Posts Tagged ‘ advertising ’

Goodnight Peel. Lessons Learned.

The Peel Original Development Team

I’m pretty sure most of us have experienced at least one dramatic shift at a certain point in our careers.  One thing I have always prided myself on is reflection and willingness to learn from every major shift.  The most recent buyout of Freedom Communications and subsequent changes with senior leadership led to many strategy shifts and even total elimination of certain products.  One of the products discontinued was the iPad application called “The Peel”.  Those of you integrated into the process of developing The Peel are fully aware that its production was hard labor; countless hours of blood, sweat and tears.  Well maybe not blood but certainly the sweat and tears. However, those of us intimate with this product saw a light at the end of the tunnel, which we calculated to be about 2 years after its initial launch; we had projected 2 years just to get to break even on the profitability front. That investment period was abruptly ended – cut short by one year.  Its new owners failed to acknowledge the future of this product. So back to my original point: Anytime a major change takes place in my career, I need to reflect on the “why” and “what did we learn along the way” questions.  To give a proper response, I’ve written this post on the lessons learned from our experience with tablet publishing.

I’ll start with the reason that The Peel was eliminated: The new owners of Freedom stated that the focus of the company moving forward would be on subscribers and profitable products.  Seems reasonable for new owners to say.  The problem is that the premises of The Peel was to gain a new audience – to reach a much younger demographic than traditional newspapers. A demographic that is adverse to subscription-based models.  We were, in fact, creating a new way of publishing, using the iPad as the main vehicle; with more video, original content, local information and events than a typical news platform.  As I see it, if a newspaper’s main focus is on subscriptions and profitable products, it makes it very difficult to invest in creating new and different new sources of content.  Regardless of the decision, there were valuable lessons learned that I thought I would share. I know many of you are trying to figure out how to publish for a new audience, and how Mobile and/or Tablet can play a role.

The Good Stuff

  • We learned a key factor in attracting a younger audience was to brand the product with a unique name (non-replica of the newspaper), and play down any connection to its legacy brand.  We fought this battle constantly, both internally and externally.  It may be that your legacy brand is important for initial credibility, but not so much that your readers think it’s the exact same content that’s in your traditional print product.
  • Collaboration is very important with existing content sources, as the resources available from the legacy brand are vast. The large scope of news gathering and related content available for your product is critical to success, and therefore your relationships with legacy journalists are crucial.  We had a great rapport with the local content center; they loved that we were focused on expanding the audience.  They appreciated our role, which was to aggregate relevant content, and to design new elements that brought the content to life on the iPad. Our everyday decisions revolved around our target audience, not what was on the front page of the legacy newspaper or on the homepage of the legacy website.
  • Video must play a major role in the development of content.  Our most viewed stories were usually video-focused stories or features.  We created original series based on prep sports, behind-the-scenes insight into local entertainment, coverage of products & people from our local community and fashion trends.  We had 5 original content series, or “shows” as we called them, in The Peel, We aired the shows on consistent days each week, and we adopted a TV-like marketing effort.  Most of these TV/video products also became hits on The OC Register website.  However, we always kept original show programming exclusive to the iPad for 48 hours.
  • We inspired many other content businesses to follow our lead and produce content similar to The Peel.  We also showed the importance of hiring employees to work on these projects that came from entertainment, TV, production and design.
  • The key component of The Peel each day was the feature story.  The feature stories were brought life with written content, short videos, high-res images and interactive features created in HTML5.  In fact, our usage patterns would go off the charts when we had a rub & reveal HTML5 function in a feature story.
  • We ended up averaging around 5,000 “Uniques” per week and had over 125,000 downloads of the app.  “Time Spent” with the product averaged 13 minutes each time a person opened the app.

The Not So Good Stuff

  • We started out thinking the best thing we could do was to tie our publishing efforts into our existing content management system and workflow.  What a mistake.  Most legacy publishing systems start with a page-layout system that does not understand HTML5 or high-res images; we spent countless hours each day trying to make our desired functionality work within a system that didn’t want to accept it. We had wanted to focus all efforts around the needs and expectations of the end user, and not what the system would or would not do.  Sounds naive, but we missed many opportunities to grow upon content functionality due to being held back by the publishing system.
  • We should have developed more video and original content sooner.  We were so busy just trying to make our deadlines each day in the early stages, that we didn’t have time to collect data that would dictate what changes were needed.
  • The name change to “The Peel” (from its original name “OC Register Tablet app”) occurred when we had realized that most of the users of the iPad app were actually the same people who received the daily traditional print and website versions of the newspaper.  These readers were actually upset that they couldn’t find the stories from the web in the iPad app.  They were expecting an iPad rendition of the website and print products.  We quickly made a strategic shift away from the flagship brand, and what a difference it made. However, again a little late.  It’s not always easy being on the edge of new technology.
  • We should have created a Sunday edition of The Peel.  We were so focused on the Monday through Saturday readers, that we didn’t realize the Sunday users want a similar experience.  We were thinking Sunday was a time when people would slow down and take a look at the printed newspaper.  In fact, what really occurred was that our younger readers were used to experiencing the Monday through Saturday editions, and were actually disrupted by not getting the same experience on Sundays. And, they were not users of our other products; therefore there was a gap in their daily flow of news.
  • Finally, sales and advertisers weren’t ready for this new medium’s type of analytics.  Selling “share-of-voice” was foreign to our sales reps and advertisers, who wanted to talk cpm based buys.  I’m not sure much progress could have been made in this realm, as we simply didn’t have enough scale to gain major sales.  We sold advertising to casinos, sporting goods and some retail, but nowhere else.  The ads that we created for these particular advertisers looked great on the iPad. It was impressive. In the end, we ended up with the budgeted sales we had hoped for, but those numbers didn’t create profits.  I truly believe that we could have been profitable based on our original 2-year timeline. However, with new ownership comes new expectations, and the investment period for The Peel was cut off a year before we could witness that success.

The knowledge gained from this experience has allowed me to become an industry expert in Mobile and Tablet publishing, but boy did it come with some bumps and bruises.  I believe the future is bright for products designed to engage and deliver what a user expects from the device they are using.  I am a strong advocate of creating or publishing around audience expectations, and not trying to repurpose traditional newspaper content to fit the screen of the device.  I hope this post allows others to learn from my experiences and win the pursuit of new audiences by utilizing a new and different way of thinking and publishing.

6 Steps to Success in the Mobile Ad Space

There has been a recent surge in charts and graphs depicting the meteoric growth expected in mobile by 2016. That meteoric growth has been underway for quite some time. Mobile is exploding in every aspect, i.e. traffic, usage, downloads, and eventually in advertising dollars.

You’ve probably seen the chart below, which clearly shows the massive amount of time we spend interacting on our mobile devices, against the ability of advertisers to monetize it. We spend 23% of our time with media on mobile, but mobile only attracts 1% of the advertising dollars.

So what will it take to get advertising revenues at least up to a point where usage and advertising are near the same level? Here are 6 crucial steps to consider:

  1. Create ads for specific devices: Recognize that display/banner ads created for websites cannot be retrofitted to a smaller screen (pretending to be a mobile display ad) as they usually don’t render well on a smartphone. Rather, once you target a specific audience, create the ad for the specific device your audience uses.  There are a few exceptions, but they usually involve video.

Good examples:        

 

Example of a bad ad, on an iPad (too small!):      

  

  1. Link your ad to a mobile friendly page:  If you share a link to drive users to a particular website, make sure the website is designed for a mobile device. If not, the end user will get a terrible experience; check to make sure the font is large enough to read and that most of the info isn’t hidden “below the fold”. Also, make sure that all images and links work properly! Create an experience the user on a mobile phone would expect to see.

IKEA France (image link broken):                                       

IKEA Italy

3. Make sure your call to action is easy to get to. Once you create the mobile landing page and it links to a mobile-friendly site, you need your call-to-action to function properly with the particular mobile device.  If you are driving a purchase decision, are you able to link to a well-designed mobile ecommerce experience?  If you included a phone number, does it allow for a quick connection? If adding a request for contact, is there a functional link to house the contact info?

  1. Create a portfolio of different sized ads: It’s difficult to reach multiple audiences using similar advertising across platforms, and usage patterns vary based on age group.  Your ads need to match your audience and they need to function well on the specific device. Also, create both vertical and horizontal versions of your ad, so users receive an optimal experience regardless of how a user is orienting their device.

Examples of different sizes of ad landing pages:      

     

  1. Provide interactivity in your ad: Make sure all advertising includes elements that go beyond just display with phone number or link; include social media links, potentially gaming elements, video and loyalty aspects. Make the user experience fun and productive.
  1. Satisfy your advertisers with quality analytics: One final suggestion is to make sure you supply quality analytics on the benefits an advertiser receives from their ads.  You want them to feel good about the money they spent on it! Create a dashboard with the most important  results to make it easy for an advertiser to understand the performance of the ad.

To sum it up, there are many variations in functionality of an ad, depending on the device: smartphone, tablet or desktop. Be sure you understand the nuances, as it’s the only way to make a dent in usage patterns versus advertising dollars spent.

Display Ads Don’t Work Anymore: NOW WHAT


I attended several meetings last week in the Bay Area and met with several companies including Google and Pandora.  I’m always energized after spending time with businesses whose sole focus is on the pursuit of digital and the monetization of those efforts.

During the meetings we spent a lot of time talking about the ever changing consumer behavior as it relates to interacting with advertising.  As we all know, display ads are still a major component of most online efforts but with each passing day the advertisers that pay for those ads are asking for more clarity on the success rate.  Jason Del Rey of AdAge wrote a good article on the subject that talked about click throughs becoming irrelevant as a way to measure the success of digital display ads.  Advertisers are starting to talk more about the interaction with the ad which includes hovering over the ad, listening to audio, playing a game integrated in the ad, or other activities.

I am seeing more and more advertisers asking to have their message put into the context of content on the page.  Check out how SAP ad is relevant to content. Advertisers are also asking how social aspects of the content can be integrated into advertising.  Think Facebook.  In other words, the old way of thinking about display ads as relatively static messaging has to change if we want to continue selling to advertisers.

Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti  wrote a good article that talked about the importance of moving beyond display ads.  I particularly took note of this quote:

“Peretti sees display ads as artifacts of an earlier Internet era when people went to portals to find content. That era — and its skyscraper and banner ads — has long passed as readers instead turned to search and, more recently, to social networks to find stories.”

I believe the issue of display ads not working as well as they once did is becoming even more critical when you consider the impact of mobile and tablets. Most publishers are seeing desktop page views flattening out and most growth is coming from smart phones and tablets.  Now think about display ads on a smart phone.  It’s a small screen and many advertiser websites are not optimized for smart phones, creating a bad experience.  The answer?  We often create mobile landing pages for our advertisers.

On the tablet, display takes on a whole new meaning.  Using a tablet is an engaging process; consumers are much more interactive using the device. They spend more time, look at more pages, and click on more ads. They are more likely to click on an ad if it takes advantage of the device’s technology, with interactive and social elements. Most advertisers can’t create interactive ads. They need an agency or the publisher to do that for them. Therefore we create tablet landing pages and build interactive and social elements into ads for our advertisers.

So, what’s a publisher to do? Here are some recommendations:

  1. Create mobile and tablet landing pages for your advertisers
  2. Integrate interactive and social elements into ads
  3. Offer advertisers an immersive experience, giving them a role in the content on the page

There are no easy solutions. For anyone. And after sitting with the Pandora execs, one thing I know is no one has it all figured out.  Pandora is doing a great job in getting an audio advertisement to your music station every 20 minutes.  The ad includes a leave-behind display ad.  However unless you have the phone in your hand or you’re sitting at your desktop you won’t see a display ad unless you need to access the screen itself.

And Pandora’s ads are typical display ads that fill the screen on a smart phone, similar to a static display ad. Pandora has a compelling message and audience reach story.  As they evolve in the space my bet is they come up with even more compelling interactive ads for mobile devices.

Everyone has a chance to be successful in the mobile and tablet space as long as they don’t treat it like desktop.  Pandora is making sure they don’t, and my guess is they will be a big winner in selling digital ads for their service.

Google is also really pushing the envelope in thinking about mobile and tablet, but their real knockout punch is still Search.  They are constantly evolving with more progressive advertising on mobile formats and no longer thinking about it as a display ad.

It is going to take a combination of social, display, integrated messaging and interactive elements to win this battle.  My message here is that even the big guys haven’t figured out the secret sauce as display ages and new formats evolve and progress for all our mobile devices.  Keep trying new things and don’t get caught trying to repurpose old formats.

Jumping on the Proverbial Band Wagon

I have been reading a lot lately about newspaper businesses implementing pay walls at what seems like a rapid rate compared to just 12 months ago.  So, what has changed?  The number one driver of this new enthusiasm is because the New York Times was able to implement a “pay fence” to its primary website with an acceptably low decline in traffic, along with more than 450,000 paid subscribers.  The increase in subscription revenue has more than offset any decline in ad revenues from the drop in page views.

Even though no other newspaper is anything like the NY Times, with its national footprint and millions of readers, others are following in what feels like a frenzied rush to judgment.  The largest newspaper chain holding company, Gannett, announced all 80 of its daily newspapers (with exception of USA Today) would be behind a pay wall within 12 months.  Lee Enterprises, owner of the St. Louis Post Dispatch as well as many small community newspapers, announced all of its dailies would be going behind a pay wall.  Many others are heading in the same direction.  So a little success in a big national newspaper is giving everyone confidence to move in this direction, forget the fact that the audience for digital content has been conditioned for “free” content (with ads of course).

Could there be something else driving this change in attitude?  Maybe, there’s a lack of new ideas on how to grow digital faster.  Could it be that mobile isn’t moving fast enough and current indications are that it could be at a lower CPM than desktop web?  Is it that the sales organization is now smaller and has to focus on what still drives 85% of the revenues for these companies (print)?   Maybe it’s because it’s a last ditch effort to stop the slide in revenues since the economy is coming back but hasn’t really helped the newspaper industry.  Or, could it be all of these things.

Here are some things to think about if you are working in a media business, regardless of where you think the future will be.

  • Are you selling advertising as if you are part of an agency?  Do you offer much more than just display ads?  Do you help an advertiser spend their precious $1,000 a month budget and not place 85% of it in print unless it really creates 85% of the interest?
  • Do you offer your advertisers help in creating digital ads for web and mobile?
  • What are you doing to help advertisers deal with social media?
  • How are you helping advertisers be successful in search?
  • Are you creating post campaign reports that your reps actually understand, and are able to review with advertisers to demonstrate the value of their advertising efforts?
  • Are you selling the newest opportunity in digital (mobile) with the same sales organization that sells print, and who just recently started understanding how to sell digital ads for desktop? If so, why?
  • What about tablets?  They are sold differently than mobile.  Do you know why?
  • Are you creating content specific to the device, or is your content team putting the same content that is on the web onto mobile and tablet?
  • What have you done to move beyond display ads for smart phones?
  • Does your sales organization understand how to sell “share of voice?”  This is the way selling advertising on tablets will be done.

If you can answer positively to these questions I wonder if a pay wall is really needed?

Spend some time thinking this through.  We don’t want the newspaper business to be compared to Kodak.

Selling Mobile & Tablet Advertising is Different

Over the past several months I’ve been invited to speak about mobile and tablet pursuits from both content and monetization perspectives.  I’ve also spent countless hours with sales people discussing issues they run into when selling mobile advertising.   Let me lay out the crux of the issue in a nutshell; mobile and tablet page views are growing exponentially, yet ad dollars are lagging far behind.  Why is the rift so dramatic?

I feel the lag  occurs primarily due to the lack of knowledge on the interactive aspect of mobile and tablet advertising and  the ‘newness’ factor of mobile and tablet advertising in general (it’s hard to sell it if you don’t fully understand the worth and growth potential).

Take a look at the following graph. It is clear to see that within mobile media the amount of dollars spent on advertising versus the time users spend with content is dramatically unbalanced compared to  other forms of media.  However, newspapers and magazines have the opposite situation; users spend less time with the content, but the advertising dollars are still there!  It’s obvious to see that traditional media must figure out mobile as well as tablet advertising, and the sooner the better!

Today, the primary advertising sold on mobile is display advertising (banner ads).   Many clicks of display/banner ads are inadvertent due to the small size of the screen and therefore cause the analytics to be rather inaccurate.

The solution to the issue is to create interactive landing pages – user experiences that take advantage of the features of the mobile device.

Take a look at the example below (Kohls landing page built for an iPad app).  Rather than displaying a simple banner ad that runs across a small portion of the screen, we’ve created an interactive full scale landing page with maps, store locator, social media links and deal specifics.  This particular ad received 11x more engagement than a banner ad that carried the same promotion.  The key was building an experience for the end user, something that didn’t act or feel like a static ad.  This landing page ad can still be sold using a CPM basis, but at a higher rate due to customization of the ad.

When considering the iPad (or tablets in general) the job of selling and delivering ads is totally different than selling ads on smart phones.  The biggest reason is due to the engagement factor of people using the iPad.  A typical user spends anywhere from 10-20 minutes with most content products.  A highly engaged audience expects to see advertisements, but these advertisements need to be part of the content experience.  Display ads don’t cut it.  Landing page advertising carries highly visual and interactive elements, tied directly to the promotion.  An even more critical component to this process, is the way it the ad is sold to the advertiser.  The Sales person must convey to the advertiser that the iPad/tablet is more like advertising on TV rather than advertising on a website.  CPM selling doesn’t work here.  Similar to television advertising, tablet advertising is a “share of voice” type of sale. It’s more about a percentage of pages viewed or time spent by the user within the content.  This means that if your product is a highly visual and interactive (with a lot of video); users are going to spend 4x as much time on average, as they do with your web product! This is where I highly suggest you learn how to sell share of voice!  If you don’t, you run the risk of selling everything in a bundle format (with print and web), and consequently undervalue inventory on the iPad.

How do we really get to the bottom of this issue and find a solution to the problem of selling mobile and tablet advertising effectively? The suggestion I have may be considered controversial, but here it is: you must build a separate sales group focused on mobile and tablet.

The majority of traditional media businesses are just now figuring out how to sell interactive on a CPM basis.  This being said, a traditional media sales rep’s plate is already full with selling print, web and other third party products. Then “BAMM!” now comes the duty of selling mobile and tablet as well.  Also, it must be understood that selling mobile advertising requires a lot of hand holding to develop the interactive elements and to create something that will work on small screen.  Also, tablet advertising requires a completely new way of selling and creating ads for advertisers.

Newspapers need to prioritize digital advertising sales if they expect to thrive.” Pew Research Center, March 2012*

If you believe as I do that mobile and tablet represent the largest opportunity on both content and monetization/revenue fronts, you’ll want to avoid adding mobile and tablet to your current sales organization. Rather, you’ll build a separate sales group focused on mobile and tablet.  And, of course consider mobile and tablet advertising as a big piece of the revenue growth required to get back to growing revenues.

Deal Site Shakeout – Should Local Media Throw in the Towel?

In one of my previous blog posts, I discussed the 10 tips to compete in the deals space.  Now I’m talking about throwing in the towel.  What gives?  Ok, a bit of tongue in cheek to get your attention.  Actually, I think now is the time to double your efforts in the deals space. Let me explain.

The deals industry is going through a shakeout but not because revenues are declining or even leveling off.  Instead, the big deals sites are continuing to grow and consolidation is beginning.  There are only so many deal sites a market can support and unless you have differentiated your product it’s tough to keep up against the big guys marketing spend.  Take a look at the overall spend by consumers on deals, the revenue in 2010 is expected to be $873 million growing to $4.2 billion by 2015.  Local media has to be a part of the dollars spent on deals or keep losing ground. These are dollars that would normally have been spent with newspapers, magazines, radio and local websites.  It is the ultimate pay for performance type of advertising.

So, it’s the time to double down, otherwise you jeopardize the opportunity to be a big part of advertising dollars spent by local advertisers.  Groupon and Living Social are off to great starts but if you look at local media sites in the deals space, in many cases they are doing well.

Three Strategies for Local Deal Sites

What is it that keeps these sites competitive?  I believe there are three key strategies:

1. Packaging

Local media can offer advertisers a much more robust advertising opportunity than just the deal itself.  Local media can put together a package that includes the deal itself marketed via email, front page print advertising, website ads, on air mentions, advertorial and even editorial discussion.  These are unique advertising and branding elements that the deals-only businesses cannot duplicate.  Local advertisers receive branding value they might not otherwise be able to afford if it weren’t for the deal offering itself.

2. Local Sales

Local media employs local sales people.  These sales people have relationships with advertisers in the market.  They live and work in the market.  The competition in many cases is calling into the market with telesales.  Local media knows it is relationships that will drive sales.  Advertisers want to deal with people they know and trust.

3. Brand Loyalty

Local media brands are already established in the market.  Unlike competitors who need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising their brands for awareness.  Local media can spend their precious dollars growing their email and social databases instead of advertising for brand awareness.

Now What?

It’s time to ignore the naysayers and take advantage of the strengths mentioned above.  Add more deals. Segment deals into categories.  Become more effective in geo targeting of deals.  Hire more sales people.  Grow your list.  Utilize the assets you have and recognize competitors aren’t going away and they will innovate so pay attention.  Deals represent a critical battle that local media needs to win or at least participate in at a high level.

Check out one of our deal sites here.

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