Traditionally, all great publishers have had something in common: great content. Today, with consumer expectations and revenue models changing faster than the news cycle, survival demands an additional superpower: the ability to learn from and leverage data.
Buzzfeed, Bustle, and Vice have mastered this skill. Their understanding of the behavior and interests of their readerships down to a very granular level enables them to expertly serve the needs of both their audiences and their advertising partners–creating a win-win for all stakeholders involved. Although the current digital climate might suggest the only constant is constant change, the success of these publishers does point to some forward-thinking best practices.
Publishers who continually and proactively capitalize on developing technologies and shifting tastes, and deliver desired audiences across all their platforms, make for attractive long term partners.
Retention, relevance, and revenue. These next gen publishers practice the same type of algorithmic magic you see up the sleeves of companies like Netflix and Spotify: they anticipate their readers’ next content craving before those readers know they’re having one–a practice that leads to highly engaged and loyal audiences. Through data-savvy partnerships, these publishers then have the ability to break out their audience according to their advertisers’ desired granular targets: they can even show results for smaller properties, specific site sections, and even individual articles in real time. Further leveraging live data, they are able to generate near-instant reports on custom personas to prove their properties fit RFPs. And data intel additionally gives them the ability to conclusively demonstrate their partners’ campaigns reach desired audiences, both mid-flight and after the fact. Finally, they can often offer new and valuable insight to partners, giving them previously unknown information about their target audiences’ behavior and/or composition–valuable intelligence their advertising partners can leverage for future campaigns.
Céline van Riemsdijk, Brand Strategy Director for Buzzfeed, describes how this works.
“Our data partnerships help us show that we understand a client’s target audience beyond the niche characteristics they’ve identified,” she explains. “For instance, we can reveal that fashion-conscious consumers attractive to a lifestyle brand are actually looking at specific non-fashion content across the site. These kinds of insights drive deeper conversations with our brand partners, allowing us to add diversity to the content mix and, ultimately, find more success with our partnerships.”
Build it, and they will come. Data dexterity enables these mavericks to not only attract a key audience or consumer via content–but to custom curate new audiences for their advertisers. Through partnerships that afford a live view of behavior across the internet, they query behavior/content consumption patterns of the desired audience(s). Study their past strategies to see how similar audiences have engaged with content previously. Then create content targeted to the desired audience’s interests–thereby ‘building’ audiences to suit the needs of particular advertising partners, and giving those partners the chance to influence a whole new set of customers.
Always be on the (re)make. Bustle, Buzzfeed and Vice have all expanded their businesses into new areas and even moved–in defiance of conventional wisdom–beyond their initial core brands. These publishers’ ability to not only enter into but excel in areas not endemic to them–new age groups and lifestyles, new media such as high quality news and TV–has become synonymous with their company identities. So much so, that the ability to adapt to the needs of the market and leverage new opportunities has become part of their brands–and part of their draw for advertisers. Publishers who continually and proactively capitalize on developing technologies and shifting tastes, and deliver desired audiences across all their platforms, make for attractive long term partners.
Taking Back the Wheel
Next gen publishers leverage non-traditional content and their control and understanding of data to deliver a unique and valuable experience for their advertising partners. So why aren’t these publishers, and the direct inventory sales segment in general, getting a bigger piece of the pie?
For one, there’s a learning curve with advertisers. Many of these measurements are fairly recent capabilities. As an industry, publishers have some educating to do: they need to make sure advertisers understand the precise results they can deliver.
Many traditional and non-traditional publishers are on a data learning curve as well. Historically focused on content creation, a portion of the industry doesn’t have a full comfort level yet with their analytics, or an understanding of how much data can do for them.
As digital publishing as an industry gets more on board with analyzing and leveraging their data, direct inventory sales will collectively benefit. “There’s unique value in a premium digital experience that can deliver at such a granular audience level,” stated Seph Zdarko, from Quantcast. “Marketers will struggle to find an equally effective offering to speak one on one with a specifically-defined constituency, in a safe and curated environment, precisely aligned with that audience’s interests and needs.” Once a critical mass of digital publishers start proving they can accurately deliver that bulls-eye audience, and do it at scale, the industry will rightfully regain its seat at the bargaining table.