Think Like A Publisher, Act Like A Retailer

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 21, 2015
As I enter the last week before Christmas and continue planning for 2016, I can’t seem to get away from the theme of how time- and place-shifting have impacted how consumers view and react to content.   

We are still humans with emotional connections to things, places and people. Mass merchandising and advertising try to play off these emotions — and, in the context of the location, can work well. But what can you really expect from email, a digital medium where users spend less than three to five seconds viewing something that’s one of 100 they get every day? Why do we put so much effort into rich content if email is simply an interstitial with filtering?

If you are like many marketers, you are thinking about the impact points and trying to optimize that moment — maybe trying to time it, or even trying to be remotely contextual with types of information that would capture consumers’ attention for that brief moment.   This is what I call “optimizing the minority.”



In the grand funnel of marketing, you start with an audience of, let’s say, 100. The ISP gatekeepers let 95-98 see an email — and, depending on your reputation, anywhere from 10%-15% could be in the SPAM /JUNK folder, so conservatively, so let’s say you start with an audience of 90.

In most commercial environments, 20%-30% is a good viewership (meaning people actually saw an image) and people actually taking action is anywhere from 1% to 10%.  To optimize the minority, you are essentially putting an effort toward nine to 10 addresses for every 100 people on your list.  Not bad compared to direct marketing trends and direct mail.  

While life isn’t that logical, the math makes it easier to understand why email gets such a small percent of the budget.  Unlike media, where there’s an infinite audience (You can buy as big an audience as your budget will allow), email has a fixed audience that swells and shrinks at various times, but usually not more than 1%-3% a month. I’m not rationalizing media over email by an means, but the fact is, with media you get one shot. With email you can think about conditioning and how content impacts a long-tail view of engagement.

The million-dollar question for most leaders is, what is that point where you can justify doing more — and what is the more? With such a short window of payback, many resort to optimizing the minority vs. a long-tail view of content, syndication and engagement.  Is it because we are lacking the ability to sell it?  Lacking the ability to justify it? Or is there just not enough hands on deck to think past the 10%?

What I like about publishers is they are primarily focused on monetizing the reader. In order to do that, they must have a solid content strategy, they must syndicate content frequently, they have to think about the reader and what device and medium to use. If someone doesn’t read, click or engage with their content, they will not make money.   

I believe retailers are simply publishers in sheep’s clothing.  While the objectives are different — engagement vs. purchase — all major retailers are moving  in the direction of original content..   This is the day and age of online reviews, virtual shelfs and webrooming.   

While I don’t believe consumers will shift overnight to a content strategy from retailers, I do believe there is more value exchange to this approach than with coupons and discounts, since  the core motivation is to communicate with a consumer.   Retail brands need to think about engagement, and begin to act like it’s important.   The retailer-shopper relationship is much broader and deeper than ever.   

In 2016, think about how to engage the 90%, and find ways to internally monetize those strategies.   We are in a newer world than we were 30 seconds ago.

2 comments about "Think Like A Publisher, Act Like A Retailer ".
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  1. Kim Garretson from RealizingInnovation, December 21, 2015 at 12:24 p.m.

    As Best Buy's former Director of Emerging Media (2002-2007) I was charged with innovations to turn BBY in to a publisher. So I agree with everything David Baker says here. But, I want to point out a challenge to all the content that retailers and their brands have is cost. Obviously there is a high cost with labor to the brand, agency and retailer to create multiple variations of all this content for all the channels a retailer would need to 'publish to'. But I am particularly interested in new technologies maturing from three companies that use AI to "write" different variations of copy from the same base data. For instance, if the product has several hundred reviews, ranked from one star to five stars, this technology can "read" all the reviews and in seconds create stories such as: "The Top Ten Reasons Consumers Love This Product" or "The Five Reasons Why This Product May Not Be Ideal for Your Use."



  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 21, 2015 at 2:43 p.m.

    If AI is going to "write" copy from data and then AI, so many bots with more born every second, reads it, what then ? Brave New World, David ? :)

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