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Selling Digital Content? Seven Questions to Answer


The publishing business model is undergoing a transformation. More and more digital content creators supplement their advertising dollars with revenue directly from the reader through “digital products” – for example, content behind a paywall (known as “paid digital memberships”), webinars, ecourses, ebooks, etc.

Why the change? It’s risky to depend so heavily on advertising. Over the past five years, 35% of print ad spend has dissipated. It’s challenging to make up for that online since pricing has declined by an average of eight percent each year for the last five years. There are no signs of digital ad pricing turning around. And forget about mobile advertising saving the day. About 400 million people have some type of mobile ad blocker installed

Advertising is not going to go away all together, but to grow, publishers need to rely on additional revenue streams. 

Not formally a “publisher” but still creating great content that you think consumers would pay for? Take note: there are best practices that all content creators should follow in order to monetize distinctive paid digital products. 

Consumers Will Pay For the RIGHT Digital Content

While some executives refuse to believe that consumers will ever pay for digital content. The data says otherwise. Consumers will pay for the right content. Research has shown that consumers are willing to open their wallets for paid digital memberships, so long as the content is high in quality (both the content itself and the associated experience online), curated and targeted at their wants and needs, and from a brand they know and trust. They’re also more willing to pay if it is for work, entertainment, or a hobby.

This is not to say that you should require consumers to pay for ALL your content. You still need to offer free content to support your inbound marketing efforts. This builds trust and nurtures your readers into a paid product. However, there is an opportunity to put your premium content behind a paywall.

If you already have content and an audience, you have an advantage over others to monetize content through paid digital memberships. However, one thing is sometimes missing: while the quality of the content is high, the quality of the digital product itself (e.g., the design, features, user experience) is not always up to par.  If you want people to pay to subscribe to your site, you’re going to need an upgrade.

Did You Follow a Structured, Consumer-centric Process for Launching Your Membership Site?

Let’s face it. Nothing is guaranteed when innovating. But you CAN reduce the risk. Businesses that follow a consumer-centric process have 32 percent higher success rates, meet sales objectives 42 percent more often, and meet profits objectives 39 percent better, according to Nadia Bhuiya of Concordia University.

If you’re following inbound best practices, you have already done a lot of the work. You’ve defined your personas, and figured out their wants and needs. This is often the first step in any robust process.

A solid consumer-centric process includes testing concepts with your target persona. What types of premium content will you put behind the paywall? Will your app/website have special features that appeal to your target persona?

As part of the process, companies also need to make sure economic modeling serves as the “gut check” that the new product will be profitable under reasonable assumptions. 

When your building and launching your product, use an agile method. What this means is instead of spending a year building everything behind the scenes and hoping you got it right, you create your offering incrementally and see how your persona responds to each piece before building the next component. This way, you incorporate real marketplace feedback into your development process.

Does Your Homepage Clearly Demonstrate Your Value Proposition?

A value proposition clearly states who you are targeting and what needs you are meeting for that population. 

At Cook’s Illustrated, visitors are greeted with the message “Our 50 Test Cooks Make the Mistakes So You Don’t Have To. Get immediate FREE access to 3,000 foolproof recipes, 1,500 no-nonsense equipment reviews (we take no advertising), and 1,500 supermarket food taste tests.” Clearly, they are targeted serious home cooks who don’t want to waste their time sifting through the millions of free recipes of dubious quality.

Does a visitor to your website clearly understand who you are talking to and what problem you are solving for them? This is where you should use A/B Testing to get the message exactly right. 

Is Your User Experience Responsive?

Users will consume your content across devices (desktop, tablet, phone). Unfortunately, research has shown as little as 12% of websites are currently responsive. When your site does not look good on a phone, you are hurting conversion, AND Google is ranking you lower, so you are missing out on prospects as well. Make sure your development team incorporates responsive design, or, if you use a website hosting platform, that your theme is responsive. Responsive design is simply a must.

Are you Current on Payment Processing Best Practices? 

Here is a vocab quiz for you.  What do each of these four terms mean?

  • Wallet functionality
  • Transparent redirect
  • Card recycling
  • Refresher program

If you don’t know, time to go to payments school. Best practices can lead to a 12-20% improvement in revenues once implemented. Here is a primer on these terms.

Wallet functionality means you can keep a card on file and use it to process all future transactions (think: Amazon one-click). By removing the friction in checkout or at renewal, you will see substantially higher conversions.

Transparent redirect allows you to bypass handling sensitive credit card information while making it look to the user like they never left your website. The form that captures the credit card data comes from your web server and looks/feels like your website.  However, behind the scenes, the sensitive data goes direct to your payment gateway. This is really the best of both worlds. You’ll lose conversions if you physically send the customer to another website for checkout. You don’t want to deal with the legal liability and potential customer service headaches of handling sensitive information on your own servers.

Card recycling means re-trying transactions a few times after receiving a “soft decline.” A soft decline occurs when there is a temporary problem with a credit card (for example, if there was a temporary hold while a possible security breach was being investigated). Don’t give up – try again. There is an optimization point where the success rate of the re-try justifies the added processing costs.

A refresher program updates credit card numbers and expiration dates on file. This is especially important if you are running a subscription business, because customer’s cards expire (and/or get stolen) over the course of a year.

Do You Have Flexible Business Model Options?

You should have the ability to offer monthly or annual subscriptions. You can also help conversions with free trials, couponing, and gifting. 

One truth about paid digital memberships is there is no silver bullet when it comes to business model. You are going to have to test into what works best for your specific audience and content vertical.

Is your payment system set up to handle this range of options? If not, you’re leaving money on the table.

Do You Nudge Engagement Through Content Discovery on Your Site?

One mistake is lack of direction behind the paywall. The reader buys into your marketing messages, but once they plunk down the credit card, they’re a little confused about what to do.

You should be nudging your customers to engage with your content once they’re on your site, so when that renewal notice comes, they do not decide to unsubscribe.

Here are three ideas for you:

  1. Make sure you have a quality on-site search technology in place. As part of implementing this technology, you need to commit to adding the right metadata to your content to aid with search discovery. 
  2. Make sure you are using a content recommendation engine. Use the info you already know about them and what they’ve engaged with to continue to delight and serve them the best and most relevant content.
  3. Think like a print newspaper – have a new headline every day. Readers still like when you curate interesting content for them. On your homepage, be sure to rotate what goes on above the fold daily. Fresh content is also critical for Search Engine Optimization.

Are You Always Testing, in a Simple Manner?

Always have a learning agenda! This is a list of open questions you have about optimizing your business.  For example:


  • What ad copy / ad image / offer is most effective at driving traffic to our site?
  • What homepage best communicates our value proposition, thus leading to lowest bounce rate / greatest time on page?
  • What free offer is most effective at email capture? 


  • What introductory price leads to the highest conversion?
  • What landing page / squeeze page / checkout page leads to the highest conversion?
  • What traffic source leads to the highest conversion?


  • What features / content create the most engagement?
  • What renewal price leads to the highest renewal rate?
  • What renewal notice language / design leads to the lowest unsubscribe rate?

You should review your learning agenda at least once per quarter with your management team and agree which experiments you are going to run over the next 90 days to answer a few of the unanswered questions. 

Furthermore, best practices is to only test one thing at a time. There is a trend toward “multivariate testing,” and there are some good use cases for that. However, there are also many stories about abusing multivariate testing, resulting in a “Frankenstein Product.” The math suggested optimal subcomponents, but when you add them up to the whole, it just looks weird!

Optimize Your Paywall Today

Again, the purpose of this article is NOT to encourage you to put ALL your content behind a paywall. You still need to use free content to build your reputation and attract an audience. 

However, there is an opportunity to add more revenue by putting premium content behind a paywall, thus creating a paid digital membership.

There are some tactical best practices discussed above, but the most important point is to make sure you are staying consumer-centric in all your decisions. You have a head start if you are already implementing inbound marketing best practices – you have defined your personas and figured out wants and needs that resonate with them. Make sure your digital product manifests this understanding.

What is working or not working for you with respect to charging for digital content? Post in the comments! 

Personalize or Perish




How To Increase Newsletter Subscriptions With Personalized Recommendations


Personalization is a growing segment of online marketing. If in the past a one-size-fits-all was enough, today’s audience demands more. The idea behind personalization is a straightforward one: personalize your message and you’ll see better results. Think about it like calling someone by their name instead of just shouting, “Hey you”; in which case are you more likely to get a response?

Be Personal, Be Relevant

Publishers are attempting to personalize the entire online experience, with personalized recommendations becoming a central tool for driving anonymous readers into deeper engagement and interaction. These personalized recommendations can come in the form of popups, calls-to-action, email segmentation, etc., and attempt to deliver the most relevant article or offer to each and every reader.

Relevancy is the name of the game. If you recommended the best and most comfortable ski gear, at an amazing price, to a person who never skied, it’s still not going to work. The quality of the recommendation is important but pales in comparison to the importance of being relevant.

How Personalization Works

So how does it actually work? Personalization can either be rule-based or algorithm-based. With rule-based personalization tools, you define visitor lists and decide what is the best and most relevant content for them. You can segment your visitors in any number of ways, depending on the specific tool you are using. In many cases, self-volunteered information from previous on-site conversions can be most effective. 

With personalization algorithms there are two phases: first the system ‘learns’ your site by mapping content such as white papers, case studies and blog posts, using a combination of NLP (natural language processing) textual matching and taxonomy. The result is a content-map of the site, with highlights for unique content. 

As a visitor arrives to the site, the algorithm then analyzes their on-site behavior – what was the starting page, what other pages the visitor viewed and how long he stayed on each. The algorithm then matches the two pieces and serves personalized recommendations to the visitor in real time.   

Why Do Personalized Recommendations Work?

For many publications, first time visitors are a tough crowd to please. Regardless of how they found your site, they are unfamiliar with what else you may have to offer, or where on your site to find it. By bringing these treasures to the reader, rather then making them hunt around for it, you increase time-on-site, positive user-experience, and click-through rates. Personalized recommendations that work smoothly are like answering a visitor question before it is being asked.

Additionally, personal recommendations evoke emotions from the website visitor. Not heavy-handed emotions like happiness or anger, but more a faint sense of credibility and trust. 

As a digital publisher, personalized recommendations are a smart way to bring back your articles or content offers from the abyss. Your entire content arsenal is put into good use, and nothing goes to waste.

What to Consider When Using Personalized Recommendations

To Gate or Not to Gate?

The first thing to decide is whether to gate your content, and how much of it to gate. And finding the right balance of gated vs. open content is delicate work. 

In short, you need to consider the overall website experience . If you are gating too little of your content, you miss opportunities to convert. That said, readers typically need to first consume and enjoy several pieces of ungated content to consider giving up their personal information to business. 

Recommendations or Offers?

The next decision publishers face is whether to use on-site content recommendations or offer recommendations (which can be personalized too). Let’s say a visitor to a magazine’s website checks out the subscription page, but does not convert. You might consider serving them a personalized offer on the next page they visit for a 50% discount on their first month of subscription.

Deciphering when to serve recommendations during natural browsing is like preparing for a meeting with a client. You plan what you are going to say, in what order, what visual aides you are going to present and when. Serving personalized recommendations is quite similar—you need to know your website inside out, and understand how visitors use it. From that you can conclude when questions might arise and how to answer them with  personalized content recommendations. Also, think how to enrich each users’ interactions with added value content and relevant offers.  

Timing is Everything

Personalized recommendations all boil down to a few motivations—to increase engagement and ultimately conversions. Be it leads for advertisers, newsletter subscriptions, or anything else that helps meet your marketing goals. So when do you ask your readers for a commitment beyond reading another article?

You need to evaluate engagement and set the right parameters for when to recommend more substantial offers. Only after the reader’s interest has been established beyond doubt should you attempt to re-define their motives for being on your site. For example, after recommending one or two on-site articles, on which the reader clicks and stays on your site, then you should go ahead and offer a newsletter subscription. 

The Secret is Not in the Sauce, It’s in You

Registering for a newsletter is a sign of trust. Publishers can earn this trust by making recommendations that their readers appreciate, and only asking for larger commitments when the time is right. Instill the notion that your content is beneficial for them, and easy to navigate. This type of trust can happen instantaneously, or take time – but either way it’s worth it in the long run for the health of your database, advertiser revenue, newsletter, publication, and more.

Personalize or Perish




Medium for Publishers: What Media Companies Should Know


Take a look at Medium, and you’ll find a passionate community of smart people who love great content: you’ll see commenters, sharers, and writers who are seeking out a forum to share their thoughts. Founded by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams in 2012, Medium has created an entire social media ecosystem around thoughtful, engaging content. And now, the company is opening its doors to publishers who are seeking new opportunities to reach new audiences.

Enter Medium for Publishers, “a new corner of the Internet specifically designed for people and publishers who want to experience a deeper level of discourse and engagement.” The new platform gives media companies new tools to express their own identities on the platform.

So why should media companies take note of this new opportunity? For one, Medium is a new, untapped content distribution channel that creates a sustainable way for publishers to reach new audiences. Long story short, here’s what you need to know.

Publisher-Friendly Distribution & Monetization Features

As a recent article from Fortune points out, Medium’s goal is to give publishers a “one stop shop” to reach new audiences with great content. That being said, key features of the future include the ability to plug in sponsored content and manage reader memberships. In other words, media companies can start testing ideas for monetization without needing to build an entire sponsored content offering from scratch. 

As Williams explained in a recent interview for AdAge, monetization features on Medium for Publishers are still in their planning stages. The company is currently researching how brands are using the platform for content marketing—data that publishers will find valuable when developing new marketing programs for advertisers, from the ground up.

“I think long-term we definitely see ourselves as a marketplace for brands and publishers to find each other in an efficient way and to do things together,” says Williams for AdAge.

While new revenue opportunities aren’t yet available, there are initiatives on the horizon. For instance, Medium has created a private beta for select publishers who are looking to take advantage of the platform, early. You can learn more and see if you’re eligible here

The Opportunity to Build a Brand

Media companies can think of Medium for Publishers as a new door for audience growth that’s being cracked open: it won’t happen overnight, but the publishers who invest in the platform early will reap some of the strongest rewards long-term.

What Medium has brought to market now is a series of branding tools that publishers can leverage to build their identities. Now, when you establish a presence on Medium, you can differentiate your unique brand from the many voices who are on the platform. Here’s how Medium can help you build and optimize your relationships with your reader-base:

  • Design your homepage with your unique colors and logo so that your media brand is instantly recognizable.
  • Create your own custom domain so that your content is easy to find in one central hub.
  • Send personalized email newsletters to your existing fans and followers by importing contacts from Facebook and Twitter.

Medium has also built in several moving pieces that often slip through the cracks for publishers: SEO and media rights. Instead of letting these topics rest in a gray area, the social network has built these topics into its new offering. You own the rights to your content, and you won’t need to take extra steps to make sure that it’s visible to search engines.

Missing Pieces

Medium is giving publishers a brand new platform to extend their reach and build a brand among smart audiences of avid-readers. You can even monetize your content directly on the platform. But ultimately, it’s important to treat Medium as one piece of your overall puzzle and continue to build a funnel back to your company. Some extra steps that you’ll want to take:

  • Capture email addresses whenever possible, to continue to maintain a 1:1 relationship with your readers (so that you can collect their data to build your own database, too).
  • In addition to bringing your branding to Medium, make sure to generate visibility around your products and services. If you’re hosting a conference or looking to promote your education products, Medium can be a powerful channel for generating awareness. 

For a quick guide to mastering Medium, check out this podcast here. It features an interview with Sophie Moura, head of B2B partnerships at Medium, with detailed tips for how to build a content strategy. As you would imagine, you’ll want to do the following in your strategy:

  • Invest in quality stories that generate comments and conversations.
  • Treat Medium as a distribution channel, in addition to a hub.
  • Focus on tactics to get noticed.

The Bottom Line

An investment in Medium is an investment in your media brand. Don’t just tinker: use the tools that Medium has created to your advantage. Take steps now to prepare for up-and-coming opportunities that will help your content get noticed. Pave the path for new monetization sources along the way.

Personalize or Perish  




Digital Does Not Mean “Just Build a Website”


Many traditional publishers have prematurely thrown in the towel on digital. “I have a website, but no one wants to advertise on it.” “I have an iPad version of my print magazine, but only a tiny fraction of my audience subscribes.” “I have made pdf’s of all my articles but no one is downloading them.”

The problem is not that content creators cannot make money in digital. The problem is digital facsimiles of print products are not what the customer wants. Data support this. For example, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, digital editions represent only 3.8 percent of total circulation (paid, verified and analyzed nonpaid). Even for the top 25 best selling digital editions, digital accounts for only 12 percent of total circulation

Digital Is Not a Technical Challenge; It Is a Psychographic Challenge

Many publishers view digital as a technical problem to solve. These companies follow the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Because they have a digital edition, a website, and maybe even a mobile app, they think “mission accomplished. 

The mindset needs to shift. Consumers don’t want a digital edition for the sake of having a digital edition. Digital consumers have a new set of needs, which I bucket in three areas: context, curation, and customization. Content companies need to build products that address these three psychological needs to appeal to the digital consumer.

Customers Want to Consume Content in Any Context

As a digital society, we would definitely fail the infamous “marshmallow test” conducted by Stanford in the late 1960s. Are you familiar with this study? Psychologist Walter Mischel offered a child a choice between one small reward (e.g., a marshmallow) immediately or a larger reward if they waited for a short period. The researchers found that children who were able to wait longer went on to become more successful in life. 

The digital consumer wants whatever, whenever, wherever. We’re not willing to wait a month or two for the next issue to arrive in the mail. We’re not willing to wait until we get home to view an article on our desktop because it’s unreadable on our phone. We might get distracted or change our mind if the checkout process is too complex.

To evaluate if you are whatever, whenever, wherever for your audience, start with these three questions:

1) Do You Utilize Responsive Design?

Responsive design is the method of designing web pages that automatically appear in their optimized form on all devices (click here for a more detailed definition from HubSpot). In other words, be where the consumer wants you to be – desktop, mobile, tablet, and whatever comes next.

What does your content look across devices? Check out this website to see. Mobile has surpassed desktop and now represents 51% of traffic. If you are not designing responsively, you are leaving money on the table. Without responsive design, you’ll likely have a large difference in bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who navigate away from your site after viewing only one page) between your desktop and mobile products. You can use Google Analytics to measure bounce rate if you are not doing so already. No one wants to pinch and zoom pdf files to be able to read them on his or her phone. Invest in responsive design.

 2) How Fast are Your Page Load Times?

Research by Professor Ramesh Sitaraman found we are only willing to wait two seconds when it comes to video load times. After that, abandonment rates skyrocket. You’ll lose half your audience if load times get to ten seconds. On this theme, Amazon found increased revenue of 1% for every 100 milliseconds improvement to their site speed. Facebook and Google capitalize on user impatience with their Instant Articles and Accelerated Mobile Pages products. There is a lot of literature on improving performance, and I found this blog entry from The Daily Egg straightforward for those who want some practical tips.

3) How Much Friction is There in Your Email Capture or Checkout Process?

With Uber, you press a button to call a car; with Open Table, you press a button to make a restaurant reservation; with Amazon, you press a button, and more Tide gets shipped to your house. How can you make your user experience at the moment of truth as smooth as possible? Ask your payment processors about their ability to vault credit card numbers, so you don’t have to re-ask for this information (think about how many times you used Amazon one-click buying on an impulse). HubSpot recommends a process called “progressive profiling” in which you ask for as little information as possible upfront (for example, just an email address) and in future engagements, ask for additional details (e.g., mailing address, income level, preferences). Do you have a user experience designer on staff or a consultant helping you with removing roadblocks? I can assure you the ROI is there.

Use Curation to Cut Through the Clutter

Marketing expert Mark Schaeffer coined the phrase “content shock” which in essence means publishers are creating more content than audiences could possibly consume. According to Schaeffer, we already consume nearly 11 hours of content per day. Since there are only so many hours in a day (and we need to sleep, eat, work), there is a limit on how much more we can take in. Yet, the amount of information on the web is expected to increase by 500 percent in the next five years. Supply will outstrip demand.

On top of this, in The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz explains why too much choice has proven to be detrimental to our psychological well-being. He says eliminating choices can greatly reduce stress. Here is a summary of one experiment Schwartz described to illustrate his point:

“When researchers set up [in a gourmet food store] a display featuring a line of exotic, high-quality jams, customers who came by could taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one condition of the study, 6 varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another, 24 varieties were available. In either case, the entire set of 24 varieties was available for purchase. The large array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array, though in both cases people tasted about the same number of jams on average. When it came to buying, however, a huge difference became evident. Thirty percent of the people exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar; only 3 percent of those exposed to the large array of jams did so.”

As content creators, let’s help society cut through the surplus of information and reduce anxiety while we are at it. It is all about curation. 

Many media companies have had the idea to put all their content on their website, both in front of and behind a paywall. However, to maximize the benefit for the consumer, you need to provide some guidance. For example, while I was the COO of America’s Test Kitchen, we added a daily digest to the Cook’s Illustrated homepage, which inspired cooks with new ideas, and helped them navigate the database of tens of thousands of recipes. Many publications, like the Wall Street Journal, have daily emails that highlight the most relevant stories based on subscriber’s interest profile. 

Curation also applies to online learning products. Consumers can get lost in a sea of options if there is no tracking or curriculum. DataCamp provides a good example of curation done right. They have well-organized course modules, and it is clear which classes are prerequisites of others.

So before you slap together a myriad of content on your site, think about how you can pave a path for your audience. Provide some structure to help the discover the full value of your content.

Customization Keeps Customers Consuming

This is where big data comes in. According to McKinsey, data-driven tailoring of digital experiences can drive an ROI of 15-20%. However, I have seen much larger increases (50%+) in my work with smaller companies. Consumers expect personalization. The days of “batch and blast” marketing campaigns are over (that is, sending the same promotion to all customers), and I expect “batch and blast” user experiences will soon follow in the footsteps of these untailored marketing campaigns.

The New York Times (NYT) publishes over 300 pieces of content every day and uses advanced analytical techniques to make personal recommendations. First, they use a model to classify every article as a mixture of various topics (e.g., politics, environment) based on the words in the text. For example, if the word “tree” appears a lot, it is likely an article about the environment. The NYT data scientists also model each reader’s theme preferences based on viewing history. They then adjust the article’s classification based on actual behavior, in case the vocabulary was ambiguous or allegorical (which would lead to errors in mechanical classification). So, if the model initially predicts an article is about art, but people who like politics are engaging with it, the model adjust the classification accordingly.

Can’t afford a data science team? There are other software platforms that can help you personalize user experiences. found their personalization features sparked a 42% increase in conversion for personalized vs. impersonal content. There are dozens of companies that provide this software, and the right one for you would depend on your size and technical sophistication.

Can’t afford personalization software? You can fake it ‘til you make it. Simply ask visitors to identify themselves on your homepage, e.g., “Is your skill level Novice, Intermediate, or Advanced?” and direct the experience accordingly. Alternatively, you can think about obvious segmentations based on data you already have. For example, you can regionalize your website based on IP address. You can have a different experience for logged in vs. not logged in viewers. Presumably, those who are not logged in are less familiar with your brand and seeking more introductory or background material. What about differences based on day of the week or time of day?

Time to Get Started

So, the next time you think about dismissing digital, take a deep breath. Think about what your company can do to drive conversion, retention, and lifetime value by giving digital customers what they are seeking. The digital consumer wants your content in any context, the need your help curating the information, and they will engage more if you personalize the experience for them. Just creating a pdf of your magazine or newspaper will not ultimately satisfy them.

Personalize or Perish




You Can Still Reach People Using Ad Block Software


That vocal bunch known as ad block users are quickly becoming one of the most sought after audiences on the internet. This untapped audience, if you can reach them without trivializing their concerns, is a massive opportunity for marketers.

If done correctly, reaching ad block users isn’t as complicated as it’s often made out to be by the ad tech industry. With a few simple tweaks to your marketing strategy, you’ll be able to target an audience few others are reaching currently. 

Why Are Ad Block Users So Valuable?

While people who use ad blockers are actively trying to shut out promotional messages, they also tend to be the most engaged audience online. Studies consistently characterize them has high-income earners, well educated, and early adopters of new products.  Statistically, they are also heavily influenced by the content they read, and they’re engaged with both the media sites they support and the authors who pen their favorite content. In other words, the payoff for reaching these readers can be unprecedented.

With the growth of ad blocking online, the relationship between media company and reader continues to deepen. For properties that have the trust of their readers, the opportunities to market directly to them often comes in creative and untraditional packages. 

If you’re looking to target an audience that exists solely because of advertising blocking on the internet, you’ll need to learn as much as possible about them before you start working with brands to target them.

Determine The Ad Blocking Audience

Categorically speaking, some websites have audience segments with higher levels of blocking than others. For instance, ad blocking adoption has grown the quickest amongst the 18-24 demographic, and by extension the publications they frequent are under the biggest threat. That said, ad blocker adoption also continues to shrink across older demographics.  Installation intention, however, seems to be trending in the opposite direction. While the 18-24 demographic may have the highest adoption rate already, the benefits of ad blocking is resonating the most with those that are 45 or older. 18 percent of the 45+ audience plan to adopt an ad blocker in the next six months

Understanding your website’s readership and their tendencies will go a long way towards developing a successful outreach strategy. 

You can quickly capture information about your ad block audience by implementing technical solutions to track them. Today, most savvy media companies online know exactly the size of their audience currently using ad blockers. Sophisticated tools exist to collect that information, and both services and scripts will collect information about those using the blockers across their sites.

Once you know who’s blocking your advertisements, you can start compiling a plan to sell against your newly uncovered audience. Cutting edge media companies looking to target ad block end users often have dedicated content teams whose primary responsibility is to create content that leaves lasting impressions with their audience. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have teams in-house that focus on designing native campaigns for brands. Understand the value of non-traditional advertising opportunities, and then prepare yourself to answer advertiser questions about audience trends, demographics, and what types of content resonates the most with your readership. Prepare marketing material to provide prospects with a compilation of your team’s best work, and then success metrics around each example piece of content.

Figure Out What They’re Reading

Determine what this new target audience is already reading and sharing online. Does your ideal marketing target spend most of their time reading editorials, or do they spend time digging through reviews on your website?  The only way to reach an ad blocking audiences at a targeted publication is to give them material that they’re already consuming online and in a format they prefer. Once you’re able to build a content profile for your target within a website’s customer base, you can begin to explore native advertising options with advertisers interested in reaching ad blockers on your site.

Embrace Native, Avoid Display

The truth is, it’s time move on from display advertising as a sole offering to advertisers. While media companies are still engaging brands about display, today most advertisers are looking for more interesting or custom offerings from publications. There’s a reason: sponsorships and natural alternatives reach their most valuable audiences while doing a better job of telling your brand’s story online.

70% of people online want to learn about products through content. That means reviews, videos, podcasts, and mediums that offer more than just “buy this now” advertising. In most of those cases they can instruct audience on why they should buy your products, or how it compares to the competition.  Product reviews and product-related editorial need each other.  Customers want to know if your products are up to the task, and if you’re providing the best option on the market.  Display advertising, when used as brand recognition can be a powerful tool, but product editorials provide more context and incentive to make a final decision on purchasing a product.  Reputable publications may be pricey, but if their audience trusts them, they’re more likely to buy products than they are when they see a simple display advertisement.

Target Newsletters

One of the quickest growing mediums on the internet is newsletters. Media companies, and their users love newsletters because they’re one of the most engaging mediums in their arsenal. Few mediums can guarantee a reader will view content, but newsletters can focus directly on who clicked a sponsorship, and who avoided your native content. 

Newsletters also boast some of the best click-through numbers on the web.  Much like display, your open and click rates will vary by content category, but the clickthrough rates tend to outperform display across the board. Open rates historically hover in the 20 percent range while click-through rates hover between the 1 and 5 percent range. 

The other beauty of newsletters? Readers have opted-in for the information being sent by media companies. The majority of subscribers know what type of information will be arriving in a newsletter, so if there’s a natural with with your brand and marketing strategy, newsletter readers will often embrace your advertisements.

Target Sponsored Content

Advertorials and Sponsored Content, Branded Content, and In-Feed Ads are all examples of native content types that fall under a sponsored content umbrella, but they all take a slightly different approach to displaying your content to readers.  In some cases, ad blockers can be configured to block sponsored content and other forms of native content, but when it comes down to it, if advertisements are built with care and adhere to a reader’s expectations, it’s unlikely that your sponsored content will be ignored. 

Sponsored content is often built by a media company for their audience, but based on your marketing targets. In this situation, media companies work alongside advertising teams and determine which types of content  (infographic, an article, etc.) will align with an advertisers campaign goals. 

Target Both Audio And Video Podcast

Just like newsletters, podcasts result in very high engagement number.  Unlike its written brethren, media company audiences opt-in to receive continuous content in a variety of applications on both mobile and desktop computing systems. If your targeted media company has a podcast with embedded advertisements, the content will bypass ad blockers and reach your intended audience.  Podcasts are a great way to target the ad block demographic with your marketing messages while giving them content in a format they prefer.

Target Whitelisted Publications Or Ad Networks With Your Display 

While display may be on the way out, there are a couple approaches marketers are taking to get their display campaigns in front of ad block users. Did you know some display ad networks are currently whitelisted across a variety of ad blocking applications by default? 

That means some networks, like Carbon Ads, can fulfill your display advertisement campaign needs, while still being able to target consumers running ad blockers. As a marketer, it makes sense to search out networks and exchanges that have been whitelisted and place your display ads through those mechanisms versus traditional exchanges.


Targeting ad blockers isn’t without its dangers. There will always be a vocal minority who admonish your marketing attempts publicly no matter your best efforts or pure intentions. There’s nothing you can do about it. Arming yourself with facts may help you get over the anxiety of publishing native content, but you should be prepared for a negative scenario that may manifest itself after publishing your campaign. Some people just like to watch the world burn.

Personalize or Perish





Using Audience Data to Power Native Ads


Native advertising is on the rise for publishers—and that’s a good thing. In recent years, media companies have been dealing with the perfect storm: industry-wide programmatic ad revenues are on the decline while ad blocking is on the rise. The bottom line for these trends is that consumers are extremely picky about their online experiences. Readers want and will always want great content, but they don’t ads to interrupt their browsing experiences.

That’s where native enters the picture. Rather than interrupting natural browsing patterns, media leaders can instead, connect advertisers with readers through engaging content. The end result will be a browsing experience that feels natural rather than forced or salesy. And believe it or not, the value proposition that native advertising brings to the table is about to become even better.

As native advertising strategies become more refined, so are publishers’ personalization and targeting capabilities. If you’re part of a marketing team at a media company, you’re likely collecting data around your audience’s browsing patterns and preferences. Why not reinvest this information into the native ad packages that you’re offering your advertisers?

Stay ahead of the publishing industry curve by using the data that you’re already collecting. Here’s how you can use audience data to power your native ads:

Define a More Granular Audience

In today’s marketing context, 1:1 is the name of the game.

Instead of helping your advertisers cast their nets wide, why not help them build a deeper, stronger rapport with a specific audience subset? For instance, you may be a consumer-facing publication with an equal distribution of male and female readers. A beauty company may come to your media company looking to provide education around makeup products.

With this example campaign, you may think that the right approach is to target all women. But you may be ignoring the individuals who self-identify as women, even though their birth gender is male. You might also be casting your net too wide in targeting women who don’t wear makeup.

Why not personalize your native ad campaign to audiences who have read make-up related content in the past, regardless of where they fall on the demographic spectrum?

For more on audience segmentation, download our free ebook: Personalize or Perish >> 

Choose Topics that Resonate 

One of the biggest challenges that marketers face when designing a native ad campaign is ideation: choose the wrong topic, and your entire strategy will flop. Instead of relying on guesswork, use the data that you’re already collecting to better align your advertisers with their target audiences. 

Start by defining the group of readers who you’re aiming to reach, and then do some research around their browsing habits. What types of headlines do they find engaging? Which stories generate the most engagement? What types of content are they likely to share?

Align these natural sharing patterns with your advertisers’ marketing goals. Use data to choose the right topic.

Examine Likelihoods of a Conversion Event

Let’s say that you’re working with an advertiser who is looking to drive sign-ups to a free trial from a sponsored article. Instead of casting your net wide and targeting everyone, why not serve your ad to audiences who’ve demonstrated signs of engagement in the past? 

Don’t target your native ads to audiences who never read sponsored articles. Instead, focus on the readers who: 

  • Have engaged with or shared sponsored content in the past
  • Regularly sign up for offers and freebies
  • Show the same patterns of engagement that your advertisers are looking to optimize
  • Are self-volunteering information about themselves
  • Enjoy engaging with your media company’s email lists

Using this data, you can connect your advertisers to audiences who are likely to convert rather than passerbyers who aren’t interested. With this level of precision, everyone wins: advertisers reach their highest value audiences, and readers only see relevant native ads.

Get Precise Around Actions

In addition to reaching your target audiences, you can optimize your reading experiences around the specific actions that you want your readers to take. For instance, you may notice that in one of your audience segments, group A is more likely to redeem an offer than group B but that group B is more likely to spend time engaging with and sharing sponsored content than group A.

Why not use these user behavior nuances to create more advertiser value? Instead of creating one-size-fits-all native ad campaigns, use your on-site marketing data to provide different types of offerings for the following types of marketing goals:

  • Top of funnel brand building
  • Lead generation
  • Engagement 

You can also use your native ad units as data collection opportunities for your advertisers. Package the information you’re generating into follow-up or off-platform marketing audiences. Position your media brand as a company that supports the full marketing lifecycle in building a long-term relationship with readers.

Keep Learning and Iterating

The advertising landscape moves quickly. Maximize the value of your campaigns by learning from and building upon the data that you’re gathering. Follow the progress of your campaigns, long after they’ve launched, so you understand the results that your native ads are delivering across the conversion funnel. Improve upon your efforts over time.

Personalize or Perish




How Should Publishers Deal with Platform Overload?


As a marketer for a media company, the world is your oyster. From SnapChat to Instagram and even classics like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, you have a wealth of available options to bring into your distribution strategy. If you sit down and ask yourself which you’d like to pursue, you’d likely respond with ‘all of them’—each social media channel and social network brings a unique set of strengths and weaknesses to the table. Why not cast your net wide? The reality, however, is that your team has limited time in the day. And with so many social media channels available to pursue, you may risk spreading your efforts too thin. When it comes to distribution, ‘a little here and a little there’ just doesn’t cut it. You get more when you double down, learn the mechanics of each platform that you’re considering, and focus.

So how do you avoid platform overload and make sure that you’re focusing on the right channels? Here’s a simple framework to help you figure out where to prioritize your time and efforts:

Step 1: Revisit Your Distribution Goals

What are you looking to accomplish by being present on social media?

Maybe you’re looking to distribute your content to new audiences and promote more user-generated sharing. In this case, you’d turn to a channel like Pinterest where audiences are pinning and repinning interesting content to share with friends. Or maybe, you’re looking to create more brand visibility for some beautiful, inspiring photography that you’re publishing. In this case, you’d want to use a channel like Instagram that helps audiences discover interesting, bite-sized visuals. And if you’re looking to open more direct conversation channels with your audience? Turn to classics like Facebook and Twitter.

When building a social media strategy, it’s important to focus on the nuances. Ask yourself how audiences share content on these channels and how this user behavior maps to your content distribution goals? Your answers to these questions will help you identify and evaluate which social channels to pursue.

Step 2: Know Where Your Audiences Spend Time 

Social media platforms, at heart, are tools that enable conversations with audiences at scale. As a publisher, it’s up to you to find where pockets of readers are spending their time. Social media can help you provide an introduction to your media company and enable repeat engagement.

When building out your social media strategy, take time to conduct some channel by channel due diligence: understand each platform’s demographic composition so that you can ensure that you’re sharing your great content with the right audiences at the right time. Here are some resources that can help with your research: 

  • This social media intelligence report, maintained by Business Insider, can shed insight into how specific platforms are growing and changing, pointing to overall trends related to gender, income, and education levels.
  • This report covering the demographics of social media users, maintained by the Pew Center, to provide up-to-date fact sheets on how Americans are spending their time online.
  • This comprehensive analysis of social media usage as of 2015, created by Sprout Social.

When analyzing the demographics of social media usage, make sure to cast your net wide and cite a few different reports, as data can vary between sources. Compare the information that you read in your reports with your own first-party data to uncover areas of opportunity to pursue. 

Step 3: Examine Your Resources

You probably have big dreams for your social media strategy. And you should—if you don’t ‘think big’ with your marketing strategy, you’ll risk missing out on valuable audience acquisition and engagement opportunities. Not to mention, you’ll get stuck with the everyday mechanics of tweeting, sharing, and posting interesting content without doing the work that you need to do to analyze and build upon your results.

In an ideal world, you’d have infinite resources to manage your social media strategy. You’d have everything you need to build out your team, test paid channels, and implement tools. You’d be able to run consistent experiments across every social media channel out there. 

But you don’t have time to just cast your net wide and explore. You need to double down on the channels that are right for your brand and in sync with your team’s bandwidth. If you have a $0 social media budget, you may want to focus on channels like Twitter, for instance, where you can build a presence without needing to invest any advertising spend. If you do have a small ad budget, you consider running campaigns on channels like Facebook, which has been increasing its attention to its paid media business.

The bottom line is that you need to invest in the marketing efforts that you can do well. Ask yourself—what can your social media team do better than any other company out there, given the resources that you have? Don’t just go through the motions. Audience attention spans are spread thin, so whatever you do—do it well. 

Step 4: Prioritize

Your due diligence may lead you to the conclusion that you need to be on multiple social channels. If you fall into this category, take a moment to reflect—don’t rush your launch process. Instead, take some time to step back and reflect. Which social media channels represent your lowest hanging fruit? Which marketing opportunities will drive the best results over time? Take some time to give each social media platform the nurturing it needs to perform for your media brand. So how do you identify your highest-yield opportunities? Here is a list of ideas to get you started:

  • The social media channels with the highest concentration of people in your target audience
  • Networks in which your content is already being shared
  • Platforms that allow your existing audiences to engage with your content directly

Take a look at some of your marketing data, especially your referral traffic sources and sharing patterns around your most popular content. Survey your readers to see what social media networks they enjoy browsing. Craft your strategy from there.

Final Thoughts

There’s a subtle trick that can help you avoid platform overload: just focus on the channels where your audiences are already browsing and having conversations. Then, build out a presence on the platforms where you expect your audience to be devoting their attention in the coming years. Remember that social media, as a channel, is still in its infancy, with plenty of room to grow. Especially when it comes to publishing and digital media, it’s not ‘first to market’ who will always come out ahead. Be sure to take a step back to create a strategy that’s thoughtful and high-impact for your unique audience.

Personalize or Perish

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What Facebook’s Latest Changes Mean for Publishers


The digital ecosystem is undergoing a lot of changes. From Twitter, to Google, LinkedIn, and even Bing, how do you keep track of it all?

Fortunately, we have you covered with an extra set of eyes and ears. The work that we do here depends upon the success of the entire digital universe: we’re always up to speed on the biggest changes and opportunities in marketing as a result.

Recently, Facebook has been undergoing some changes that will be of particular relevance to publishers. Here’s what the following two updates will mean for your audience-building strategies moving forward:

Audience Optimization

In January of this year, Facebook introduced Audience Optimization, an organic targeting tool that helps publishers reach and engage their target audiences. The tool allows Facebook page admins to improve the relevancy of their posts by indicating who’s most likely to engage with them.

The tool gives publishers the following features:

  • The ability to add interest tags to content, to help Facebook connect audiences with topics that are likely to capture their attention
  • The ability to restrict or limit the visibility of certain posts by allowing for targeting based on location, language, or, or gender
  • Visibility into performance of content, down to the post-level, by interest

So what does all of this mean?

In a world where audience attention spans are becoming increasingly fragmented, Facebook is giving publishers the tools that they need to build in-depth, substantive relationships with target audiences. 

You can bettertarget your content to your readers based on what they’re interested in reading and learning about. You’ll also have additional insight that you can use to optimize each of your posts and extend your publication’s reach. Early users of Facebook’s Audience Optimization tool have recognized considerable lifts in engagement, sparked discussions within unique groups, and provided stronger alignment between content and target audiences.

Messenger for Publishers

Publishers will soon have the ability to distribute content through Facebook Messenger.

This capability is big news. Why? 

Similar to email, Facebook Messenger represents a channel for 1:1 communication. Instead of requiring audiences to come to your website or bombarding them with email newsletters, you can ping them with relevant information, in the moment.

While this news is still speculative, meaning that Facebook neither confirms nor denies this upcoming feature release, the social media leader is suspected to be testing new features behind the public eye. For instance, TechCrunch reported that Facebook had begun testing a tool for developers that allowed people to do things like request an Uber, directly within conversation threads.

Given that Facebook Messenger reaches over 800M people, the distribution potential for publishers would be massive. Rather than competing for attention spans over email and in search, media companies can more actively reach out to and engage with their target readers.

And who knows what the future holds? In the future, publishers may be able to integrate Facebook Messenger into their sponsored content offerings. Facebook has yet to announce what’s planned.

Looking into the Future

Facebook’s changes reflect a larger industry trend around personalization and the importance of building 1:1, personalized relationships. 

It’s more critical than ever for media companies to create more lovable content. From email to social media, readers have more control than ever over the content that they see and the content with which they engage. Using audience optimization, publishers can better target their audiences on the aggregate level, learning about their needs and preferences along the way. Social media teams at media companies can then reinvest this information into 1:1 touchpoints over Facebook Messenger. 

While it’s important to be vigilant and ahead of the curve in this ecosystem, it’s not necessarily the companies that are first to market that will come out ahead. It’s the ones who take the time and conduct their due diligence to understand their audiences in depth. And thanks to Facebook’s new updates, publishers can better engage with and learn about their target audiences across platforms.

How to Get Started

The best way to get started is with the segmentation framework and marketing database that you already have in place. Who are your highest value readers? How is Facebook currently operating as a referral traffic source for your company? Most likely, you already have the answers to these questions in your marketing database.

What Facebook introduces is a mechanism to answer the question “why.”

Why do certain audiences engage with your articles? Why are they gaining value from the resources that you’re publishing? Facebook is a treasure trove of psychographic data that can help you answer these questions.

Personalize or Perish




Increasing Audience ROI with Personalization


Traditional monetization channels are getting tougher and tougher for publishers to tap into. The reason? Consumer behavior is fundamentally changing, and now more than ever before, attention spans are scatterbrained.

With every moment spent on smartphones, tablets, or computers at work, readers find themselves exposed to more content options that they have time to process. That’s why it’s critical that media companies invest in quality vs. quantity: if you want to attract a high-value audience, your content needs to be high-value too.

This perspective is the ‘smoking gun’ that publishers need to build new, high value revenue channels. Just as much as you don’t like fighting against noise for your audience’s attention, your audiences don’t like to deal with media brands that are clamoring for their time.

That’s where personalization enters the picture. When your content is tailored and relevant to the audiences you’re trying to reach, you’ll see a strong lift to your media brand–and you’ll be well-positioned to provide value to your advertisers too. Here’s how personalization can help media companies carve out new, lasting monetization channels.

>> Download our latest Media Ebook – Personalize or Perish >> 

More Engaged Email Lists

Personalization will open doors to a wealth of email marketing and monetization opportunities 

When audiences like what you have to offer, they’ll find a way to keep your company on their radars. They’ll ‘like’ your content on Facebook, follow your account on Twitter, or subscribe to at least one of your targeted newsletters. 

But many newsletters are irrelevant to audiences, which is why subscribe rates for companies are often low. The best way to change this behavior? It’s to change yours—create email campaigns that are tailored to what your audience wants to read about and learn. 

The chain of events is clear: personalization of a strong value proposition will yield higher sign-up rates to your newsletters. And with higher sign-up rates for your newsletters, you’ll have more engaged lists of subscribers. In turn, you’ll be able to deliver more value to your advertisers.

Invest in your email marketing strategy, and your value as a media brand will grow, overall. You can send more targeted email campaigns, on behalf of your advertisers, to your readers, for instance—the possibilities are truly limitless.

Personalized Calls to Action (CTAs)

Want your readers to take action on the ads and offers that you’re sharing with them?

The most efficient path forward is to optimize your CTAs: choose value propositions that speak to their unique interests, needs, and goals. The answer is personalization.

As a media company, you’re in a unique position to become a true innovator in the personalization space. You’re likely already collecting a wealth of audience data in terms of the content they’re reading and taking action upon.

Why not align your CTAs to this data that you’ve been generating?

The B2B, corporate world has been creating what it calls ‘smart CTAs’ for years. The idea is simple: rather than communicating a one-size-fits all cue, craft value propositions for the specific audiences that you’re reaching. Speak to their needs and pain points. You’ll see higher conversion rates and position your media brand to provide higher value to advertisers, too. 

For a step-by-step guide to creating personalized CTAs, check out this guide from 2013.

Getting Started 

The first step to getting started is to organize your database: you need to make sure that your customers’ information is in the right place (so you can take action upon it). As you build your lists, give careful thought to the data you’re collecting and whether you have the right form fields in place to keep this information organized. This unified data perspective will help you shortcut the process of and increase the impact you make when you target your audiences on an individual level. Here’s how to collect information for personalization:

  • Define what exactly you should be collecting and how this information aligns to your overall campaign goals
  • Understand what information will be available on a personal level and what may remain anonymized
  • Figure out how you’re going to collect information (through lead gen landing pages, for instance)

Once you have your ducks in order and you start gathering data, start fueling your personalization engine:

  • Create audience segments based on areas of interest, subscription type, or geographic location, so you can personalize reader experiences at different levels
  • Build out content and conversion paths to match each customer segment. Use a blend of qualitative and quantitative research to guide your early decisions (Don’t worry about being perfect, as your strategy will likely continue to change over time)
  • Test out your ideas with the expectation that you’ll refine and iterate upon your results
  • Iterate on your personalization strategy by reinvesting your learnings into new campaign ideas.

Any media company, of any size, can get started. Just start doing some research into the systems that already exist, so that you can develop a strong sense of your company’s assets. Use this platform as a starting point to explore the world of opportunity that awaits. Instead of seeing personalization as a daunting, far-fetched task for your team to accomplish, take smaller steps instead.

Think about your best friendships: they’ve been strong because you’ve learned about one another over time. A relationship with your best readers should be no different. The more you learn about them, the more effective your marketing programs will be.

Personalize or Perish




How Publishers Can Use Digital to Push Print Sales


Publishing revenues may be moving online, but that doesn’t mean print is dead.

In fact, parts of the media industry are moving in the opposite direction and investing in print as complements to their core brands and user experiences. While magazines, on the whole, may be waning in sales and migrating to a digital environment, other types of products continue to remain popular among readers such as textbooks, case studies, companion books, and niche magazines. And as the American Marketing Association points out, even circulation-based magazines are still popular: rather than reaching a broad scale audience, however, it’s the most engaged buyers who are continuing to read them.

The bottom line is that print is an untapped revenue opportunity for today’s media companies. Instead of aiming to reach a mass market audience, however, publishers need to double down on initiatives that introduce new and loved media products to the market. Here’s how publishers can use their digital environments to promote products that readers can engage with offline.

Use Online Data to Come Up With Print Product Ideas

One of the biggest assets available to media companies is data. In building an audience, publishers have access to a wealth of insight into their readers’ content consumption patterns. Often, publishers use this information to build more effective advertising products and to generate more web traffic.

But the industry very well understands that display ad revenue is on the decline, which means that ‘more of the same’ is far from sustainable as a long-term business strategy.

To remain popular among their readers and prepare themselves for a radically different media ecosystem, media companies need to think bigger in bringing new products to market. The good news? Publishers aren’t startups: they’re established companies with existing audiences—a portion of whom will become customers.

Here are some ways that publishers can use data to come up with product ideas:

  • Examine popular content, analyze themes, and come up with potential content-based products.
  • Administer a website-wide sample survey to ask readers what types of products or premium content that they would like to purchase.
  • Build a product as an experiment and see how it performs as a one-off by running Facebook experiments and promoting it site-wide.

Use Inbound Marketing to Build a Scalable, Repeatable Conversion Funnel

Even for media companies with large audiences, products won’t sell themselves. Marketers at publishing brands need to pay careful attention to their readers’ decision cycles and craft campaigns that deliver the right message to the right audiences at the right time.

The rationale makes sense: when readers visit a website for the first time through search or social, they’re in the mood to learn—not to make a purchase necessarily. They may need some time to learn about a particular product and become convinced that it is the right fit for their needs. That’s where the inbound methodology enters your marketing equation.

HubSpot developed this methodology in 2006, as a way to help translate relationship-building patterns from an offline environment into the digital world.  Instead of archaic ‘outbound’ marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound focuses on creating quality content that pulls  audiences where they naturally want to be. By aligning website content with the products that audiences want to purchase, whether online or offline, media companies can build a more consistent sales pipeline that you can monitor and optimize over time.

Here are some steps that media companies can take, using inbound, to push more audiences to print products:

  • Build awareness of print products through social media accounts that engaged readers are likely to be following and monitoring consistently. Ensure that this type of promotion encompasses a balance of valuable educational content and product pitches. Here’s a guide to creating a social media strategy that can help.
  • Offer gated sneak peaks to print products so that readers can preview a piece of content before deciding to make a purchase. Create a drip campaign with partial content so that audiences can take some time, over the course of reading several emails, to make a purchase decision. Here’s a guide to creating an effective lead generation strategy from the ground up.
  • Include smart content with a clear call to action (CTA) that makes readers on-site aware of products that are available for purchase. Tailor these resources to specific audience segments based on prior segmentation or persona work that took place during product development processes. Align your content to the right audiences to ensure relevancy and higher conversion rates, as a result. Provide sneak previews and allow audiences to ‘try before they buy’ by signing up for an email list. Here’s a guide to smart content to help you get started.

Final Thoughts

Media companies are in a prime position to develop content products, and print is a valuable, underutilized channel. If you think print is dead, think again: digital audiences are still craving books, resources, and information to help them make the most out of their time offline. Figure out what they need, and build it. Develop a marketing strategy that allows you to do what you do best–building an audience–to craft a new line of business.

Personalize or Perish

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Personalize or Perish: The Definitive Guide to Personalization for Digital Publishers [New Ebook]


Readers are being bombarded by more and more content each and every day. This overwhelming volume of articles, videos, status updates, and more is causing audiences to bounce faster from websites, click “delete” immediately on emails, and use any method available to tune our the noise.

At the same time,  reliable sources of content distribution are becoming increasingly important for publishers, as spam filters grow more powerful, ads are blocked, and social media becomes a pay-to-play channel. So what can publishers do to earn the reader attention and engagement they so desperately need to drive revenue? 

It’s easy for readers to glance over emails that make them feel like “just another name on an email list.” Or leave a website that’s littered with far too many irrelevant options. But when it feels like a newsletter was curated just for you, or a website had the exact link you were looking for—that’s what keeps people engaged for longer. 

Audience segmentation and personalization can make one-to-many communications feel more personal, while simultaneously offering greater value to a larger number of readers.

To help you learn more about audience segmentation and personalization, we teamed up with BrightInfo to write Personalize or Perish, the definitive guide on how publishers can:

  • Collect better unified audience data across websites, events, emails, and more
  • Build audience segments specific to internal or external offerings
  • Communicate unique messages out to these segments via email and on-site content

Ready to learn more?

>> You can download the full ebook here

Personalize or Perish




The Loss of Content Distribution: What’s Happening and What Media Companies Can Do


Media companies are beginning to experience something that is akin to a hypothetical zombie apocalypse. As the Internet becomes more mainstream and global, with new populations and devices making their way online, web traffic is waning. There are many newcomers to the digital media market: brands are creating content to promote loyalty and engage their audiences. Independent writers are launching blogs and building their own followings. Audience fragmentation is the new norm, and media companies are struggling to hold on to their audiences.

Meanwhile, the loss of content distribution is inevitable. Technology ecosystems are becoming more mature, and digital audiences have more options than ever when determining where to invest their attention. Media companies shouldn’t fight these natural market forces: instead, they should prepare themselves for inevitable changes that are about to take place. Here’s how.

Come Up with a Long-Term Plan and Strategy

Whatever you do, don’t consider your company immune to the loss of content distribution. Keep in mind that a new, independent publisher may spring up at any time to sweep in and divert your audience’s attention.

Instead of trying to fight these market forces, figure out how you can build upon your approach to make improvements. Come up with a long-term plan and strategy for your business that covers the following areas:

  • Alternative monetization streams that introduces your media company’s creative value proposition to new markets (i.e. maybe you’ll launch a creative consulting arm like T Brand Studio at The New York Times, which is the media leader’s internal agency).
  • Content products that provide additional layers of monetization (Like HBR’s online store with books, case studies, tools, collections, and magazine issues).
  • Events that bring together your most engaged audiences in an educational forum (like FastCompany’s Innovation Festival).
  • Formal programs that improve community-building and loyalty (like Slate’s vibrant commenting platform).

As enticing as short-term traffic generations may seem, don’t let temptation get in the way of your better instincts. Understand that the long-term needs prioritization now, as the media ecosystem is only going to become more competitive. User behavior data, personalization, and segmentation are becoming increasingly important to publishers’ monetization equations.

Focus on Subtle Optimizations that Make an Immediate Impact

In addition to prioritizing the big picture, it’s important to focus on initiatives that will move the needle and start generating value
now. Media companies are under extreme pressure to carve out new revenue streams with the resources that they already have on hand: they may not have the flexibility to invest in experimental initiatives.

But there are a few low-hanging opportunities to generate a win. And these wins can ultimately fund new research and discovery efforts, giving your media company a lot more flexibility to generate new sources of value. Here are some steps to take:

Make more out of your email lists: Take the time to segment your lists, understand engagement patterns, and pinpoint your most loyal readers. Use this data to create new advertising offerings for your company. Double down on creating great email campaigns in the form of newsletters, exclusive offers, and interesting content.

Use smart calls to action (CTAs): When crafting CTAs, particularly for advertising campaigns, make sure that you focus the subtleties. In other words, you’ll want to reach the right audiences with the right messaging at the right time in their content consumption journeys. As you’re well-aware, this process is easier said than done. That’s why you’ll want to take the preliminary work that you’ve done with your email list to start crafting a segmentation strategy.

Increase on-site engagement: Find ways to keep audiences on your website, longer. A simple way to get started? Create a strong content recommendation system with related articles. Chances are that if someone is researching a topic, he or she will want to read more. Take advantage of the fact that you’ve piqued your audience’s interesting by continuing to deliver more relevant content and creating the most engaging experience possible. Along the way, you’ll create more value for your advertisers by identifying your most popular website elements, themes, and community features.

Uncover Alternative Sources of Revenue

Media companies need to diversify their revenue.

No matter how advanced you are in your strategy, now is an invaluable time to get started in your process. Pay attention to ways that other publishers are introducing new revenue streams. Consider offering courses, premium content, or subscription-only features. Offer sponsored webinars, native ads, and email newsletter offerings. Continuously find new ways to uncover alternative resource of revenue. The engagement-drivers outlined earlier in this article are a good starting point. Pay attention to the following:

  • Organic activity
  • Feature requests from audiences
  • Popular themes and topics
  • Strategic opportunities for advertisers

These four touch points will help you uncover ideas for new products and mechanisms to better engage your audiences. The key is to develop monetization streams around your most engaged audiences and their preferences. This way, you’ll ensure that your revenue streams have an instant customer base.

The Bottom Line

Stop focus on mass-market audiences. Instead, focus on making more out out of your existing audiences. Build products that they’re seeking out, and provide recommendations for more content. Stop fighting an uphill audience-building battle around casting your net wide and reaching mass-market audiences.

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From Email Metrics to Inbound Marketing: Taking Advertising Options to the Next Level

Stairs.pngWhen it comes to email marketing, one of the biggest challenges that media companies face today is the ability to translate insight into action. The reason? When publishers deploy email campaigns, it’s usually to deliver some value to the advertising side of the business. There may be partners who are sponsoring newsletters, or marketing teams may be looking for added-value ways to drive more traffic to display ads.

But these systems are quickly losing their efficacy. The media industry is in flux, programmatic ad revenues are declining, and revenue teams are struggling to find new sources of profitability. They’re carving out new products for advertisers (i.e. native ads), launching creative monetization channels, and even building their own ecommerce platforms. They’re also repurposing their existing assets, like their in-house creative teams, into services-based revenue arms.

Within this context, email is a low-hanging area of opportunity that’s universally accessible to almost every media company. In addition to delivering content to and engaging audiences, this channel is an invaluable source of data that can be repurposed into new revenue initiatives. Email is one of the most direct ways for organizations to reach their audiences on a 1:1 basis, which means that it is a rich source of information for research and new product development.

3 steps to Translate Your Advertiser Data into Additional Sources of Value

1) Uncover Your Most Valuable Audiences

Connections are the currency of digital media today. Advertisers and audiences alike are looking for deeper, more positive interactions from their networks online. But it can be tough to differentiate a substantive connection from a superficial one when your success metrics are limited to pageviews, time on site, and bounce rates. That’s where email enters the picture.

Media companies can identify their most engaged audiences through their email subscriber lists. Who’s opening newsletters regularly? What content are these individuals reading? Are they clicking on ads?

The answers to these questions will give you the insights you need to generate more advertiser value. At a basic level, you can change your advertisers a premium for reaching your most engaged audiences. You can also develop and deploy custom campaigns that meet a very specific marketing goal. Because you’ll likely be marketing to the same engaged user base at multiple touch points, you’ll also create more predictability in terms of the ROI that you can expect to deliver to your advertisers.

It pays to identify—and market to—your most engaged audiences.

2) Create a Comprehensive Conversion Picture

Your email marketing data exists as part of an ecosystem with your social, mobile, and web analytics. When evaluating engagement with your newsletter, make sure that you look at the overall picture: how audiences are moving between channels and how these engagement patterns translate into results for advertisers.

This information can help your company create unique targeting and campaign concepts that stand apart from other media companies. One compelling example to model here is BuzzFeed. This publisher has created a unique UX that it uses to deliver custom native ad products. And because its model is so tailored to its content and audiences, the company is able to predict and replicate results. The company’s secret? It’s no secret at all—it’s data from its massive inventory of engaging content.

Think of your media experience as a puzzle. As important as email marketing data is, it’s only part of the overall picture. Know how everything fits together into one comprehensive conversion picture.

3) Focus on Optimizations

In addition to helping build new products and revenue streams, your email marketing data can also help you improve upon what’s already working. Use your email marketing data to study engagement on a granular level. What pieces of content are your audiences finding most helpful? How much time are they spending with it? On which social channels are your subscribers sharing your content, and how much traction is it getting?

Use this information to optimize the already-successful programs that you have in place for your advertiser programs. For instance, you could:

  • Use your newsletter data to recommend content topics for your advertisers’ native ad campaigns
  • Build additional targeted email lists
  • Add more granularity to your audience segments
  • Make improvements to your messaging
  • Trigger workflows

Share this optimization data with your advertisers, and they’ll be blown away. In a media world where the majority of publishers are still dependent on clicks and eyeballs, you’ll be well positioned to offer something different and of value.

Last But Not Least

If you’re not sure where to get started or how to fully utilize your email marketing data, talk to your advertisers. Ask what solutions and optimizations they’d like to see on the market. Take this information, and evaluate where your own email marketing data fits into the picture. After all, the industry is learning, growing, and evolving together.

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Unifying Your Database to Increase Event Registration: Essential Tips


Events are some of the biggest opportunities in media today. Just take a look at companies like O’Reilly and FastCompany that thrive on their abilities to unite crowds together. With a global, worldwide audience, media companies are in a great position to take their brand-building platform to the next level and introduce new revenue streams.

That’s where event marketing enters the picture: it’s the perfect complement to a relationship-focused inbound strategy because it unites a company’s most engaged audiences. Not to mention, as a media company, you have many different distribution opportunities at your disposal. Take a look at this list of 8 tips for getting your event trending on Twitter, as an example.

The beauty of event marketing, however, is also the media industry’s biggest challenge. Until recently, the space has been about reach, not in-depth connections. But more and more, both advertisers and readers are recognizing the benefits of personalized media experiences. While many publishers have massive lists and high website visitor counts, they have little depth of information available. Who exactly are your most engaged readers? This question is deceptively challenging to answer.

In addition to providing a new revenue stream, events also provide a valuable opportunity for media companies to streamline their data. Your event attendees are a subset of your most valuable audience, which means that you can use this group to kickstart any personalization or segmentation initiatives as they relate to your in-house marketing strategy and advertising bundles. Use this checklist to help ensure that your bases are covered:


  • Understand who you’re selling to. What are the psychographic characteristics of your most engaged audiences? What are their business pain points, and what made them reach out to your business in the first place?
  • Understand their sales and decision cycles when they’re evaluating new products and services. Don’t expect them to be chained to an antiquated idea of a conversion funnel. Get to know how this group makes decisions so that you can piece together your most impactful value proposition to advertisers (and readers, too).
  • Figure out any gaps in the market. When audiences register for a conference, you have a prime opportunity to collect additional details. What products and services are your most engaged audiences seeking out but missing? This market intelligence data can help you develop more effective advertising products—maybe even in tandem with your advertisers.
  • Start building your segmentation strategy. Event marketing can be a great way to start building a segmentation strategy. Just think about the details that you’ve always wished you were collecting. Start piecing this puzzle together with your event registrations.
  • Once you get some basic segmentation building blocks in place, start testing smart CTAs. As segmentation and personalization become more of a strategic priority for marketers, you’ll want to make sure that you have your bases covered.  Understand who is visiting your website, opening your email, and re-engaging with your brand? Determining the characteristics of your most engaged audiences will be a great place to start.

Data Collection & Execution:

At this point in your marketing strategy, you’ll be ready to start making real changes to your marketing database. You’ll want to make sure that with your event registration process, you’re tracking data points that translate into action. Examples of variables that you’ll want to track in your database include:

  • Website elements that move the needle in terms of sales. You can use this information to fine-tune your messaging. Take a look at the pages on your website that audiences are browsing, for instance, when deciding what sessions to attend at your event.
  • Collect demographic data. Chances are, you already have this information in your analytics software. Try to understand who your audiences are.
  • See how your database behaves off-email and off-website. Ad networks like Facebook and Twitter are more than just channels for pushing marketing messages. They’re also platforms to collect audience data and to see how your most engages lists interact with the world outside of your platform. Use this information to further strengthen your marketing database: long-term, you’ll deliver more focused, cross-platform value to advertisers as a result.

Extra Resources:

At the end of the day, paths forward will vary from company to company. What’s important is that all of these paths are tracked in one place. That’s why we’ve compiled a final list of resources to help you unify your database for your event marketing campaigns. Here are some helpful materials to help guide your search.

This refresher on ‘what is marketing automation’, so that you can always remember to keep the bigger picture of your engagement goals (and advertising campaigns) in check towards a bigger marketing purpose.

This collection of case studies, which break down the different ways that audiences are using inbound to build segmentation strategies and improve upon their lists. Check out write-ups from different industries (for added inspiration), or look at media-specific examples. Some highlights:

For additional information on how a unified database can help you drive up ad revenue, check out our ebook Your Database Sucks

Famous Last Words

When it comes to working with data, it can be very easy to end up in perpetual exploration mode. Don’t distract yourself, and always stay focused on the revenue goals that you want to achieve with your event registration strategy. Unifying your database will be an invaluable first step towards your biggest value proposition as a media company yet.

By starting small, you’ll be able to optimize the mechanics of your inbound strategy and find new ways to deliver value to advertisers. Let inbound help you achieve your big plans, and let event registrations be the place to start optimizing your database.

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How to Generate More Revenue from Advertisers in 2016

stacksonstacks.pngIt’s a fundamental question that all top media companies are facing in 2016—and a topic that many publishers are struggling to face head-on: ‘how in the world can we continue to grow as a business with traditional advertising decline in value?’

This question is tough to answer: media companies are all struggling to find new sources of revenue in an increasingly fragmented audience ecosystem. High-demand, valuable readers are spread thin. The days of ‘cast your net wide’ are approaching their end, as ‘niche’ becomes the holy grail of all digital marketing. 

To see where you stack up against your fellow advertisers, check out this research on 2016 Publisher Benchmarks. The key trend that you’ll see? Across the board, media companies are looking to innovate. The good news: the majority of these companies are still in exploratory mode and chiseling away to find new opportunities for growth. Here are some ideas for ways that media companies can outsmart the crowd and generate more revenue from advertisers in 2016:

1) Give Advertisers and Audiences More of What They Both Want: Curated Connections 

This lesson comes straight from the New York Times: check out this behind the scenes account of the media leader’s new revenue powerhouse, T Brand Studio, which evolved from a business experiment into a core strategic initiative within a few short years. 

What’s so interesting about T Brand Studio?

First and foremost, it’s a dramatic departure from traditional advertising models: it’s an internal agency for companies that want to develop their own custom content.

Recognizing the demand for high-quality branded content, The New York Times has acted quickly to keep up with the demands of the market—to create a mechanism to help advertisers build powerful, lasting, and memorable bonds with their audiences.

As a media company, you’re in a position to facilitate powerful relationships between advertisers and your core readership. Think like the New York Times, and find the shortest path through strong content.

2) Understand the Hidden Forces that Stop You From Monetizing

There’s a clear culprit here: ad blocking.

Studies over the last few years have recognized an uptick in audiences choosing to ignore advertisements. As technology improves, readers in the digital universe are becoming more empowered to take control of their own media experiences—and as a publisher, you should be helping them along the way. 

Take a step back to figure out why your audiences might be using ad blocking software in the first place. Are your banner ads too obtrusive? Are marketing messages irrelevant? Take the time to uncover the ‘story behind the story’ by digging into these questions. 

Ad blocking is a relatively new topic for many media companies, so don’t be worried if you aren’t sure where to get started. Here are a few helpful resources to get you started:

Pro tip: don’t worry about ad blocking itself. Instead, focus on the trends at large–the fact that audiences want more control over their reading experiences. Study the underlying motivations, so that you can ensure that your advertisers are always in a position to add value. Brand-to-reader connections should never be obtrusive.

When audiences love your messaging, ads stop feeling like ads. This value proposition, to advertisers, is priceless.

 3) Diversity Your Packages

Find creative ways to offer new value to advertisers and audiences. Look beyond your articles and even your website for revenue: media companies are in a unique position to offer expertise. Create bundled tutorials, webinars, or in-depth ebooks. Test out options to see what your audiences are willing to buy.

The best way to develop your own strategy is to study ideas from your fellow publishers. Here are a few ideas:

The list goes on. Media companies have infinite resources at their disposal: content and audiences are valuable building blocks. Not sure where to get started? Think back to the New York Times example in the first part of this blog post. Get your creative teams involved, and collaborate on how to add value.

Advertisers are looking for ways to be different and make a true impact. Stand out by offering a truly custom offering.

Last But Not Least

Make a commitment to start segmenting. The competition for audience attention is fierce, and you need to find a way to make a bigger impact with your target audience. The solution here is to get granular, and offer your advertisers a way to be more visible.

Don’t throw a link into an email and hope for magic. Stop blasting your audiences with one-sized-fits all messaging. Find a reason for your readers to pay attention. Your value to advertisers will follow suit (and increase exponentially as a result).

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How to Use Smart Content to Take Advertisements to the Next Level


Every publisher wants to stand out from the crowd, but the days of one-size-fits-all content creation are over. The reason why? Content marketing is a double-edged sword. As companies realize that it works, they want to invest in it more—which means that there’s more information being published on the Internet than ever before.

Some media companies are responding and trying to outsmart the crowd by producing more content, generating more listicles, and writing more ‘quick wins’ and listicles. But keep in mind: many consumers view these actions as noise. The tech savvy ones, especially, will see more and just get annoyed. Their screening criteria is also becoming stricter: according to one stat, human beings have an attention spans worse than goldfish, according to Microsoft (seriously: check it out—it’s a cool study).

That’s why smart content is so important. It’s also a powerful value proposition for advertisers who are looking to reach the right audiences with the right messaging at the right time. The view counts and packaging options for ad placements that you already have are great, but personalization factors can really take your efforts to the next level. Here are 3 simple steps and pointers to guide you. 

And before you keep reading: not sure what ‘smart content’ means? Check out this definition here.

1) Start By Unifying and Segmenting Your Visitor Data

If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the data you’re collecting. Create a wishlist of the information that you’d want in an ‘ideal marketing world.’ Ask yourself: what information do you need to make your best decisions? What do you have already? Then, take action to bridge the gap: work with your analytics and IT team to create a unified database. Work with your product managers to build data collection into the core product experience. Work smarter, not harder.

By collecting the data you need now (and planning your processes upfront), you’ll minimize the time you’ll need to make adjustments later. In other words, you’ll have a compelling value proposition to your advertisers much faster than your competitors. You’ll also, indirectly, deliver more value to your audiences. By creating more smart content, you’ll better appeal to their needs—delivering more tailored advertising content as a result.

It’s a win-win scenario for everyone. Audiences get great content. Advertisers get access to the right audiences. Media companies provide more value than ever before.

For more on creating a unified database, check out our free ebook: Your Database Sucks.

2) Create More Tailored CTAs

Content ultimately exists in a funnel, with one step leading to the next. Once you master the process of reaching the right audiences, the next steps will be to tailor your CTAs. By seeing the right messages, your audiences (and advertisers’ target customers) will see value propositions that are ideal for them. Again, you create a win-win-win situation in which all parties provide value to the business equation.

Not sure how to create more tailored CTAs? The following steps can help:

  • Interview your audiences to get a general sense of their needs
  • Before running any ad campaign, dig into your database to determine who would find the given advertiser relevant
  • Talk to your advertisers
  • Create win/win scenarios

See a pattern? As a connector, you need to study all sides of the equation so that you know where to best add value. Know what your audiences need, and you’ll come up with better CTAs.

It’s a cycle that great data from step 1 can help you repeat and refine. Bonus: use this information to make your ‘sales’ messaging more refined — drive leads and conversions for events, lead gen offers, webinars, and more.

For some impactful quick tips, take a look at this list of clickable calls to action.

3) Build Dedicated Email Campaigns

If you’re a frequent reader of the HubSpot blog, you know how powerful email marketing is. It’s the single-most direct way to reach customers 1:1. Not to mention, the success of your campaigns depend on the value proposition of your messaging.

Thanks to steps 1 and 2, you’ll have a better idea of what audiences want. Now, you can transform those insights to action and create your most impactful marketing campaigns yet.

Why not start with your lowest hanging opportunity, which is, in all likelihood, your email lists? Improve your email campaigns by the optimizations you’re making on other parts of your site. In other words, you can take the smart content that you’re generating for your email lists and tailor your messaging accordingly. What you’ll have is an impactful initiative with low-hanging value, thanks to your segmentation process from your prior steps.

More importantly, you’ll be able to iterate and make improvements almost immediately by watching the metrics that you’re already tracking in your email marketing and automation software. 

For a helpful guide to smart content in email marketing, check out this resource here.

Final Thoughts

Follow the steps above for smarter content campaigns that knock your fellow media companies out of the park. By building out the process above, you’ll create a cycle of constant improvement and value-add to your audiences and your advertisers. You’ll take your campaigns and content to the next level—all thanks to smart content.

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Getting Inbound Buy-In from Your Media Sales Team


Any marketer will tell you: happy salespeople are the currency of a job well-done. When you bring awesome leads to your account reps, you make their jobs infinitely easier. Instead of weeding through mismatched prospects, they can focus on closing deals with solid fits. This efficiency is especially important in the media world where established sources of revenue are waning, and publishers are needing to get creative in how they’re keeping their businesses alive.

Inbound has the potential to fundamentally change the publishing industry in terms of how media reps sell, in addition to how they generate leads to the products that they’re selling. But still, marketers have a hard time convincing their sales teams to participate in inbound marketing efforts and to sell inbound marketing to advertisers.

Sales leaders would rather focus on familiar terrain that they know works: reaching out to potential prospects on LinkedIn and selling the same advertising solutions for years. But then you hear stories of companies that have lead engines that are 100% inbound. You also hear about publishers like The Next Web that are using their own content as inbound marketing tools—to drive sales to events and courses.

It’s time for a change and for sales teams to help lead the charge.

To demonstrate the value of inbound and get your sales reps participating, you need to show the ROI: in media especially, short-term quick wins are fizzling out. Account reps need to focus on building lasting prospect-and audience connections. Here’s how to convince your sales team that inbound is worth their while:

1) Demystify Inbound

Banner ads are easy to sell and implement because they represent a very simple model: click in, click out, make purchase. When it comes to tracking the ROI of content, however, the path is much less clear.

For one, audiences follow a series of complex interactions en route to the path to sale. Try to show your media account reps a diagram, and they’ll be instantly confused.

But you know it works.

Instead of getting bogged down with marketing mechanics, explain the dynamics you’re observing in terms of common sense. Tell a powerful, human story—that people need to do their research before committing to a purchase decision. Point your sales team to key leaders like Rishi Dave, CMO of Dun and Bradstreet, who put it eloquently: “today’s buyer is entirely research driven.”

Inbound is where all internal team conversations should converge. Not to mention, when sales reps practice inbound themselves, they’ll do a better job selling its value proposition to advertisers.

2) Help Connect the Dots

This bullet point speaks specifically do sponsored content campaigns.

Keep in mind that you, Ms. Marketer, might be a native ads expert. Your sales reps, however. They’ve likely never run a marketing campaign in their lives. Given that sponsored content is a new business area, the topic is also difficult to explain.

If you want sales teams to sell inbound, you need to help them speak to audiences of marketers, just like you. Here are some ways that you can help:

  • Define the stage of your marketing funnel that your ad products are targeting and explain, in plain English, how they work
  • Listen in on a few sales calls and chime in with specific marketing expertise
  • Create sales enablement and one-sheets that speak to the value of your sponsored content campaigns
  • Help establish clarity around value-based pricing, how long campaigns should run, and how results will be measured in terms of viewed, leads, and customers
  • Check out our Ebook, “Why Publishers Need to Think Like Marketers” 

Lay out clear selling points around inbound for your company’s target customers. Help coach your sales teams around marketing-speak.

3) Provide Examples

Your company’s prospects and customers want stories and hard facts, not theories about ‘new marketing trends.’ Fortunately, inbound has been around for a few years, so there are plenty of resources to help. If you’re looking for inbound success stories, take a look at HubSpot’s success stories. You can point your advertisers to this page directly, to explain the mechanics of inbound campaigns.

Remember that success will vary from industry to industry, so you’ll want to make sure that your stories are relatable to your audience’s specific needs. The more tangible you are, the more likely sales teams and prospects will be to listen to your case.

4) Consult on Packages for Advertisers

As a marketer, you’re in the best position to empathize with the needs of your company’s target customer. Just like the prospects who cross paths with your sales team, you’re in the customer acquisition and retention trenches—every day.

So don’t lurk in the backgrounds.

Listen in on sales calls and recommend packages for your sales reps to sell (and upsell). Offer suggestions and examples for ways that your team can bundle inbound marketing options into your advertiser programs. Make sure that you factor in the metrics that your sales team is communicating to advertisers. You’ll want to include the following details:

  • Type of content that your team can create
  • Placement of that content and how it fits into your organic browsing experience
  • Ideal timeframes for a campaign to run
  • The forecasted # of views that campaigns generate
  • Any related email sends
  • Typical costs per lead

Speak in the language of marketers and emphasize your unique value add as a media company. Your prospects will take notice and listen to what you have to offer more closely.

Once You Do Prove the Value of Inbound

New doors will open for your media brand.  You’ll unlock new sources of value and carve out new revenue opportunities. Your persistence is worth it. Keep forging ahead.

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When It Comes to Email Deliverability, Less Is More


A few weeks ago, HubSpot deliberately unsubscribed 250,000 people from its marketing blog and reduced its list from 550,000 to 300,000. Crazy, huh? As you can imagine, we had a lot of anxiety about this test (but forced ourselves to go through with it, anyway).

As it turns out, the decision was a good one. What we found was that ‘trimming the fluff’ improved engagement. Not to mention, we tackled our big ‘graymail’ problem: because HubSpot was sending more than four emails to certain segments per day (and who has time to read that many emails from one company these days?).

Digital media is unchartered territory, and HubSpot had reached an inflection point that few companies are fortunate enough to experience: our audience grew so big that it was actually time to trim down and laser-focus on a core subset. But we didn’t want to jeopardize are web traffic by trimming down our list either.

Long story short: we didn’t lose any web traffic, and we actually improved the quality of our responses from customers, too. It’s a powerful lesson for our company–that less email marketing yields an overall net positive outcome. Here’s how this perspective applies to the world of digital media.

Digital Media Has Historically Been a Numbers Game

It’s always been about website traffic, reach, name, and reputation–in other words, behemoth visibility. But today? Marketers are realizing more and more that ROI comes from precision in targeting. The principle of ‘casting your net wide’ is obsolete: today, the name of the game is ‘reaching the right audiences at the right points of their buyer journeys.’

Digital media companies need to appease two stakeholders: advertisers and audiences. You can’t prioritize one group over the other, and you can’t neglect either set. What both groups want is the same thing: relevant, targeted messaging. It’s the media companies that can deliver this promise that will come out strong. Precision is the value proposition of the future–but many publishers are still stuck in ‘big numbers games of the past.’

Things need to change–which is why publishers are exploring new revenue models that are based on personalization and higher targeting levels. For more information on these strategies, I suggest looking at HubSpot’s 2015 Publisher Benchmarks Report.

So How Does This All Tie Back to Email?

Email marketing is consistently ranked among the highest ROI channels out there. But it’s also getting more and more flooded, with consumers feeling bombarded with information overload.

According to one report, one-third of marketers think that personalization tech will be most important to marketing in the future. With industries moving in this direction, it’s important that media companies keep up. It’s the only way that publishers can (1) stay relevant to digital audiences and (2) deliver ROI to advertisers and other stakeholders.

Email is a high-performing channel because it’s the most direct way for companies to connect with their target audiences. But these same readers are bombarded with so much information that they’re missing key details in your messages.

It’s time to make a change: trim down your list to make every audience interaction count more.

How to Get Started Trimming Your Email List

The process won’t be straightforward. For instance, you won’t want to create a sudden jolt to your audience composition or subscriber base. You want to be methodical and make sure that you’re creating a value-add–not a deficit.

Start by conducting a landscape analysis. Here are some questions that your team should explore when trimming your email list: 

  • Who are your highest engaged audiences and why?
  • What are some reasons why subscribers may be interested in more or fewer emails?
  • What types of email content are your audiences finding most valuable, and why?

With an understanding of this contextual data, and the ability to tie it back to subscriber emails or personal profiles, you’ll be well positioned to ‘do more with your lists’to reduce the headcount of your subscriber base while improving your marketing efficiency.

You’ll want to take this step by establishing specific goals and an action plan around the following:

Develop Subscriber Personas

Most media companies are still blasting their entire lists with the same, one-size-fits-all messaging. But as audiences get bigger, they also become more diverse. It’s critical that publishers pay attention to these different needs and craft email messaging that’s relevant. For a guide to developing subscriber personas, check out this template and guided exercise from HubSpot.

Improve Quality of Email Marketing Content and Ads

It’s common for subscribers to treat their email lists as afterthoughts and add-ons to their core website browsing experiences. But consumers are finding themselves more time strapped and attention spans are shrinking. Email is one of the most powerful ways to maintain a steady, ongoing conversations with audiences. Don’t just throw together any email marketing content or ads: make sure that every word and graphic adds value to your subscribers’ core experiences.

Improve the Substance of your Messaging

This point is key. It’s not only invaluable from a user experience perspective: it will also improve your email deliverability, spam, and complaint rates. As a publisher, you already know thisit pays to have exceptional content. Your email list is no exception to this perspective.

Think Small to Win Big

After reading this blog post, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder what to do. How can you ensure that you have the right plan in place and to get the ball rolling? The answer is simple: focus on making small improvements every day. Begin making subtle improvements now, even if you’re still defining your brand and revenue strategy. Especially with content marketing, the little things add up.

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Publisher Events: The Future of Media Revenue?


As a media company, one of your biggest strengths is your ability to create communities of people. From the comments sections of your articles to videos, meetups, and forums, you are bringing together great minds from many backgrounds and perspectives. Why not extend your value and offer in-person events to complement your content? Here’s why events are great revenue sources for media companies:

  • You’re already collecting data you need to learn what interests your audience
  • Your writing teams regularly conduct interviews with industry leaders who are also speakers
  • Your audiences are hungry to learn from and connect with one another

From FastCompany to The Next Web, countless media leaders have benefited from hosting industry events. And this number will only increase. Our Publishing Benchmarks Report shows that over a third of publishers think events are poised to increase most-in-value as a revenue source over the next two years. To help you get in on the action, we’ve compiled some tips from the best. 

Here’s What You Can Learn From Some of The Most Popular Media Events Today

1) Gigaom’s Structure Data Conference

Takeaway: Diversify your revenue streams beyond events

In March 2015, Gigaom hosted its first-ever ‘pop-up’ data science event in NYC. Partnering with Domino, eBay, VentureBeat, O’Reilly Media and others, the media leader featured thoughtful listening talks to spark conversation around the data, robotics, predictive analytics, machine learning, and model-driven decisions.

The story, however, isn’t what you see at face value–who the event attracted and how it monetized. What’s interesting is what’s untold: in the week leading up to the Structure Data Conference, Gigaom announced that it was closing its doors and at the last minute, secured a media partner to oversee the event. 

Gigaom has long-relied on events to monetize but still ended up out of business. Why? Even though the company had widely publicized and attended events throughout the year, its other business arms (a research consultancy and advertising) just weren’t viable enough to keep the company afloat.

The moral of the story? 

Diversify your revenue investments and ensure that each channel is fully optimized to perform its best. Events are only part of your revenue equation. You’ll need to counterbalance your strategy with other business initiatives, no matter how awesome your events may be.

2) Rosenfeld Media’s Product Management And User Experience Conference

Takeaway: Host a virtual event

Not sure whether your in-person event will monetize or be profitable to run? Get a little practice by hosting a virtual event instead. An example to check out here is Rosenfeld Media, a book publishing company that specializes in research, product, management, and user experience.

Virtual events are especially appealing to B2B audiences who are looking for skill-building opportunities but may not have time to attend an in-person event. The value proposition is also strong for employers who want to invest in training for their teams.

Here’s what makes Rosenfeld Media’s virtual event especially appealing to the company’s target audience:

  • Workshops led by known, expert practitioners within the field of UX
  • A clear value proposition for user experience and product management professionals
  • Access to a library of streaming content and downloadable recordings

The company also optimizes its monetization potential be offering two ticket types: while a $129 ticket is ideal for groups, a $379 ticket gets attendees a ‘group’ or ‘meeting room’ experience. From a buyer’s perspective, these price points are highly cost effective: typically conferences can cost thousands of dollars.

The best part for publishers? While in-person events are often limited in terms of capacity, virtual events are not: a media company could easily accommodate tens of thousands of attendees (for instance, The Lean Startup Conference regularly has thousands of attendees on its livestream). 

3) O’Reilly Media’s Strata Conference

Takeaway: Build a funnel into your other products and services

O’Reilly Media is a role model in revenue diversification. The publishing leader has created multiple streams for monetization including events, countless book series, and instructional videos. 

The beauty of these channels is that they’re funnels into one another. Book sales can help bolster event attendance, and events can help facilitate book sales. It’s a never ending distribution cycle that continues to build upon itself.

Consider O’Reilly’s Strata Conference, one of the most popular and known ‘big data’ events in the world. This forum provides an ideal opportunity for the publisher to sell its data education and technical books. It’s living proof of the power of multiple revenue streams.

O’Reilly Media is a company that has experienced slow, steady, and sustainable growth. Launching as a technical consulting firm in 1978, the company is still thriving: over the years, it has launched many different products and business units, including a VC firm that focuses on software, cleantech, and other trends. The company’s events arm builds a funnel into the organization as a whole.

Get Creative

Your company has many different ways to get into the events business. How do you get started? One low-risk option is to partner with peer companies in your industry. Consider co-hosting established industry players. Start small with one-day options, and grow from there. The beauty of an event is that you can always run another one, so keep learning, growing, and iterating. 

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Resolutions Your Publication Should Make in 2016


No matter what industry you’re in, the first weeks of January always feel like a big storm has hit and passed. In a few weeks, your year is going to start ramping up again, and 2016 will start to feel like a routine. Big projects will start to take off, and you’ll miss those ‘moments between the lines’ that you’ve loved for brainstorming, tinkering, and exploring.

Remember that downtime is cyclic: it won’t last forever. As you begin to ramp up for the new year, don’t look solely at major changes you can make at your company. Focus also on housekeeping, and find subtle ways to accomplish the things that you’ve otherwise been putting off. Many times, these smaller improvements can snowball into larger projects or initiatives.

Here are a few ideas to get you started with both large and small changes for your publication:

1) Get Your Lists in Shape

No matter how engaged your email list might be, your performance benchmarks could still be better. Why? Over time, email lists become clogged machines. Once-active subscribers lose interest, your value proposition starts being relevant, and audiences stop paying attention to your messaging.

No matter what steps you take to course-correct this pattern, you can’t. Instead, you should embrace your shifting audience base and get your lists in shape. Take some basic steps to make sure that you’re working with your cleanest lists possible:

  • Phase out your ‘aged’ non-engaging subscribers
  • Trim down contacts who aren’t essential to your core business (i.e. trim down the fat)
  • Eyeball your segments to make sure that groupings are still relevant and make sense

With your audiences returning from vacation, the beginning of the year is a great time to clean up your lists and make sure that everything is in check.

2) Commit to Sending Fewer Emails

With a new year comes new energy. You might feel many bursts of inspiration, along with a desire to fire off some new email campaigns.

Do yourself a favor and hold back: your audiences don’t share your same enthusiasm. As interested as they might be in your company, their attention spans are spread thin across the hundreds of emails that they’re receiving each day. Instead of sending more messages, make each note count more. Here’s a simple set of exercises to try:

  • Rather than planning out 10 emails to send, figure out 10 creative ways to segment your lists
  • Determine how to make each email more impactful among the segments that you’ve defined
  • A/B test several varations of your newsletter, tweaking both headlines and body content

You might consider reaching out to your customers and subscribers and asking to conduct qualitative interviews. Start by diving deep into the efficacy of your current email campaigns. Figure out what you can do better. For maximum impact, tailor improvements to specific customer segments.

3) Put Mobile First

When it comes to your mobile strategy, the days of comfortable procrastination are over. As of May 2015, Google says that there are now more searches on mobile than on desktop devices.

Consumers are relying on mobile to find critical information, and you can’t afford to lag behind. From your email campaigns to your core browsing experience, you need to ensure a mobile responsive look and feel (at the very least). Focus on your landing pages and newsletter campaigns to start with and use website analytics data to determine where on your site you should focus next.

Mobile may be mainstream, but it’s not too late to get ahead of the curve and develop an amazing mobile experience. The beginning of 2016 is a great time to prioritize mobile as a core part of your strategic vision. 

4) Go on the Offense Against Ad Blockers

For the last several years, ad blockers have been on the rise. Publishers are well-aware of this fact: according to one report, there are now 198 million active adblock users around the world, with publishers losing tens of billions of dollars a year, as a result.

The reason for this trend is simple: consumers have spent years feeling deceived by the advertising industry, and they’re tired of it. For online audiences, time is a valuable asset, and few people want to spend their time x-ing out of unnecessary pop-up windows with irrelevant messaging.

It’s time for publishers to go on the office against ad blockers. But the trick here isn’t to fight this consumer behavior: it’s to embrace it. Instead of forcing audiences to sit through ads that they don’t want to see, focus on diversifying your revenue streams.

If you’re looking for a good resource to point you in the right direction, check out HubSpot’s 2015 Publisher Benchmarks Report. Cliff notes: the media industry is going through significant change, and it’s a great time to innovate. Print is on its way out, new tech adoption is on the rise, and publishers are exploring revenue options beyond subscriptions.

The beginning of 2016 is a great time to sit back and brainstorm alternative ways to monetize. Think about education products that you can create, webinars you can host, events that you can organize, and creative ways that your media company can deliver value to both audiences and advertisers.

Get Moving

What these New Year’s resolutions share in common is that they’re all long-term: you’ll need more than early January to implement these major audience engagement initiatives. The point is that you need to get started. Time flies, and it will be 2017 in no time.

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