In a wide ranging interview I talk about programmatic advertising, and also touch on the other 2 elements of the troublesome trinity for publishers: Facebook and AdBlocking.
My interview with Laurie Sullivan at Media Post, a warning to publishers in advance of Google’s little publicized crackdown on mobile interstitials. The moral of the story: you can ask your audience for something, e.g. an email address, but keep it small and simple when on mobile.
When Google changes their algorithm publicly, everyone should take notice. In this case, Google is penalizing “intrusive interstitials” in mobile search results. Fair enough, these interstitials are often annoying and spammy, but there’s a real risk to legitimate publishers just trying to engage their audience. I wrote an article on Martech Advisor about how to avoid these problems. (Note that I did not choose the title, I’m not encouraging anyone to circumvent Google’s crackdown, only to stay within Google guidelines as to what constitutes a good mobile user experience.)
Leading product and marketing for an email technology company, I suppose I could be accused of bias when saying that email is part of the solution for many of the publishing industry’s current problems. However, the fact that publishers need to establish a direct relationship with their audience is something that I truly believe, and email just happens to be the best way of doing this. Getting an invitation to the inbox is extremely powerful.
Here’s my section from Columbia Journalism Review’s article, Publishers’ New Year’s resolution: more experimentation, cautious optimism.
Strengthen relationships with readers through email
With the death of the homepage, readers spend less time engaging with the full slate of any publisher’s content. To circumvent the algorithms Facebook and Google use to determine who sees what, connecting directly with consumers often requires getting to their inboxes.
“Email is the direct relationship with the audience,” says Keith Sibson, vice president of product and marketing of PostUp, which provides email marketing platforms to clients including NBC, Disney, and The Golf Channel. “Whereas a lot of the things going on in the digital publishing world are about people coming up against an intermediary in that relationship, Facebook being a really big part of that.”
For many publishers (including CJR), email newsletters are a way to share content they want to highlight with consumers who have signaled their willingness to engage. “When someone signs up on a publisher website, and provides their email address, what they’re essentially giving is an invitation,” Sibson said.
Getting that invitation is the first step towards deepening a relationship with consumers that exists outside the walled garden of social platforms. Once readers have engaged enough to sign on for a newsletter, publishers have the ability to tailor content for that user’s interests, from politics to cooking. Many outlets have already embraced this strategy; The Washington Post offers 65 separate newsletters that readers can choose from and The New York Times sends out 53, including seven that focus on ‘special offers’ that provide deals on products offered by premium advertisers.
Whether by partnering with advertisers to bring consumers specific products or simply drawing readers directly to an outlet’s website, email provides an end run around the dominance of Facebook and Google, and while they’re no silver bullet, the prevalence of newsletters shows that many publishers have already realized this. “Email is not going to change publishing businesses overnight,” Sibson says. “But it can become a very big part of their revenue streams.”
Digital Marketing News featured my thoughts on 1-1 personalization as part of their contrarian week. I don’t always go against popular opinion, but being a marketer, product manager, and computer scientist I do tend to see through the hype associated with marketing technology and trends.
Marketers have to be relevant in order for their efforts to be worth anything. But chasing the elusive (and difficult to achieve) goal of 1:1 personalization may actually be hampering revenue potential. There is a way to remain targeted and relevant and provide a great user experience while increasing the LTV of each individual user in your database, and a category-based program might just help you strike that balance.
I was interviewed by Tobi Elkin from MediaPost, discussing the setbacks for the Medium.com business model and why the publishing industry overall should take notice.
RTBlog: What lessons can be learned from Medium’s situation?
Sibson: Programmatic ad revenue is in large part the cause of publisher woes. It started off well. For advertisers, programmatic aggregates and provides enormous reach, as well as powerful targeting capabilities that deliver click performance.
For publishers, it’s turnkey: put a small piece of code on your site, and the money starts to flow. However, now publishers don’t need an ad sales team, and the barrier to entry for new publishing businesses has dropped dramatically. There’s now an oversupply of ad inventory, and CPMs are compressed as a result.
For many, the solution to preserve revenue was to show more ads, which in turn, helped precipitate the rise of ad blockers, which further compressed CPMs (per page view). I like to say that BuzzFeed took $10 billion of publishing industry revenue, and converted it into $1 billion in revenue for BuzzFeed.
Programmatic advertising is, paradoxically, the creator and the (potential) destroyer of the modern digital publishing industry. This article is about how the industry got there.
Programmatic & The Tragedy of the Commons
A notable exception is BuzzFeed, which built a successful business based on programmatic. But most traditional publishers couldn’t afford to pay the rent, let alone journalists’ salaries and the electric bill with the money that programmatic generates today. BuzzFeed took the low cost model to an extreme, capturing a huge share of audience attention, but with none of the costs associated with actual journalism or content production. Essentially, BuzzFeed took $10 billion of revenue from the publishing industry, and turned it into $1 billion of revenue for BuzzFeed.