Some people’s phones are filled with photos of their families, of their friends, of beautiful landscapes, of adorable pets. My phone is a museum of rage-inducing mobile experiences.
Almost everything I do on the internet, I do on my phone. Which means that every single day, I am provoked to John McEnroe-esque reactions by what Ye Average Media Organization forces audiences to endure.
Like the, “oh, you wanted to do that thing? First jump through several hoops to download our app”:
Or the “sign up for our newsletter that might or might not have anything to do with the story you want to read but now can’t because of this full-screen call to action that our growth team insisted we force upon you”:
Or the “how many things that are not the thing you want can we put between you and the thing you want”, in which the distractions from the journalism include “and now some content from our sponsor” that takes up an entire screen:
And we haven’t even gotten to the proliferation of the “Read More” button, a way for publishers to make your user experience worse so they can prove to advertisers that someone saw the ad that immediately follows your dispirited tap. Or the inescapable ad that autoplays as you try scrolling past it:
Or the truly evil forced browser redirect to the app store, where you might be prompted to download an app you already own or one you would never even consider because wow, ad targeting is terrible:
And so I ask: what have our audiences done to deserve any of this? And why do we think we deserve to have any audience at all when this is how we treat them?
Stacy-Marie Ishmael is a journalist and editor from Trinidad. She has worked for the Financial Times and Buzzfeed and is currently researching mobile/news as a 2016–17 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford.
AIGA, the design industry’s oldest and largest professional membership association, recently honored Bloomberg with its 2017 Corporate Leadership Award. This award was established to recognize a perceptive and forward-thinking organization that has been instrumental in the advancement of design by applying the highest standards, as a matter of policy, as well as its role in exemplifying the highest design standards within its respective industry. In announcing this honor, AIGA cited Bloomberg’s history of design innovation and advancement of design on multiple fronts:
Bloomberg L.P. advances design on multiple fronts through its industry leading products and unique company culture. Starting with the groundbreaking design of the original flagship product, the Bloomberg Terminal, the design of media products such as Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg.com, and its innovative work spaces and sophisticated branding programs, design is integral to how the company operates and provides value to customers.
In conjunction with this milestone recognizing Bloomberg’s commitment to great design across all aspects of the company, we discussed the importance of design ethos with three experts who are heavily involved in the design of Bloomberg’s core Financial Products:
Fahd Arshad, head of User Experience (UX) design for financial products, Ali Jeffery, Visual Design Lead for the Bloomberg Professional service, and Mike Mallon, Engineering Manager in Bloomberg’s application toolkits group.
ALI JEFFERY: Bloomberg’s design philosophy is to lead, not to follow. We definitely have a very strong opinion and express it in all of the facets of design across Bloomberg.
FAHD ARSHAD: Our design ethos is to make sure we are being useful to our customers. Every time we sit down and design something, we start with questions like, “How is this going to help our customers do their jobs?” “Is it going to make them more efficient?” Then, everything else comes from that. It’s a classic case of function over form. And that starts all of our design conversations.
When we express a piece of information, it is going to be in your face. We utilize high contrast colors to enable our customers to pick out information from a lot of noise. I would probably argue that this is the hallmark of our design, especially when it comes to the visual aspect of it.
MIKE MALLON: We’re aiming for efficiency, trying to make everything fast for the users, but also make it fast and easy to learn new things. Both of those pieces are important. We need to support both our power users and people who are just getting started and aren’t familiar with things yet.
Does Bloomberg have a design hallmark or style?
ALI: Definitely, especially with our software. Our black and amber color scheme is our strongest hallmark. You can see it across the trading floor. You know which application is Bloomberg from very far away.
Amber is our base font color. A lot of systems you see today will use much more neutral tones. But the amber and black has really become who we are. And it’s something we protect as part of our brand.
Our keyboard’s yellow keys are also a part of our design presence and our recognizability across a trading floor. They became a unique feature for Bloomberg and something that we chose to highlight and see as part of our identity.
FAHD: The color scheme just became iconic. You’d walk onto the floor and you’d see a row of amber and black screens and you knew you were in a Bloomberg shop. It’s interesting how we’ve seen that evolve and some of our competitors have started picking it up. It became sort of the hallmark of being a financial superpower that you had a dark background. But we stayed with it, because that is our hallmark. That is our brand. And our customers love it.
ALI: I think one of the things I’m the most proud of working on is the framework of our system. We are creating the building blocks for the rest of the company to design their software. We’re working on making the underlying toolkit that the applications rely on more user-friendly.
MIKE: My role is to implement the designs that the UX team comes up within our applications. A big piece of that is figuring out how we can be reactive to new designs. One of the most interesting things we do is bring users into our User Experience Lab and try new things out with them and then react to their feedback. Then, the thing that we actually release will be something that is really useful to actual clients who have tested it out.
FAHD: That extreme focus on customer needs is what drives our design language or design process. For that matter, we start each conversation with our business managers, for example, who are often subject matter experts. So each conversation about a design problem starts with, “What is it that we’re trying to solve?”
How is Bloomberg design different from how some other companies might view or articulate design?
FAHD: At Bloomberg, we don’t spend a lot of time looking at what other people do. We know what our goal is. We have customers that we need to satisfy. The one big difference I hear from other people is how much we cultivate our relationship with our clients and how willing our clients are to come in and help us improve our products. It’s non-trivial for a portfolio manager or trader who has different time commitments to give us an hour-and-a-half or two hours of their day and to come to our office and sit in the lab. We’re lucky that, as an organization, we have cultivated that amount of loyalty among our customers and that sense of shared mission.
MIKE: With our focus on efficiency, it’s not just what looks pretty on the screen, which is what a lot of companies use to define good design. That is, they open it up and ask “Is it aesthetically pleasing?” or “Is it pretty?”
Our whole philosophy is about showing all the functionality to the user – that is, making it very accessible, very easy for them to use. This may sometimes lead to screens that look complicated at first glance, and someone might say, “Wow, there’s a lot here.” But what we’re actually doing is putting all of that at the user’s fingertips right away.
How do Bloomberg’s customers influence design?
MIKE: Well, they’re part of the process. We try new things on a bunch of employees first, but then we always bring customers in to try it out before we actually build something and turn it into a product. This way, we actually know that what we’re building is valuable to them.
FAHD: We take whatever our hypothesis is, we talk to the subject matter experts and we express our findings as early designs. But we try and validate them with our customers, because our end goal is being purposeful in our designs and providing value to our customers.
A big part of the design process is all working towards a single understanding – talking to our customers, understanding their needs and then designing to them. Since our sales force is constantly in touch with them, we get a lot of feedback. This has caused us to really evolve our product. We have an underlying technology infrastructure that allows us to push new software out to our clients very quickly, so we’re able to react to any of their needs. It’s actually really beneficial for our clients.
Bloomberg was founded on bringing transparency to financial markets, how is that principle reflected in Bloomberg’s design?
ALI: We really never design for design’s sake. It’s always meant to address our customer’s needs. We’re trying to create a clear hierarchy. We’re trying to make sure that they can find and parse information as quickly as possible.
MIKE: I think transparency is very important in how we do design. One way we show transparency is by showing clients ahead of time what it is we’re going to build.
Another way that we’re very transparent is we try to release our designs across the whole Terminal. So, all customers get access to the same designs. They all get access to the same types of things. And we’re very transparent in that we’re releasing these different features to all our clients at the same time. Everyone gets the same benefit. And we keep them in the loop on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
FAHD: Today, there is such a wealth of data that people are drowning in it. The important part is not having access to data, necessarily, but paying attention to the right amount of data or the right kind of data. And that’s what I personally see as the definition of transparency today: surfacing what you need to know, when you need to know it, and why this is relevant to you.
The goal of our design process has to be to make our customers more efficient and more productive. If we keep doing that, we will continue to bring value to them and be useful to them. And that’s where we will continue to be successful.
There’s no denying that two major phenomena are actively reshaping the existing digital advertising supply chain:
Accountability is being pushed upstream
Not long ago, digital publishers bore the brunt of the blame, shame and liability (financial and legal) for ad-related problems such as performance issues, unauthorized collection of audience data, and security concerns (malvertising). Today, armed with more public awareness (in the form of ad blocking, among others), industry best practices (e.g., TAG, IAB LEAN) and regulations (GDPR anyone?), publishers are finally pushing back on upstream partners when policy-flouting ads are served to their digital environments. And many partners are listening. Now, several other ad tech players on the buy side of the digital supply chain are joining this publisher revolt and to direct accountability for creative issues to their upstream partners.
Advertisers have spoken
Earlier this month, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, P&G’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard didn’t mince words when it came to expressing his irritation with everyone’s acceptance of serious flaws with the digital advertising supply chain. He highlighted the complexities of digital advertising and confusing agency contracts. However, what stood out were his comments on the quality of the digital ad experience for consumers:
“Sometimes we deliver a high-quality media experience, but all too often the experience is, well, crappy. We bombard consumers with thousands of ads a day, subject them to endless ad load times, interrupt them with pop-ups and overpopulate their screens and feeds…” Marc Pritchard, CMO, P&G
This comment from the world’s biggest advertiser underscores the importance of digital ad quality in regards to what is being “presented” to audiences today and rightfully so. According to recent research, the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry spends almost 20% of their $225 billion annual marketing budget on digital advertising. Yet retailers and shoppers alike gave digital advertising low marks for effectiveness.
This provides further impetus for more advertisers to focus on improving the digital ad experience, thus putting the sell-side is under immense pressure to not just launch high-quality ads into the digital supply chain but to prove that those are high-quality ads.
New priorities, New challenges
As the digital ad ecosystem evolves, agencies and media buyers need to re-establish trust with both consumers and advertisers. The first step is adopting industry best practices and standards for ad quality and security. This includes being judicious about audience data collection activity and keeping abreast of the ever-evolving guidelines for a plethora of ad formats.
Agencies have a lot of work to do. As depicted here, most media buyers today need to take a more farsighted approach to campaign development and scanning. The assumption that an ad, upon entrance into the digital ecosystem, is exactly the same when it renders on a website showcases this ignorance.
To meet changing advertiser demands for a better digital ad experience, agencies need to adopt a more comprehensive view of the entire ad experience: Creative + ad (the actual creative with all the corresponding analytics code) + landing page, not just the creative.
A paradigm shift in agency priorities is required. Agencies and media buyers are under unprecedented scrutiny to address ad quality as they are where creatives originate. Their inability to meet the changing demands of both advertisers and publishers directly impact the following areas:
Ability to Launch and Serve Ads
As ad formats and standards continue to evolve, meeting these specs across publishers, platforms, and networks impact your ability to serve ads
Ad Spend and Campaigns
Delays in launching campaigns jeopardize ad spend and campaign metrics. Also, the inability to verify the campaign and its success – is the ad getting served the way it should be and to the target audience – could damage relationships with advertisers.
Noncompliance with complex and changing regulations damage brand image and lead to penalties potentially for the advertiser, publisher and the agency itself.
Pressure changes the status quo
The brief to media buyers about what to do and what is expected is clear. But it will be interesting to see how agencies actually adapt to the changing digital advertising landscape. Balancing advertiser demands while trying to achieve operational efficiencies and scale and trying to win a turf war against big consulting firms will likely prove to be a heavy lift for agencies. These bi-directional pressures coming from advertisers on one end and published on the other end of the digital ad supply chain will force revolutionary change. If done right, the end result is a transformed digital advertising ecosystem. Positive UX via an optimized and profitably monetized channel.
Chris Olson founded The Media Trust (@themediatrust) with Dave Crane in 2005. He currently serves as CEO, where he drives the company’s vision, direction and growth plans. Prior to establishing The Media Trust Company, he spent four years as the chief operating officer and board member at Spheric Media. From 1998 until 2000, he was the vice president, global equities at Commerzbank; and from 1993 until 1998, he was the vice president of electronic trading at Salomon Brothers, Inc.
Ad blocking continues to be a serious threat to digital media. A new report by PageFair estimates that more than 600 million devices are now blocking ads worldwide. Ad blocking usage grew by 108 million to 380 million mobile devices and by 34 million to 236 million active desktops from December 2015 to December 2016. Interestingly, ad block usage on desktop browsers continues to grow despite the decline in overall desktop usage. Year-over-year global growth for all devices now represents 30%.
Two of the top reasons for consumers installing ad blocking software include virus/malware concerns (30%) and interruptive ad formats (29%). It is important to note that over 70% of users chose more than one reason as “most important” in their choice to use ad block software.
How are consumers learning about ad blocking?
Word of mouth still leads in overall ad block conversions. Just less than one-third (32%) of ad block users report they learned about the software from a friend, colleague, or family member. An additional 28% learned about ad block software from the internet, news, or media.
Who’s blocking ads?
Ad blocking usage is the U.S is becoming more mainstream. Usage still skews male with 20% of U.S. males using ad blocking software compared to 15% of females.
Across all age groups, bachelor’s degree attainment was 45% among ad block users surveyed, versus 30% per the US Census. Ad block users in the US are 1.5x as likely to have a bachelor’s degree than the average American adult.
How do consumers react to ad block walls?
Nine in 10 ad block users report they have encountered an ad block wall (site will not allow access unless the ad blocking tool is disable) while using the internet. A full 74% of ad block users stated that they leave a website(s) after they encounter an ad block wall. It appears that ad block walls do not persuade users to turn off their ad blocker, even if only for brief time. However it is possible websites with highly unique and valued content that is not easily obtainable elsewhere may see a benefit to the use of ad block walls.
What are the most annoying ad formats?
Overall, over three-quarter (77%) of ad block users reported that they found some ads acceptable. Over half (52%) of ad blockers users preferred static banner while 35% prefer skippable video ads. In terms of most disliked ads, both non-skippable video ads (31%) and auto-play ads (23%) ranked highest.
Consumers are no longer passive and have taken control of their browsers and—wherever possible—their online experience. Across the board, forecasts are consistent with PageFair’s findings and show ad blocking will continue to grow in the U.S, particularly if ad-blocking software is preinstalled on devices in the marketplace.
Mobile has become the primary vehicle for expanding audience reach, eclipsing desktop browsing and TV viewing as the preferred on-ramp to explore the world of information and content at our fingertips. But mobile apps are where the real consumer engagement happens – provided companies and marketers add real value.
Why People Install Thanks to research from Google and Ipsos, How people discover, use, and stay engaged with apps, we have a better idea of the reasons that will convince a consumer to download an app. And, since people aren’t downloading as many apps as they used to – suffering from what mobile analytics attribution company TUNE calls “download fatigue,” it’s smart for marketers to make a greater effort to understand factors sure to trigger an app install.
Here are three major takeaways about the factors that cause consumers to download an app in the first place:
Price points: Drawing from data from a survey of 1,000 smartphone users in the U.S., Google’s report finds that consumers are price-conscious and privacy-focused. The majority (85%) look at price first and content second. Ironically, 50% of respondents have paid for content and 50% have not. Of the consumers that did purchase content offered by an app, it was access to content and features/functionality unavailable on free alternatives that clinched the deal. Consumers were also willing to pay to remove advertising.
Privacy concerns: Another deal breaker was privacy. Consumers will not tolerate (or download) apps they feel invade their privacy or compromise their customer data. Apps that eat memory or battery power are also a no-go.
Easy does it: Predictably, most consumers (61%) love apps that are easy to use and navigate. Fresh content (34%) and personalized experiences (29%) are also crowd-pleasers.
Why People Uninstall So now that we have a sense of the features consumers care about most, it is essential to understand why they uninstall more than 3 of every 10 apps globally. We get some of the answers we need in the November 2016 App Unistall Report, a new report from mobile attribution company AppsFlyer. The report provides critical context around app uninstall rates – data that is not provided by app stores.
Drawing from a sample of 20+ million uninstalls of nearly 500 apps globally the report highlights uninstall rates over a 30 day period (September -October 2016) across platform (Android and Apple’s iOS), category and country (U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, U.K., Germany, France, Russia, India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia). It finds that Android users uninstall apps at a rate that’s more than double the rate among iOS users – an outcome it links to factors such as device space. Faced with the choice between downloading a cool new app, or conserving storage, it appears Android users are quick to click delete. It may also be linked to the fact that Apple devices warn users when they are about to delete an app; no such notification exists on Android.
The report also reveals what Shani Rosenfelder, report author and content marketing lead at AppsFlyer, calls the “insanely high” uninstall rates for app categories on the Android platform such as News (44%), Games (43%) and Travel (33%).
Some of what the report finds is just common sense. For example: Games, which are highly competitive and aggressively promoted using incentivized installs, can see a shorter shelf life and fail to inspire lasting loyalty among an audience demographic that changes taste more often that socks.
Likewise, Travel apps, because they appeal to most consumers during holiday seasons or summer breaks, are not integral to a year-round routine. Unless you travel a lot for your job, it’s hardly out of the question to delete a travel app once it outlives its immediate relevancy. At the other end of the spectrum, Retail apps—ones that consumers reach for often to do their shopping and access deals and discounts—see relatively low uninstall rates (21%).
But common sense can’t fully explain the alarmingly high uninstall rate of 40% for News & Magazines over a 30-day period. Unfortunately, AppsFlyer doesn’t offer much insight into why this segment is hit so hard. However, we can piece together a convincing list of factors if we remember the reasons Google says people download apps and – more importantly – keep coming back.
High uninstall rates would indicate News & Magazine apps fail to meet our requirement – even demand – for an amazing user experience. Content companies serious about attracting and retaining their users are advised to examine their apps and use analytics to pinpoint where their app is engaging, or annoying, their audience.
Essential issues to consider: Are these apps too difficult to navigate? Is the content stale or irrelevant? Does the app fail to deliver personalized content and experiences? Is the paywall a barrier? Does the app owner collect data without making a convincing case for it? A data-driven approach will provide insights into what flies, or fails – allowing you to allocate resources to address major issues and put less important updates on the back burner.
And a final word about metrics. The AppsFlyer report introduces all app marketers – across all business verticals – to a new performance metric: uninstall rates. Marketers must watch and calculate to determine the true lifetime value of their users. Whether that value is measured in brand visibility or monetized through mobile advertising, prudent app marketing and financing takes app uninstall rates – and their differences and similarities globally – seriously.
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. 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.
If a mobile ad is displayed, but not viewed by a human or simply not rendered properly, does the advertiser pay? The answer is yes, but two top advertising trade groups are working to establish a standard that will address this wastage and ad fraud through a uniform means of tracking whether ads can be seen in mobile apps.
Viewability is a huge headache on mobile – where the variety of ad formats and the way consumers interact with them (scrolling in a newsfeed, not clicking individual banners, for example) makes it a difficult one to call. To complicate matters, both Flash and cookies – URL referrers and trackers that are ubiquitous across all major desktop browsers – are completely absent from mobile.
Moreover, the mobile ad ecosystem of buyers and sellers is, in itself, a bottleneck. While ad buyers insist on purchasing only mobile ads that people can actually see, many publishers are less eager to lift the lid on this data. Their reluctance can be linked to that fact that impressions (CPMs) not click-throughs (CTRs) are the measurement that defines their business and their bottom line.
Currently, tracking ad viewability on mobile apps is a complicated process as app developers and publishers must integrate software from multiple third party providers. It’s a process that costs resources and – more importantly – can slow down the app. This is critical as a recent HP- sponsored study by Dimensional Research shows that most consumers quickly lose patience, and will even delete, apps that take longer than 2 seconds to load and perform its actions. The result is a trade-off between viewability (for the advertiser) and usability (for the consumer).
To strike a needed balance the American Association of Advertising Agencies (the 4A’s) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) have thrown their support behind an open source initiative aimed at standardizing viewability measurement for mobile apps. The goal is to jointly develop a single code base that mobile publishers can plug into their apps, letting advertisers pull data on viewability in a standard fashion, Joe Barone, managing partner of digital ad operations for GroupM and chairman of the 4A’s Digital Operations & Technology Committee, told the WSJ.
The organizations will oversee efforts to develop a standard tracking code, with the input of various constituencies from across the ecosystem. “This will be a very regimented, very democratic process,” Alanna Gombert, general manager of the IAB Tech Lab, told the WSJ.
The initiative comes at a time when concerns about ad viewability and accountability in the industry are high, magnified by a string of serious miscalculations by Facebook. The mobile ad giant has publicly admitted to overstating or understating the metrics that publishers and advertisers use to measure ad effectiveness on the platform and the value of Facebook ads.
It’s important to have Facebook and Google, which account for 85 cents of every new ad dollar spent on digital, on board, but it remains to be seen if thy will adopt and implement third-party tracking code of any kind.
While there is growing need for a consensus on viewability tracking, and a single code to enable it, change may come slower than we think. Many ad buyers and publishers prefer to work with their preferred vendors to track and calculate ad effectiveness. Moreover, the vendors behind these technology solutions worry an open source approach would effectively replace their proprietary tracking code and potentially devalue their companies.
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. 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.
If there is one thing we learned from the digital marketplace in 2016, it’s that consumers want a better digital experience with less intrusive advertising. This year media brands and marketers need to actively reconnect with the consumer. With this in mind, Kantar Millward Brown analyzed current marketplace trends to provide six media and digital recommendations for 2017:
Build a strong relationship with Generation Z, now approximately 2 billion or 27% of the global population.
Focus on co-creation, authenticity and transparency to connect with Gen Z.
Deliver a consistent brand voice and experience across all touchpoints.
Creates multi-platform touchpoints for a consistent brand experience. Offer different purchasing options for different buying habits (both offline and online).
Ensure that digital strategies have a large emphasis on mobile, once again, with consistent branding. Kantar reports that close to nine in ten internet users own a smartphone.
Drive innovation and experimentation in both content and formats.
Try and test new technologies like 360 video, augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence for new models of creativity.
Build emotional advertising campaigns and targets, stop creepy and intrusive advertising.
Create emotionally-driven campaigns to strengthen the bond between the brand and the customer.
Incorporate brand affinity data into media buying plans.
Develop a better ad experience for consumers.
Ensure a three-prong approach: Advertisers need to create relevant and compelling ad content, publishers need to provide a less clutter environment with a positive user experience and agencies need to improve targeting and tagging implementation.
Assure the message fits the medium and reduce ad duplication across platforms.
Understand the function each media plays within the context of how they work together.
Media brands and marketers need to interact with consumers in a more holistic manner utilizing both context and content. Identifying and understanding consumer motivation and engagement in the digital landscape will offer insight into building a strong brand relationships.
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.
Sixty-nine percent of young millennials use at least one method of piracy (download, stream or mobile). Even more alarming, however, is the finding that 24% of those surveyed believe that both downloading and streaming piracy are legal, according to the report Millennials at the Gate from creative advertising agency Anatomy Media, which looks at the streaming, piracy and ad blocking behaviors of young (18-24) adults.
Other key findings include:
2 out of 3 young adults use an ad blocker
3 out of 5 young adults who stream content use a shared password or cable log-in
60% stream content without paying for it
While more than half say they share their parents’ log-in (58%), only 13% of those actually live with their family
According to the report, millennials use ad blockers “to assert control over their user experience, reduce their data usage and get access to their desired content faster.” However, they believe that millennials will accept advertising as long as it is “restrained, targeted and relevant.” Thus, Anatomy urges a focus on user experience overall.
Ad blocking has forced the publishing industry to rethink its reliance on advertising, and several digital publishers have incorporated ecommerce and affiliate links as a way to diversify their revenue streams. Now, those same ecommerce links, previously considered immune to ad blockers, are the “latest unlikely casualty of ad blocking,” according to a recent article from Digiday.
While Purch’s ecommerce or facilitated ecommerce links haven’t been tangibly impacted, ad blocking – and this particular type – is forcing all publishers to rethink monetization strategy and user experience.
The Digiday article quotes Sean Blanchfield, CEO of PageFair, a startup that sells anti-ad blocking tech to publishers as stating, “There are no privacy or usability implications to e-commerce attribution; it is a simple practice that helps websites get paid for honest recommendations of products….it causes unnecessary financial damage to thousands of independent websites.”
There is a valid point here. The impetus behind ad blocking was to prevent disruption and irrelevant noise on a page so the user could focus on the content. Yet, unlike most ads, ecommerce links are often directly correlated to the content provided on the page – and in the best cases enhance the user’s experience. Ad blockers have gone too far with targeting these ecommerce links, but this doesn’t mean digital publishers should panic. It means they should pivot – diversifying even further and providing additional value to users.
Increase loyalty by improving the user experience Publishers should concentrate on building the lifetime value of a user (the total future potential) by exploring other ways to provide a better experience to keep them coming back. Creating valuable and relevant services, tools and content that serves the overall relationship is what will ultimately sustain the industry. Publishers who take a longer view by focusing on increasing the number of loyal users instead of increasing the number of page views and maximizing the yield of every interaction will not only end up winning against ad blockers; they will end up winning over users.
Some publishers are doing this in the most simplistic way – creating a highly-engaged and loyal audience by providing real value through highly specialized content. Focusing less on scale and more on quality can engage users for the long-term, while staying true to the sentiment behind “content is king.”
Another way to increase the lifetime value of a user is to design a loyalty program that recognizes and rewards the most engaged, frequent and long-term users, who often drive a large percentage of overall revenue. Some of the more experimental publishers may even offer an ad-free or ad-reduced experience to their most loyal users – or as an incentive to share their email address. This could persuade users to turn off ad blockers, especially as they become increasingly non-discriminative in discerning what’s true content and what’s not.
Engineer an ecosystem of services to regain control of audience interactions With ad blockers ultimately dictating how a user experiences a publisher’s site, we’re likely to see the industry test new ways to regain control of how their audiences are interacting with content. Publishers specializing in travel have also excelled at this. TripAdvisor, Kayak and Bookings.com offer reviews and advice to aid their users during the research phase and when the consumer is ready, they can book everything they need, all within the confines of a single site and in a way that is untouchable to ad blockers. This model is not only diverse, but also encourages loyalty by providing a truly “sticky” service to users.
Not all of this has to be built organically. Resourceful publishers will also look for complimentary technologies or services and integrate those with their sites – or their mobile apps. Mobile apps are also a great way to re-claim control over the user experience and how ecommerce links and ads are integrated. The best part? Ad blocking apps that block ads within mobile apps have been rejected by app stores which means publishers are likely to retain control of their mobile experiences for the foreseeable future.
The future of digital publishing Our peer group – the digital influencers coming up today – are likely to redefine the industry, and probably won’t even see ourselves as just “publishers” in the years to come as focus shifts to revenue augmentation through services and alternate models.
Unfortunately, it seems likely that 2016 will be an arms race between ad blockers and blockers of ad blockers. There will be no clear winner with one clear loser: the user. Users lose as ad blockers continue to take away the very control that attracted them to their tools in the first place. The important thing is to keep our focus on the customer relationship and move toward a future where a better user experience trumps short-term monetary gains.
Phil Barrett is a Digital Marketing and eCommerce Executive with experience managing cross-channel programs where he has helped companies and brands use technology and new media to drive measurable results across the marketing mix. He currently serves as Senior Vice President & GM at Purch, where he leads the Marketing & Shopper Services teams.
With audiences widely dispersed among mobile and social apps – and, soon, virtual reality and augmented reality experiences– publishers who want to thrive must both follow consumers where they want to go and meet them on their own terms.
These were a couple of the themes that emerged from the wide-ranging conversations at Digital Content Next’s annual members-only Summit 2016 in Miami. DCN members met to explore content and business models given that consumption patterns are constantly changing, many consumers are actively avoiding advertising, and digital intermediaries are extracting much of the value out of the publishing economy. Speakers and attendees talked about changing their relationship with programmatic ad marketplaces, seeking alternative sources of revenue from subscriptions and memberships, and aggressively pursuing revenue diversification.
In his opening remarks, DCN CEO Jason Kint noted that although the Interactive Advertising Bureau recently celebrated the milestone of $50 billion in revenue generated by online advertising, more than 50% of the revenue currently goes to two companies: Google and Facebook, with premium publishers collectively garnering about 15%.
“Most of the money doesn’t actually get into your pocket to pay for the professional content, the entertainment and journalism you all do,” Kint said. DCN’s mission is “to make sure the next $50 billion is different.”
Premium publishers need to build on the trust and reputation they enjoy, rather than fighting with consumers over their use of ad blockers, Kint said, pointing out that a blockers are a symptom of consumer dissatisfaction. Smart publishers need to look at the opportunity “in the growth of this audience that is looking for content on new terms.”
“It’s a symptom of a bad user experience – users taking action on their own,” agreed Justen Fox, senior product manager for revenue products at Vox Media. Consumers are weary of pop-up and pop-under ads, not to mention advertising that contains malware. He finds that the use of ad blockers is higher with social and referral traffic, undermining audience acquisition, and said it’s also higher with returning visitors to Vox’s websites. If publishers and advertisers fail to clean up their act, the problem will keep getting worse, he said.
“Focusing on the user experience is actually the long-term solution,” Fox said. However, no publisher can do it alone because consumer impressions are formed by the experience they get across all media sites.
Sarah Frank, executive producer of Now This News, said that killing their website and forgetting about SEO is the best decision they ever made. It gave them the mandate to create content experiences optimized for different social channels so that consumers have a great experience wherever they find Now This content.
Marketers take action Meanwhile, marketers seeking to distinguish themselves from the bad actors in digital media are increasingly creating their own content to build positive customer relationships—with or without the help of publishers.
“We’re trying to figure out, how we stop interrupting the content and become the content,” said Laura Henderson, global head of content and media monetization at Mondelez International.
Her group has gone as far as to decide the content it creates ought to be good enough to make money on its own merits. One of the products from this division of Kraft Foods, the Oreo Twist, Lick, Dunk mobile game, made back 2.5 times the money spent to produce it, with about 5 billion virtual Oreo cookies dunked, Henderson said.
Like publishers, marketers “feel the pain of ad blocking, of our content being skipped, blocked, avoided at all costs – which means we need to figure out a new way,” she said.
Katrina Craigwell, director of global content and programming at GE, leads a team dedicated to connecting with lovers of science and technology on any medium or platform where they can be found. These content creators compare themselves less with their traditional industrial competitors than with media sites that create engaging tech content, be it the SyFy Channel or the people at NASA who produced the “7 Minutes of Terror” Mars lander video.
Asked if she had any use for publishers now that GE can publish its own content, Craigwell said she looks for partners who know how to tell a great story or can help the firm figure out an approach to emerging formats, such as virtual reality.
Building brand strength Many of the discussions of how publishers adapted concerned how they preserve their brand value while adapting to new business and content delivery models. The Onion Chief Operating Officer Kurt Mueller said that is something the satire site has had to be careful about with its experiments in native advertising: content is sponsored by advertisers but produced by the editorial staff.
The challenge is readers expect a certain attitude from Onion content, “and if we don’t give it to them, it comes off really badly for both us and the brand. You’re just creating ads if it’s not authentic to what you are,” Mueller said.
Laura Evans, VP of audience development and data science at Scripps Networks Interactive pointed out that data offers an excellent way to understand customer preferences, which can be leveraged to create better experiences. The goal, said Evans, is to “turn a visitor into a brand loyalist.”
As Membership Economy author, Robbie Kellman Baxter put it, “you need to love your customer more than your product” in order to create a positive relationship that will last a lifetime. And, as DCN CEO Kint pointed out in his opening remarks, “No business has succeeded, long term, without giving its customers a great experience.”
David F. Carr is a writer, editor, web consultant, and student of digital business. He is a Forbes contributor, a former InformationWeek Editor-at-Large, and the author of Social Collaboration for Dummies.
There is always a sense of inevitability when it comes to robots and automation. Of course, factories are automated and these days, robot write basic news stories. We expect some kind of self-driving car to hit the road in the not-so-distant future. But what about online ad sales? Should that process be completely automated or is there still a need for one-on-one custom attention for each sale?
While the trend among larger publishers has been toward more programmatic ad sales, it was recently reported that some are bucking the trend. As the Wall Street Journal’s Mike Shields wrote, Vox, Mic and Refinery29 — “the much hyped cadre of venture-backed, web-born, and millennially-inclined publishers,” are largely shunning programatic ads. Perhaps the most firm stance against it has come from Mic’s chief executive, Chris Altchek, who said the site doesn’t use any programmatic advertising at all. Whereas Vox has actually made moves toward embracing programmatic, albeit carefully.
The backlash against programmatic and ad tech is based upon the sentiment that it degrades the user experience. When prominent publishers need multiple ad tech providers to accomplish different tasks, that “mass of tech” slows the speed at which web pages load. Frustrated users then do what seems to be a logical solution: install an ad blocker. And to some publishers, that makes it seem a lot like ad technology companies drive a publisher’s profits away. The fact is that each media outlet needs to carefully consider the potential revenue programmatic can generate versus the possible lost advertising as a result of poor user experience.
Push for Branded Content “Once you get to a certain size as a publisher, in order for ad tech to make sense it has got to move the needle,” said Scott Grimes, the chief executive of the media publisher Woven Digital. “Just an incremental thousand bucks is just not worth it.”
Instead of relying on ad technology, newer web publishers are looking more to create branded content specifically for their sites. BuzzFeed has been the ring-leader of this trend. Vox, meanwhile, has Chorus for Advertisers, which uses its Chorus insights platform to enable brands to create and distribute the kind of content that works with Vox’s editorial voice.
But Vox Media’s vice president of global revenue and partnerships, Mike Hadgis, admitted this is just one stream of advertising revenue. “Native advertising/branded content, premium editorial, custom high-impact units, video, mobile, social…are all important solutions for our marketing partners and give us a well-rounded portfolio of advertising revenue,” he told Capital New York.
Difficult to Change the Trajectory But it’s hard to say if a few holdouts will really slow programmatic’s march toward a permanent niche in the industry. Industry insiders speculate that the whims of a few publishers can’t change the general trajectory of the ad technology landscape even if they might have some influence. What they have that other publishers do not is venture capital, which gives them the financial leverage to take such a position on advertising.
Seth Rogin, chief revenue officer at Mashable, told the WSJ that being anti-programmatic is another way of saying one doesn’t understand programmatic. “You start to sound like the old uncle who complained that they’d never go on Twitter.”
And the overall numbers back him up: Programmatic advertising comprised 20% of all Internet advertising revenues last year, worth $49.5 billion, according IAB’s first-ever report on programmatic revenues. That said, ad tech revenues represented approximately 55% of the programmatic revenue pie in 2014 with approximately 45% of programmatic revenue finding its way to publishers.
However, whether you consider programmatic ads as useful and necessary or think that that programmatic is going to take away from the experience of a site, the important thing to remember is that a tool is only useful when it’s used the right way. The trick, then, is to figure out just the “right way” to leverage ad automation so that it supports your site and pleases your audience.