Finding Reliable Digital Revenue Amidst Technology Flux
Developing substantial revenue streams from digital content is sometimes like shooting a moving target. Technology and content consumption habits continue to rapidly evolve, making once lucrative digital platforms and strategies more or less obsolete. For example, when the World Wide Web was still the Wild West, keyword stuffing (er, optimization) was the be-all and end-all of SEO, banner ads were the hot commodity, and social media wasn’t even a term. A few decades later and Google is seeking to reward expertise and authority, native content is the great marketing hope, and you can’t escape the constant refrain about social media’s importance to, well, everything. Oh, and have you heard mobile is pretty important?
Yes, today things change frequently and fast. And publishers will increasingly need to find their audiences and revenue online. According to PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook Report 2015-2019, internet advertising is projected to overtake U.S. broadcast TV advertising in 2018, spurred by the rapid rise of mobile advertising, itself predicted to surge to a 25.6% compound annual growth rate in 2019 to become the leading internet advertising category.
In light of digital media’s growing dominance, Publishing Executive continues to explore specific digital strategies publishers have found successful and how they are executing profitable digital initiatives. At the latest Publishing Executive Live: Executive Summit on Digital Media, hosted in New York City on May 18th, a panel dubbed “Deep Dive on Digital Revenue Strategies” tackled these issues. Featured on the panel were Steven Suthiana, global head of digital media and operations at Fast Company and Inc. Media, Aneel Tejwaney, CTO of Reader’s Digest, and John Lerner, CEO of Breaking Media. Adam Reinebach, president of Responsive Partners moderated the session.
Although all three panelists advocated for significant investments in native advertising, video, and data analytics, they maintained throughout the session that none of the strategies suggested are successful without high-quality content. It’s something publishers have always known—it’s the crux of the business, after all—but its truth has been proven out as emerging platforms have made more measurable the impact content strategy has on revenue strategy.
Following is an overview of the key points covered by the panel. Look for more coverage from Publishing Executive Live, including full audio of some of the panels, on PubExec.com.
Making Native Advertising Work
Native advertising has proven to be lucrative, noted the panelists, because it solves a problem advertisers have long faced on digital platforms, particularly mobile, which is visibility. Display ads are easy to ignore or block, whereas native content can engage a reader as deeply as an editorial article or video and offer a branded message. Native advertising also plays to publishers’ strengths, said Suthiana. “What we know best is writing content. We’re the experts on creating high-quality content that speaks to our readers.”
But native can be tricky, says Breaking Media’s John Lerner, who describes native ads as existing on a spectrum. On one end of that spectrum Breaking Media editors lead the content creation, and on the other end the advertiser manages the native ad development entirely. It’s the middle area of the spectrum, where the editor and advertiser’s roles meet that native advertising can prove challenging. “You have to create content that is engaging, but still has a clear branded message,” said Lerner.
Lerner admits Breaking Media doesn’t always get it right. Lerner shared an example where a steak house owner wanted a native article on Breaking Media’s law website, Above the Law. His team sent an editor to review the restaurant, and using the irreverent voice the brand is known for, the editor poked fun at the bankers who were eating at a table next to him. “Our lawyer audience loved it,” said Lerner, “but bankers are the main customers that eat at the steak house.” It was a failed effort, in large part because the brand and the content objectives weren’t aligned.
Suthiana echoed the sentiment that no matter the platform, the publisher must understand the advertiser’s objectives and work with them closely to develop the best native experience. “It’s up to us to drive the conversation and see where the advertiser’s message fits,” said Suthiana.
Tejwaney of Reader’s Digest takes a different approach to native. Rather than create custom content for advertisers, Reader’s Digest suggests existing content that relates to an advertiser’s product for sponsorship. On Taste of Home several recipes are monetized based on their ingredients, explained Tejwaney. Kraft might sponsor an especially cheesy recipe, for example. Then Taste of Home can measure how often that recipe is downloaded or visited and provide those metrics to Kraft.
All panelists agreed that defining what metrics are important to the advertiser is crucial. Whether it’s the halo effect of being associated with a respected media brand, eyeballs on the page, or email sign-ups, there needs to be a goal in mind prior to creating the native ad campaign.
Video Monetization Strategies
All three of the “Digital Revenue” panelists noted that they have invested in a number of video initiatives and have found that video is an ideal medium for presenting digestible and convenient content to their audiences—though the road to monetization is not yet well worn.
Taste of Home is using video to develop paid, online courses for its readers. The courses make up an online cooking school, explained Tejwayney, where users can purchase individual video courses or an all-you-can-eat subscription. “The whole premise is how to be a better cook at home,” said Tejwaney.
And the model is gaining traction. Soon a second online school will be launched for the Family Handyman brand. Family Handyman is adapting existing content to kickstart this effort, converting its popular book 100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know into a paid video series. From there the brand will create courses it can license to semi-professionals, said Tejwaney.
Lerner says video is a more difficult proposition for Breaking Media’s law vertical, because there is not as much demand for it. “I don’t think people want to pay lawyers to watch video all day,” said Lerner. But that doesn’t mean Breaking Media isn’t pursuing the medium. “Our goal is to get video right editorially and get it as engaging as written content.” Once the content is right, continued Lerner, opportunities to monetize will become more apparent—whether that is through advertising or subscription.
Lerner also noted that events translate well to video. Beyond promoting the event and boosting the brand, video can take advantage of the large number of industry leaders in attendance. That proximity makes it easier for Breaking Media to film a number of videos over a single day and develop a richer well of content from the event.
To Grow Digital Revenue, You Need Data
Second only to quality content, the panelists said that data analytics were key for enticing more advertisers and paid subscribers. At Breaking Media that is done through a massive CRM database that tracks every visit to the site. The CRM is constantly fed new information through site quizzes or events and eventually a valuable customer profile is created which can guide both editorial coverage and marketing efforts. “It’s all in a single database and that is really our goal,” said Lerner.
One way that Breaking Media has been able to monetize this database is through lead generation campaigns. “If we see someone reading ten or more articles on legal technology, that is a good prospect for our legal tech advertisers,” said Lerner. “We use content to profile them.” Lerner will not sell demographic information to advertisers, though. The data available is all behavior-based. “Someone can’t buy Harvard grads. They can create a registration form to drill that information down further.”
At Reader’s Digest data is used to create conceptual models that inform strategy. The Reader’s Digest analytics team specializes in data modeling and create models that, for example, show how users flow across brands and create a strategy to cross-sell more people. One important model the analytics team is working on is how the Reader’s Digest audience is changing over time. “One thing we’re struggling with is that the age demographic of our audience is very high and we want to get a younger demographic. This group is analyzing data and creating models to get us there,” said Tejwaney.
Suthiana said that as a boutique media company, it is especially integral for Inc. to demonstrate to advertisers that it serves a very niche audience of affluent entrepreneurs. Data insights help prove the worth of that audience.
Both Fast Company and Inc. partner with a third party data platform, but they also collect data directly. Suthiana cautions that data should not be sold to advertisers. “If advertisers want to use our data, they can, but they have to do it through us. Data control is definitely important for us.”
Data is also crucial for choosing what technology to invest in and running an efficient organization, said Tejwaney. “You’re constantly evaluating how much investment you need to make in technology and how nimble you need to be to try and move on. Your customers will tell you what they want. But if you test things, you will find out immediately if people are abandoning it or sticking with it and if it’s worth greater investment. Base this on what people are doing, not what they are telling you. It could be very different.” PE
Contact publisher Matt Steinmetz for more information on attending or sponsoring future Publishing Executive Live events: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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