Targeting Feeds

Advertising money has long been guided by the adage of going to where the eyeballs are. More recently, of course, that imperative has been refined to mean, target where the right eyeballs for your product or brand are. In pursuit of that premise, advertisers have directed substantial amounts of targeted messages to nearly every online venue available. Yet till now, as Bill Flitter, CEO of Pheedo, explains below, advertisers have under-utilized, if not entirely overlooked, a channel rich in both eyeballs and targeting potential.

Behavioral Insider: What are the most interesting and unique things marketers should be thinking about in considering RSS and how it relates to targeting potential?

Bill Flitter: When you consider the magnitude of RSS usage and how quickly it's grown, it's an amazingly, astoundingly under-utilized channel. RSS has just simply been stuck under the radar. If you think of feeds you have a group that has opted-in to receive a particular kind of information. If you take a Web site, on the other hand, you do know the visitor is on a Web site of a certain kind but you have no idea really how they got there. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe they're just casually surfing around. You have no sense of the context of their interest. So [it's better] if you serve ads inside a feed based on the interest profile generated from a consumer's mix of subscriptions.

 
BI: What are the challenges? Why isn't everyone jumping into it?

Flitter: The challenge, of course, is that just as RSS is a very easy way to customize Web content by interest, it's also very easy to unsubscribe. So if you're getting content that isn't totally relevant, there's no patience with it on the part of consumers. For an advertiser, that means there's no margin of error. If you follow the available impressions, you get three big areas of feed content- business to business, technology and finance. But what's interesting is that ads embedded in ‘off-content' feeds -- that is, those not directly related to the advertiser's vertical -- perform very well if there's a good demographic or psychographic fit. For instance, the NFL wanted to target affluent 25- to 34-year-olds, and they found that prime audience segments for them weren't necessarily at sports feeds but in business, gaming and technology feeds.

 
BI: Describe the learning curve involved in adopting a behavioral analytical approach to feeds.

Flitter: Our approach to feeds is to get publishers to think of their feed content in terms of advertising potential. What that means is that when a publisher says to us, ‘I have 10 thousand subscribers and I have 10 content items per feed then I have 100 thousand impressions to sell' we know we need to educate them. We need to convey a new model of advertising potential revenue, a model based on activity level. So feed analytics focuses on, first, which readers actually read feeds and how many they read, and then which ones they read. Then it focuses on things like how much time they spend on feeds and when they read them in terms of day part. When you analyze it that way, you're calculating monetizable impressions. And as an optimizer you're focusing on how to increase activity per user. Those are the data points that are becoming increasingly important.

BI: I know you're very focused on widgets as a distribution medium. How does that relate to what you're saying?

Flitter: Another critical metric for feeds is which items are shared and forwarded. When we look at average click rates, it's clear that items that were shared have a higher rate. That could mean emailed to a friend or added to Digg or Del.icio.us or other aggregators.

BI: What kinds of feed- and feed targeting-related developments are you most excited about over the next six to 12 months?

Flitter: Looking forward, there are problems with advertising that have existed since advertising began that we are getting a fresh look at. On a Web site a consumer can see an ad and not click on it, and you don't really know what their frame of mind is or why they didn't click. It's possible of course the ad was just not relevant to them, but it's also possible it was relevant but you just reached them at the wrong time. Or that they just bought the product but are very passionate about your product and could be an evangelist for it. So the challenge is to provide other means of interacting with ads beyond immediate click-through. That requires easy ways to bookmark and share ad content. Say I see an ad for a Nissan Moreno. Now I recently bought one and love the car, and when I see the ad I think ‘Joe should see this' and send it to him. So there's much more to interaction than just getting a consumer to play with Flash games. The goal is to have ads that become content in their own right.

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