Amid pandemic, Middle East adtech startups play essential role in business growth

The pandemic’s impact on the business world encouraged adtech startups and digital marketing agencies to collaborate more, helping brands survive the pandemic by bringing businesses closer to consumers.

Although overall spending on advertising slowed in 2020, it is expected to recover in 2021 and reach $630 billion in 2024. According to Statista, North America spends the most on advertising, with second place going to Asia and Western Europe. The rest of Europe, Africa and the Middle East lag behind.

Although overall spending on advertising slowed in 2020, it is expected to recover in 2021 and reach $630 billion in 2024.

However, the Middle East embodies great potential. According to Statista, it boasts the highest growth, with a 600% increase in digital advertising in the MENA region between 2010 and 2015. Although consumers in the region used to prefer traditional advertising channels, the internet took over in 2020, with 44.2% of the total ad expenditures, while TV dropped to 30%.

Here are several essential characteristics of digital advertising in the Middle East region:

  1. According to a PwC report, 39% of shoppers in the Middle East use social media to find inspiration for purchases, compared to the global average of 29%.
  2. Due to the existence of a shadow economy, political regulations and unofficial business, the amount of digital ad spending in the MENA region ranged from $1 billion to $1.2 billion in 2020.
  3. Paid social is the leading category in digital advertising expenditures in the MENA region. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the largest in terms of active YouTube users.
  4. There are more than 500 digital agencies listed in the region. UAE is leading in terms of big advertising agencies, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia are famous for small- and medium-size agencies. Most digital marketing talent and creative resources reside in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, while most adtech startups are born in Israel, UAE and Qatar, according to digital marketing consultant Yasser Ahmad.
  5. E-commerce is driving growth, hitting $17 billion in the Middle East in 2020, according to Statista, with many online shoppers increasing the frequency of purchases during the pandemic.

#adtech, #advertising-tech, #column, #digital-marketing, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-market-map, #middle-east, #online-advertising, #social-media, #tc

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Argentina’s Digital House raises over $50M to help solve LatAm’s tech talent shortage

Digital House, a Buenos Aires-based edtech focused on developing tech talent through immersive remote courses, announced today it has raised more than $50 million in new funding.

Notably, two of the main investors are not venture capital firms but instead are two large tech companies: Latin American e-commerce giant Mercado Libre and San Francisco-based software developer Globant. Riverwood Capital, a Menlo Park-based private equity firm, and existing backer early-stage Argentina-based venture firm Kaszek also participated in the financing.

The raise brings Digital House’s total funding raised to more than $80 million since its 2016 inception. The Rise Fund led a $20 million Series B for Digital House in December 2017, marking the San Francisco-based firm’s investment in Latin America.

Nelson Duboscq, CEO and co-founder of Digital House, said that accelerating demand for tech talent in Latin America has fueled demand for the startup’s online courses. Since it first launched its classes in March 2016, the company has seen a 118% CAGR in revenues and a 145% CAGR in students. The 350-person company expects “and is on track” to be profitable this year, according to Duboscq.

Digital House CEO and co-founder Nelson Duboscq. Image Credits: Digital House

In 2020, 28,000 students across Latin America used its platform. The company projects that more than 43,000 will take courses via its platform in 2021. Fifty percent of its business comes out of Brazil, 30% from Argentina and the remaining 20% in the rest of Latin America.

Specifically, Digital House offers courses aimed at teaching “the most in-demand digital skills” to people who either want to work in the digital industry or for companies that need to train their employees on digital skills. Emphasizing practice, Digital House offers courses — that range from six months to two years — teaching skills such as web and mobile development, data analytics, user experience design, digital marketing and product development.

The courses are fully accessible online and combine live online classes led by in-house professors, with content delivered through Digital House’s platform via videos, quizzes and exercises “that can be consumed at any time.” 

Digital House also links its graduates to company jobs, claiming an employability rate of over 95%.

Looking ahead, Digital House says it will use its new capital toward continuing to evolve its digital training platforms, as well as launching a two-year tech training program — dubbed the the “Certified Tech Developer” initiative — jointly designed with Mercado Libre and Globant. The program aims to train thousands of students through full-time two-year courses and connect them with tech companies globally. 

Specifically, the company says it will also continue to expand its portfolio of careers beyond software development and include specialization in e-commerce, digital marketing, data science and cybersecurity. Digital House also plans to expand its partnerships with technology employers and companies in Brazil and the rest of Latin America. It also is planning some “strategic M&A,” according to Duboscq.

Francisco Alvarez-Demalde, co-founder & co-managing partner of Riverwood Capital, noted that his firm has observed an accelerating digitization of the economy across all sectors in Latin America, which naturally creates demand for tech-savvy talent. (Riverwood has an office in São Paulo).

For example, in addition to web developers, there’s been increased demand for data scientists, digital marketing and cybersecurity specialists.

“In Brazil alone, over 70,000 new IT professionals are needed each year and only about 45,000 are trained annually,” Alvarez-Demalde said. “As a result of such a talent crunch, salaries for IT professionals in the region increased 20% to 30% last year. In this context, Digital House has a large opportunity ahead of them and is positioned strategically as the gatekeeper of new digital talent in Latin America, preparing workers for the jobs of the future.”

André Chaves, senior VP of Strategy at Mercado Libre, said the company saw in Digital House a track record of “understanding closely” what Mercado Libre and other tech companies need.

“They move as fast as we do and adapt quickly to what the job market needs,” he said. “A very important asset for us is their presence and understanding of Latin America, its risks and entrepreneurial environment. Global players have succeeded for many years in our region. But things are shifting gradually, and local knowledge of risks and opportunities can make a great difference.”

#brazil, #digital-house, #digital-marketing, #e-commerce, #education, #funding, #fundings-exits, #globant, #latin-america, #marketing, #menlo-park, #mercado-libre, #mercadolibre, #online-courses, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #rise-fund, #riverwood-capital, #san-francisco, #software-development, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-firms, #web-developers

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In freemium marketing, product analytics are the difference between conversion and confusion

The freemium marketing approach has become commonplace among B2C and B2B software providers alike. Considering that most see fewer than 5% of free users move to paid plans, even a slight improvement in conversion can translate to significant revenue gains. The (multi) million-dollar question is, how do they do it?

The answer lies in product analytics, which offer teams the ability to ask and answer any number of questions about the customer journey on an ad-hoc basis. Combined with a commitment to testing, measurement and iteration, this puts data in the driver’s seat and helps teams make better decisions about what’s in the free tier and what’s behind the paywall. Successful enterprises make this evaluation an ongoing exercise.

Often, the truth of product analytics is that actionable insights come from just a fraction of the data and it can take time to understand what’s happening.

Sweat the small stuff

A freemium business model is simply a set of interconnected funnels. From leads all the way through to engagement, conversion and retention, understanding each step and making even small optimizations at any stage will have down-funnel implications. Start by using product analytics to understand the nuances of what’s working and what isn’t, and then double down on the former.

For example, identify specific personas that perform well and perform poorly. While your overall conversion average may be 5%, there can be segments converting at 10% or 1%. Understanding the difference can shine a light on where to focus. That’s where the right analytics can lead to significant results. But if you don’t understand what, why and how to improve, you’re left with guesswork. And that’s not a modern way of operating.

There’s a misconception that volume of data equals value of data. Let’s say you want to jump-start your funnel by buying pay-per-click traffic. You see a high volume of activity, with numbers going up at the beginning of your funnel and a sales team busy with calls. However, you come to learn the increased traffic, which looked so promising at the outset, results in very few users converting to paid plans.

Now, this is a story as old as PPC, but in the small percentage that do convert, there’s a lot to learn about where to focus your efforts — which product features keep users hooked and which ones go unused. Often, the truth of product analytics is that actionable insights come from just a fraction of the data and it can take time to understand what’s happening. Getting users on board the free plan is just the first step in conversion. The testing and iteration continue from there.

The dropped and the languished

Within the free tier, users may languish — satisfied with whatever features they can access. If your funnel is full of languishing users, you’ve at least solved the adoption problem, so why are they stuck? Without a testing and tracking approach, you’ll struggle to understand your users and how they respond, by segment, to changes.

#column, #customer-experience, #digital-marketing, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-how-to, #product-management, #saas, #startups, #tc

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Text marketing startup Voxie raises $6.7M

Like many startups, Atlanta-based Voxie was created to solve a problem that founder and CEO Bogdan Constantin faced himself.

In Constantin’s case, this was at his previous tuxedo rental startup Menguin (ultimately acquired by Generation Tux), where he said he had to market a product with a six-to-nine month sales cycle, as customers were usually weighing different options for their weddings.

Email marketing, Constantin said, would result “worse and worse” open rates over time. So one day, he decided to just try texting everyone who signed up, introducing himself as “your personal stylist here at Menguin.” Not surprisingly, he got a lot more responses.

The challenge, of course, is having those kinds of text conversations across a large customer base. And that’s why Voxie — which is announcing that it has raised $6.7 million in Series A funding — offers tools to help businesses automate and manage that process.

Constantin claimed that compared to other text marketing tools, messages sent via Voxie feel like a real, personalized conversation — even though 80% to 90% are actually automated, with the rest of the messages written by people. Plus, Voxie will allow businesses to send their messages from a normal 10-digit phone number (rather than the more common five-digit numbers used for marketing).

Voxie

Image Credits: Voxie

Voxie was initially built for large enterprise customers, but Constantin said that during the pandemic, the company built a lower-cost version that is now being used by “a lot of retail, restaurant franchise brands, main street brands that are struggling right now.”

He added, “We’re working with brands that have hundreds of locations all over the country that needed a better way to engage their customers — to ask their names, ask how many kids they have and store that information at the individual profile level.”

Current Voxie customers include LG, Danone, Massage Heights and Buff City Soap.

The funding, meanwhile, was led by Noro-Moseley Partners with participation from Circadian Ventures and Engage Ventures, as well as Atlanta entrepreneurs Wain Kellum, Andy Powell, David Cummings and Fred Castellucci.

“Voxie leads the market as the only platform that allows brands to have personalized conversations with customers at scale, which we believe will be key for its target customers to succeed in a post-COVID world,” said Noro Moseley’s John Ale in a statement. “Businesses love Voxie as they see meaningful revenue uplift quickly and the personalization of the content means customers find the messages useful and highly relevant to their needs.”

Next, Constantin said the company will launch “reply to buy” functionality, allowing customers to place orders directly from their text conversations. And while Voxie is currently focused on SMS messaging, he claimed its vision is broader: “We want to deliver the right message at the right time via the right medium.”

#digital-marketing, #noro-moseley-partners, #tc

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Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns

Coronavirus is causing large and small businesses to drastically cut marketing budgets. In Forrester’s self-described “most optimistic scenario,” the analysts project a 28% drop in U.S. marketing spend by the end of 2021. Even Google is cutting its marketing budget in half. As marketers move forward, Forrester predicts marketing automation platforms will grow despite an overall decline in marketing technology investment.

Automation platforms help marketers scale their communications. However, scaling communications is not a substitute for intimacy, which all humans crave. Because of the pandemic, it is harder than ever to get attention, let alone make a connection. More mass email blasts from your marketing automation platform are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave. So how should marketers proceed? Direct mail captures 100% of your audience’s attention. It provides a sensory experience for your prospects and customers, and that helps establish an emotional connection.

Winning marketers are strategically merging automation and digital data with the more intimate channel of direct mail. We call this tactile marketing automation (TMA).

TMA is the integration of direct mail or personalized swag with a marketing automation platform. With TMA, a marketer doesn’t have to think about creating direct mail campaigns outside of digital campaigns. Rather, direct mail experiences are already fully integrated into the pre-built customer journey.

TMA uses intent data to inform content, messaging and the timing of direct mail touchpoints that maximize relevancy and scalability. Multichannel campaigns including direct mail report an ROI 18 percentage points higher than those without direct mail. Plus, 84% of marketers state direct mail improves multichannel campaign performance.

Read on to see how you can merge digital communications and direct mail to deliver remarkable experiences that spark a connection.

Incorporate intent data

Personalization is a key ingredient of a remarkable experience. Many marketers automate processes by introducing marketing software and then call it personalization. But, oftentimes it’s just quicker batching and blasting. Brands can’t just change the first name on a piece of content and call it “personalized.” Real personalization is necessary and vital for real results. Our consumers expect more. The best way to introduce real personalization within a marketing mix is to use intent data and trigger-driven campaigns.

#digital-marketing, #direct-marketing, #ecommerce, #email-marketing, #marketing, #marketing-automation, #online-advertising, #personalization, #startups

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The downfall of ad tech means the trust economy is here

2020 has brought about much-needed social movements. In June, activists launched the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, a call to hold social media companies like Facebook accountable for the hate happening on their platforms.

The idea was to pull advertising spending to wake these social platforms up. More than 1,200 businesses and nonprofits joined the movement, including brands such as The North Face, Patagonia and Verizon. I led my company, Cheetah Digital, to join alongside some of our clients like Starbucks and VF Corp.

Stop Hate for Profit highlighted social media hitting its tipping point. Twitter and Snapchat chose to stand up against hate speech, banning political ads and taking action to flag misinformation. Facebook, unfortunately, has not yet been as proactive, or at best it’s been sporadic in its response.

While many thought the movement would come and go, the reality is it has only just begun. With America conducting arguably its most divisive election in history, these problems won’t just go away. For marketers, Stop Hate for Profit is more than a social movement — it is pointing to an issue with ad tech as a whole.

I believe we are seeing the downfall of ad tech as we know it with social media boycotts and data privacy leading the charge.

The social media quagmire

In May, Forrester released a report titled “It’s OK to Break Up with Social Media” that contained statistics indicating that consumers are fed up with social media: 70% of respondents said they don’t trust social media platforms with their data. Only 14% of consumers believe the information they read on social media is trustworthy. 37% of online adults in the U.S. believe social media does more harm than good.

Here is the reality we need to get back to: Social media isn’t built for marketers to reach consumers. In the beginning of the social media craze, brands rushed to get on board and join the conversations. What many brands discovered is these channels became a platform for customer complaints not for building positive brand perception. Furthermore, the social platforms marketers flocked to as an avenue to reach customers began charging marketers just to get to the customers.

The algorithms that define what content you see unfortunately make it harder for people to see opposing views, and this more than anything else polarizes society further. If you start looking at QAnon content, very soon that’s all the algorithms feed you. You might spend more time on social platforms fueling their ad dollars, but you have also lost a grip on reality. Marketers must admit things have gone too far on social media and it is okay to move on.

Privacy matters

Imagine you are in need of a minor surgery. Perhaps you take an Uber ride to the specialist for a consultation. Next, you go get the surgery and it is successful. Soon you find yourself at home recovering and all is well. That is, until you start scrolling Facebook. Suddenly advertisements pop up for medical malpractice lawyers, but you haven’t told anyone about the surgery and you certainly didn’t post about it on social media.

Here you are, just wanting to rest and recover at home, but instead you are being bombarded by advertisements. So how did those ads get there? You left a digital footprint, your data was sold and now you’re being hit with intrusive ads. To me, this story crystallizes the abuse ad tech has been fostering in the world around us. There’s an utter invasion of privacy and consumers aren’t blind to it.

Data privacy has been a focus of conversation for marketers for several years now. Just this year, America saw the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) go into effect and become enforceable. This legislation gives back control of data to the consumer. In June, Apple announced updates to make it harder for apps and publishers to track location data and use it for ad targeting. At the beginning of August, Meredith and Kroger announced a partnership to provide first-party sales data for advertising efforts in an attempt to move off of cookies. It is clear data privacy is not a fad going away anytime soon.

Where do marketers go from here?

I believe the future of marketing is the trust economy. The Stop Hate for Profit campaign, the invasion of privacy and shifting attitudes and behaviors of consumers point to the end of an era where marketers relied upon third-party data. Trust is now the most impactful economic power, not data. We conducted research earlier this year with eConsultancy, and our findings revealed that 39% of U.S. consumers don’t like personal ads driven from cookie data. People don’t want to be tracked and targeted as they click around the web. Ad tech’s roof is caving in and marketers must adjust.

The old methods of marketing won’t carry you through into the era of the trust economy. It is time to look to new channels and revisit old channels. We have to shift back to the channels where we own what is being said. Advertising on social platforms should be focused on driving consumers to owned channels where you can capture their permissions and data to connect with them directly. Consider email as a channel to focus on.

Don’t worry — it works. That same eConsultancy report found nearly three out of four consumers made a purchase in the last 12 months from an email sent by a brand or retailer and massively outperformed social ads when it came to driving sales. Similarly nine times as many U.S. consumers want to increase their participation in loyalty programs in 2020 than those that want to reduce their involvement. You have to ensure you are owning your data and loyalty programs are a treasure trove of consumer data you own. Emily Collins from Forrester does a good job of explaining why you can achieve this with a true loyalty strategy, not just a rewards program.

Your goal should be to build direct connections to consumers. Building trust means offering a value exchange for data and engagement, not going and buying it from a third-party. Fatemah Khatibloo, a principal analyst for Forrester wrote, “Zero-party data is that which a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. It can include purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognize her.” This zero-party data is foundational for the trust economy and you should check out her advice on how it helps you navigate privacy and personalization.

Take responsibility

The trust economy is really about asking yourself, as a marketer, what you stand for. How do you view your relationship with consumers? Do you care? What kind of relationship do you want? Privacy has to be part of this. Accountability is crucial. We must be accountable to where we are putting our money. It’s time to stop supporting hate, propping up the worst of society and fueling division. Start taking responsibility, caring about social issues and building meaningful relationships with consumers built on trust.

#advertising-tech, #column, #digital-marketing, #facebook, #marketing, #media, #online-advertising, #opinion, #social

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We need universal digital ad transparency now

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Pichai and Mr. Spiegel: We need universal digital ad transparency now!

The negative social impacts of discriminatory ad targeting and delivery are well-known, as are the social costs of disinformation and exploitative ad content. The prevalence of these harms has been demonstrated repeatedly by our research. At the same time, the vast majority of digital advertisers are responsible actors who are only seeking to connect with their customers and grow their businesses.

Many advertising platforms acknowledge the seriousness of the problems with digital ads, but they have taken different approaches to confronting those problems. While we believe that platforms need to continue to strengthen their vetting procedures for advertisers and ads, it is clear that this is not a problem advertising platforms can solve by themselves, as they themselves acknowledge. The vetting being done by the platforms alone is not working; public transparency of all ads, including ad spend and targeting information, is needed so that advertisers can be held accountable when they mislead or manipulate users.

Our research has shown:

  • Advertising platform system design allows advertisers to discriminate against users based on their gender, race and other sensitive attributes.
  • Platform ad delivery optimization can be discriminatory, regardless of whether advertisers attempt to set inclusive ad audience preferences.
  • Ad delivery algorithms may be causing polarization and make it difficult for political campaigns to reach voters with diverse political views.
  • Sponsors spent more than $1.3 billion dollars on digital political ads, yet disclosure is vastly inadequate. Current voluntary archives do not prevent intentional or accidental deception of users.

While it doesn’t take the place of strong policies and rigorous enforcement, we believe transparency of ad content, targeting and delivery can effectively mitigate many of the potential harms of digital ads. Many of the largest advertising platforms agree; Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat all have some form of an ad archive. The problem is that many of these archives are incomplete, poorly implemented, hard to access by researchers and have very different formats and modes of access. We propose a new standard for universal ad disclosure that should be met by every platform that publishes digital ads. If all platforms commit to the universal ad transparency standard we propose, it will mean a level playing field for platforms and advertisers, data for researchers and a safer internet for everyone.

The public deserves full transparency of all digital advertising. We want to acknowledge that what we propose will be a major undertaking for platforms and advertisers. However, we believe that the social harms currently being borne by users everywhere vastly outweigh the burden universal ad transparency would place on ad platforms and advertisers. Users deserve real transparency about all ads they are bombarded with every day. We have created a detailed description of what data should be made transparent that you can find here.

We researchers stand ready to do our part. The time for universal ad transparency is now.

Signed by:

Jason Chuang, Mozilla
Kate Dommett, University of Sheffield
Laura Edelson, New York University
Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University
Michael Franz, Bowdoin College
Archon Fung, Harvard University
Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
Ben Lyons, University of Utah
Gregory Martin, Stanford University
Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College
Nate Persily, Stanford University
Travis Ridout, Washington State University
Kathleen Searles, Louisiana State University
Rebekah Tromble, George Washington University
Abby Wood, University of Southern California

#advertising-tech, #column, #digital-advertising, #digital-marketing, #facebook, #google, #media, #online-advertising, #opinion, #snapchat, #social, #targeted-advertising, #tc, #twitter

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If the ad industry is serious about transparency, let’s open-source our SDKs

Year after year, a lack of transparency in how ad traffic is sourced, sold and measured is cited by advertisers as a source of frustration and a barrier to entry in working with various providers. But despite progress on the protection and privacy of data through laws like GDPR and COPPA, the overall picture regarding ad-marketing transparency has changed very little.

In part, this is due to the staggering complexity of how programmatic and other advertising technologies work. With automated processes managing billions of impressions every day, there is no universal solution to making things more simple and clear. So the struggle for the industry is not necessarily a lack of intent around transparency, but rather how to deliver it.

Frustratingly, evidence shows that the way data is collected and used by some industry players has played a large part in reducing people’s trust in online advertising. This is not a problem that was created overnight. There is a long history and growing sense of consumer frustration with the way their data is being used, analyzed and monetized and a similar frustration by advertisers with the transparency and legitimacy of ad clicks for which they are asked to pay.

There are continuing efforts by organizations like the IAB and TAG to create policies for better transparency such as ads.txt. But without hard and fast laws, the responsibility lies with individual companies.

One relatively simple yet largely spurned practice that would engender transparency and trust for the benefit of all parties (brands, consumers and ad/marketing providers) would be for the industry to come together and have all parties open their SDKs.

Why open-sourcing benefits advertisers, publishers and the ad industry

Open-source software is code that anyone is free to use, analyze, alter and improve.

Auditing the code and adjusting the SDKs functionality based on individual needs is a common practice — and so too are audits by security companies or interested parties who are rightly on the lookout for app fraud. By showing exactly how the code within the SDK has been written, it is the best way to reassure developers and partners that there are no hidden functions or unwanted features.

Everyone using open-source SDKs can learn exactly how it works, and because it is under an open-source license, anyone can suggest modifications and improvements in the code.

Open source brings some risks, but much bigger rewards

The main risk from opening up an SDK code is that third parties will look for ways to exploit it and insert their own malicious code, or else look at potential vulnerabilities to access back-end services and data. However, providers should be on the lookout and be able to fix the potential vulnerabilities as they arise.

As for the rewards, open-sourcing engenders trust and transparency, which should certainly translate into customer loyalty and consumer confidence. After all, we are all operating in a market where advertisers and developers can choose who they want to work with — and on what terms.

Selfishly but practically speaking, opening SDKs can also help companies in our industry protect themselves from others’ baseless claims that are simply intended to promote their products. With open standards, there are no unsubstantiated, false accusations intended for publicity. The proof is out there for everyone to see.

How ad tech is embracing open source

In the ad tech space, companies such as MoPub, Appodeal and AppsFlyer are just a few that have already made some or all of their SDKs available through an open-source license.

All of these companies have decided to use an open-source approach because they recognize the importance of transparency and trust, especially when you are placing the safety and reputation of your brand in the hands of an algorithm. However, the majority of SDKs remain closed.

Relying on forward-thinking companies to set their own transparency levels will only take our industry so far. It’s time for stronger action around trust and data transparency. In the same way that GDPR and COPPA have required companies to address privacy and, ultimately, to have forced a change that was needed, open-sourcing our SDKs will take the ad-marketing space to new heights and drive new levels of trust and deployment with our clients, competitors, legislators and consumers.

The industry-wide challenge of transparency won’t be solved any time soon, but the positive news is that there is movement in the right direction, with steps that some companies are already taking and others can easily take. By implementing measures to ensure brand-safe placements and helping limit ad fraud; improving relationships between brands, agencies, and programmatic partners; and bringing clarity to consumer data use; confidence in the advertising industry will improve and opportunities will subsequently grow.

That’s why we are calling on all ad/marketing companies to take this step forward with us — for the benefit of our consumers, brands, providers and industry at large — to embrace open-source SDKs as the way to engender trust, transparency and industry transformation. In doing so, we will all be rewarded with consumers who are more trusting of brands and brand advertising, and subsequently, brands who trust us and seek opportunities to implement more sophisticated solutions and grow their business.

#advertising-tech, #column, #digital-marketing, #general-data-protection-regulation, #marketing, #online-advertising, #open-source, #open-source-components, #open-source-startups, #opinion, #privacy

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These 3 factors are holding back podcast monetization

Podcast advertising growth is inhibited by three major factors:

  • Lack of macro distribution, consumption and audience data.
  • Current methods of conversion tracking.
  • Idea of a “playbook” for podcast performance marketing.

Because of these limiting factors, it’s currently more of an art than a science to piece disparate data from multiple sources, firms, agencies and advertisers, into a somewhat conclusive argument to brands as to why they should invest in podcast advertising.

1. Lack of macro distribution, consumption and audience data

There were several resources that released updates based on what they saw in terms of consumption when COVID-19 hit. Hosting platforms, publishers and third-party tracking platforms all put out their best guesses as to what was happening. Advertisers’ own podcast listening habits had been upended due to lockdowns; they wanted to know how broader changes in listening habits were affecting their campaigns. Were downloads going up, down or staying the same? What was happening with sports podcasts, without sports?


Read part 1 of this article, Podcast advertising has a business intelligence gap, on TechCrunch.


At Right Side Up, we receive and analyze all of the available research from major publishers (Stitcher, aCast), to major platforms (Megaphone) and third-party research firms (Podtrac, IAB, Edison Research). However, no single entity encompasses the entire space or provides the kind of interactive, off-the-shelf customizable SaaS product we’d prefer, and that digitally native marketers expect. Plus, there isn’t anything published in real-time; most sources publish once or twice annually.

So what did we do? We reached out to trusted publishers and partners to gather data around shifting consumption due to COVID-19 ourselves, and determined that, though there was a drop in downloads in the short term, it was neither as precipitous nor as enduring as some had feared. This was confirmed by some early reports available, but how were we to evidence our own piecewise sample with another? Moreover, how could you invest 6-7 figures of marketing dollars if you didn’t have the firsthand intelligence we gathered and our subject matter experts on deck to make constant adjustments to your approach?

We were able to piece together trends we’re seeing that point to increased download activity in recent months that surpass February/March heights. We’ve determined that the industry is back on track for growth with a less steep, but still growing, listenership trajectory. But even though more recent reports have been published, a longitudinal, objective resource has not yet emerged to show a majority of the industry’s journey through one of the most disruptive media environments in recent history.

There is a need for a new or existing entity to create cohesive data points; a third party that collects and reports listening across all major hosts and distribution points, or “podcatchers,” as they’re colloquially called. As a small example: Wouldn’t it be nice to objectively track seasonal listening of news/talk programming and schedule media planning and flighting around that? Or to know what the demographics of that audience look like compared to other verticals?

What percentage increase in efficiency and/or volume would you gain from your marketing efforts in the channel? Would that delta be profitable against paying a nominal or ongoing licensing or research fee for most brands?

These challenges aren’t just affecting advertisers. David Cohn, VP of Sales at Megaphone, agrees that “full transparency from the listening platforms would make our jobs easier, along with everyone else’s in the industry. We’d love to know how much of an episode is listened to, whether an ad is skipped, etc. Along the same lines, having a central source for [audience] measurement would be ideal — similar to what Nielsen has been for TV.” This would also enable us to understand cross-show ad frequency, another black box for advertisers and the industry at large.

#ad-technology, #advertising-tech, #audience-measurement, #column, #digital-marketing, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #online-advertising, #podcast-advertising, #podcasts, #tc, #verified-experts

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Podcast advertising has a business intelligence gap

There are sizable, meaningful gaps in the knowledge collection and publication of podcast listening and engagement statistics. Coupled with still-developing advertising technology because of the distributed nature of the medium, this causes uncertainty in user consumption and ad exposure and impact. There is also a lot of misinformation and misconception about the challenges marketers face in these channels.

All of this compounds to delay ad revenue growth for creators, publishers and networks by inhibiting new and scaling advertising investment, resulting in lost opportunity among all parties invested in the channel. There’s a viable opportunity for a collective of industry professionals to collaborate on a solution for unified, free reporting, or a new business venture that collects and publishes more comprehensive data that ultimately promotes growth for podcast advertising.

Podcasts have always had challenges when it comes to the analytics behind distribution, consumption and conversion. For an industry projected to exceed $1 billion in ad spend in 2021, it’s impressive that it’s built on RSS: A stable, but decades-old technology that literally means really simple syndication. Native to the technology is a one-way data flow, which democratizes the medium from a publishing perspective and makes it easy for creators to share content, but difficult for advertisers trying to measure performance and figure out where to invest ad dollars. This is compounded by a fractured creator, server and distribution/endpoint environment unique to the medium.

Because podcasts lag other media channels in business intelligence, it’s still an underinvested channel relative to its ability to reach consumers and impact purchasing behavior.

For creators, podcasting has begun to normalize distribution analytics through a rising consolidation of hosts like Art19, Megaphone, Simplecast and influence from the IAB. For advertisers, though, consumption and conversion analytics still lag far behind. For the high-growth tech companies we work with, and as performance marketers ourselves, measuring the return on investment of our ad spend is paramount.

Because podcasts lag other media channels in business intelligence, it’s still an underinvested channel relative to its ability to reach consumers and impact purchasing behavior. This was evidenced when COVID-19 hit this year, as advertisers that were highly invested or highly interested in investing in podcast advertising asked a very basic question: “Is COVID-19, and its associated lifestyle shifts, affecting podcast listening? If so, how?”

The challenges of decentralized podcast ad data

We reached out to trusted partners to ask them for insights specific to their shows.

Nick Southwell-Keely, U.S. director of Sales & Brand Partnerships at Acast, said: “We’re seeing our highest listens ever even amid the pandemic. Across our portfolio, which includes more than 10,000 podcasts, our highest listening days in Acast history have occurred in [July].” Most partners provided similar anecdotes, but without centralized data, there was no one, singular firm to go to for an answer, nor one report to read that would cover 100% of the space. Almost more importantly, there is no third-party perspective to validate any of the anecdotal information shared with us.

Publishers, agencies and firms all scrambled to answer the question. Even still, months later, we don’t have a substantial and unifying update on exactly what, if anything, happened, or if it’s still happening, channel-wide. Rather, we’re still checking in across a wide swath of partners to identify and capitalize on microtrends. Contrast this to native digital channels like paid search and paid social, and connected, yet formerly “traditional” media (e.g., TV, CTV/OTT) that provide consolidated reports that marketers use to make decisions about their media investments.

The lasting murkiness surrounding podcast media behavior during COVID-19 is just one recent case study on the challenges of a decentralized (or nonexistent) universal research vendor/firm, and how it can affect advertisers’ bottom lines. A more common illustration of this would be an advertiser pulling out of ads, for fear of underdelivery on a flat rate unit, missing out on incremental growth because they were worried about not being able to get download reporting and getting what they paid for. It’s these kinds of basic shortcomings that the ad industry needs to account for before we can hit and exceed the ad revenue heights projected for podcasting.

Advertisers may pull out of campaigns for fear of under-delivery, missing out on incremental growth because they were worried about not getting what they paid for.

If there’s a silver lining to the uncertainty in podcast advertising metrics and intelligence, it’s that supersavvy growth marketers have embraced the nascent medium and allowed it to do what it does best: personalized endorsements that drive conversions. While increased data will increase demand and corresponding ad premiums, for now, podcast advertising “veterans” are enjoying the relatively low profile of the space.

As Ariana Martin, senior manager, Offline Growth Marketing at Babbel notes, “On the other hand, podcast marketing, through host read ads, has something personal to it, which might change over time and across different podcasts. Because of this personal element, I am not sure if podcast marketing can ever be transformed into a pure data game. Once you get past the understanding that there is limited data in podcasting, it is actually very freeing as long as you’re seeing a certain baseline of good results, [such as] sales attributed to podcast [advertising] via [survey based methodology], for example.”

So how do we grow from the industry feeling like a secret game-changing channel for a select few brands, to widespread adoption across categories and industries?

Below, we’ve laid out the challenges of nonuniversal data within the podcast space, and how that hurts advertisers, publishers, third-party research/tracking organizations, and broadly speaking, the podcast ecosystem. We’ve also outlined the steps we’re taking to make incremental solutions, and our vision for the industry moving forward.

Lingering misconceptions about podcast measurement

1. Download standardization

In search of a rationale to how such a buzzworthy growth channel lags behind more established media types’ advertising revenue, many articles will point to “listener” or “download” numbers not being normalized. As far as we can tell at Right Side Up, where we power most of the scaled programs run by direct advertisers, making us a top three DR buying force in the industry, the majority of publishers have adopted the IAB Podcast Measurement Technical Guidelines Version 2.0.

This widespread adoption solved the “apples to apples” problem as it pertained to different networks/shows valuing a variable, nonstandard “download” as an underlying component to their CPM calculations. Previous to this widespread adoption, it simply wasn’t known whether a “download” from publisher X was equal to a “download” from publisher Y, making it difficult to aim for a particular CPM as a forecasting tool for performance marketing success.

However, the IAB 2.0 guidelines don’t completely solve the unique-user identification problem, as Dave Zohrob, CEO of Chartable points out. “Having some sort of anonymized user identifier to better calculate audience size would be fantastic —  the IAB guidelines offer a good approximation given the data we have but [it] would be great to actually know how many listeners are behind each IP/user-agent combo.”

2. Proof of ad delivery

A second area of business intelligence gaps that many articles point to as a cause of inhibited growth is a lack of “proof of delivery.” Ad impressions are unverifiable, and the channel doesn’t have post logs, so for podcast advertisers the analogous evidence of spots running is access to “airchecks,” or audio clippings of the podcast ads themselves.

Legacy podcast advertisers remember when a full-time team of entry-level staffers would hassle networks via phone or email for airchecks, sometimes not receiving verification that the spot had run until a week or more after the fact. This delay in the ability to accurately report spend hampered fast-moving performance marketers and gave the illusion of podcasts being a slow, stiff, immovable media type.

Systematic aircheck collection has been a huge advent and allowed for an increase in confidence in the space — not only for spend verification, but also for creative compliance and optimization. Interestingly, this feature has come up almost as a byproduct of other development, as the companies who offer these services actually have different core business focuses: Magellan AI, our preferred partner, is primarily a competitive intelligence platform, but pivoted to also offer airchecking services after realizing what a pain point it was for advertisers; Veritone, an AI company that’s tied this service to its ad agency, Veritone One; and Podsights, a pixel-based attribution modeling solution.

3. Competitive intelligence

Last, competitive intelligence and media research continue to be a challenge. Magellan AI and Podsights offer a variety of fee and free tiers and methods of reporting to show a subset of the industry’s activity. You can search a show, advertiser or category, and get a less-than-whole, but still directionally useful, picture of relevant podcast advertising activity. While not perfect, there are sufficient resources to at least see the tip of the industry iceberg as a consideration point to your business decision to enter podcasts or not.

As Sean Creeley, founder of Podsights, aptly points out: “We give all Podsights research data, analysis, posts, etc. away for free because we want to help grow the space. If [a brand], as a DIY advertiser, desired to enter podcasting, it’s a downright daunting task. Research at least lets them understand what similar companies in their space are doing.”

There is also a nontech tool that publishers would find valuable. When we asked Shira Atkins, co-founder of Wonder Media Network, how she approaches research in the space, she had a not-at-all-surprising, but very refreshing response: “To be totally honest, the ‘research’ I do is texting and calling the 3-5 really smart sales people I know and love in the space. The folks who were doing radio sales when I was still in high school, and the podcast people who recognize the messiness of it all, but have been successful at scaling campaigns that work for both the publisher and the advertiser. I wish there was a true tracker of cross-industry inventory — how much is sold versus unsold. The way I track the space writ large is by listening to a sample set of shows from top publishers to get a sense for how they’re selling and what their ads are like.”

Even though podcast advertising is no longer limited by download standardization, spend verification and competitive research, there are still hurdles that the channel has not yet overcome.


The conclusion to this article, These 3 factors are holding back podcast monetization, is available exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers.

#advertising-tech, #chartable, #column, #digital-marketing, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #media, #online-advertising, #podcasts, #tc, #verified-experts

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2 strategies for creating top-of-funnel marketing content

Even when you’re excellent at making the sale, you still need people to know you exist in the first place.

Content is excellent at making the case for your product or service, but it also excels at providing value to potential customers in a more tangential way, introducing them to your brand and building awareness and authority.

Here’s how utilizing content marketing and digital PR can make huge strides in getting your brand name out there.

Ranking on-site content for awareness keywords

When on-site content you created ranks well in the search engine results pages (SERPs), that doesn’t just mean you get more traffic (although that’s certainly a major benefit).

You’re also getting your brand name in front of searchers because you’re appearing in the results. You’re building authority because Google appears to believe you have the best answer for their query. You’re giving the searcher and answer to their question and beginning to build trust.

So how do you know which keywords/topics to target and what kind of content to create? You perform keyword research, which basically means examining what keywords people are searching for, how many people search for them per month and how hard it’ll be to rank for them.

Google Ads Keyword Planner provides this information, but you can also use Chrome plugins like Keywords Everywhere and Keyword Surfer or free tools like Ubersuggest.

When your goal is to build awareness, it’s important that the keywords and topics you target have high volume. In other words, they’re searched a lot. Awareness objectives mean reaching as many people as possible so more people know that your brand exists and begin to understand what it’s about.

#column, #content-marketing, #digital-marketing, #growth-marketing, #online-advertising, #pr, #search-engine-optimization, #startups, #tc, #verified-experts

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HubSpot’s new end-to-end sales hub aims to simplify CRM for mid-market customers

HubSpot, the Boston firm that made its name by helping to define the in-bound marketing concept, sees a pandemic landscape that’s changing the way companies sell, forcing more inside sales. Today, the company announced the HubSpot Sales Hub Enterprise at Inbound, their annual conference being held virtually this year.

While the company has been offering a CRM tool for five years now, where they feel they have addressed ease of use issues for sales people, the new tool is about bringing a new end-to-end approach addressing the needs of sales people, as well as management and system admins, says Lou Orfanos, GM and VP of Sales Hub at HubSpot.

“So, this is about [providing customers with a more powerful set of tools] and also just making sure that you can run your sales process end to end in our platform. We feel really good about being able to offer that out of the box natively and being able to do everything you need to do [in one tool], which is I think pretty unique given the state of the market and having to [cobble] a bunch of things together yourself,” Orfanos explained.

While the previous product was aimed more at smaller businesses, CMO Yamini Rangan, who previously worked at Dropbox, Workday and SAP, says this product is aimed more at mid-market companies with more complex sales workflows.

“What we find is that the customer experience for a 500 person company or for a 1000 person company is quite different and their expectations are quite different than a 10 person small business. What the Sales Hub Enterprise specifically brings is the ease of use, as well as the powerful features […] to a larger mid-market organization,” Rangan said.

HubSpot specifically sees larger companies in this space like Adobe, Salesforce and SAP acquiring different pieces of the stack, and then incorporating them into a solution, or customers pulling together different pieces of the stack themselves. The company believes that by building a single integrated solution themselves, it’s going to be naturally easier to use.

“We also find that that’s the size of the company where the tech stack, the sales stack and the marketing stack gets super complex, and they’re spending a lot of time trying to integrate a lot of different point solutions and what we find is having all of this — marketing, CMS, sales underlined by a CRM platform — that gives them visibility that they need to run their entire go to market operations,” she said.

While the lower end of the market where HubSpot is aiming for probably won’t interest larger competitors, especially Salesforce, as they move up in that market to larger companies, they expect to compete with those companies. Rangan says that she believes by providing this new offering, they are giving customers options they didn’t have before.

But she also sees this as a way into companies as they grow, and if HubSpot can catch them earlier in their evolution, they can grow with them and become their vendor of choice, rather than the usual suspects.

“What we find is that companies will start as 100 person company and grow to become a 500 or a 1000 person company, and as they grow up on HubSpot we become their growth suite and we become the core platform of record for them to continue to grow,” she said.

#cloud, #crm, #digital-marketing, #enterprise, #hubspot, #saas

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Three growth marketing experts share their best tools and strategies for 2020

At last month’s Early Stage virtual event, channel growth experts joined TechCrunch reporters and editors for a series of conversations covering the best tools and strategies for building startups in 2020. For this post, I’ve recapped highlights of talks with:

  • Ethan Smith, founder and CEO, Graphite
  • Susan Su, startup growth advisor, executive-in-residence, Sound Ventures
  • Asher King-Abramson, founder, Got Users

If you’d like to hear or watch these conversations in their entirety, we’ve embedded the videos below.


Ethan Smith: How to build a high-performance SEO engine

Relying on internet searches to learn about growth topics like search engine optimization leads to a rabbit hole of LinkedIn thinkfluencer musings and decade-old Quora posts. Insights are few and far between, because SEO has changed dramatically as Google has squashed spammy techniques “specialists” have pushed for years.

Ethan Smith, owner of growth agency Graphite, says Google didn’t kill SEO, but the channel has evolved. “SEO has built a negative reputation over time of being spammy,” Smith says. “The typical flow of an SEO historically has been: I need to find every single keyword I possibly can find and auto-generate a mediocre page for each of those keywords, the user experience doesn’t really matter, content can be automated and spun, the key is fooling the bot.”

Artificial intelligence has disrupted this flow as algorithms have abandoned hard-coded rules for more flexible designs that are less vulnerable to being gamed. What SEO looks like today, Smith says, is all about trying to “figure out what the algorithm is trying to accomplish and try to accomplish the same thing.” Google’s algorithms aren’t looking for buckets of keywords, they’re looking to distill a user’s intent.

The key to building a strategy around SEO as a company breaks down into six steps surrounding intent, says Smith:

  1. Target by intent

    #advertising-tech, #artificial-intelligence, #brand-marketing, #digital-marketing, #email, #ethan-smith, #events, #extra-crunch, #growth-and-monetization, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #online-advertising, #search-engine-optimization, #startups, #susan-su, #tc, #techcrunch-early-stage, #verified-experts

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What brands need to do if they want to break up with Facebook

With more than 90 major advertisers and counting announcing plans to dump Facebook, a significant question lingers: Where will brands go next for their digital marketing needs?

The case for the breakup is clear: Brands want to distance themselves from third-party business practices that do not align with their values. Specifically, they are disenchanted by what even some members of Congress are calling Facebook’s “lackadaisical” approach to enforcing community standards, allowing an epidemic of paid political misinformation and hate speech to persist on the user-driven platform.

However, with Google, Facebook and Amazon representing just under 70% of global digital ad revenue, a clean break from the tech giants is easier said than done. Advertisers, like anyone facing a breakup, must look within. After all, they don’t want to make the same mistakes and they cannot just throw newly freed up advertising dollars at a new social network ad platform, where similar conflicts could easily follow.

With introspection, advertisers will see that this is more than just a war on disinformation and hate speech. A data war is brewing, pressuring businesses to diversify data sources. As brands compete to understand the needs and preferences of today’s consumers, consumers are concurrently responding with more guarded protection of their online data.

To win this war, brands must reclaim data autonomy and infuse their digital media strategy with more diversified data. But they cannot do it alone and they cannot do it within the current system.

Time to brandish holistic data

Whether Facebook adjusts its community standards to appease dismayed advertisers has yet to be seen. But in the interim, as advertisers walk out the door, it’s worth noting that Facebook’s reliance on online data may soon be obsolete anyway.

One of the key differentiators for Facebook’s ad platform has been its ability to help level the playing field for smaller brands by cost-effectively captivating the right audiences. But the platform primarily draws insights from audiences’ behaviors online. The next wave of data-based marketing must employ tools that blend first-party data and qualified third-party data to offer a holistic view of customer behaviors, both online and offline.

Offline data sets, which include location intelligence, interactions, purchase history, contact information and demographics are lynchpins in the next digital media wave because they allow brands to develop a more human view of consumer data and create meaningful marketing moments. For example, location intelligence, an extremely potent tool that is currently helping brands pivot during COVID-19 disruptions and is even protecting public health, can drive personalized, alluring marketing campaigns with massive ROI opportunities.

The leading integrated data providers are managing extremely rich datasets, which increase in value daily as consistent tracking yields higher quality data. Such powerful and enriched data stacks offers brands visitor insights based on a specific location after an ad is interacted with on any device — requiring no guesswork for the marketing team. Brands are able to pinpoint exactly which messages resonate with which segments of their audience at which time. This precision ultimately helps them craft the right message for the target consumer — and deliver it at the exact right moment.

Marching orders for combat

Brands want to cut Facebook loose but where do they go next? How do they achieve data autonomy and make omnichannel strides in digital marketing? If the boycott movement is to succeed, revolutionary changes to the digital marketplace are needed.

A newly imagined system must be organized outside the proprietary grasp of any one single tech conglomerate. Otherwise, advertisers will lack ownership of the data they need to reach new audiences. Or they’ll once again get mixed up with similar paid political disinformation and hate speech across user-generated platforms, sending them straight back into the arms of Facebook.

Rather than rely on a single centralized social media platform, transparent media partners and publishers must come together on a shared central system that takes an omnichannel approach to building lookalike (LAL) audiences. A LAL puts advertisers in front of new audiences by finding users that, while they may be unfamiliar with their brand, are very similar to the buyer personas of their current customers. The LAL for each advertiser would be constantly tested and refined to keep pace with the rapidly changing marketplace.

Facebook currently operates on a LAL model but it is almost exclusively generated by online data from their users. The next step is expanding on this model and infusing offline and third-party data with a company’s first-party data, putting them in front of a LAL across a range of media partners and platforms. This will help build a core conversion audience, while constantly scaling new LALs for each brand.

Such a system would require collaboration, enlisting many players in a co-op style undertaking. For example, to get it off the ground, it would be helpful if about 20 of the large brands boycotting Facebook invest some of their newly freed advertising dollars to establish the data and publisher sharing co-op network.

Once the advertiser framework is set, the co-op would need to identify media outlet partners such as news websites, blogs, apps, podcasts and social media outlets. The co-op would negotiate a performance-based publisher relationship for every player, effectively increasing content monetization for publishers’ content channels.

Reinventing the digital media landscape

This would be a transformational movement, galvanizing brands with data autonomy and increasing customer engagement across an entire network of media platforms — not just one platform. Each advertiser’s first-party data, which they’ve already given to Facebook, would be analyzed to isolate data overlaps within the co-op. This would essentially lay the foundation for building a core conversation audience, helping each advertiser tap new LALs.

Brands advertising with the co-op would gain access to more enriched, robust insights on consumers than Facebook could ever offer, leading to a higher return on investment for the $336 billion spend on digital advertising annually.

Most importantly, it would help brands future-proof their digital marketing efforts and grant them greater freedom in choosing where their advertising dollars are being spent.

That is how the war is won.

#artificial-intelligence, #column, #digital-marketing, #facebook, #google, #marketing, #media, #online-advertising, #opinion, #social, #social-media, #targeted-advertising, #tc

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Data from Dutch public broadcaster shows the value of ditching creepy ads

For anyone interested in the contested question of how much ‘value’ — or, well, how little — publishers derive from the privacy-hostile practice of tracking web users to behaviorally target them with ads, pro-privacy browser Brave has published some interesting data, obtained (with permission) from the Netherland’s public broadcaster, NPO.

The data shows the NPO grew ad revenue after ditching trackers to target ads in the first half of this year — and did so despite the coronavirus pandemic landing in March and dealing a heavy blow to digital advertising globally (contributing, for example, to Twitter reporting Q2 ad revenues down nearly a quarter).

The context here is that in January the broadcaster switched to serving contextual ads across its various websites, where it has an online video audience of 7.1M per month, and display reach of 5.8M per month.

Brave has just published an analysis of six months’ worth of data which shows NPO’s ad revenue increased every month over this period. Year-over-year increases after the broadcaster unplugged the usual morass of background adtech that makes surveillance capitalism ‘function’ are as follows:

  • January: 62%; February 79%; March 27%; April 9%; May 17%; June 17%;

Earlier this month Brave published five months’ worth of the NPO ad revenue data. So this is actually an update on an earlier blog post on the topic. The updated figures from Ster, the NPO’s ad sales house, slightly amend the earlier amounts, revising the reported figures further upwards. So, in short, non-tracking ad revenue bump has been sustained for half a year. Even amid a pandemic.

Now the idea that switching from behavioral to contextual targeting can lead to revenue growth is not a narrative you’ll hear from the ad tracking industry and its big tech backers. Aka the platform giants whose grip on the Internet’s attention economy and the digital infrastructure used for buying and selling targeted ads has helped them to huge profits over the past half decade or so (even as publisher revenues have largely stagnated or declined during this boom period for digital ad spending).

The adtech industry prefers to chainlink tracking and targeting to ad revenue — claiming publisher revenues would tank if content producers were forced to abandon their reader surveillance systems. (Here’s Google’s VP of ad platforms, last year, telling AdExchanger that the impact of tracker blocking on publishers’ programmatic ad revenues could cut CPMs in half, for example.)

Yet it’s not the first time there’s been a report of (surprise!) publisher uplift after ditching ad trackers.

Last year Digiday reported that the New York Times saw its ad revenue rise in Europe after it switched off creepy ads ahead of a major regional regulatory update, shifting over to contextual and geographical targeting.

The NYT does have a certain level of brand cache which not every publisher can claim. Hence the tracking industry counterclaims that its experience isn’t one that can be widely replicated by publishers. So the NPO data is additionally interesting in that it shows revenue uplift for a public broadcaster even across websites that aren’t dominant in their particular category, per Brave’s analysis.

Here’s its chief policy & industry relations officer, Dr Johnny Ryan, who writes:

NPO and its sales house, Ster, invested in contextual targeting and testing, and produced vast sales increases even with sites that do not appear to dominate their categories. This may be a tribute to Ster’s ability to sell inventory across NPO’s media group as a collective, but this benefit would have applied in 2019 and does not account for the revenue jump in 2020. A publisher does not therefore need to have market dominance to abandon 3rd party tracking and reproduce NPO’s vast revenue increase.

And here’s Ryan’s take on why “legitimate” (i.e. non junk/clickbait) publishers of all sizes should be able to follow the NPO’s example:

Although it is a national broadcast group, NPO websites do not dominate the web traffic rankings in the Netherlands. Only one of NPO’s properties (Nos.nl) ranks in the top 5 in its category in the Netherlands, according to Similar Web. None of the other NPO properties are in the Netherland’s top 100. The other NPO websites for which Similar Web provides a traffic rank estimation (versus other websites in the Netherlands) range from 180th to 5,040th most popular in the Netherlands. NPO properties’ popularity or market position in each content category are not correlated with increases in impressions sold. Country site rank, category site rank, and numbers of page views, vary widely between the properties, whereas the increases in impression sold are all above 83%, with one explicable exception [due to technical difficulties over the tracked period which prevented ads being served against one of its most popular programs].

Brave has its own commercial iron in the fire here, of course, given its approach to monetizing user eyeballs aligns with an anti-tracking marketplace ethos. But that hardly takes away from the NPO’s experience of — surprise! — revenue growth from ditching creepy ads.

Joost Negenman, NPO’s privacy officer, told TechCrunch they had certainly not expected to see ad revenue uplift from making the switch. The decision to move to contextual ads was made mid last year, as a result of the public broadcaster becoming “convinced” the programmatic targeting ad system it was using wasn’t compatible with its “public task”, as he tells it.

“We expected a rather dramatic drop in revenue,” says Negenman, noting that at that time the NPO was only getting a consent rate from users of around 10% for the ad cookies Ster needed for its programmatic ad system — down from 75%+ prior to GDPR (“probably” because its Cookie Consent Module at the time had been based on “implicit instead of explicit consent”; whereas GDPR mandates for consent to be legally valid it must be specific, informed and freely given).

“We also expected a drop because advertisers could completely ignore us when NPO and Ster turned away from this market adtech standard together, at a time when there was no sophisticated alternative in place,” he continues. “This fortunate misjudgment on our side was also fuelled by the strong belief (and preaches) in programmatic ad-solutions by online marketeers and companies.”

Negenman attributes the surprise revenue bounty from selling contextual ads to a couple of factors: Namely the “A-brand” pull of NPO and its affiliate broadcasters, meaning advertisers still wanted to be able to reach their users. And, well, to having the pro-privacy zeitgeist on its side.

“We’re all aware of the growing scrutiny on the adtech business, no explanation needed!” he says.

It’s worth noting the NPO’s switch to contextual ads did require some investment to pull off. The publisher shelled out for technology to enable contextual targeting across its web properties — such as building out descriptive metadata to enable more granular contextual targeting on video content. And the level of investment required to achieve similarly sophisticated contextual ad targeting might not be available to every publisher.

Yet the sustained revenue bump NPO experienced post-switch means it very quickly earned back what it spent — so for publishers that can afford to invest up front in transitioning away from tracking it looks like a very compelling case study.

“It paid for itself within a month or so!” confirms Negenman. “Considering all the money Ster didn’t have to share with Google and other in-betweens. From 1 advertisement Euro, 1 Euro goes to Ster!”

Though he also notes the broadcaster was helped by Dutch law placing an obligation on it to have subtitles for over 90% of its assets — meaning some of the leg work to build out contextual targeting had already been done.

“Subtitles data of course provides valuable descriptive metadata. So those tools where already in place,” he says. “But beside subtitles — that are nowadays easier to automate — standard program information like (sub)genre, titles of actors are of great value as well to add context on a video asset.”

Brave’s Ryan posits that the role of NPO’s sales house is also important to its success with contextual ads. “Smaller publishers may benefit from engaging with reputable sales houses that can aggregate supply as Ster does for NPO’s various properties,” he suggests. “Publishers of all sizes will benefit according to their reputations — unless advertisers and agencies purchase from sales houses with poor reputations.”

Asked whether he believes the switch would work for all publishers, Negenman does not go that far. “For all A-brands I definitely see this approach working, also news outlets have the perfect (meta)data needed to feed such a system,” he says, arguing there’s a place in the market for both contextual and targeted ads.

“Not all online advertising is the same,” he argues. “A shoe annoyingly following you online is something other than creating (A-)brand awareness. Perhaps the contextual system can start by creating privacy friendly ‘lagoons’ where a person is not tracked or followed by a shoe. There the system gets time to prove its worth in revenue and respect for its audience.”

“For other public broadcasters I believe they have more or less an (moral) obligation to at least start testing contextual ads,” he adds. “The adtech system’s use of personal and behavioral data has become so un-explainable that the GDPR information obligation is almost impossible to meet.”

As we’ve said before, the evidence of viable alternatives to privacy-torching surveillance capitalism is stacking up — even as harms linked to adtech platforms’ exploitation of people’s information keep piling up.

And while contextual ads may not sum to a revenue boom for every type of publisher, the notion that it’s tracking or nothing is clearly bogus.

(You could also make a pretty compelling case that abusive exploitation of people’s data that sustains low grade publishing is not at all a net societal good and so supporting a system that supports bottom feeding clickbait (and massive levels of ad fraud) is simply bad for everyone — well, other than the bottom feeders… )

Ryan goes so far as to call conventional adtech “a cancer eating at the heart of legitimate publishers”. And having worked inside the beast he’s castigating, via an earlier stint at anti-ad-blocking adtech company called PageFair, his critique is all the more hard hitting.

He’s used his insider knowledge to file a number of complaints with European regulators — most notably against the real-time bidding (RTB) practice programmatic advertising can rely on, drawing in vast quantities of Internet users’ personal information and scattershotting it back out again.

He contends this high velocity trading of personal data can’t possibly be compliant with Europe’s data protection framework — which, conversely, mandates that people’s information be securely handled, not spread around like confetti. (Though he believes RTB can work fine if you strip out personal data and only use it for contextual ads.)

European data protection regulators agree there’s a ‘lawfulness’ problem with current adtech practices. But have so far sat on their hands rather than taking enforcement action, given how widespread the problem is.

(Interestingly, Negenman says the NPO investigated continuing using programmatic RTB but with personal data stripped out. Though, in the event, he says this idea never got past the production stage. “Personally I can imagine a compliant combination,” he notes, adding: “Most importantly, the personal data must not leave the trusted data partner [and be shared with] the advertisers.”)

Turning a tanker clearly takes time. But the more publishers that see not pushing creepy ads on their users as an opportunity to experiment with alternatives, the more chance there will be for the market to shift wholesale for privacy — a shift that can be a huge win for publishers and users alike, as the NPO experience illustrates. 

Competition regulators, meanwhile, are closing in on big (ad)tech’s market power — and the conflicts of interest that arise from the “vertically integrated chain of intermediaries” which work to funnel the lion’s share of digital ad spend into platform coffers. So it’s not hard to conceive of an intervention to force market reform by breaking up Google’s business empire — to separate the ‘ad’ bits from its other ‘tech’.

The self-interested forces that underpin surveillance capitalism made their fortunes when no one was really looking at how their methods exploit people’s data. Now, with many more eyes trained on them, they are operating on borrowed time. It’s no longer a question of whether change is coming. The sands are shifting, with platforms themselves now moving to limit access to third party tracking cookies.

Savvy publishers would do well to get out ahead of the next round of platform power moves — and skate to where the puck’s headed.

#adtech, #advertising-tech, #brave, #digital-advertising, #digital-marketing, #europe, #gdpr, #google, #johnny-ryan, #marketing, #media, #netherlands, #online-advertising, #privacy, #real-time-bidding, #rtb, #targeted-advertising, #tc, #the-new-york-times

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LA’s Kickback is a social shopping app that converts users into marketing channels through cash rewards

Frankie Bernstein, the Venice, Calif.-based serial entrepreneur, knows marketing.

At his last startup, Markett, Bernstein turned college students into brand ambassadors who were paid by the companies they repped for proselytizing about them on campuses.

Now he’s using that knowledge to launch Kickback on iOS and Android. It’s invite-only at this point, but the idea is that it uses company’s marketing budgets to create shopping rewards and incentives for app users. In the same way that Markett turned college students into advocates for apps like Uber and Lyft, Kickback will turn shoppers into brand ambassadors through its app.

In-app referrals and discounts for shopping are nothing new to the e-commerce world. In China, apps like Pinduoduo have turned into billion dollar businesses on the strength of referrals. Indeed, Pinduoduo recently raised $1.1 billion in funding to hit a valuation of nearly $100 billion.

It was only a matter of time before an American company tried to copy its success. Kickback — like most new apps these days — is invite-only.

Once past the waiting list, users get discounts on brands and can earn cash-back rewards when they shop or when they encourage their friends to buy something with the app.

So far brands on the app include Walmart, Sam’s Club, Nike, Alo Yoga, Reebok, Away, Planet Blue, Sonos, Winc, Postmates, Casper, Kate Somerville, Lacoste, Columbia. Users get discounts or cash rewards when they shop and earn “kickbacks” when they invite someone to shop using their discount code. Cash rewards can be withdrawn using PayPal, according to a statement.

“Our mission is to take the billions of dollars brands spend on advertising and put that money directly into the pockets of the people,” said Franky Bernstein, Founder and CEO of Kickback, in a statement. “Brands know the most powerful form of marketing is word of mouth. We like to say that people are 100% more likely to go on a first date, watch a movie or, in our case, try a new product or service if a friend tells them about it. People have always loved sharing their favorite products and services with their friends. Now with Kickback, they get paid for it.”

#android, #california, #ceo, #china, #columbia, #digital-marketing, #lacoste, #lyft, #markett, #nike, #paypal, #pinduoduo, #postmates, #reebok, #referral-marketing, #sams-club, #serial-entrepreneur, #sonos, #tc, #uber, #venice, #walmart

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In uncertain times, jump start your SEO

As a result of the current economic volatility many startups and even established companies are proceeding with caution on paid marketing that is typically lower in the purchase funnel. Sales and funnel and buying behavior has changed and it is hard to have confidence in advertising models that used to work at the beginning of the year.

Therefore, this is an ideal time to develop or ramp up organic search engine optimization efforts. If you have not yet invested in SEO, these are the seven steps you can take immediately to get started.

1. Get your search data house in order

Tools to help you organize your search data include Google Search Console. These tools are geared toward helping you get the best type of search data possible by search traffic and performance for your website, as well as identifying issues that you can fix to improve your Google Search results.

Although there are beneficial tools available that show visibility, which helps you see who ranks on what, those work primarily for tracking competitors. To understand your own visibility as well as the keywords and pages that drive organic traffic to your site, Google Search Console delivers that data.

2. Conduct a technical SEO audit

The goal of a technical SEO audit is to find specific SEO issues that keep your website from ranking. These SEO issues could include things like a missing no-index tag, too many H1 tags, low value pages, 404 errors and duplicate content.

There are many SEO audit tools available that can help you catch these issues. With Google’s ongoing algorithm updates, a technical SEO audit can help ensure your website is optimized for these changes.

#column, #digital-marketing, #extra-crunch, #growth-and-monetization, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #product-management, #search-engine, #search-engine-optimization, #seo, #verified-experts, #web-analytics

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Use dynamic CTAs to close more B2B leads

We’ve aggregated many of the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this Growth Report.

This is how you stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Our community consists of startup founders and heads of growth. You can participate by joining Demand Curve’s marketing training program or its Slack group.

Without further ado, onto our community’s advice.


Use an omnichannel approach for more remote sales

Insights from Paige Harris of Smile.io.

High-margin consumer goods justify a personalized sales funnel. That’s why companies like offline cosmetics retailers employ a small army of sales reps to make calls and do home demos.

In today’s COVID-19 world, retailers are having to move this process from in-person to online. It’s easier said than done.

Here’s one process that some offline retailers (with high-margin products) are finding works:

  1. Turn those sales calls into Zoom sessions: Sales reps adapt their home demos to Zoom demos.

    #column, #digital-marketing, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #growth-and-monetization, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #merchandising, #online-shopping, #referral-marketing, #startups

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