishers, data providers and advertisers will form to create new ways to find these audiences in this new world order.
4. Wearable data will be in the hands of the few
Fitness trackers, life-logging platforms and the proliferation of healthcare apps provide an abundance of data, such as steps, heart rate, and sleep patterns, which can be combined with other known information to create highly personalized messaging. As the wearable industry matures, there will be major consolidation. Apple, Google and Samsung will be the last men standing and will control all of this valuable first party data. It will be a three horse race to see who can best leverage these insights.
5. AI and ML will save lives in 2018
AI and ML will revolutionize clinical trial recruitment by finding patients based on a variety of factors including symptoms and co-morbidities, and matching up individual online behaviors with relevant messaging to create a highly targeted, message-specific campaign of one.
Wishing you all a happy — and healthy — 2018!
Sloan Gaon is the CEO of PulsePoint, leading the company’s vision and mission to deliver integrated, value-based digital marketing solutions for advertisers and publishers. A renowned industry veteran, Mr. Gaon has executive management expertise in global digital marketing, content and e-commerce.
Accenture’s research, which surveyed 24,877 consumers in 33 countries, found that 48% of consumers expect specialized treatment for being a good customer. And Accenture believes that this entails “next generation personalization” which they call “hyper-relevance.” Many current personalization tactics are static and relate to certain consumer behaviors. However, Hyper-relevance—like today’s digital consumers—is “always on.” It is much more dynamic, constantly changing and always available.
rather than focusing solely on customers’ purchase behaviors and preferences or relatively fixed attributes, such as their address or number of children, Accenture says it is essential to understand on customers’ needs in a given circumstance and the evolving context in which they make decisions.
As such, data gathered from website visits, social media posts, or previous purchase histories will not suffice. Rather, what’s needed is information that is much more personal in nature—such as health data transmitted via wearable biometric technologies. Needless to say, that’s getting highly personal. And when things get that personal, the potential rewards go up immensely. However, risk also rises.
It is heartening to note that two-thirds of those surveyed said that they are willing to share personal information with companies. But there’s a catch. They will only do so in exchange for some perceived value. And if that value exchange—or the trust upon which it is based—is broken, customers will quickly move on.
Accenture emphasizes that securing and maintaining consumer trust is a prerequisite to achieving the promise of intelligent personalization. They point out that it takes time to build trust, but that it can be shattered with one wrong move. Thus, companies must counter that risk by constantly presenting themselves as trustworthy, keeping their promises, and upholding their end of the value exchange agreement.
As companies seek to deliver hyper-relevance, Accenture makes three recommendations:
1. Look beyond the traditional customer journey
Companies that distinguish themselves with hyper-relevant experiences look beyond the traditional customer journey. They identify and prioritize those areas where hyper-relevance can deliver added value and quickly address the unexpected. Ask questions like: What can we offer once we realize our customer has missed her flight? Received a job promotion? Been forced to flee a hurricane? In these situations, customers need different things and relevance becomes supremely important.
2. Rethink data
Hyper-relevant companies don’t rely solely on descriptive analytics or traditional sources of information. They invest in predictive analytics, collaborate with an ecosystem of stakeholders to capture real-time snapshots of every consumer, and mine data in new ways to understand the customer journey that extends beyond core products and services and across channels. In addition, hyper-relevant companies redouble their data security efforts. They ensure customers have full control of their data across touch points. They eliminate duplicate requests for customer information and permissions. And they make sure all customer data is secure and visible to employees on a need-to-know basis.
3. Earn trust continuously
Trust must be a key consideration when designing hyper-relevant experiences, creating new customer value propositions, and serving as a critical resource when customers need them most. A company’s commitment to delivering the experiences that were promised and meeting customers’ expectations is paramount. Hyper-relevant companies understand their baseline level of trust, and eliminate issues or irrelevant offers that detract from the trust quotient. They make trust sustainable by establishing a rigorous process and a robust, cross-functional governance structure to continuously measure trust and hyper-relevant effectiveness—and act on their findings. Most importantly, they manage trust as the critical growth enabler it is.
The virtuous circle
Companies that are attentive to their customers’ concerns and reinforce their trust quotient are more likely to persuade customers to share personal information. That, in turn, helps to inform the design the kinds of hyper-relevant experiences that today’s consumers expect. So, while companies are finding valuable ways to leverage data to super-serve their best customers, they have also begun to realize that the digital trust consumers place in companies is as critical as the data itself.
The alignment of new laws, reader advocacy, and technology has opened up a challenge to user tracking tools. While some express concern that an end to unbridled tracking will hinder the digital ecosystem, this is an enormous opportunity for publishers to take the lead in building the next generation of personalization technology. However, this evolution in personalization will need to be built on a foundation of editorial metadata, which will drive everything from video playlists to targeted advertising.
A new door opens
A new type of personalization that eschews user-based targeting is coming. In part this will be driven by the fact that many analytics, ad tech, and personalization-tech companies will be deeply affected by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). An AdAge headline once proclaimed that the GDPR will “rip global digital ecosystem apart.” While that may be a bit alarmist, the GDPR will force companies operating within the EU, and the third party tools they use, to adhere to a strict opt-in for all tracking. It will also levy severe penalties on those companies within EU jurisdiction that fail to do so.
The omnipresent motivation behind the law, though, has failed to prompt the development of similar legislation in the U.S. Despite results and sentiment that suggest otherwise, targeting remains central to many marketing strategies. Brands have found user targeting programmatic campaigns less effective than they expected. Consumer groups have formed in protest of the functionality of user tracking in action (such as ads appearing with no regards to the content they appear on). Individuals on social networks find retargeting approaching some sort of uncanny valley — a point at which its very accuracy is becoming deeply discomforting. And we’re even seeing the start of a conversation around user targeting happening in Congress.
A victory for publishers
Publishers have a mission to treat their readers and viewers ethically. The good news is that smart publishers can (and do) run user-targeting related tools on that basis. The personalization of ads and news has become a significant trend, one that many are still chasing. However, the fundamental underlying technology is challenged by the GDPR. Even if publishers never conduct any business outside of the U.S., the vendors who power personalization tools do. We operate on literal reams of data but must face a future where comparatively little is available.
These oncoming shifts in the marketplace shouldn’t frighten publishers. They are likely to hurt the thousands of middleware third-party ad tech companies that have failed to deliver on user targeting for years now while skimming profits. A push to decrease both publisher and advertiser reliance on user targeting is an opportunity.
Metadata to the rescue
Publishers need to take a look at the new generation of tools that can provide the data needed for personalization on-page without ever tracking a user. Metadata standards are improving and adding detail. Our current tools consider article relationships mostly in keywords and categories but new ways of telling the story about a story could bring about a revolution in personalization.
Regardless of how successful the fact checking markup project becomes, it demonstrates that page-to-page relational metadata is joining other complex metadata systems as part of the future of publishing. With privacy concerns on the rise, it behooves publishers to start considering these systems as part of the future of personalization.
A structured future
Beyond keywords and tags, there is an embarrassment of new options for metadata that can create a unique experience on each webpage more tailored to the moment the reader encounters an article than following them with cookies ever was. While a reader might have been shopping for shoes yesterday, what they read today may put them in a very different mindset. And the reader of today is a more useful target for personalization than the reader of yesterday.
What can we build on using enhanced metadata? Geographic coordinates could drive a set of recommendations even more relevant than attempting to geotarget the user. Article authorship has worked well for media companies where the byline promises a particular voice. We can build playlist systems that find their next videos through more than title keywords, looking at producer credits, length and related affiliate offers. Types of content or referenced urls in the body of an article can allow personalization tools to recommend other articles that share a particular format, or ads that sell the referenced type.
Planning beyond keywords
Taking advantage of these opportunities will require different ways of thinking about what everyone creates and how it breaks down. It won’t just be up to an SEO expert to drop tags on a page. News organizations will find that optimizing for search, social, or ads will require taking advantage of all the opportunities that complex metadata provides and operating within a larger plan for how metadata should be handled. The editorial and business sides will need to work together to consider the whole of outlets’ output, prioritizing approaches, and building out tools that automate and suggest metadata structures.
Owners of this process will need to consider personalization on a variety of factors that describe form, format, key ideas and digital objects. They’ll have to build out a framework on how articles connect to each other that will describe small universes of content. A site that takes full advantage of metadata structures can promise a richer experience for readers, viewers and listeners than any provided through cookie-based tracking, an experience based on in-the-moment intent.
Our current generation of overly-targeted ads and recommendations don’t just fail to perform, they’re creepy and overpriced. Our audiences deserve more and our ethics require that we provide it. We have the technology and industry pressure to deploy successful alternatives. Understanding, expanding and adapting the use of detailed metadata across the web will build better media companies and a better open and well-connected internet.
Aram Zucker-Scharff is the Director for Ad Engineering in The Washington Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development group. He is also the lead developer for the open-source tool PressForward and a consultant on content strategy and newsroom workflows. He was one of Folio Magazine’s 15 under 30 in the magazine media industry. He previously worked as Salon.com’s full stack developer. His work has been covered multiple times in journalism.co.uk and he has appeared in The Atlantic, Digiday, Poynter, and Columbia Journalism Review. He has also worked as a journalist, a community manager and a journalism educator.
While it is appealing to start off a New Year with rosy predictions, it is also important to take a clear-eyed look at the road (and roadblocks) ahead. We asked a few of our members what they see as the biggest challenges the digital media industry faces today.
Here’s what leaders at ten diverse media companies see as the biggest challenge in the year to come:
Monetizing scaled social audiences and the content made for these channels is a challenge. We see the benefit of being a first mover and building a large social audience. That said, the benefit today lies heavily in the marketing value it provides in driving traffic to our sites and leveraging it to convert fans into paying customers through subscription offerings like Motor Trend OnDemand. We are able to monetize through advertising, but the nature of the monetization on social is more challenging to do at scale, as it requires a more custom approach compared to more traditional, turnkey placements/buys.
Our industry must build a parallel world adjacent to the current one dominated by Google and Facebook. This new world must be scaled, intelligent and open. Currently, 85 cents of every new dollar are going to the two biggest players because they have been solving for scaled and intelligent – and have done a great job doing so. But, an open garden is increasingly becoming a requirement for sophisticated advertisers who want partners who are flexible on data and transparent on pricing and performance.
It’s hard to pick a “biggest” challenge, as there as so many. But, to me, refining user experience remains a crucial one. There are still way too many sites alienating readers for a quick buck by hammering them with pop-ups, unnecessary slideshows, pagination, interstitials and more. Yes, we need to make money. But gouging readers to the point where we drive them away is an abysmal long-term audience strategy. Treat your audience like you don’t care about them, and they will surely return the favor.”
Steven Smith, President of Digital Media, AccuWeather @accuweather
In 2017, we continue to hurtle toward a ubiquitous global user audience, accessing data from every imaginable kind of device with a greater focus on personalization, localization, service and mobility. Content providers are going to have to step up to meet the needs of an audience that wants fast, relevant, and localized—and provided consistently regardless of device, from smartphones to connected refrigerators. That makes strong partnerships with vendors a necessity, from Cloud storage providers for scaling data to meet demand demands to robust content management solutions to help port news from format to format and device to device. And of course, the audience will continue to demand content that is more timely and relevant than ever.
The biggest challenge we face is building diverse streams of revenue that support innovative storytelling. In 2017, digital media companies must bridge the current divide between creating compelling stories that attract interest and attention, and the opportunities for monetization that are increasingly concentrated on just a few of the largest platforms. The industry is not going to be successful if there’s too much focus on trendy stories that spin up on a one-off basis or so-called native ad content that lacks authenticity. We need immersive and captivating high-quality content that engages diverse audiences and creates a wide fan base across emerging media platforms. That diversification of revenue will be critical to building and maintaining a sustainable engine for digital media innovation.
Establishing timely and trusted cross-media measurement is an enormous challenge — but a critically important one. People consume media on an ever-growing number of platforms and devices and we must establish accurate ways to measure the total audience we reach and their engagement with content. That means having clear, trusted standards and metrics — which measure across TV, apps, web, OTT and more — and do so both in- and out-of-home. The connection people have with digitally-delivered content and advertising continues to grow enormously. But so does fake content and ad fraud. Trusted and transparently-measured environments will become ever-more valuable.
Beth Lawrence, EVP of Digital Ad Sales, Scripps Networks Interactive @ScrippsNet
A big challenge in digital in 2017 will be the ability for clients and consumers to separate the wheat from the chaff. We all know digital is here to stay and continues to be a more important revenue driver every year. But the quality of digital content has been under the radar, and in the final analysis, marketers care what brands they associate with. Period. Content matters; quality content rules. It will be a year of cleaning up, properly measuring and delivering great results in digital.
The biggest challenge will continue to be capturing consumer attention as existing platforms grow and new platforms emerge.
Vikki Neil, SVP/GM of Scripps Lifestyle Studios @ScrippsNet
In digital, you must stay open to all ideas that come your way, but disciplined enough to say no to many. You must move quickly and not wait for perfection, but perfect what you do daily. There’s not time to develop a long-range plan like a traditional media business offers. From my seat, the biggest challenge is a combination of making the right bets, and moving as fast as humanly possible to understand the space before your competitors, so that you can build the best offering for consumers and advertisers. It’s impossible to be everywhere across all opportunities, so choose wisely, go quickly and iterate daily.
The biggest challenge for media is building community. The strategies that have propelled many digital media companies into large audiences are largely commoditized, so you need to figure out how to connect your content and communities together in a deeper and unique way.
The biggest challenge for digital media in 2017 will be for quality publishers to cut through the noise – of ad fraud, fake news, and non-human traffic – to command fair market pricing for their trusted brands and influential audiences. Evaluating and leveraging these trusted environments will continue to be both important and difficult as the market weighs chasing scale and audience against quality and transparency.
As we look at the 2017 media landscape, there is potential for a massive upheaval on multiple fronts with the forecasted political uncertainty. The industry is resilient and adaptable, and we must remain focused on building great products for fans. And perhaps anxiety is unwarranted.