Notifications : The Post App World Revealed

Hold on to your seats. Digital advertising is going to change again, as another consequence of the consumer shift to mobile.. I’ve just begun to watch the videos from the recent Notifications Summit held last month at BetaWorks in New York, and I can already see what this will mean for forward-thinking publishers.

Notifications are the things you get on your smartphone that can be useful, distracting, and finally annoying. Usually apps default to setting certain notifications to “on;” to get rid of them a user must make a change, similar to ad blocking, in a settings section three screens down from the home screen. New smartphone owners take a while to learn how to turn noisy notifications off, but eventually they make decisions about which to leave on and off.  There is just too much clutter coming to the home screen, and consumers don’t want to see it.

The conveners of this summit postulated that we are changing from an app environment (the phone owner downloads the app and must open it to interact with the publisher) to a notifications environment where information will be pushed to the consumer without her going to an app. Certain notifications require a user to open the app to read the rest of the content, but others do not. Some sites, like Nuzzel, are designed to be pretty self-contained. Eventually, most apps will not require users to open them to receive information.

The move to notifications has been hastened by the uptake of wearables; there isn’t much more than a notification that can fit comfortably on a watch face. So we see notification streams all day long, much as we used to see Facebook and Twitter streams.

But most important, the move to notifications empowers the consumer even more than mobile did, and even more than ad blocking does.

We can foresee a day when the consumer could really be in charge of all the information that comes to her by learning to use notifications and learning how to filter out the distractions and the noise and receive only the most important information.

Part of this will entail  a shift in advertising to permission-based advertising:  asking the consumer whether she wants to see an ad — which would be asking her if she wants to receive information — for a particular brand at the current time. The consumer will have the choice: yes, I’m in the supermarket and I want to see the weekly specials; or no, I’m driving and I only want to receive breaking news that’s relevant to my family. She would no longer be forced to page through or scroll through irrelevant ads to reach what she needs.

Smart publishers have already begun the shift to native ads, in which content creators are paired with brands. We expect this to continue in the future. All publishers should prepare for a day when the consumer is in full control of what she sees.

 

All Ad Tech isn’t Evil

Ad tech is getting blamed for everything that is wrong with digital media today. And when the pundits speak of “ad tech,” they are lumping in everything from ad servers to RTB platforms to DMPs (Data Management Platforms) to SSPs (Supply Side Platforms) to retargeters to data trackers. But as usual, these generalizations throw out the baby with the bath water.

We also don’t like what consumers mean by “ad tech,” — programs that distribute malware, gather personal information and sell it, or slow down web sites with trackers.

But we think there’s a difference between tracking, which consumers think of as a violation of privacy, and giving useful information.

For example, we are an ad server. As an ad server, we don’t track anything, we simply receive information from advertisers and publishers and serve an ad. We’re a back end technology that isn’t sexy and doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy. That’s how we started.

We also have a private platform. A private platform, too, doesn’t track any personal information. It simply allows an advertiser to buy our high impact formats and be sure they’re going to our premium publisher network without any extraneous influence on the supply chain. If everyone did what we did, consumers wouldn’t be turning on ad blockers.

But they are, and that’s why we spend time with the Online Trust Association, listening to its members speak about what we have to do to preserve advertising as a way to keep content free. Ironically, even the people who make ad blocker software know that advertising won’t go away, and content should continue to be free.

How do we make this happen? Both advertisers and publishers need to learn more about their customers. That involves actually serving them once they are acquired, and talking to them to find out what they truly want to see.

For example, I’m looking for a new car. I no longer buy cars based on horsepower, or even gas mileage, and heaven forbid looks. I buy them for consumer safety technology, which involves movement in the direction of autonomous driving. I also buy them for their in-car media platforms: how much and what kind of software does this car have to help me be productive even in a traffic jam?

But most car salesmen can’t talk about those features in a new car, and most ads don’t feature them. Instead, the ads feature sleek bodies and voiceovers about speed.

When advertisers begin to make ads that actually make consumers familiar with the characteristics of a product that the consumer would actually use, advertising will be helpful again, and consumers won’t be tempted to block it. That’s why there’s such a movement toward native advertising.

But there are two kinds of native ads: one is native to the format of the digital publisher, and means the ad looks like whatever else the consumer is receiving in his or her stream. Promoted Tweets fall into this category. The other is native to the content of the publisher, and means the ad contains information that might be helpful to a consumer making a decision.

Both of these “native” concepts are most suited for brand advertising, and less for direct response. And isn’t that the way advertising was intended? As a way to offer consumers valuable information about products they might want, in a location where they already are?

Let’s go back to that future, and consumers will turn off the ad blockers.

 

 

 

Top Mobile News Apps

Trying to figure out which news apps are the most popular with mobile users is a daunting task. Like all measurements, these change according to who is measuring and how the measurements are being taken. If one measures just unique visitors, dedicated news sites don’t fare very well.For example, below is a list of top mobile apps in the US. This is year-old data, but the most reputable we have until Comscore counts again. Unsurprisingly, there’s not a traditional news app in the top 25. And if you ask consumers where they are getting news, they’ll tell you Facebook , YouTube and Twitter, except for specific news that comes from Yahoo Stocks, the Yahoo Weather Widget, and the Weather Channel. The news sites are posting their content to these top sites to capture their traffic.

ZEDO Top Sites 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But now look down at this list of the top  US news apps from the Google Play store. These are “real,” or pure new sites, and the typical news sites, are there — Yahoo, CNN, Fox, Buzzfeed, NBC, BBC, and the Guardian. Notice the absence of the New York Times here. Because Android controls the mobile market in sheer numbers, and because these apps are free, we can guesstimate that these apps have some popularity outside the US as well. It would be safe to extrapolate the IOS picture from these apps, with the possible exception of the Google sites.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 11.39.36 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A third count shows the top smartphone apps at the beginning of 2015. Once again, not a traditional news app in the bunch. We again draw the conclusion that people are getting their news from Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, with a bit of Google +, which is very popular outside the US, thrown in.

Our determination is that traditional news publishers are behind the power curve, and that publishing articles to Facebook and links to Twitter, Instagram and YouTube is catching on. Nevertheless, it’s not time for publishers to throw in the towel on their own sites just yet. What they must do is place the emphasis on shareable content that can live on and off the social streams. It’s important that Facebook’s walled garden not be the only news source on the internet, especially in countries where it is either banned or not widely used.

ZEDO Top news apps 2015

 

Good-bye :30 Spots, Hello Digital Video Creative

Seriously? Digital  is now the second biggest advertising market and we’re still using 30-second spots? Has anyone really thought this through?

The research on whether people will watch video online, and for how long, is in. While we used to think two minutes was the outer limit, we now know that it’s over five for a good story, especially on a tablet. Younger people have moved from TV to digital in large numbers, and even little kids reach for the tablet before the TV. In theory, this could change the delivery of advertising, allowing for both longer and shorter ads, and unleashing new powers from creatives.

To keep up with their customers, brand advertisers are shifting their metrics from CTRs to completion rates. Completion rates are not a function of time; they’re a function of good story telling. A good story keeps people engaged and produces more brand recall than any 3o-second spot ever did. If we get away from the limitations caused by time, we’ll be a lot better off. Without the temporal limits of TV, we can tell different kinds of stories.

Mobile is a great place for video ads. Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti once said that his site was for the bored at work, bored in line audience, and those are the people who will watch a video that tells a good story, even if it’s conceived and even executed by a brand. In fact, IAB just did a study of video watching on mobile devices:

 many respondents said that they’re watching more video on mobile devices than they were a year ago, including 50 percent of those surveyed in the United States, and 42 percent in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

They’re not watching 30-second clips, either. In fact, 36 percent of respondents said they watch videos that are five minutes or longer on a daily basis. (That’s not a majority, but it’s more than just a tiny sliver of the audience.)

The IAB says that viewers in China are particularly open to watching movies and TV episodes on their phones. In addition, 37 percent of respondents in China and 35 percent in Singapore said they’re watching less TV due to watching more mobile video.

We suspect that next year publishers will be seeing many new in-app and in stream formats that don’t look like 30-second spots.

 

Can Programmatic Give Us Better Targeting?

If you listen to companies on the forefront of programmatic advertising, they tout both its ubiquity (some say over 50% of the market inventory is now purchased programmatically) and its virtues for both publishers and brands. For publishers, programmatic tools have already provided an opportunity to monetize more content, although sometimes at lower CPMs than they’d wish. And for brands, programmatic promises better targeting. Even premium deals can now be done with the automated work flow tools programmatic has made possible.

But does programmatic really provide better targeting? The consumer’s jury is out on that one. Speaking anecdotally, I’ve heard many consumers simultaneously laugh and cry over poorly targeted ads. Millennials may have given up on advertising altogether, turning to ad blockers to rid themselves of “information” they don’t want in places they don’t want it. Mobile is more often than not the culprit in these instances, where unwanted advertising can eat into a user’s data plan.

But programmatic will get better, because there will be more and more data generated by each individual consumer. Wait until your watch, your thermostat, and your washing machine begin to generate data about your habits and wishes as a matter of course. Some of these objects have the capability to do that now, but most of us haven’t bought them yet. The Internet of Things, as it is called, is just beginning to take off for people who are not early adopters. That’s why ad tech companies were present in such force at the Cannes Lion Awards last month — an event that used to belong solely to the creative class.

One speaker at the awards said that marketers are going to have to learn “intent-based marketing,” which means they must shift away from trying to create demand to fulfilling the actual needs of customers. This is a huge shift, since advertising has been a big part in creating and sustaining the consumer economy. But once consumers have the power to communicate their intent so clearly in so many different places, ignoring that intent would be foolhardy on the part of the marketer. It’s better to get on the train in the direction it’s going in, rather than trying to reverse the train’s direction.

The plethora of data created and the ability to target it directly to someone who actually intends to buy a product will ensure the ubiquity of programmatic. Marketers must learn to embrace new patterns of conscious consumption and return to the idea of offering experiences rather than just products.

This shift has only just begun. Expect marketing and publishing to change rapidly over the next decade (again).

 

The Strengths and Limitations of Programmatic

There’s a tendency lately to overrate what the garden variety of  programmatic can do. Indeed, as more and more of the market moves to programmatic trading, we sometimes forget that the highest and best use of programmatic isn’t to attract new customers; it is still for retargeting. Retargeting works.

There are now several forms of retargeting that have evolved over the years.  The first to emerge was search retargeting, which served appropriate ads to consumers who searched on certain keywords. The problem with that? We didn’t get enough scale. Too few users searched for your product.

Similarly, demographic retargeting  has its limitations, as consumers already know. It is best used to retarget existing customers or visitors, and sometimes serves an ad for a product a customer has just purchased. The severest limitation of retargeting — just like search retargeting — is for the development of new customers. Here, a different kind of data is required, and that often comes from the publisher. For customer acquisition and brand building, targeting actual websites with high quality users visiting them is still the best solution. The best targeting for expanding your customer base is still site targeting.

Thus actual site targeting, with ads served while the consumer is on a relevant website or a relevant section of a website, will work best. It works better than data to find the type of users that would visit a relevant site. As an example, if you are interested in a traveller it makes more sense to advertise on the travel section of a newspaper site than to choose the traveller category in a DSP. The DSP is using data to guess that the user is interested in travel. However targeting the travel section of the site removes the guesswork – we know the user is reading about travel. And further the user’s mind is on travel right at the point that he sees the ad. So site targeting works better – though it costs more and is difficult to find.

And that is why with our ZINC platform for media buyers we offer transparent and highly accurate  targeting of websites and sections of websites.  That really works well. Many can’t get hold of this inventory so will say that a DSP’s travel category is better and cheaper- but it isn’t better, just cheaper. ZINC’s transparent list of travel sites and travel sections will work far better – though it costs more it is worth it.

Effective Ad Placement

Where an ad appears on a site can often be a determiner of how well the ad performs. Traditionally ads at the top of a page were assumed to have the best performance. However, advances in both site development and ad formats mean that what was true in the past may no longer be true.

The graph below illustrates the performance of ads on a single site. We’re the ad server, and they have  bought our inArticle ads. We often conduct tests on our own formats to make sure we’ve told the truth about how they perform.

time-spent-grapgIn this case, the axis on the left represents the amount of time spent on the page, and each bar represents a part of the page measured in pixel height. The bars proceed from left to right, with the left most bar indicating the performance of ads at the top of the page and the right most bar representing the performance of ads at the bottom of the page. We’ve conducted this analysis on many of the sites on our premium publisher network.

Our analysis has shown that across a wide range of sites, users spend more than double the time with an ad located around an article than they do at  the top of the page. This demonstrates that formats like our inArticle, which runs a video within an article, can be much more effective than banners on the top of the page, which traditionally have been thought to be the most effective places to advertise.

One caveat to all this : all formats lose engagement as the viewer moves down the page. Even the inArticle format’s viewability will drop tremendously if it is placed below the 2000 px or 50% of the page.

Consolidate Your Vendors for Peak Effectiveness

You know things have become difficult for marketers when the President and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) admits that all the money  flooding into ad tech has merely caused more chaos. As a marketer  you certainly already know this as you attempt to deal with the tangle of new partners who come between you and the consumer. As a publisher you rail at the way every new middleman takes a small piece of the pie that represents your inventory.

It’s time for everyone to consider consolidating from the current melange of startups to a single larger vendor who can do it all.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the display Lumascape.  Notice the sheer number of possible partners, and then take a look at the number of acquired and shuttered companies.

Display Lumascape

Display Lumascape

All this has got to stop. Marketers, the ones who pay the bills, must think about consolidating to a few larger trustworthy vendors and stop experimenting with startups that promise the Holy Grail and sell you stuff that doesn’t work as promised and doesn’t measure what you need measured.

Video Lumascape

The Video Lumascape

But you’re not relying on display anymore, are you? You are also using video, and you’re moving to mobile.

You will need fewer, bigger, better partners that can take you across desktop, tablet, and mobile.

  • ZEDO, a company that has been in the ad tech business since 1999, has a buy side offering in its ZINC division, and a sell side offering in our more familiar publisher ad server and operations services.
  • Over the years, watching the market evolve, we too have evolved, into a platform for easy and automated buying of our high impact, highly viewable premium inventory. We get consistent high marks for viewability from MRC-certified  vendors, and we are active in the Online Trust Alliance fighting against the distribution of malware and the commission of ad fraud.

And now we are developing new mobile formats for use both in a web browser and alongside applications. Here is the mobile Lumascape, with hundreds of additional companies to contend with. Don’t put up with it. Choose one partner you can rely on.

Mobile Lumascape

Mobile Lumascape

 

 

 

 

The State of the Media Industry

CollisionConf2014-301-1024x678New York (and London),  we’ve got a problem. At the Collision Conference in Las Vegas, there was both a Marketing Stage and a conference-within-a-conference called BrandX. We attended both, and came away with the feeling that there’s been so much change in the advertising industry lately that no one quite knows how to respond. The media industry is in a tailspin that looks a little like the one 20 year ago when the internet first became a household world. As an industry we responded too slowly then, and we have to be careful we’re not responding too slowly now.

The problem is the consumer. She’s disappeared, even though she’s in more places than ever before. We keep trying to locate her amidst the almost infinite media fragmentation. You, publisher, are part of that fragmentation. She’s hopping on your site and then off somewhere else before you get a handle on what she really wants. She no longer clicks on ads, although they may have have influenced her. So the price you can offer for your ads has gone down.

And you don’t have all the inventory you used to either, because of the new push for viewability. First you were put under pressure to re-design your site for mobile. So you went to a responsive design. But now, with some advertisers clamoring for 100% viewability ( and each advertiser giving you a different metric for what viewability actually means), you are redesigning again to make sure all your inventory can be tested as viewable.

You’ll wind up with less salable inventory, and your income may plummet further, as it did when you lost the consumer the first time.

If you’re lucky enough to have a site that targets Millennials, your problems are both larger and smaller simultaneously. You’ve got the great content that brings the largest demographic in the world to your site (18-34 year olds) but they hate ads. They’re cynical and turned off, and they let you know it. As a publisher, you’ve got the great content, but you can’t sell against it if you can’t prove your customers buy the products being advertised.

So you lower the editorial bar by going to “native ads.” Native ads are what you used to hate: content that is often created by or created by your own staff for brands. You have now redefined your mission: you are no longer a publisher, you’re in league with your advertisers.

But you have to get over this. The distinction between advertising and publishing is going away. There’s now only one category: information. Whether under the publisher banner or the brand banner, you’re giving the consumer, that hard-to-find and harder to win Millennial what she wants — good information on which to base a decision.

As an ecosystem, we’ve wrapped a boatload of terms around this new set of circumstances: programmatic, viewability, native, real time bidding, DSP, SSP, DMP and many more. But in the world of the internet, no matter what side we’re on — publisher or advertiser — we are selling the same product to the consumer. Information.

Perhaps we shouldn’t forget that.

Publishers Re-Designing to Take Mobile Seriously

Publishers who have traditionally felt themselves to be the curators and packagers of news are now re-thinking their roles yet again as consumers switch to mobile. In the days of print, there were one or two deadlines a day, usually morning and evening, at which time a new “package” of news was edited, printed, and distributed. The first switch to digital took those two aggregation points in the day and moved them online. Later, the “home page” emerged, updated more often but still considered the first place a reader would land.  More recently, social media and recommendation engines killed that arrangement as readers came from Google, Facebook and Twitter. And now, mobile has changed things yet again.

Premium publishers are redesigning their sites with less emphasis on the traditional home page and more on the way consumers on mobile “pull” news to themselves — on demand and in context. “Publishers have learned that the smaller smartphone screen has to be treated much differently than the screen of a personal computer. They also are grasping that allowing the consumer to select his or her news preferences has to be a priority,”  writes Michael Barris of Mobile Marketer.  “The big lesson here is that people try to access content where they want to, not where publishers want them to. Utilizing approaches like responsive design—sites that flex to the form factor of the device accessing it—allows organizations to create content once and distribute in as many places as possible.”

For traditional publishers, this has been difficult, as they also have to deal with legacy audiences. The New York Times, for example, has redesigned its site to a long scroll containing all the former sections of the print newspaper on one page to be available to mobile viewers. It has also placed video on the front page,  although not typically “above the fold.”  There are four ad spaces on the home page, all small. The Guardian home page has only a single ad, proving that the publisher feels the editorial experience of a clean home page will be more conducive to getting a reader to click on an internal page. CNN.com, also optimized for mobile, has but a single ad on the landing page.

Why has this changed? Because the “front page” is not how the audience on mobile comes to the publisher. More likely, a visitor will come through an app like Nuzzel, which aggregates all the news your friends are sharing into a simple package of headlines. You, as the visitor, pay very little attention to where the news came from as you click on the headline from the Nuzzel app. That headline leads you to the NYTimes, but not to the site as a whole — only to the article you want to read. On that page are the best advertising opportunities.

This represents a sea change in the way advertising is valued, and also in what advertising will likely work. Ad formats and placements are being swiftly revalued for mobile advertisers, and this along with the growth of native advertising is making for yet another bumpy year in the publishing business.