first in a series of at least 3 posts about the future of digital media
Of late, I have been thinking a lot about how we make content more successful. Especially branded content, but really any content.
Whether a publisher, who monetizes content through advertising, or a brand, which monetizes content through product sales, fundamentally all content is created with two objectives:
- to inform, educate or entertain the audience;
- to serve as a vehicle for advertising messages, including display, native, branded content, catalogs, shopping carts.
As marketers, our goal is to create the most successful content we can: well written or produced content (quality) consumed by the largest possible volume of interested consumers (scale), with the best outcome possible for advertised products— increased awareness, preference, trial or sale, depending on the KPI (conversion.) The standardized measures of success are pageviews, ad impressions, clicks, conversions and for extra credit, time on site and repeat visitors.
Search engines changed the way we find content, and social has amplified the mercurial nature of the consumer. We no longer habitually bookmark our favorite sites and rarely browse through a publication in the “I feel lucky mode.” With the possible exception of publications that we actually pay for, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post, we don’t “read the paper.” We search, we follow friend’s social recommendations, and maybe, just maybe,if we enjoy our experience on a site, we remember and are more likely to visit the next time it turns up in search or social. Nirvana for the publisher: we have such a good experience with a site, we subscribe to its newsletter and enter its content ecosystem.
But with organic search and social, we aren’t really targeting the information seeker. She is pulling content based on her interests.
Advertising is different. When we are paying, we can and do target.
Ad targeting has transformed the ad side of the digital media industry, from the data management platform (DMP) to the increasing dominance of programmatic in the advertising mix. We are really good at finding the audience.
Certainly we should use caution, and sometimes skepticism, when considering audience demographics — think of the recent New York Times report that Facebook estimates its young American audience to be 25 million more than the actual number of 18-34 year olds in last year’s US census — but third-party tools from Nielsen and comScore help validate audience claims. At a minimum, they put everyone on the same, comparable playing field, which gives advertisers directional guidance.
Dodgy marketing claims aside, we are better at finding and reporting on audiences than ever before.
The question is, how do we get them to come back, to consume more content. To become loyal readers or viewers who consume a lot of content on each visit. Who engage with our branded content at the same level as our organic content. Who convert into customers.
Because, for publishers, re-selling each viewer at a slight mark-up for what it cost to acquire that page or video view is not sustainable. Unless you add measurable value to that view, such as increased conversions, the pyramid will eventually collapse. Brands will figure out that they can buy those views, that awareness, cheaper if they go direct.
Even then, even if they go direct, brands will not continue to pour cash into the funnel —whether YouTube or Facebook or programmatic media or influencer posts — to acquire views that do not convert into engaged viewers and customers.
The key is community. Tapping successfully into ones that form naturally “in the wild,” creating new ones, temporary at first, ideally permanent, around the content we create, and feeding the community with the additional sustaining value – informational, transactional, exclusive, financial – that encourages deeper engagement beyond the simple view or click to buy.
Your community is in your audience, but they are not synonymous. You will (hopefully) always have a much larger potential audience than you will an engaged community. But it is in your community that you find your evangelists, your influencers, your advocates. The audience members that will become your partners in promoting, in creating new customers.
Now, I am not so foolish as to think that this is a new idea. The essential value of community in marketing has long been known. Community is the underlying fuel of social media marketing, the entire gaming ecosystem, successful loyalty programs and multilevel marketing. Among others.
But I think we have only dabbled at the edges of how community can drive success for those of us publishing, and monetizing, content on the web.
It looks something like this:
Quality Content + Audience at Scale + Community =
Sustainable Engagement, Loyalty and Conversion