Making good on marketing tech investments in publishing

As businesses start to settle into the rhythm of new development cycles in the second quarter of the year, many publishing businesses might be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

New opportunity abounds. Key initiatives include things like bots and automated publishing and engagement, advanced personalisation, programmatic advertising and the monetisation of more image-rich spin off properties that satisfy the demand for Pinterest style browsing.

At the same time, the same players cast long shadows across the marketplace. Facebook and other social media dominate as the defacto point of engagement (and disengagement) for all our content.

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Google continues to innovate with the introduction of new content delivery mechanisms and filters, especially for mobile. Something, somewhere is always getting in the way of the publisher and consumers – this is the meaning of disruption in this sector, and the call to arms is always more and more innovation and investment in new digital strategies.

Now you may expect vendors to feel great about this, but on balance they’re not ready for it. Squiz is a vendor that works with a variety of large international publishers such as Elsevier, LexisNexis and Oxford University Press – all of whom have been around for a while, and all of whom are doing a great job of translating their gold standard heritage to the digital-first age.

In each case the challenges are similar: making good on a technology investment (last year’s investment) is hard to do.

Why? Well take a look at the results of Squiz’s annual research report. It’s a survey of 600 senior marketing professionals from around the world, across all key industry sectors.

The results tell us a few interesting things

1) All companies are investing heavily in marketing technology

Over 60% of organisations that we surveyed have made major investments in MarTech over past 12 months. The media and publishing industry is the second biggest investor (after financial services) and is overwhelmingly the heaviest day-to-day user of the stuff.

2) Many companies are committed to the space race

While 60% of survey respondents feel that this MarTech investment is enabling them to be more strategic, in media and publishing 45% of organisations are doing it to stay relevant versus their competitors.

>See also: 8 predictions for digital marketing in 2017

3) Half of all marketing departments are not on the same page as the rest of the business

50% feel that their marketing team’s goals are not closely aligned with their colleagues – 48% of them blame internal politics and/or troublesome team silos, and 37% feel that they don’t have the time to realise the value in their tech.

4) Over a third of companies are not delivering the goods on what they set out to do

55% made investments in 2016 in order to take a more data-driven approach to marketing. In media and publishing, however, 36% of people struggle to translate this data into meaningful activity.

The last two points ought to make publishing CFOs a bit nervous.

On the one hand, publishers seem to be making the right type of investments to get them closer to their customers: to help them to mitigate a purely Facebook – and Google -driven future.

Data-driven acquisition, nurturing, personalisation and conversion is the hallmark of a good digital marketing strategy. Building things which cement your audience relationship is a great thing to be doing right now.

On the other hand, the results suggest something is out of whack. Whilst the commitment to innovation is encouraging, the tail may be wagging the dog. Organisational alignment isn’t where it needs to be in order to deploy the technology effectively. Nor are the supporting business processes or teams. And getting this aspect right can be messy.

So, how can publishers deliver returns on their MarTech investments?

For inspiration, Netflix is a good example – another key competitor amongst publishers in the attention economy.

Netflix does a couple of things incredibly well: as well as being data-driven it is also discovery-driven. And it’s the ‘discovery’ aspect that all publishers should be really focused on.

Netflix connects people to great content, regardless of who created it or where it was originally from. It removes a lot of the friction from how I plan my TV viewing: ‘I don’t need to spend much time hopping from one place to the next figuring out what to watch with my pizza.’ Netflix is something like a ‘universal search’ tool for the world’s film and TV – and if it doesn’t have what someone is looking for then it’ll give them a next best bet on what it thinks they might like. And because it does this so well, Netflix has become a go-to destination – a genuine starting point – for TV and film consumption.

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Finding content more easily, helping people connect more easily to the next great piece of content, being a starting point for their next content discovery: all of these things should be driving forces for a publisher’s digital marketing strategy. It’s a simple thought, but the underlying requirement is complex.

How much time do you spend marketing your back catalogue of content? (Netflix’s business is based almost entirely on back catalogue content, by the way. New isn’t always best.)

For those of you that do make that investment, how much of this is done across different mastheads, genres and imprints? And if you wanted to do more of it, how connected are your teams, your marketing plans, and your processes? How much of your content inventory is locked up in your organisational silos? How much of it could be delivered to your audience in a unified fashion?

Doing this is somewhat easier for Netflix. They are a digital-first organisation, born on the web. They were designed to do agnostic content ‘discovery’ from the get-go.

For every other publisher out there who is motivated to make their content more discoverable, easier to syndicate to third parties and less reliant on one or more core referral platforms, the work at hand has more to do with internal alignment of teams and legacy lines of business than it does with the introduction of another new round of technology.

Hence, focus your digital marketing efforts on decoupling your people, data, plans and campaigns from any organisational silos that you may have so that you can find ways to enhance the content ‘discovery’ process – and connect your audiences to the best possible range of choices.

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Technology can be a great enabler here, given the right data to work with. If your content is organised and published in an agnostic way (agnostic to specific brand or publication, agnostic to marketing channel) then it becomes a lot easier to abstract it and re-compile it in new, more compelling discovery environments, apps and interfaces than a basic web page. It can also be deployed across alternative communications platforms like Facebook Messenger and others.

Do this difficult work well and you’ll be able to realise a proper return on your marketing technology investment.


Sourced by Roger Warner, Head of Consulting, Squiz


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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