We had a chat with Ayal Steiner, GM of Australia and New Zealand for Outbrain, about how data is changing the way marketers are finding their audience.
Q. The nature of digital allows the consumer to dictate how they interact with media. From a brand perspective, do you see this power shift as an opportunity or a challenge?
A. It’s certainly a challenge in a sense, but it has also given brands an opportunity for the first time to engage customers directly and grow their own audience. Evolving from a traditional advertising model to a brand publishing model poses a significant challenge in terms of producing the right content for the right audience, but there’s an opportunity to achieve something far more meaningful for those brands that are willing to take it.
Brands that understand they have to be producing content that is genuinely valuable and meaningful to readers are slowly wining audience trust. You only need to look at the likes of Red Bull. Even though they are a brand, their content achieves similar levels of audience trust and engagement as if they were a known, reputable publisher, with whom they’re competing for attention.
Q. What do you see as the key competitive battleground for brands looking to make an impact in the digital space going forward?
A. I think it’s about being able to run integrated activities across multiple platforms and multiple devices. People interact with media so frequently using so many devices that it’s difficult to pull all the data we can collect into something we can use to deliver the targeted, personalised messages to the right people at the right time.
Reaching your audience used to be relatively easy in the sense that you selected a TV channel, produced an ad and waited to see if people started showing up at your dealership or your store. Now it’s obviously much more challenging, much more data driven and, as a result, much more interesting. I think those brands that can stay ahead of the curve in terms of how they’re collecting data and using these insights to power content will hold the key competitive advantage going forward.
Q. The content shock theory suggests that as the digital space is flooded with content, only the brands with the deepest pockets will be able to find their audience online. With this in mind, do you see content marketing as a viable and affordable business model moving forward, particular for brands constrained by a budget?
A. I think that there’s a lot of confusion when people hear the term content marketing. They immediately think they have to become a publisher, which can be a barrier for many brands as it’s such a serious undertaking.
For me, brand publishing is just one pillar in content marketing. We’ve seen major brands like GE, NRMA and Origin Energy move into production of content with the sort of regularity we’ve only previously seen with traditional publishers. However, we also work with a lot of smaller brands, whether they are workshops, local galleries or small e-commerce sites that use content marketing on a campaign basis. What we’ve found is that if you’ve created something meaningful and valuable that people react to, you don’t need to have a huge budget behind you.
In this sense, I see content shock theory as only really being applicable to brands looking to independently grow an audience through brand publishing. But again, it’s not necessarily the richest brands that are making the biggest impact. If you look at what brands like CPA Australia are doing at the moment, you can see it’s just as much a matter of being absolutely committed to the content marketing philosophy as it is about your marketing budget.
Q. What metrics do you see as genuinely valuable for evaluating and refining a content marketing strategy?
A. Traditionally, digital marketing has been all about creating a desired response – how to get visitors to checkout, or download a white paper or subscribe to a newsletter. The mindset of digital is about getting people to a place where they might do something you want them to do.
In content marketing, engagement is the only thing that matters. Any impact you want to make through true content marketing comes from having the right audience truly engaged with your content. In terms of metrics, you need to be looking at things like time on site, pages per session or even sharing to get an idea of how engaged people are with your content.
I think the key challenge for us as digital marketers is about attribution. We need to encourage brands to take a leap of faith in creating content that may not necessarily create a direct response like a purchase or an enquiry. We know that engaging a visitor has an impact, whether it’s online or offline, but the next step is linking that engagement to something tangible like sales.
Q. Platforms such as Outbrain allow publishers to include recommended links from their competitors alongside their articles. Why do you think this practice of publishers diverting traffic away from their own websites has come about?
A. I think it’s a question of how you define your competition. Traditionally, newspapers might have defined their competition as the other major newspapers based in their city or region. Today, publishers aren’t competing as a news source, but are competing for our attention as digital consumers. Their main competitors aren’t necessarily other newspapers. The competition for digital budgets is with internet platforms that focus on providing an exciting content experience on the web. It’s the likes of Google and Facebook that are creating the sort of experiences that win digital audience attention and, as a result, attract advertising dollars.
What’s driving publishers to include promoted stories on sites is a desire to create an online experience that is more open and broad than the content produced internally. Publishers focus on creating a platform for audiences to discover the web, with everything it has to offer.