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Is native advertising a dead end?

eMedia Vitals

Is native advertising a dead end for publishers and brands? Ad agency exec Kirk Cheyfitz believes so, calling native ads “a passing fad in the slow demise of traditional advertising.”

In an article for Chief Content Officer magazine, Cheyfitz, CEO and chief editorial officer of Story Worldwide, says that publishers “have talked themselves into believing that ‘native’ is the long-sought replacement for dwindling ad revenue.”

Cheyfitz argues that advertisers really don’t need publishers as part of their media mix and advocates that brands instead focus on their own websites or “neutral” sites like YouTube to distribute their content. In a digital world, he writes, “publishers and their audiences are not particularly valuable to advertisers” and cites research indicating that consumers trust brands more than they trust mass media:

Gallup tells us that last year only 44 percent of Americans trusted mass media. At the same time, Nielsen says that 69 percent of the global online audience trusts what they see on brand websites. In other words, Gallup and Nielsen find brands are roughly 1.6 times more trusted than publishers. So following the logic of the native ad argument, advertisers should be selling space on their brand websites for publishers to publish more credible news.

(For balance, Cheyfitz also could have cited a Forbes-commissioned study by IPG Media Lab, which found that consumers were 41% more likely to share branded content when they read it on Forbes.com vs. the brand’s own website. It’s all how you choose to spin it, I guess.)

Publishing brand content on a third-party media site, Cheyfitz writes, actually diminishes the value of the content:

Brand storytelling with rich content is powerful because audiences — the people formerly known merely as “consumers” — pay attention to valuable content and reward brand-authors by sharing such content with friends and strangers on social platforms. This social sharing increases impact (by two to four times, studies show) and reach (up to nine times, mathematical models show), reducing media spend and boosting efficiency (by as much as 100 times).

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A tool for predicting social trends instead of reacting to them

eMedia Vitals

How would your marketing or editorial strategy change if you could predict the future? A startup called Blab believes it has unlocked the key to forecasting highly viral trends – before they break.

Blab this week plans to introduce BlabPredicts2, a “predictive social intelligence” tool for gaining insight into trends – including non-obvious ones – that are about to go viral. The company claims that its proprietary technology can accurately predict what, where and when online conversations will gain steam as much as 72 hours in advance.

In the rapid-fire social media universe, predictive intelligence is an important step beyond social search, which tracks the topics that are trending right now.

“We don’t want to search for what we think the hot conversations are – we want to discover what they are,” Blab CEO Randy Browning said in a phone interview. “Once we discover them, we can start to create relevant content to influence and lead those conversations.”

BlabPredicts, he added, “takes analysis out of the back room and lets line managers and account planners make informed decisions about what’s going to resonate, so they can optimize their media plan and engage the conversations in their terms.”

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Innovation lessons from an industry pioneer

eMedia Vitals

Last week’s passing of Pat McGovern, founder of tech publisher IDG, feels like the end of an era. Over a span of five decades, McGovern brought a passionate spirit and a culture of innovation to B2B publishing – qualities that too often are absent from today’s B2B media companies.

I met with Pat a few times during my time at IDG from 2004 to 2006, and each interaction left an impression, similar to the times I spent with another tech publishing legend, Bill Ziff, who led IDG rival Ziff-Davis through the mid-1990s. Both were larger-than-life yet surprisingly humble leaders who balanced strong business instincts with a passion for journalism – and the people who produce it.

Here are three lessons B2B media leaders can (and should) take from McGovern’s approach to publishing.

Find & cultivate new markets

McGovern was a big thinker who saw great promise in emerging markets for technology news and information, not just in the U.S. but internationally. Just five years after launching Computerworld in the U.S. in 1967, McGovern launched Shukan Computer in Japan, kicking off a long string of global licensing deals and other partnerships that built IDG into a global powerhouse. In 1980, McGovern forged one of the first joint ventures in China by a U.S. business. In 1992, he established IDG Technology Ventures, one of the first venture capital firms in China.

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As B2B marketing dollars shift, publishers can fill a void – or get left out in the cold

eMedia Vitals

B2B marketing budgets are rising, but ad pages are declining. This ongoing shift away from traditional advertising creates an expertise gap that publishers should be looking to fill more aggressively with a broad set of marketing services.

Content, of course, lies at the center of this shift – which is good news for publishers. In Ad Age’s annual BtoB marketing outlook survey, 52.5% of marketers said theyplan to increase total marketing budgets in 2014, the first time since 2011 that more than half of B2B marketers expected to spend more than the prior year. Three-quarters said they planned to spend more on content marketing,

The findings are in line with other recent studies. A study by Econsultancy and Adobefound that content marketing was a top priority among 44% of B2B marketers, clearly outdistancing other digital marketing activities. Forrester, in a joint study with the Business Marketing Association, found that that 59% of B2B marketers plan to increase content marketing expenditures in 2014 and that B2B marketers overall expect to spend what analyst Laura Ramos called a “fairly sizable” 12% of budgets on content marketing in the year ahead.

“As buyers rebuff conventional outbound approaches like email and sales calls, marketers must capture their attention through inbound approaches that offer more enticing fare — like benchmarks, social interactions, videos, and games — instead of the conventional product pitch,” Ramos wrote.

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3 web tools to boost audience engagement

eMedia Vitals

The name of the game for web publishers is engagement. It’s not enough to optimize for search and drive traffic to your website. The real trick is convincing visitors to stay once they get there.

There’s a long list of tactics web publishers can use to improve engagement metrics such as time on site and pages per visit. Here are three under-the-radar tools that give editors more options for promoting editorial content and encouraging audience interaction.


The ReadrBoard widget lets readers post “reactions” to an article or individual paragraphs and images within a post. A drop-down box, which appears when a reader rolls over the ReadrBoard icon, prompts the reader with a simple question: What do you think? Readers can choose from a set of predefined reactions, such as “love it!”, “great idea,” or “for real” – which are customizable by the publisher – or write in their own response.

The goal is to make it easier for visitors to quickly comment on a post as they’re reading it. “It’s very hard to get people to form a complete thought in order to add a comment at the bottom of a story,” ReadrBoard co-founder Porter Bayne said in a Skype interview. “Our goal is making it easier for people to engage.”

Publishers benefit from instant feedback and a dashboard that summarizes the reactions for each post and how many views each reaction receives. About 10-15% of readers across the 50 or so sites currently using the widget view the reactions, and about 0.5-1% post a reaction. Of those, 65% click on a predefined choice and 35% type in one of their own.

Bayne said publishers using the widget have seen, on average, an increase of about 10% in time spent on their sites.

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Your top-selling product in 2017 probably doesn’t exist yet

eMedia Vitals

Are media and marketing executives finally committing to innovation as a growth strategy? More than half of senior-level execs responding to Econsultancy and Jordan Edmiston’s 4thannual Media Growth Study (pdf) agree that their top-selling product in 2017 hasn’t been invented yet.

That’s a clear sign not just of the disruptions taking place in the media sector, but also the opportunities that exist for companies to create new markets or build new business models.

“We are focusing on disrupting ourselves, before we get disrupted,” one respondent from a large B2C publishing company said as part of the survey of 339 senior-level executives globally.

Despite this clarion call for innovation, however, most media companies have yet to formalize an innovation process. Only 31% of executives have a defined innovation program for generating new product ideas – even though 71% said launching new products or services would be a top growth driver over the next two years.

Other top growth drivers include expanding market share within existing markets (64%) and making an acquisition (38%). While just over a quarter of executives (27%) cited investing in new IP or technologies as a growth driver, the response rate jumped significantly from last year’s 11%. The report’s authors attribute this jump in part to a growing emphasis on automation, including programmatic buying and selling.

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Publishers need to get their apps in gear

eMedia Vitals

Apple is rumored to be announcing the fifth generation of its iPad on June 18. Mobile devices account for an increasingly larger share of most publishers’ web traffic – including a whopping 65% for BuzzFeed.  Publishers are delivering 1.7 million digital editions a week built with Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite – a sixfold increase over the past two years.

It may be time to take this whole mobile thing a bit more seriously.

The elements required to justify greater investment in mobile development are falling into place. More people are reading digital magazines; Adobe says per-publication readership across its DPS-based publications has increased by an average of 80% over the past six months. More devices are coming to market, with models such as the iPad mini and Kindle HD extending into the mass market.

“People are more comfortable reading magazine content on tablets,” Lynly Schambers-Lenox, Adobe’s group product marketing manager for digital publishing, said in a recent interview. “That’s not surprising, and we expect it to continue.”

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Native advertising and the role of ‘brand editors’

eMedia Vitals

As publishers add native advertising and other content marketing services to their product portfolios, there’s a growing need for business-side editorial teams to manage this content. Sales teams have staffed editors as part of their custom publishinggroups for decades. But the role of business-side editors is expanding as native advertising programs lead to more commingling of editorial and sponsored content.

Publishers that are experimenting with or considering a native advertising program may need to invest in a dedicated editorial team to help advertisers develop, optimize and publish content. Deploying “brand journalists” on native advertising projects – separate from the rest of the editorial staff – will also help publishers protect their own brand from thinly veiled press releases or other low-quality drivel that advertisers submit under the guise of “real” editorial.

There’s an urgency to get this right. In a recent study from Econsultancy and Adobe, content marketing was deemed the top priority for 2013 among digital marketers. And native advertising – in which branded content is published on third-party media sites – is quickly becoming a key piece of brands’ content marketing strategies.

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Tablets take off; will media innovation follow?

eMedia Vitals

Apple CEO Tim Cook says tech innovation is moving from PCs to tablets and smartphones. Slowly, magazine publishing is following.

Speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference in San Francisco, Cook said there’s a “sea change” taking place in the PC industry as development shifts from PCs to mobile devices. “But we’re in the early innings of this game,” he added.

Not too early for magazine publishers to start shifting resources toward their tablet strategies. A new study from NPD Group found that more than one-third of consumers are transitioning some of their content consumption from PCs to tablets and smartphones. Combine consumption and engagement trends with rapidly growing tablet sales – Apple shipped 23 million tablets in the fourth quarter alone, and lower-priced, 7-inch tablets are rapidly gaining share while creating a mass market – and the stage is set for a significant uptick in sales of digital content, including magazines.

Last week’s magazine circulation report from the Alliance for Audited Media shows the gains digital editions are making – but also the untapped opportunity. Digital replica editions among the titles reporting to the AAM more than doubled over the second half of 2012 from a year earlier, accounting for nearly 8 million digital replicas. That number is still just 2.4% of total circulation, however. And just 65% of magazines in the AAM report reported digital circulation; several large titles did not, including Better Homes and Gardens, Barron’s, AARP, TV Guide, and Time Inc’s major titles such as Time, Sports Illustrated and Southern Living. This suggests even higher sales of digital editions.

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Study: Search, email remain strong in driving B2B traffic, leads [Infographic]

eMedia Vitals

Two “old school” digital platforms – organic search and email – remain key drivers of traffic and leads, respectively, to B2B sites, according to a new study by Optify.

Organic search drove 41% of traffic to B2B sites in 2012, according to the Optify study, which analyzed more than 27 million visits from various sources to 591 B2B sites in North America. And Google accounted for 90% of that search traffic.

But while organic search is the top traffic driver to B2B sites, it lags in converting visitors to leads. Email remains the lead dog for leads, with a 2.9% conversion rate – double that of organic search (1.45%) and social media (1.22%).

“Organic search is still the strongest traffic driver, but email is the best way to get people to engage,” Optify CMO Doug Wheeler said in a phone interview.

“I really thought, in the age of content marketing, that inbound marketing was the way to go,” Wheeler added. “But the real secret is getting them onto your outbound list. Publishers may not want to dial down email just yet.”

Here’s an infographic from Optify that summarizes the results of the study.