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Sep 25, 2018

Google changes its philosophy on search

This might be underreported and there's so much to learn not only for SEO, but for content & marketing strategies in any digital area. Google itself talks of "three fundamental shifts" in how they view search (in a very bold statement saying "for the next 20 years"):

  • from answers to journeys 
  • from queries to a queryless way
  • from text to visual

All this is hardcore AI powered, and Google says that's the only way to deal with 15 percent (!!) of queries each day that they haven't seen before (I always thought this number were closer to 1 percent). 

We don't know the effects for publishers and businesses yet, other than continue to provide relevance in a more visual way (images, video, stories). But there will be ways to "hack" these algorithms, for example object recognition in videos may increase their search relevance, so i would recommend to include most typical and easy to recognize shots of objects that are most relevant to a story, for example - or use headlines or subtitles. In short: help the AI figure out what it's about, so it can appear in search results, without annoying users.

I was convinced before that embracing the story format (vertical video) and strengthening capabilities in visual storytelling would pay off anyway as these are most suitable for smartphone usage and seem to be attracting generation Z more than long text articles, but now that Google is doubling down on that, I cannot imagine you could be wrong choosing this path. Also, behind these three fundamental shifts, you can see an idea of trying to understand user motivations (establishing a queryless way) from past behaviour and trying to satisfy these with more than just basic offers (from answers to journeys) - something that should be relevant to anyone in digital and is reflected in user journeys and design thinking as tools in digital product development.   

About the fundamental shifts:

About the increase of relevance of visual content in Google search:

What works in subscription advertising

Many publishers venture into direct to consumer, but have no clue how to do that in digital (the systems and mechanisms used in the good old days to generate paper issue subscribers do not work anymore). As they have always considered readers as something entirely different from clients (advertisers), systematic newslettering, performance marketing, CRM, churn prevention, winback programs etc. are new to many publishers - and many learn painfully that just offering a paywall and a free month to test (and then hope for the best) just won't do.

Here's an interesting research by the Center for Media Engagement (University of Texas) on what works and what doesn't (at least in the US) to advertise for subscriptions. Surprise: Converting free email newsletter subscribers alongside multi-channel advertising tops the list.

Study/Report as PDF

Philips works directly with Google, Facebook, Amazon

Everyone has been waiting for media agencies to enter the time of becoming obsolete for more than a decade now. Maybe the time has come, as the need for a middle man dwindels away with less and less partners that provide supply for advertisers' demand - and there's little more than a "triopoly" left when you think of global digital advertising.

This article shows how Philips - in my eyes correctly - came to the conclusion that since every feature the big platforms offer is available to anyone, any competitive edge in digital advertising has to come from in-house capabilities. And these mainly lie in real time analytics, the ability to identify and boost well-working pieces of advertising and optimize spending - allocate budgets where performance is best. You wouldn't want this knowledge (software, data) to be outside the company with a supplier - and there's little reason why they (media agencies) should be better at providing this than the advertisers themselves. Their advantage of having x clients and therefore a bigger data base to draw conclusions from is a) de-valued because of course they'll share that knowledge with all their clients, b) is less relevant if the advertiser in question is has a big enough media budget to rely solely on their own data and c) they haven't really built tech capabilities in the past that are so advanced, an advertiser couldn't get there.

Article from Digiday:

New formats for news (BBC News Labs)

Great two-part article about the development of news formats especially for generation Z. They are pretty important as they enter the advertising relevant age brackets from the lower end and are one of the few sources to grab market share in over-saturated news markets - and, being the first generation to grow up with smartphones, show a totally different news consumption behaviour than older target groups. BBC News Labs shares their approach and also their findings from developing and testing prototypes (part 2). Integrating these types of formats and innovations that may attract other users from older age brackets as well may be an answer to the sub-brand approaches (in Germany: bento by Spiegel, by Zeit, orange by Handelsblatt etc.) many publishers have chosen.

Part1 (general research / format overview - from Sept 2017):

Part2 (prototypes & testing with generation Z - from July 2018):


Sep 21, 2018

How the EU should regulate the internet

I've said it before: Ben Thompson is one of the smartest guys out there and is the "go-to-blog" for understanding the big picture in digital. This time, Ben speaks about the way the EU tries to regulate the internet, and how the approach inevitably will fail. Brain teaser quote:

  • First, just as business models ought to be constructed that leverage the internet instead of fight it, so should regulation
  • Second, regulation should start with the understanding that power on the internet flows from controlling demand, not supply

Approx 10 min read, but if you start thinking, it may turn out to be 30 - time well invested:

Sep 19, 2018

Digital publishers behaving like studios / Bleacher Report

One thing that has really gained momentum during the past year is digital publishers inventing formats, very often in "seasons and episodes", as if they were studios. Besides Buzzfeed (Follow This) and (Explained) having shows on Netflix, there are a number of smaller examples where distribution (still) happens on the digital publishers' channels, for example "This is my next" on The Verge (which could have been just a subcategory to product tests, but has been made into a video format on YouTube), or a number of daily or weekly talking head shows that double as podcasts.

I see one major reason for this development: Creating fans (and, in extension, intention). It's way easier to become a fan of a show, or even a host, to wait eagerly for the next episode, than to become a fan of a category in an app or website (look at all the influencers and YouTube stars). So creating fans means that you will probably increase direct traffic to your destination - that you do not have to "earn" every time on ultra-competitive search and social. It's about creating fans that will intentionally look for that specific content. And if your destinations are less important, and you distribute your own format on social, fans translate into engagement, which subsequently leads to more views and reach.

The hard thing to learn is that, very much like on Netflix for example, it is better to have 1000 hardcore fans who love the show instead of having 5000 people who think it's "ok". Only fans will lead to the desired intentional and engaged usage. And maybe some publishers are really planning to create a studio business out of this - leave monetization to the few that managed to create a functioning model and concentrate on creating great content (which, of course, will become a casino business if that's your only source of revenue).

The reason I am writing all this now and today is Bleacher Report's new series "The Champions". That's what you do when you serve a GenZ & Millenials audience on Instagram - without having the rights to show a moving ball and neither the means nor the access to produce something with players or coaches: An animated series accompanying the UEFA Champions League in 13 episodes. They have successfully done this with the NBA in 5 seasons with "Game of Zones" before, and, just like from a production studio, Bleacher's parent company Turner used it for pre-game shows before NBA live matches on TV.

Don't judge the content, just appreciate the strategy:

The Champions:

Game of Zones:

Sep 17, 2018

Sports Clubs = Media Companies

I've been saying for years that sports clubs & organizations behave more and more like media companies when it comes to digital - subsequently, they have very similar needs and issues, although sports clubs (still) get the majority of their revenue from TV and do not sell advertising to just anyone on their owned & operated or social media channels, but only to sponsors, and on other deals than pure CPM.

But if you look at the big trends in media:
  • technology as a driver in efficiency of production and content distribution
  • multiple revenue streams like events and e-commerce besides advertising
  • native/branded content instead of display
  • studio-like behaviour in creating content formats (often in seasons and episodes)
  • B2C pay models for content
  • CRM as a key discipline behind most of those activities

... they apply to sports clubs (and in some way also to governing bodies, tournament organizers etc.) as well. This article points out how Manchester United does it, but frankly, all major clubs have similar activities going on. Still interesting to see, for example how the average app user for Man Utd is 30, while the average linear viewer is 54 years old: 

Franken-Algorithms and the News Business

This is far more than "It's Facebook's and YouTube's fault" .-) I have to link to two great, long reads from the Guardian that are totally independent from each other but, of course, are connected closely. The first is Alan Rusbridger's (ex editor in chief of The Guardian) look back into the last two decades, analyzing what happened to the news business (and why it did). Although I don't agree with everything, it is very interesting to see this from an editor (and not a manager or digital strategist). That's something that has changed, too - awareness for the whole process of producing and monetizing news among those reporting.

Take a lot of time for this one:

The second read is about algorithms: what they are, how they function, and why they can unfold an impact that is both unforeseeable and and not easy to control/direct. This goes far beyond the news business - but helps to understand media, too, among other things: 

Struggles for Facebook-reliant publishers (like Unilad)

These struggles are not new - remember the 9 boxes diversification strategy from Buzzfeed last December. For some publishers, the past months may have offered enough room for maneuver to pivot in business models or at least diversify to a number of distribution channels (and monetizaton models along with them), but the bigger the operation, the harder it is to achieve (for example Little Things had to shut down, Slate, Mashable, Vice lost over 60% of traffic referrals from FB).

Facebook's biggest video publisher in recent years, Unilad, now seems to face really serious problems, maybe even insolvency. Hard to imagine we won't have a similar discussion in a few years with Instagram- or Whatever-platform-dependent publishers. I'd still recommend to milk the cow, but grow a few others besides the big fat one in case it runs dry.

Digiday says that for Unilad, "the writing is on the wall": 

Sep 7, 2018

How subscription businesses are different

If I had a company that helps corporations transform into subscription models (for example Zuora), I maybe would make the case that soon your business has to become a subscription business in order to survive (like Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo). If you can put that prediction aside for a bit and focus on the differences between selling units on the one hand and winning and maintaining subscribers on the other hand (think about differences from purchase, production, marketing and sales), you might enjoy this interview:

Fitbit has the biggest set of heart rate data ever recorded

Over 150 billion hours of heart rate data. From tens of millions of users all over the world, it allows interesting insights as sex, activity levels, age etc. are known, too. Check out the findings, mostly about resting heart rate, in this article. I hope this is made available to universities, hospitals etc. - the general public, instead of only selling it to pharma or insurance companies...

Resting heart rate insights

And some more about the 6 billion nights of sleep data:

Digital Trends (the publisher)

There's an independent publisher called "Digital Trends" who gets >80 of traffic from search but manages to reach generation Z with that - about digital products, gadgets, unboxings etc. Beyond mobile, social, video, we can see a few more trends in digital publishing currently, and Digital Trends is embracing most of them, among others revenue diversification (sponsorships, e-commerce, partnerships, conferences etc.) and branded formats instead of categories (shows with hosts & faces).
Interesting article about their current activities:

China sees gaming as a health hazard

This hasn't been big enough in our news - for three aspects: a) the possibility of online/mobile games being health hazards that need regulation, b) the size and impact of the Chinese gaming market and c) the reminder that China still has a highly regulated economy. The news is this: No new licenses for games have been approved in China since March 28 this year. Yet, the market is still growing. But only in single digits, which is the first time since 2009 (!). The market has a volume of >520 million gamers, >450 million of those also mobile gamers, and turned over 15 bn USD in the first half of 2018. The stop of approvals for licenses seems to be about game addiction and health concerns - maybe we will face regulations of some sort, too.

Two interesting articles from South China Morning Post: