fork/in/road

Troy thinks about media

When your content becomes your marketing

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the disintegration of media into streams and the resulting economic fallout. John Battelle is always hugely thoughtful media and the future of advertising and deconstructs the issues like a pro. Matthew Ingram rightly suggests that advertising will naturally become more content like.  On Pando, Hamish McKenzie talks about magazines bundling problem and then provides a few optimistic suggestions as to how we content creators might solve the problem with a little charity from readers among other things.

I’ve obsessed about this issue before. At an event I put on call “7 Minutes To Reinvent the Internet” a few years back, I outlined how i thought the media world was changing at a rate that advertising could not keep pace with. I speculated that a new content delivery platform would replace the ad server and how a “Advertising Programming Interface” (not the other API)  might enable advertising to keep up with the feed. (Recently found the presentation if you are interested)

The contrast between old and new hits me everyday when I start my media day. My consumption is largely feed-based and often ad free. Email is an old-fashioned but useful media delivery tool and often a starting point for the journey. I am a huge fan of curators like Hishhorn. I have recently started to love Jason Calacanis’s Launch Ticker.  News.me offers a nice personalized daily selection of articles. After email, I pop over to Twitter. I am have begun to use LongForm on my iPad. I save articles to Instapaper. I use Pulse too. I even get Next Draft through David Pell’s new iPhone app. I pick. I filter. Content comes from a mix of craft and professional sources. I move from author to author, media brand media brand with disregard for environment and context.

On the other side I read a handful of magazines and have started a subscription with all-you-can-eat magazine subscription service Next Issue. It offers me well designed editorial from trusted media brands. But here’s the thing. I spend way less time here. it not immediate and it doesn’t get in front of me. I realize it is still young, but the format is slow and clumbsy. My feeds are immediate and social . And more often than not, I prefer the speed, control and relevance.

Which is why the future will likely lean towards the feed. More attention will be here. And I find it hard to imagine a scenario where advertising will live along side the feed in a way where monetization “efficiency” will approach what it was inside of the old packages.

Indeed, we will find better ways to append advertising to feeds that makes its way through new interfaces and into new devices. Yes the advertising will feel more like the stream and behave like content. But the CPM value will not be near what media companies have been accustomed to. The more targeted reaching more coveted audiences will always find premiums, but the real rich CPM’s will be reserved for interruptive presentation of video messaging in clean, well lit, scaled and controlled environments. 

And the resulting disruption has precedents. It will force a music-industry-like evolutionary process onto publishers where content becomes the starting point and brand builder. Where higher value services with fewer, invested devotees pay bills via subscription, data, events and commerce. 

In short, like the music business before it, publishers are loosing control of distribution. When this happens your content becomes your marketing. It is the bait you use to build your brand and pull consumers into a higher value relationship. This change is not going to be easy, but it feels inevitable. 

The problem with advertising that Facebook can’t fix

Mass media has trained marketers in the art of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). In a nutshell: 1) State your difference in a way that resonates the needs of your target. 2) Buy mental spectrum by the ton. 3) Repeat endlessly.

USP is to an era of mass media as point of view (POV) will be to the social media age. This is a big change and one worth pondering. Let me explain.

You are officially fully mediated. North Americans spend half of their waking lives in front of media. From elevators networks to social networks to gaming to ecommerce to plain old content, suddenly we have some 5000 opportunities to intersect the consumer each and every day. More media comes with more choice and control, both of which make it harder to get a human to engage. Targeting makes the equation work a bit better, but it never solves the overload problem for the brand marketer.

The shame of our industry. So as an industry we collectively scratch our heads for 10 years, embarrassed by the de facto currency of our new media world, the banner. We wanted to “join the conversation,” but we were not quite sure what that meant. And when we tried, no one wanted to talk to us.

Along came social. But social is not a strategy. Social is just media. Media needs to be fed. It’s hungrier now than ever. So we tried banners in social - which was ok for some limited set of objectives. The challenge of the social world, of the fully mediated world, is really a content problem. We have the wiring. Now we need something to say.

The trouble with content. There’s a huge difference between the good stuff and the average stuff. The world is full of crappy content. At the heart of great content is POV. It’s what you believe. It’s opinion. It’s passion. It’s the special thing that connects people and communities. Remember, social is inherently personal. Content needs to fit the times.

Great brands understand POV. So the real issue for the modern marketer is how you become an attraction brand. How do you become someone people want to listen to. You do it by having a believable, resonant POV that overlaps with your community and fits the cultural context.

Smart upstarts build it in from the core. Brands like Toms shoes. People listen to Toms. People listen to Patagonia too. Smart marketers like IBM have done it for a long time. Their latestThink Exhibit at the Lincoln Center show how the smart application of data and tech makes cities more livable. Chipotle is doing it for food. P&G is doing it for moms. Dove is doing it forbeauty. Even GoDaddy does it for dudesNike does it all the time.

When you get it right, your content strategy will unfold naturally.

What’s a modern marketer to do? Think about what its going take to carve out your place in the “network.” Start the meeting with the question: What is our point of view? Understand out how that fits in with your community. And realize it means that people may not always agree with you. Find media partners that can help fill in the lines.

In short, reinvent your brief around POV. Only then can you start to realize the potential of content.

Oldy but goodie: On advertising as API

I posted this in late 2010 an old blog a while back. I am going to circle around these thoughts for a while. This was a good starting point…

Scott Rafer dropped by the office the other day and got me thinking about two things that I had not previously connected. Scott is good at this.

We were talking about closed loop systems like Bit.ly and how this data, inside the conversation management platform like SocialFlow would change marketing. Brands would understand the connections between conversation and action, this type of activity would grow beyond community management, complementing acquisition and brand marketing. Or at least that was what I was thinking.

The context for me was our ongoing struggle to innovate advertising delivery at a pace that kept up with media innovation. You would expect ad form to follow media form, but media has changed so quickly and become so fluid, advertising has not kept up. Our AdFrames platform was a small step in addressing this problem. Ads were designed to fit in any size, maximizing publisher flexibility, putting emphasis on performance over form.

Screen shot 2010-11-04 at 10.15.43 AM

The complete disintegration of banner form is the logical evolution… a world where the advertising is deconstructed into a set of assets (content, images, video, links etc) and rules – a brand API. Publishers could innovate around the API to integrate experiences, manage performance and augment advertisers data set with their own (for a bit more on this, below is a presentation I made on a similar idea a couple of years ago at our event 7 Minutes to Reinvent the Internet). We are seeing the beginning of this with text ads – search and twitter. 

More broadly however, the connection between two worlds - conversation management and message delivery – is, I think, the inevitable direction of modern ad serving. Combine the messaging flexibility of a brand API, semantic analysis capability of a conversation management platform, the message delivery pedigree of ad server. Give it a feedback loop. Measure impact beyond the immediate interaction (ie earned media). 

Screen shot 2010-11-04 at 11.41.06 AM

This seems like the future of ad delivery inside the socially connected borg mind. Gabriel DeWitt, Say Media’s ad serving guru, agreed but strongly suggested I stop calling it an ad server. He thinks Content Delivery Engine is a better description. Content Delivery - social, content rich, interactive experiences, cross platforms. Engine - lightening speed, keeping up with the flow of conversation.  

The crappy video of a related presentation is here.

    

The Curiosity Effect: Everything Is Media Now

"I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring." David Bowie

The last leg of a glorious summer. It’s the perfect time to for the Mars rover, Curiosity, to reinstill a sense of wonder - and remind us of the powerful human ingenuity beyond the confines of our obsessive little world of digital media. Not that Curiosity didn’t show us digital types what has become abundantly clear. Everything, every endeavor and every person, is media now. This version had its own homespun Ustream channel, wardrobe department and budding media personalities. Like the sexy nerd who immediately became a Twitter sensation. If you were on Twitter during the landing, you could watch the #MohawkGuy meme developing real time. NASA needed this. Taxpayers were beginning to think their investment wasn’t worth closing down schools. Stories change minds. 

Speaking of ingenuity and blurring the lines in media, this week The New Yorker laid down some quality advertorial that showed just how entertaining brand content can be. This time, New York’s favorite brainy It Girl, Lena Dunham, created it. It was almost as good as the Jason Swartzman video that introduced The New Yorker iPad app. Smart, popular people making commercial content that’s fun to watch? Sounds good to me. You think The New Yorker brief’s too easy? Maybe you shouldn’t be in the attention business. 

There’s been a ton of talk about native ad and content formats. Dan Greenberg, CEO ofSharethrough, shows us what native content ads might mean to Yahoo. Are native formats really just disguising advertising to look more like content? Or is this approach taking advantage of the platform in a way that engages the audience. For content creators its leveraging talent to create real content like The New Yorker did. For Spotify it might mean leveraging the music catalog, licensing relationships and programming tools. For BuzzFeed it’s the meme. For search it was contextual promotion of sponsored links. In all cases it has less to do with form and more to do with the meat of the medium and talent or data inside. Which is why today impressions that don’t leverage a platform’s ability to create human connections quickly fall to their direct-response (click) value. Publishers will all get there eventually by realizing that premium content is part environment, part leveraging the unique engagement assets of an environment.

Let’s close on the Olympics and the ad-filled orgy that’s paying for NBC’S billion dollar media rights deal. Has the advertising become a little too native here? Argh. We tolerate it because of the stories - the glory of human triumph and the joy of consuming it collectively. Which was precisely why the Mars landing was so cool. And it’s fun to watch savvy marketers like Oreos understand the power of piggybacking culture, realizing, of course, that the inside of a cookie, like everything else, is media now.