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.