Posts Tagged ‘ digital media ’

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.

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.

Publishing Content For A Device Does NOT Equal New Audience

I have been immersed in digital media for over 17 years. And, although the digital world has evolved at rapid speed most recently, my main goal has always stayed the same: deliver content when, where and how people want it. Then, monetize the content via advertisements, subscriptions and ecommerce.

Traditionally, media companies have a large database of content that meets the needs of one mass audience, and it’s no secret that most traditional newspaper organizations have a strong foothold in the 50+ age group.  The newspaper creates a piece of content, and then delivers that content on multiple platforms.  This is driven by a “let the brand do the work” mentality.

Here’s the problem. Building content for one mass audience doesn’t work anymore.  Placing the content on smartphones and tablets that is pulled directly from your print newspaper and website, doesn’t mean you will all of a sudden attract a new and younger audience that’s using these devices.

Younger audiences expect news and information built specifically around their likes and dislikes. More so, they expect it to be structured to meet the different digital platforms.

Let me give you an example from my own company.  When we moved existing web content to smart phones, we found it met the needs of our current print and web audience of 50+, yet we weren’t reaching a new and younger audience. The traditional newspaper subscribers want convenient access on smart phones to the exact same stories as in print and online – just shorter versions of those stories.

With the iPad project, we decided to take a completely different approach. We looked at design and content differently in an effort to reach a younger demographic, that we knew was extremely active on iPads. We weren’t trying to satisfy/grow the current traditional 50+ demographic that made up our print/website brand.

For the iPad app, we started with a design that was very graphical and that categorized information around typical interests of a 35-45 year old. We developed original content and we curated existing content to focus on providing entertaining information as well as news. We were developing content around a specific audience, rather than driving the effort around the specific device.

Early results have been positive.  We continue to build a new audience that is very different than the traditional newspaper reader.  Our iPad app users are more engaged, spending on average approximately 11 minutes for every visit.  They are heavy users in the evening, from 6-10pm.  The majority of users fall in the 25-45 age group.  At least 60% of the iPad app content is still being created by our existing ‘traditional’ content center, but a separate iPad production team is curating it.  Our original content offering, in addition to the curated content, has proven to be very successful at building a new and younger loyal audience.  However, must continue to grow this audience to a size that rivals our other online efforts, in order to call this a true success story.

This being said, we know it’s time to cater to the traditional newspaper audience as well, as they too are purchasing iPads and consuming news on them. We’ll give this audience what they want by providing  a format similar to the structure of a news focused product.  It will still take advantage of the technology but in a fashion that is consistent with expected content for the traditional audience.  Call it an interactive newspaper.

In the end, when looking at the early successes of our current iPad app product, we’ve learned our challenges go beyond apps and devices when delivering news to reach new audiences.  We can’t build one content database and deliver it on multiple platforms. Whether its iPads, smartphones, online, or print, we must continue in our iPad app curated and original content mindset, by building content for specific audiences and specific platforms.

Audience Acquisition with iPad Product “The Peel” Is it working?

Back in May 2011 we launched our tablet publishing effort (The Peel) seeking to attract a younger demographic utilizing Apple’s iPad.  It has been an exciting, yet daunting task.  Today, I am happy to say we are making great progress.  When we set out on this journey, we laid out milestones that we wanted to reach within a year.  The key milestones were 20,000 loyal users and a primary audience in the 35-45 year old demographic, 50,000 downloads, deep user engagement of at least 8 minutes per session and advertiser acceptance.  I have been receiving calls from industry friends fairly regularly since the launch of The Peel asking how we are doing.  Many of those calls from traditional media businesses still trying to figure out if they should pursue an audience acquisition strategy similar to what we have done.  We believe we are heading in the right direction with this product.  As The Peel continues to show good results, we will be adding another tablet product focused on a traditional newspaper audience in the 50+ age demographic.   I thought everyone might like to see how we have done after 8 months of publishing The Peel, so I included an infographic on the topic.  Our strategy is paying off.

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