Putting the audience first in digital publishing and advertising
Columnist Rob Rasko believes digital publishers need to find the right balance between creating great content and monetizing it.
As long as there have been audiences, there have been media companies. Audience attention may shift around, from print media, such as newspapers, to TV to digital content and then back again, but the one constant is that there is a sacred relationship between audiences and the content they consume.
Thinking back to old-school newspaper editors, this idea of relationship building was at the core of their work. The same goes for broadcast journalists like Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings, whose influence rose over the years because of their consistent reporting and ability to create trust between themselves and their audiences.
Vogue editor Anna Wintour may be one of the best examples in recent history of how loyal audiences are influenced by the editors they come to know and trust through reporting.
But are digital-first publishers thinking the same about putting their audiences first by prioritizing great content, or are they more concerned about creating content that’s easily shareable and full of ads?
I talk to my peers in the market about a lot of things, but most of the time, our conversations boil down to making more money and increasing efficiency. A key element related to this is proper business intelligence and data.
Unfailingly, every time I have conversations about business intelligence and data, my peers usually respond with something like, “While advertising data and reporting are important, it’s really the audience data that helps me support my audience relations efforts. That is where my thinking and focus are currently.”
Taking a page from traditional media
Are the traditional media roots of these publishers driving the agenda forward? If so, should those of us in digital advertising take a page from their book and focus less on the concerns over ad-blocking technology and more on continuing to provide engaging content for our consumers?
Each day, it seems like our industry gets closer to embracing scarcity, as more publishers streamline their digital properties in response to consumer pushback against intrusive ads. The fate of sites whose sole focus is pure money plays remains to be seen.
To learn more about how top-tier publishers are focusing their time and attention on audience data and maintaining great customer experiences, I reached out to some of my friends in the market, and this is what I heard. According to Rick Monihan, director of sales operations policy and contract oversight at ESPN:
[blockquote]Premium publishers consider the relationship with their consumer to be sacred. They want to protect their consumers’ rights, respect their intelligence and taste, but balance it with making money and being efficient. On the other hand, pure money plays (firms which source large amounts of audience or rely on sensationalistic promotions on social media) who loop in people with “You won’t believe what happened when…” ads, are less serious about their relationship. Their “content” is not about a relationship with a consumer, just a relationship with an idea. As long as the idea is conformed to and delivered in an acceptable fashion, they will keep getting consumers. But it isn’t about who the consumer is or what they want, it’s about how much more efficiently they can drag a viewer in and how much more efficiently ads can be delivered.[/blockquote]
In discussing this concept with Marie Svet, global chief revenue officer for AccuWeather, she shared insight on how AccuWeather is thinking about this issue with regard to mobile. She said:
[blockquote]While the mediums consumers use to engage with content are constantly changing, AccuWeather has seen tremendous growth recently in mobile — a rapidly evolving platform for many brands — as all consumers are spending an increasing amount of time on their mobile devices. We’ve found it is critical to deliver highly relevant, immediately actionable content to our mobile audience that can be consumed in mere seconds and the key to delivering that successfully is to create a highly-personalized experience. AccuWeather is constantly conceptualizing, testing and evaluating our content to ensure we are delivering that best-in-class personalized experience our audience has come to expect in order to remain effective and relevant. As a result, we’ve built strong loyalty and preference with our audience.[/blockquote]
A move towards fewer, better ads
So, what is the optimal balance between creating great content and monetizing it? As the market shifts to favoring quality over quantity, I can imagine many well-respected editors mouthing the words, “I told you so,” as publishers’ strategies evolve, moving towards websites with fewer, better ads.
My guess is that premium publishers that have long-standing relationships built on trust with their audiences will more easily navigate the ad-blocking hurdle, using this as a catalyst to continuously improve user experience with fewer ads on each page.
Recently, I have taken up reading magazines again after trading in some sky miles that were set to expire for four new subscriptions. I have to say, I have been really enjoying reading magazines again. Maybe it’s the fact that the layout is well thought-out or that each article is fully researched. Maybe it’s because there is a single ad on the page next to content, and the two coincide and actually make sense.
So, what is the right balance between great content and the ads that make it possible? I don’t think we know yet for sure, but I imagine it will just feel right… like sitting on your couch and flipping through a magazine.