5 Expert Tips That Every Australian Publisher Can Use To Grow Custom Content Revenue This Year

August 14, 2017

Australia’s custom content business is thriving, which we forecast to become a $400M digital market by 2021. I spent the past week in Australia with our Sydney-based team and our diverse group of publisher partners, including News Australia, Fairfax Media, Bauer Media, CarSales, HuffPost Australia, Fox Sports and Intermedia.

All publishers in the market have prioritized custom content and are including content led programs on almost every brief. It is recognized as the growth driver for their digital business and here are 5 recommendations based on our global experience that every Australian publisher leader should consider.

1. CPV is now the standard currency, CPE may be a future currency

What is CPV?

CPV refers to cost-per-view (page view or video view) to custom content. This is not the same as CPM (a viewability measure for media). Rather, CPV is anchored on the “post-click” to the custom content destination or branded video view.

Everyone has adopted the model

80% of publishers in Australia are explicitly selling on a CPV model and 100% are implicitly selling on a CPV model. Even if a media plan includes production costs, media distribution, social amplification, and other lines, the moment there is a minimum views guarantee, you have an effective CPV model.

For example, if this is a sample content package:

  •      Content production budget: $10,000 (# of articles/videos)
  •      Media promotion: $30,000 (3M ads @ $10 CPM)
  •      Social amplification: $10,000 (# of organic posts, or paid budget)
  •      Total: $50,000
  •      Minimum views guarantee: 50,000

Then the effective CPV is $1.00 ($50,000 budget divided by 50,000 views). Now even if a publisher is not setting a minimum views guarantee, they are still selling on a CPV model! As clients (or their agencies) ask for the number of page views or video views to the content after the campaign is done, they will on their own calculate an effective CPV rate (which is not complicated math, for anyone).

Evolution to CPE

Many of the discussions we had with senior publisher leaders exposed the reality that “a view is not a view”. A major gap in the CPV model today is the risk of arbitrage and the purchase of cheap, low-quality traffic (by publishers or agencies) to deliver a lower CPV rate. CPV on its own does not place value of the premium nature of custom content.

Content is an effective strategy to support brand building in digital, which is only possible if there is user engagement with the content. This is why we believe a CPE (cost-per-engaged view) model may be in the cards for 2018, and is in a premium publisher’s best interest to evangelize.

Our recommendation

Measure, optimize and manage custom content program delivery to a CPV target, be it one that is exposed directly or not to the client, as you are being measured on this metric. It is in your best interest to develop internal benchmarks and measure program success accordingly.

2. Beware of paid distribution tactics for custom content

What do we mean by paid distribution?

To achieve minimum view targets, many publishers (globally) will supplement on-site promotion with off-site promotion via paid distribution channels, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Outbrain, Taboola, StumbleUpon and SEO.

Facebook is eating publishers (yet again)

Facebook is the primary paid distribution vehicle that publishers have adopted to amplify custom content programs, and it is a risky strategy as Facebook has their own plans. What started as Facebook asking publishers to tag social posts promoting custom content with their “handshake” tool, has now evolved into brands (and agencies) being able to boost those same posts under the publisher social handle without speaking (or paying) the publisher anything.

Content networks provide questionable audiences

Outbrain, Taboola, Plista, Yahoo Gemini, StumbleUpon are examples of content networks used by some publishers to amplify their custom content programs. We have seen first-hand by studying referral data via our platform that the quality of engagement (measured as time spent and bounce rate) on audiences coming from these platforms is a fraction of what it is from organic channels. Put directly, when a publisher buys random audiences from low-quality content networks, the engagement for the content plummets and although views may be registering, actual value to the brand is not, which is the purpose of the program to begin with.

Our recommendation

Focus on optimizing for quality versus scale. Educate buyers on the value of quality audiences, premium content environments and strong content engagement, all built off the back of great content. This is a larger market narrative that will serve the premium content segment of the market well over time and ultimately deliver more value to brands partnering with publishers.

3. Native is not the same as Custom Content

I was very pleased to hear that in the six months since my last visit to Australia, the publisher market has taken our advice and moved away from the term “native” to describe their premium branded and custom content business. Let me explain why this is so important…

Content, and more specifically custom content, is a strategy used by brands to support their upper funnel marketing objectives. Increasing brand awareness, consideration, preference and favorability are all objectives made attainable through effective content programs.

Performance, however, is a different strategy and has been prevalent in digital advertising over the past 20 years. Its metrics – like clicks, CTR, and impressions driven by traditional formats like display advertising and its ilk – focus on lower funnel brand objectives, like driving conversions, purchases and acquisition of customers.

In digital, the formats matter less; brands should be buying the strategy. It’s confusing. If a brand or agency is buying a format, commoditization and price erosion is the expected evolution. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Plista, Outbrain and others commoditize the term native in the market, pitching advertisers and agencies their “native” solutions; more often than not they are simply lower-funnel, performance-based marketing tactics.

Our Recommendation

Ditch the term native completely, I heard more references than I would have liked to “native content”, which is still confusing. Your sales team will thank you for helping them differentiate what you offer from Google and Facebook. Read more here.

4. Mobile Monetization is lagging

I was surprised by the lack of discussion and emphasis on mobile monetization by Australian publishers. While many were proud of their audience growth (many citing over 60% of traffic now on mobile and growing at a much faster rate than desktop), few were bragging about their monetization strategy.

Mobile is not only mobile web. Mobile also includes AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and apps. The distributed ecosystem in mobile presents a challenge at the surface for publishers however we believe firmly that custom content is the monetization strategy of the future.

We have invested in ensuring our platform has support for publishers across all owned distribution channels. In the Australian market, this represents an untapped opportunity to increase distribution of custom content (thus reducing reliance on paid distribution, improving both quality of engagement and reducing costs) while also increasing revenue from mobile.

Our Recommendation

Once you see your owned audiences beyond your website, you will quickly see that user engagement is highest on “non-web” platforms, leading to higher CTRs for branded content promotions and higher average time spent engagement.

5. Less is More with level of brand integration

We recently conducted a large-scale study with Ipsos Connect to understand how branded content influences brand metrics, such as awareness, consideration, likeability and intent. Our full report has the complete findings, one major conclusion was that with brand integration, less is more.

The research conducted by Ipsos included content with varying levels of brand integration:

  • Sponsored Editorial: no brand integration or mention into the content, only brand association (via companion display ads, sometimes a brand logo/badge)
  • Custom Content with Light Integration: some light brand integration or mention in the content itself
  • Custom Content with Heavy Integration: more promotional in nature, the content read like an advertorial

Although there was positive brand lift (through brand metrics like interest and opinion) recorded for all levels of brand integration above, the highest brand lift was for sponsored editorial (where there was no explicit brand mention in the content itself). The more brand integration there was in the content, the less brand lift there was.

Although potentially counter-intuitive for some clients and agencies, the less is more insight is obvious to audience-minded publishers and it speaks to trusting and giving audiences credit. So the next time your client is trying to jam their brand name or product name into the headline or at the end of each paragraph, show them the above data to help make the case that less is more.

Our Recommendation

Educate, inform and inspire your clients to create great branded content with you that will drive the brand results they are looking for. Download the full 16-page research whitepaper here for the full data.

In summary, I remain bullish about the revenue growth opportunity for Australian publishers focused on custom content and am encouraged by the amount of progress I’ve seen in the past six months alone as the market continues to mature quickly.

And yes, the journey from Sydney to Toronto is a long one, but thankfully I’ve managed to learn how to avoid jet lag when traveling!

Kunal Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Polar. Follow his leadership blog at findfocus.today. At Polar, Kunal leads a talented team transforming the media publishing industry with technology. He is passionate about leadership and finding focus in a modern era. Connect with him on LinkedInMedium or Twitter.

BRANDED CONTENT BENCHMARKS Q2, 2017

JULY 2017

Polar’s Snapshot of Global Branded Content Performance presents the complete picture for major markets and publishers this past quarter.

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