No Longer Just Purveyors of Ad Space, Publishers Must Learn to Sell Their Content Expertise
Forrester predicts that 2018 will be the year that the display advertising bubble bursts, and that brands will significantly reduce their ad spend. In a recent report sharing 2018 forecasts, Forrester writes, “CMOs can’t defend underperforming media spend focused on customer acquisition as churn rates escalate or stand idly by as digital platforms threaten to disintermediate their relationship with customers.” This could spell a tough year for publishers, many of which rely heavily on display advertising to keep their businesses afloat.
But the drop in ad spending is only one side of a much larger trend, writes Rachel Haberman in a recent post on Skyword. The other side, which Forrester mentions briefly in its report, is that brands are increasing their spend on technologies that help them provide more personalized experiences throughout the customer lifecycle, from awareness to acquisition and retention. Positive customer experience (CX) -- the sum of interactions between a brand and customer -- is critical to growing sales and relies on valuable, targeted content to continually engage the consumer, writes Haberman.
This should sound familiar to publishers, who have mastered building relationships with consumers, regardless of channel, through relevant content. Now it is time for publishers to market this expertise to brands and help them build consumer relationships. That is a much more valuable business to be in than selling commoditized ad impressions
Publishing Executive and our sister brand Target Marketing hosted a conference in November that shed some light on how brands are using content to attract and convert new customers and how they navigate a web of new technologies to execute these efforts. FUSE Enterprise is a counterpart to the FUSE Media Summit, and is geared toward brand marketing leaders. At the conference, we learned that brands are doubling down on analytics tools, content management systems, and automation. But, as several speakers emphasized, the shift to content marketing and a CX-centered strategy is not an easy one. From talent to workflow, branded content requires a completely new set of skills, and many of those skills are already in publishers’ wheelhouse.
Brands Struggle to Scale Their Content
In the keynote presentation, FUSE Enterprise co-chair and Content Marketing Institute chief strategy advisor Robert Rose shared research CMI conducted in 2017 about how brands execute content marketing. Rose said that content scale was one of the largest hurdles marketers faced. “53% of marketers have one or two people doing content for the entire company. How do you scale this? You don’t. And only 36% [of companies] have a formal content strategy at all.”
Building out a content team and strategy takes a great deal of resources, especially if a brand lacks the distinct skill set required to develop content that resonates with audiences. Publishers should aim to sell brands on the premise that they can devise and execute a scalable content strategy more affordably and effectively with the help a publishing partner that has the subject matter and storytelling expertise. This doesn’t have to be limited to content marketing assets that live on publishers’ own sites as native advertising.
Inability to Define Success Metrics
67% of marketers are not able to identify what metrics indicate success when it comes to content marketing strategy, said Rose. He added that groups within an organization may define success differently. Research from analytics platform Parse.ly, shared during a panel discussion on metrics, echoed this finding. In a 2017 Parse.ly survey, brand marketers reported that although impressions were one of the least useful metrics for defining the success of a piece of content, they were asked by colleagues to report on that metric the most.
Publishers have long wrestled with using the right KPIs to measure content success, and in recent years have found a balance between impression metrics, like page views, and engagement metrics, like shares and time spent. While impressions are key to powering ad revenue, engagement metrics indicate actual interest from the reader. That insight is much more useful for publishers looking to serve up relevant content and nurture readers towards a newsletter sign-up or a paid subscription. Publishers can bring all that they’ve learned about online audience acquisition and retention to bear for brands in hugely meaningful ways.
Reaching the Right Audience Is a Challenge
While publishers can help brands develop valuable content, just as important is delivering that content to the right audience. As Kevin Welde, strategic account executive at Workfront pointed out during a FUSE Enterprise keynote panel, “There is content out the wazoo right now. Getting content to the right eyeballs is the biggest challenge.”
Publishers need to be able to demonstrate to brands that they have the right audience and can segment that audience in the way a brand needs. That means having data analytics and reporting tools that can slice and dice the audience to meet brand requirements. Publishers must also show how they can tap audiences outside of their own network through audience extension campaigns. Having the ability to track cookies and deliver offers programmatically to consumers is key.
One of the terms referenced throughout the FUSE Enterprise conference was a phrase Rose mentioned during his keynote. He said that brands should not be concerned with ROI so much as ROA -- Return on Audience. “Content is just a bridge to the real asset that we’re building, the audience. That’s what can produce a return,” said Rose. Publishers must realize that they already have the ability to create that bridge. They understand how to build an audience with content, increase engagement, and convert. It’s time for publishers to put those skills to work for brands. Content is no longer a medium on which to deliver ads for brands, but a means of nurturing a consumer relationship.