Digital Marketing

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Consider Attending Our Content Marketing Workshop (Sept. 9, Milbrae CA)

Content marketing has gone from nearly zero on marketers’ radar to about a billion mph in just a few short years.  Organizations are realizing that content is effective – and cost-effective – for marketing as quickly as it becomes abundantly clear that content doesn’t just happen by itself.

We’re here to help. On September 9 in Milbrae, CA, Altimeter Group will host our first half-day content marketing workshop (as well as other Academy offerings).  Drawn from our research reports, books and other publications on the topic of content marketing, the course is designed to equip marketers with the fundamentals of content marketing and content strategy.

Why the relatively recent emphasis on content marketing?

Content marketing is nothing new. Marketers have been creating content for customers and prospects since the days of the newsletter and the filmstrip. However, digital has revolutionized both content creation and dissemination. Web sites. Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. YouTube. eBooks. White papers. Search engines. All of these channels (and many more) remove many of the hard cost barriers that were once a deterrent to creating and disseminating great content.  Yet as brands become publishers (some so successfully that they’re able to actually monetize the content they create), they face challenges.

Content may cost less to produce than advertising, but it’s heavily resource-intensive and only getting more so. Unlike campaign-based programs, content initiatives tend to be ongoing. Content is fundamental to social media, owned media channels and advertising – integrating brand, messaging and measurement between screens, workflow streams and channels is challenging. For many marketers, shifting from “push” to “pull” marketing requires learning entirely new skill sets. Finally, creating a functional content strategy — a foundation to govern and systematize content creation, dissemination, approval, measurement and maintenance —  is only just emerging as a discipline in digital marketing.

What are the two or three big ideas marketers should focus on?

Brands are media companies. Almost without exception, they’re creating content. We believe they should do so strategically and with a view toward integrating messaging across channels. Recent research we’ve published indicates content is now the primary driver of all marketing creative, including advertising. This demand changes workflow, agency and vendor relationships, and the way marketing initiatives are measured and monitored. Content is at the center of nearly all digital initiatives, and as the world becomes increasing digital, content will be the primary driver of all marketing in the very near future.

Who should attend this content marketing workshop? What should they expect, and what will they leave with?

Digital marketers, digital and social strategists, brand and product managers, as well as marketing/communications professionals should attend this workshop to learn the fundamentals of content marketing and content strategy, as well as how to apply those learnings to how their jobs and roles will change in the very near future. Participants will learn the five stages of content marketing maturity based on Altimeter Group research; the three primary types of content; the elements required to build a content strategy; as well as organizational and workflow requirements as they relate to enterprises large and small. It will be a fast-moving morning full of case studies and lean-forward participatory exercises.

Learn more and register for the content marketing workshop

Or consider workshops on Social Strategy and Social Analytics.

Image credit: Wikimedia

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Is the Banner Ad Dying?

Online ad revenues remain on a hockey stick trajectory, clocking in at a record $9.6 billion in the first quarter of this year (yes, a bunch of this is search and video, but still). Yet the demise of the banner ad has long been predicted, and some say the deathwatch is imminent — possibly before the end of the year.

That banners aren’t working very well is common knowledge. You’ve seen the stories: You’re more likely to survive a plane crash/become a Navy Seal/summit Everest/be the next Beatle or Elvis than to click on a banner ad.

That consumers don’t interact with banners is no secret. In fact, it’s entirely possible that most clicks are robot and/or click farm generated. Then there’s the banner experiment the ARF‘s Ted McConnell cooked up, a totally blank ad (no copy, no image, no nothing) that saw interaction rates that in many cases exceed those of “real” campaigns.

The result of all this inefficiency, unsurprisingly, is severe downward price pressure on banners, much to the chagrin of online publishers. As one publisher put it in a recent conversation, “It’s more expensive to get readers, and then when we do we can sell them for less.”

Yet at the same time, publishers speak of a “voracious appetite” for display ads and banners. “As publishers we’d tell advertisers that we’re unique and special, but really we’re not,” one publisher confided just this morning, “When demand for banners was too high, we’d just rent an audience. We’d rent from Google, from telemarketers, or rent email lists. The performance isn’t that different, and the advertisers don’t really care.”

So let’s get this straight: Display advertising doesn’t work, it yields ever-diminishing revenues, and advertisers can’t get enough of it?

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Read the rest of this post on iMediaConnection, where it originally published.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Going Native

Native advertising.

Everyone’s talking about it, but what is it, exactly? It has something to do with ads that don’t look like ads, but rather provide a degree of value in terms of being content. In that sense, native advertising is certainly a form of converged media as it combines paid media (advertising) with owned media (content) – often with the goal of generating earned media (social interaction, UGC, etc.).

Yet brands have been paying publishers to run their own content since forever. Does that mean “native advertising” simply a neologism for what we used to call advertorial? Or branded content? Maybe it’s sponsored content?

If native advertising somehow differs from older models of advertorial, sponsored or branded content, where are the lines drawn? Does “native” necessitate some sort of technological framework to carry and/or distribute the content in question (à la products offered by The New York Times, or tech start-ups such as OneSpot or inPowered)? Does it mean a publisher’s in-house agency (think Buzzfeed, Gawker Media) was commissioned to come up with the creative?

Bottom line: The term “native advertising” raises more questions than it does answers.

The value proposition of native advertising is, however, clear in a digital environment of banner blindness and plunging clickthrough rates. Pre-roll ads are skipped or ignored, email subscriber rates are eroding. Given any kind of choice, consumers are saying a clear “no” to interruptive advertising.

Native advertising lies somewhere in bridging the divide between content marketing – a pull strategy – and plain, old fashioned advertising, which is interruptive. Somewhere in its definition is probably the fact of paying for space or time (the “advertising” part) is a fashion that’s “native,” i.e. organic, conducive to the user experience, non-salesy, and offers some sort of value in and of itself as an ad (entertainment, education, utility, for example).

Native advertising’s promise, therefore, is better performing ads – but only if metrics are defined that are “native” to “native.” DM goals likely don’t apply in this case. Highly customized ad solutions mean more revenue for publishers (and boy, can they use it now). Also, deeper creative engagements for agencies, and hopefully, a better user experience for consumers.

The fly in the ointment is that without a real definition of native advertising, it means anything you want it to mean. Or anything whoever’s trying to sell it to you wants it to mean. Confusion in the marketplace is not a good thing (though it can benefit certain constituents).

This is why, as a research analyst, my next project will be to define native advertising, as well as to map the landscape of products and technologies related to the practice. (I’m also part of an IAB taskforce that will work to define the term – it’s therefore important to note the research will be my own work, not that of a committee.)

As this project is just kicking off, I’d love to invite your input. What do you believe native advertising is? Isn’t? What are the important companies in the space? Please let me know, either via email or in the comments section.

I’ll report back soon. Watch this space!

A version of this post originally published on iMedia Connection

Image creditwww.bydewey.com

Rebecca Lieb's picture

New Research: Organize for Content

More than a handful of brands publish more content now than a major media property such as Time Magazine did 25 years ago.

Despite the overwhelming and ever-increasing trend toward content marketing, and the need to continually feed an ever-increasing portfolio of content channels and formats, most organizations haven’t yet addressed content on either a strategic or tactical level.

It’s high time they did, and hopefully my new research report, Organizing for Content, will help. It provides both frameworks for coping with enterprise content marketing demands and a checklist of recommendations for organizational readiness.

Consider: The average organization is responsible for the continual content demands of an average 178 social media properties, to say nothing of a myriad of other owned media properties, from websites and blogs to live events.

Those few large enterprises not yet active in social media can easily serve five million email subscribers, as well as multiple millions of monthly unique visitors per month to their sites.

Yet the overwhelming majority of organizations don’t have content divisions in their org charts. Only nine of the brands we interviewed for this report (out of 78 stakeholders, also including content service providers and domain experts) have made explicit content hires, i.e. people with titles such as “editor” or those that contain the word “content.”

Who, or what, governs content internally? Responsibilities and oversight tend to be reactive, highly fragmented and distressingly ad hoc, as illustrated below. This highly typical diagram portrays how one major retail brand divides content responsibilities between divisions that are not necessarily interconnected or in regular communication with one another. This fragmented approach leads to inconsistent messaging, huge variations in voice, tone, and brand, and an uneven customer experience. Channel divisions themselves tend to be ad hoc, assigned more on the basis of hand-raising than any overarching strategic mandate.
Where Does Content Live Inside the Enterprise?
 It’s high time that organizations got organized for content. It’s only going to become more demanding – and harder – in the future.

Native advertising, advertorial, paid influencer, and sponsored content are just a few examples of the paid/owned media hybrids brands are exploring. Content must also be created for an ever-expanding spectrum of media, screens, and devices, ranging from smartphones and tablets to emerging platforms, such as augmented reality, Google Glass, and quite possibly devices like smart watches.

These new channels and platforms, coupled with a trend that de-emphasizes the written word in favor of visual and audio-visual content,  create new skill demands. “Hire a journalist,” a tactic many organizations adopted with the rise of blogging, now is in no way sufficient to address more technical requirements involving deeper knowledge of technology, production, design, and user experience. Requiring overtaxed and untrained staff to “do content” in their spare time is obviously hardly a solution.

Our research identifies six organizational models companies are using to address complex, cross-departmental content needs, and also contains a recommendations checklist for content preparedness. Please download the report (at no cost, we just ask that you share it if you like it), and let me know your reactions in the comments.

I’ll also deliver my findings in a webinar on Wed., May 29 at 1:00 EST. Please register and join us! 

Read and/or download the report below:
[slideshare id=19795236&doc=orgcontentv4-130423141546-phpapp01&type=d]

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Six Emerging Content Marketing Trends

Three related, clustered events constitute a trend. So, what have we here?

  • February 25: Mindshare appoints a content chief
  • February 27: Edelman names (a new, digital-focused) chief content officer
  • February 27: Facebook announces a content strategy fellowship
  • March 25: Sequoia Capital appoints a head of content
  • March 26: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt names its first chief content officer
  • March 27: Weber Shandwick launches a content marketing unit with 100 staffers
  • April 1: Havas signs a global chief content officer

Chief content officers have been de rigeur in media companies for years. Editorial web sites, magazines, newspapers, and broadcasters have them. Even Netflix boasts a chief content officer.

What’s staggering now is the alacrity with which agencies are now piling into the white-hot content marketing space. Not all of this is new, of course. Content divisions and/or practices have existed for some time at major players such as Leo Burnett, Ogilvy, and OMD. Digital shops, too, have content heads, as do (of course) the small cohort of content-only agencies.

The appointments above reveal these interesting takeaways:

Agencies that don’t have content practices are scrambling to get into the game

From the appointment of an executive with “content” in his/her title to blowing out an entire new division, both ad and PR agencies realize content can no longer be ignored. Clients expect content-related services and advisory. While mileage on the revenue models varies radically, there’s also heated competition on the PR and ad sides for a piece of the content pie. “We’re in a dogfight with the ad agencies,” is how one PR executive put it to me in a private meeting.

Content’s meaning is increasingly (if not almost exclusively) digital

It’s not as if Edelman didn’t have a content officer before appointing Steve Rubel to the role. His predecessor, Richard Sambrook, a former BBC editor, focused on editorial development. Rubel’s purview will be much broader, focusing on relationships both with digital media properties and technology vendors.

PR shops are in the media buying business

Historically, PR firms never, ever bought media. They earned it. In announcing their new content initiatives, both Weber Shandwick and Edelman have stressed that media buying and other forms of brokering will be very much part of what they do going forward. Media convergence and native advertising models make this evolution imperative.

Content is essential for startups

When one of the leading venture capital firms appoints a content head to help its portfolio companies develop and improve their blogs, social media, and video, it underscores just how essential a well-executed content strategy is to success — or failure — in business.

Hire-a-journalist: Will it suffice?

For the past several years, “hire a reporter” has been the mantra of companies eager to get a leg up in blogging or on social media channels. Now that content strategies are more technologically complex and digitally convoluted (converged media, native advertising, video, mobile) than “just writing,” it will be interesting to see what skillsets the next crop of content hires possess.

“Global” appended to content titles

This trend will become increasingly important with holding companies and larger agencies. Brands, too, are beginning to make content hires and shuffle the org chart to accommodate content strategy and execution. One of the biggest content challenges is the one facing large, multinational enterprises that must create content for a wide range of countries, languages, territories, audiences, and products. If any single cohort relies on outside content support, it’s multinationals. Holding companies possess on-the-ground global support and know that coordinated efforts can be a boon to this important new line of business.

This post originally published on iMedia Connection

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Eight Ways Brands Are Screwing Up Content Aggregation

What’s the biggest problem marketers say they face when it comes to content marketing? Producing original content is No. 1, followed closely by the challenge of finding the time to actually produce content, according to the findings of a 2011 survey conducted by Curata.

Content aggregation is a highly proactive and selective approach to finding, collecting, organizing, presenting, sharing, and displaying digital content around predefined sets of criteria and subject matter to appeal to a target audience. It’s become integral not only to marketing and branding, but also to journalism, reporting, and social media.

Content curation and aggregation can take many forms, including feeds or channels such as on YouTube. It can appear on blogs or even be something as simple as the links you upload to social media sites such as Facebook. It can be an online newsroom, a collection of links, an assortment of RSS feeds, or a Twitter list. Whatever form it does take, it’s around a topic, or a subject, or even a sensibility that speaks to the knowledge, expertise, taste, refinement, brand message, or persona of the person, brand, or company that has created the particular content channel.

That said, there is, unsurprisingly, a dark side of content aggregation. In this article, we’ll look at the eight worst practices that are upsettingly common among brands.

When content aggregation goes wrong

Perhaps unsurprisingly, half of the worst practices in content aggregation touch on potential unethical, immoral, and even downright criminal practices that can — willfully or otherwise — be associated with content aggregation. You must understand what they are before launching a content aggregation program of your own.

Ethics

Plagiarism. Stealing ideas (or passages or quotes) and passing them off as your own is not “aggregation.” It’s theft. And fraud. Understand what plagiarism is and don’t do it. It’s that simple.

Lack of attribution. Give credit where credit is due, right? It’s important to clearly indicate your sources for a variety of reasons, ranging from transparency to credibility (both yours and theirs).

Un-fair use. Aggregating content comes with a set of obligations — ethical and moral, as well as legal. Respect copyright. Most editorial sites have published guidelines regarding reuse of their content. In most (but not all) cases, this can be summarized as allowing third parties to link to the full story or item with a headline and brief descriptive blurb or a quote of reasonable length. Most publishers are happy for the link. It increases both their traffic and their search engine visibility.

Other sites have more liberal or more restrictive policies. When in doubt, ask. Shoot over an email explaining what you’d like to use and why. With most websites getting the bulk of their traffic these days from social media, publishers understand the value of such referrals, and linking to content legally is much easier than it was in the days when many publishers though proprietary was the way to go.

The missing links. Aggregated content is valuable to you, just as traffic and search engine visibility is worth something to the site on which the content originally appeared. Be nice, as well as transparent. Link to the content source. Links are how the web works, after all.

Read the rest of this post on iMedia Connection, where it originally published.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

First Media Disruption of the Year: Samsung + AP + Twitter

Even when you know what’s coming, you never know exactly what’s coming.

Paid, owned and earned media are converging, sure. As a result, workflow and roles are changing radically. But even when you’ve been watching this space microscopically for many months, the next manifestation to come down the pike is almost always a surprise.

The first surprise of this year is a stunning example of how quickly media convergence is moving, and how rapidly roles and workflow are changing. Last week, during CES, Samsung paid the Associated Press to run sponsored tweets in the AP’s Twitter feed.

And the “media buy” was brokered not by a media buying (advertising/paid media) agency, but by Edelman, Samsung’s PR agency (earned media – or make that paid/earned media?).

[Disclosure: Edelman is a client of my employer, Altimeter Group]

By definition, PR agencies don’t buy media, right? Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking with the New York Times about Ricochet. Many of the initial campaign results are truly impressive, but since the product involves “buying” New York Times content (not just ad units), the market is confused. Media buyers are calling it a PR product. PR is saying if it’s a buy, then it’s a media buy.

Digital silos, a new twist on that classic waiter’s line, “Sorry, but this isn’t my table.”

Disruption Across the Board

A PR agency functioning as media buyer isn’t the only radical shift in this bold experiment. For as long as there’s been publishing, it’s been pretty much the rule that the publisher sells advertising on his own media property. Now, while Twitter can arguably be defined as owned media because AP controls what’s on their feed, with this campaign they are selling sponsorships on Twitter – and Twitter doesn’t get a cut of the revenue.

Precedent? And how. As Carree Syrek of Kinetic-Social put it to Adweek, “What if Target or Walmart want to start charging CPGs like Procter & Gamble for Foursquare ads? Will the social media platforms allow brands to leverage those properties twice without having to [pay]? Will they let them essentially double dip?”

Twitter’s letting this one go, for now, despite the fact it pulls a U-turn around Twitter’s own ad product. All parties were quick to point out the sponsored tweets weren’t automated and otherwise complied with Twitter’s sponsored tweet guidelines.

Pushback? Some, which is to be expected. Criticism came both from users (a handful) and a few media observers, who worried the move blurred the lines between breaking news and pay-to-play content.

But very much to Samsung’s credit, the sponsored tweets, limited to a very modest two per day for the five-day duration of CES (so 10 tweets in total) were very clearly marked “SPONSORED TWEET.”

Edelman’s EVP/Global Strategy and Insights Steve Rubel has blogged articulately about how his firm reached the bold decision to venture into paid media, where few, if any, PR firms have gone before. The post is worth a read.

Steve and I carried on a conversation (on Twitter, over DM of course) about the campaign. No word from him on the specific goals of the undertaking, the applied metrics or results (in his defense, it was ongoing when I asked).

Like him, I believe this type of campaign is a glimpse into the future in which brands partner with the media companies they formerly ‘just’ advertised with. There are opportunities for native advertising, curation, sponsorship, creation and more.

Is there a revenue model behind this that can sustain media companies, particularly as their traditional ad revenues continue to erode? That’s the question.

In the meantime, it’s important to note Samsung’s sponsored tweets in AP’s Twitter feed very thoroughly satisfied one campaign goal that’s very squarely in Edelman’s wheelhouse: it drove a ton of (earned) media coverage.

This post first published as a column on iMedia

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Digital Marketing & Media: What to Watch in 2013

Predictions can be fascinating, but let’s face it. No one I know is in possession of a working crystal ball, and digital marketing and technology move way too quickly and too erratically to do much more than keep us guessing (not that that isn’t half the fun).

I’m an analyst, not a psychic. So rather than play the “what’s next?” guessing game, let’s instead focus on “what’s important?”

These are the areas I plan to keep a close eye on in 2013. What would you add — or subtract — from this list?

1. Media Convergence The blending of paid, owned and earned media will continue and intensify in 2013 spawning new technological solutions, necessitating new skills, new workflow systems and new partnerships. As the lines continue to blur between what’s paid, owned and earned in digital (and soon, traditional) media, this will be the trend that governs nearly all other major change in the digital marketing and media landscape.

2. Native advertising Between banner blindness and the fact that display, search and social advertising has largely moved toward programmatic buys that are much less profitable for publishers, we’re seeing a number of technologies and solutions emerge to facilitate native advertising, one of many terms for plonking content (often, unbranded content) into ad units (a manifestation of media convergence). Products and solutions in this area will continue to emerge, more publishers will accommodate it, and no doubt we’ll see some interesting, large-scale media partnerships emerge as a result.

3. Demand for broader skills and tighter workflows will intensify intensifies Looping back again to media convergence, the increasing overlap between paid, owned and earned channels is creating a demand to bring in new skills and more closely integrate workflows within disciplines. Take PR, for example. Traditionally, public relations has specialized in owned (content) and earned (in the sense of traditional) media. Throw in native advertising and suddenly PR agencies are faced with the prospect of media buying, a skill that’s always been the exclusive domain of advertising agencies.

And with media buying come other skills such as media optimization and analysis. Put otherwise, digital, which has become increasingly siloed and Balkanized in recent years, will no longer be able to pull the “that’s not my table” routine. All players must develop an understanding of related digital channels (search, social, email, analytics), as well as come together around a table and really, truly play as a team.

4. Real-time marketing & listening platforms Real-time marketing demonstrably works — not just in social channels, but across the marketing spectrum. A recent GolinHarris study finds real-time not only positively impacts standard marketing goals — word-of-mouth, attention, preference, likelihood to try or buy — but it also turbocharges other marketing initiatives, including paid and owned media effectiveness. Event- and news-driven marketing will become increasingly vital as brands work to become more relevant. This requires sophisticated listening and monitoring platforms, and often 24/7 staffing. Teams require tools, and training to respond in accordance with social media policies and in the brand’s voice. They must also be permitted to work in an agile environment, free of the chain-of-approval strictures that are antithetical to real-time marketing.

5. Organizing for content marketing & content strategy As brands recognize the necessity of adding content to the marketing mix, they quickly realize something else. Precious few organizations have a Content Division. In 2013 brands will begin to address this deficiency in earnest. They will hire, reorganize and make room on the org chart for effective content marketing operations that work in concert with existing marketing functions from social to communications to brand, creative and advertising.

6. Visual information takes precedence Research I published in early 2012 demonstrates that when marketers are asked what kind of content they’ll be investing in going forward, anything visual takes precedence over the written word. The unfettered growth of Pinterest, infographics, Instagram, and Tumblr, not to mention the always-growing popularity on online video, bears this out. Visuals capture attention. In a world in which brand messages clamor for consumer attention across screens, devices and channels, a picture is worth the proverbial thousand words. Keep your eyes open in 2013. It’s going to be a colorful and visually arresting year.

7. Online/offline channels converge, i.e. everything becomes more digital As media become more digital, we’re seeing digital messages appear in new places: out-of-home channels such as billboards and digital signage, as well as TV screens, are hosting streaming and social media.

The above are my top seven, but I’ll be keeping an eye on some other trends next year. Mobile is always changing rapidly, gamification is developing and interesting, so is wrangling and making sense of big data.

The single most interesting trend in 2013? Easy. It’s the one we don’t even know about yet.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Online Targeting: Perhaps Privacy Isn't the Problem

Some “facts” you might not know about me, particularly if you’re going by the picture on the upper right hand side of this page.

I’m a married male head of household who speaks Spanish. I have two teenage children and a high school diploma.  I’m retired. My income is below $50,000. I’ve recently purchased luxury cars and cruises. I have only one interest: sports. I’m in-market for every type of car you can think of: economy, compact, luxury sedan, full-size SUV and a motorcycle!

Other purchases I’m considering: magazines, theme park tickets, auto parts and accessories, and men’s clothing.

That, at least, is who a major real-time bidding platform thinks I am, based on several years of browsing history.

I have never wiped my cookies.

Here are the more factual facts: I’m a single, childless, working woman who has owned only one vehicle (over two decades ago, not in the U.S.). I haven’t watched or participated in a sport event since gym ceased to be mandatory. Cruises? Once, in 1983. Last theme park visit: 1971. I don’t speak Spanish (but do know French and German), and possess a graduate degree.

With zero effort on my part and many years of data, my online profile is even more wrong than Jeffrey Rosen’s two deliberately falsified online identities, created for a feature in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine

The piece is an indictment of real time bidding (which the author occasionally conflates with retargeting, which is something completely different) and, by extension, online targeting. While Rosen mentions, almost in passing, that this (erroneous) collected data is anonymous, he nevertheless sounds the alarm about “obvious privacy concerns” because “computers can link our digital profiles with our real identities so precisely that it will soon be hard to claim that the profiles are anonymous in any meaningful sense.” Big data, he maintains, will effectively provide advertisers with your DNA map once they triangulate your email font with your shirt color and driving habits.

Do Not Track aside, this despite the fact that virtually everything – everything – in my BlueKai profile is false, excepting the fact that I do live in the New York State/Northern New Jersey area – which hardly takes a bloodhound to figure out.

In other words, there’s indeed a problem with digital advertising. If ad platforms aren’t delivering the targeting that advertisers are paying for, the emperor has no clothes.

More perplexing than Rosen’s indictment of real-time platforms for violating privacy (while, apparently, not even knowing such basics as the gender of the otherwise anonymous person whose privacy they’re purportedly violating), he goes on to lament the erosion, of all things, of our individuality as a result of receiving targeted ads.

It’s a strange logic:

‘“You might find that people who have a luxury car tend to have a high propensity to buy some kind of biking gear, so a person who expresses a high preference for luxury cars might be a good target for biking gear, even though they don’t yet bike.” But this leaves no possibility for individuality, eccentricity or the possibility of developing tastes and preferences that differ from those of people you superficially resemble.”

Waitaminnit. Who suffers if I’m served with an ad for a bike because it’s falsely assumed I own a luxury car? Everyone on the equation but me is negatively impacted: the advertiser pays for a useless impression; the bidding platform’s credibility is damaged; and the publisher, already getting lower rates for running this type of advertising, risks being viewed as an ineffective medium by both the vendor and the advertiser.

Me? I just ignore the ad, like the other 80 percent of people who use the web (Pew).

Most difficult of all to comprehend are the author’s claims that somehow online targeting will lead to a level of personalization that will erode “common culture” and “shared reality.”

Global culture has become all too common, in the most literal sense of that word. The internet offers opportunities to discover new things, to plunge into obscure fields of interest, and to find others who share uncommon passions. It’s this alternative to “shared reality” that inspired me to leave a career in television for this brave new world – a place where I could find others who share my often offbeat interests (Sports? As if.  Japanese cinema? Absolutely!).

Finally, the Grey Lady ignores the most salient fact of all. Most of the web, like almost every other media channel, is made possible by advertising – a fact not once mentioned in this story made possible by advertising

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Pay to Play: Native Advertising Shakes Up Publishing Models

here are a ridiculous number of names for it: native advertising, custom content, sponsored content, branded content, content marketing, collaborative content. Or you can kick it old skool and go with plain, old fashioned “advertorial.”

Whatever you call it, getting brand-generated content onto the pages of “real” publishing properties is becoming a real business, albeit in many guises. It’s all part of rapid convergence of paid, owned and earned media.

New York Times-owned Boston.com is the latest in a fairly long line of publishers to sell sponsored blog posts under the rubric “Insights.” “Our advertisers, and particularly our smaller advertisers, have been creating their own content. They need to get it exposed. As much as 50% of small businesses are blogging. The one thing they want is to have people see their material,” as Boston.com’s executive director-business development explained it to Ad Age.

Boston.com aligns its advertisers’ posts in the appropriate editorial section, e.g. lifestyle or real estate.

Boston.com has joined a growing list of sites offering some form or another of custom content to advertisers, including Forbes, The Atlantic, BuzzFeed and Gawker Media. Gawker is so high on the model that they maintain a list of top-performing sponsored posts to inspire and lure advertisers.

Content that morphs into ad units takes on other forms as well. inPowered (formerly Netshelter) is a new advertising product that turns “expert” content into a ad unit. Say you’re Samsung, and Engadget just ran a rave review of your latest smartphone, for example. inPowered turns that review into an ad that can be run on other publishers’ sites.

Arguably, another model of advertorial are those publishers whose business model makes them increasingly reliant on content contributed by outside experts, rather than their own editorial staff. What was long a trade publishing model is now commonplace on mainstream B2B sites, from content marketing plays such as American Express’ OPEN Forum, web pure-plays such as the Huffington Post, to established editorial brands, most notably Forbes. While arguably this isn’t advertorial because the contributors don’t pay the publisher to contribute (and in some cases are compensated, albeit never handsomely), the reality is this, too, is a form of content marketing. Contributors are selling their companies, professional services, domain expertise and personal brands.

“Native advertising” takes many guises, and an equal number of pricing models. Some publishers charges basic CPM or CPC rates. Others calculate costs based on positioning on the page, maintaining a “featured” position over a predetermined period of time, as well as additional and often premium pricing for adjacent ad units from the brand contributing the content (think brand “surround sound”). Sometimes the publisher will help create the content (think Buzzfeed), more often it’s incumbent on the advertiser or their agency both to conceive of as well as to execute the creative.

The real challenge of this type of advertising is an entire set of new standards and practices publishers must define as the traditionally inviolable wall between editorial and publishing becomes increasingly porous and permeable. It’s not as if sponsored, branded and contributed content shouldn’t happen. It should, but within limits and parameters it’s incumbent on the publisher for setting and enforcing to maintain and defend brand credibility while at the same time exploring new models.

Some publishers are do better at this than others. Before the ad or editorial teams open the doors to contributed or branded copy, publishers must define and commit to these eight critical points.

Set and maintain editorial standards: Every publisher has standards in place. Some, such as the New York Times, employ a public editor (sometimes called an ombudsman) to represent the needs and viewpoints of the reader and to critique editorial. Publications opening themselves up to native advertising and contributed content require someone in a similar role. This person almost certainly does not work in ad sales.

Create a style guide for guest contributors This is a good idea for corporate blogs and publications, too. A style guide sets expectations and streamlines submissions. What are accepted spellings for the publication (email or e-mail?). Do links spawn a new window, or take the reader off the site? How much white space should there be between an image and text? With expectations set, production goes a whole lot faster.

Edit, and don’t forget to copy edit Regardless of how thorough the style guide, contributed copy must always be subject to the publisher’s editing process. If staff contributors are subject to editorial scrutiny, it’s even more critical that non-professionals be fact and spell checked, as well as accountable for attributions, sourcing and veracity. Seems like a no-brainer, yet at least one very venerable brand posts contributed copy as-is. It’s not unwise, though this will vary by publisher, to also subject advertorial content to at least some degree of editing.

Never, ever open the CMS to outsiders A very prominent media brand that publishes a great deal of contributed “expert” columns allows its contributors to post their contributions directly in the CMS. The result? Pretty much what you’d expect. This memo went out to contributors last July:

**Reminder** Using expletives can offend and alienate your readers and hurt your credibility. Please don’t use foul language in your posts and be especially mindful to never use it in your headlines.

Don’t base compensation on link bait ability Many publications don’t compensate expert contributors. Others pay on a per-item basis. One very staid publisher, hoping to build traffic to their site, experimented with a model whereby contributors were paid based on the traffic their columns generated. Result? “National Equirer”-level headlines and content in a business publication.

If it’s paid, disclose that it’s paid Boston.com’s paid posts appear in a sidebar box prominently labeled “Special Advertiser Feature.” Gawker’s paid content runs under the rubric “Sponsored.” Content that SAP and Microsoft pay to publish on Forbes.com are not explicitly designated as advertiser content. Paid content is nothing to be ashamed of. But it is something to designate.

 Vet contributors The five Ws of reporting: “who, what, when, where, why?” are all perfectly legitimate questions to pose to content contributors and content advertisers. Publishers are not only entitled, but obligated, to ensure content running on their sites adheres to standards that will uphold the publisher’s own brand and ensure the value of the publication to readers and advertisers alike over the long term. It’s not only fair to ask these questions, it’s obligatory.

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.

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