Ad blocking has existed for several years now, but has been adopted by millions of Internet users in the past several months. There were only 120,000 ad blocking users in January 2010, and in the past few months, ad blocking has increased by over a million users every month, which we tracked through the Chrome and Firefox webstores. This is a much higher rate than ever before. Why is this happening? Why now?
Let’s try to isolate all our variables in this ad-blocking equation. We have:
a) the actual ads (quality and type)
Have ads changed much over the past several years? It seems to me that ads have remained constant, with some sites presenting obtrusive, loud and animated ads, while other sites present more conservative ads. With the exception of video ads, which are relatively new, the spectrum of online advertising has not changed much. So, a change in the actual ads must not be a cause of the rise in ad blocking.
b) internet users
Have the Internet users changed over the past two or three years? There are two possible ways that Internet users changed. Either they have become fed up with the same old advertising. Or, they have seen so much Internet content, that they now feel entitled to ad-free content. Most likely, both of these are causes.
c) browsers and web-stores
Many internet users are migrating to Google Chrome from Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. Now, Chrome has over 35% of the browser market share (Source:StatCounter). Chrome has a super-effective web-store, with thousands of extensions available. More people are installing extensions now than ever before, and this inevitably leads to an increase in ad-blocking users.
d) ad-blocking technology
Has ad-blocking technology changed? AdBlock still blocks ads, as usual. But in order for AdBlock to have gained momentum, it needed to reach a critical mass. AdBlock technology is based on rules, which allowed it to become more effective as more users installed it (network effect). Only then, it provided enough value for its end-users, which then lead to a huge rise in downloads.
Many people seem to have a strong opinion on this subject matter; what’s yours?
This transition will mean targeted communities that are smaller and more social than the mass media audiences of the past will succeed like never before. Therefore, content will have to be focused, refined, interactive, shareable, and (most importantly) involve the audience in the creation process.
To get you ready for these important changes, here are five top tips for content marketing success:
#1. Bring the Customers Inside
Customers want businesses to solve their problems and are willing participants in that value creation process… if given the chance. Unfortunately, much of what we call “social” media marketing has hardly lived up to its name.
The key will be to move beyond the mass marketing mentality of “us vs. them.”
There’s also no greater sales force in the world than a satisfied customer. And while this was once an added bonus for marketers, it’s quickly becoming a necessity. Customers increasingly vet their purchasing decisions through social networks before even considering a company’s traditional marketing.
Some things to try:
Ask for customer input on new projects you’re working on.
Allow customers to tell their own stories through co-created content (see below).
Create incentives (social and financial) for customers to become evangelists of your business.
Make sure to show that you are actually using the feedback you receive.
#2. Focus, Focus, Focus
In the mass marketing era, half of the advertising was wasted but we just don’t know which half.
The Internet has created an ultra-segmented marketplace, which allows smart marketers to create specialized content that solves specific problems.
To be successful, your content has to be focused on a well-defined niche audience. Take the time to map out exactly who you are targeting by developing a detailed profile of your audience, including demographics, psychographics, and a thorough understanding of how they negotiate their social space.
#3. Get Organized
Most people classify content by format (blog, video, Tweet, etc.), often leading to repetitiveness and a sense by your audience that you’re shouting at them (rather than talking with them).
Why don’t you try a different framework, one that will give you a much clearer look at the role each piece of content plays in driving interaction within your community.
Original content – This is material created directly by you. It should address a specific customer need – be that information, instruction, humor, motivation, etc. Use it as a way to highlight your expertise, make yourself useful, and build trust with your audience.
Co-created content – Created together with others. In particular, you should target influencers within the niche who can help build your authority. Examples of this are guest posts like this one, a webinar highlighting the successes of your top customers, or a podcast with someone who has expertise that complements your own.
Curated content – Created by others but useful in some way to your audience. This includes stuff like retweets or emailing your list with a useful report that was created by another organization.
Reframing your thinking in this way will force you to always keep in mind the business purpose behind everything you create and share.
#4. Get Emotional
In his awesome book Contagious, Wharton professor Jonah Berger showed us that one of the key reasons people share content online is because it arouses a person’s emotion.
Content has to go beyond just being useful; it has to be unforgettable. Rather than trying to churn out quantity, take the time to figure out what kind of emotions move your audience.
In doing so, it’s important to remember that not all emotion is created equal. In his research, Berger identifies that certain kinds of emotions – those that get people “aroused” like awe, passion, and anger – are much more likely to drive shares than those that make people feel toned down – like sadness, relaxation, or contentment.
Ultimately, don’t be afraid to rock the boat a bit, because what gets one person excited might turn another one away. As long as you are exciting the right people (and treating everyone well in the process), it’s ok to let some people go.
#5. Respect the Numbers but Don’t be a Machine
There are so many tools out there that allow you to use data to paint a picture of your social landscape. So many in fact that it can turn into a hindrance if you’re not careful.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely crucial to analyze and optimize, but all the data in the world won’t do you a bit of good if you don’t understand people.
And one of the most important things to understand about people is that they change. Often. Data can be an important tool for measuring these changes – it can help you test assumptions and sometimes provide a needed reality check. But it’s no replacement for digging in and becoming part of your customer community.
So, make the effort to really get to know your customers. Instead of just mass emailings and webinars, take time to have individual conversations. Understand what people are struggling with and you’ll have a near endless stream of ideas for new content to create.
The Big Picture
The world of marketing is changing, and I would argue it’s for the better. By harnessing the power of community, businesses are ending the awful competition between buyer and seller, replacing it with a much healthier process of mutual value creation.
In 2014 the kind of guesswork that has long been the way marketers figure out what their audience wants will be replaced by actually getting to know the customers themselves. By talking with them instead of at them, we can start to create a new way of doing business, one that helps bring people together to solve the problems of our day.
You now have the framework to get started. Use it to go out and build yourself a dynamic, engaged, and profitable community in 2014.
Guest author: Jake Parent has been building communities for more than a decade. His site Learn To Be Heard teaches marketers and entrepreneurs how to use blogging and other social media to transform an audience of static listeners into a dynamic group of engaged participants.
Want to learn how to make your blog and content a success with social media marketing?
It is now available to download. I show you how to create and build a blog that rocks and grow tribes, fans and followers on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. It also includes dozens of tips to create contagious content that begs to be shared and tempts people to link to your website and blog.
I also reveal the tactics I used to grow my Twitter followers to over 185,000.
Forbes When Blogs Attack (Photo credit: niallkennedy)
The Revolutionary Way Marketers Read Your Financial Footprints
Cardlytics founders Scott Grimes and Lynne Laube Lynne Laube and Scott Grimes were among the few Capital One employees left at the office late one afternoon just before Thanksgiving break in 2007. It had been a long day, and they were kicking back in their own nerdy way: spinning stories about anonymous strangers by looking at their card-transaction data. “This looks like a soccer mom. You can tell because she is going toMcDonald’sMCD +0.32% and then TargetTGT -0.75% and then McDonalds and Babies ‘R’ Us,” says Laube. Grimes pointed to another set of data: “This is clearly a single guy. … He purchases at bars and Taco Bell.”
At one point the two executives looked at each other and went silent. “As far as we knew, no one was really using these stories to help marketers better reach that customer,” Grimes says. Card-swipe data was a largely untapped mother lode for banks that, seeing the growth of daily-deal startups likeGrouponGRPN -0.66%, would be able to make a little extra money (and win loyalty) by pitching targeted deals to customers. The banks would need a nimble middleman to crunch the data and deliver the offers. Within months the two quit their jobs and started Cardlytics. Laube, 43, Cardlytics’ president and COO, and Grimes, 51, its CEO, have since helped pioneer a data-driven advertising niche called merchant-funded rewards. It targets people based on what they buy, not who they are. “If you know where and how someone is spending money, you know lots of things about them without having to know their personally identifying information,” Laube says. Cardlytics, based in Atlanta, has a view into 70% of U.S. bank customers. Its servers will have read 11 billion U.S. transactions this year, amounting to $500 billion of spending. Its algorithms serve up 1 billion ads a month to more than 35 million customers on the websites and mobile apps of 400 banks, including Bank of AmericaBAC -0.06%, PNC, Regions and Lloyds Banking Group. Cardlytics says it drives $500 million in sales every quarter across all banks. In a typical arrangement the Sports Authority would want to know everyone who spends more than $100 a month on sporting goods but not at its stores. Cardlytics serves up a Sports Authority offer to those people, and Cardlytics and the banks share a commission from the merchant, typically about 10% of any resulting purchase. Merchant-funded rewards is still a nascent industry, but Cardlytics believes it has 80% of a market growing at north of 100% a year. Its rivals include Cartera Commerce, edo Interactive, FreeMonee and London-based ERN Global. Cardlytics expects to gross $25 million in the fourth quarter, for a total of $50 million for 2013, up fourfold from 2012. It expects to double revenue next year. Grimes and Laube have raised $104 million in venture funding from firms such as Canaan Partners and Polaris Venture Partners and strategic investors FIS and Aimia. The success of Cardlytics was far from a foregone conclusion. Despite their experience at Capital One (Laube was a vice president and Grimes a senior vice president), the duo was rejected by dozens of banks wrestling with the 2008 financial crisis and uneasy about sharing their customer data with two entrepreneurs with PowerPoint and no money. They couldn’t get merchants if they had no banks on board. Finally, in late 2008, they got one callback after a meeting with the biggest fish of them all: Bank of America. But on the drive from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C. Grimes’ car caught fire, and the deal went up in smoke, literally, and then figuratively as the bank feared Cardlytics was too small and untested. They snared their first big client, Intuit, in 2009. At the time the online tax-prep giant handled online banking transactions for many small banks. “I think it worked pretty well,” says Eric Dunn, Intuit’s SVP for payments and commerce solutions. But, he says, “Cardlytics had a hard time running along behind quickly enough to provide kind of a rich set of offers to cover the banks that they were adding.” Merchants became more interested after Cardlytics finally landed Bank of America in 2010. BankAmeriDeals went live last year, and its customers have received $17 million in savings and generated more than $700 million in sales. There are limits to what Cardlytics can know or wants to know. It sees only store-level data, so if you go to CVS, Cardlytics doesn’t know whether you bought Xanax, chewing gum or condoms. “If someone is doing online gambling, we see that. If they are buying porn at an X-rated site, we see that. We obviously don’t use that data, but we do see all of the purchases,” Laube says. The banks remain sticklers for privacy, and prohibit Cardlytics and its rivals from moving the data off the banks’ servers. Aditya Bhasin, a senior vice president at BofA overseeing analytics and digital banking, says, “It is extremely important to us that customer information remains inside Bank of America and that no individual customer information is ever shared either with Cardlytics or the merchant.” The success of card-based rewards will depend on whether merchants, many of whom have soured on daily deal programs such as Groupon and LivingSocial, see any value from them. Gadi Maier, CEO and cofounder of Cardlytics competitor FreeMonee, is cautious about the field’s future–at least the way his rivals are approaching it. Promising better data analytics than rivals in boosting store sales, he has raised around $40 million in venture capital and expects sales of $10 million this year. His firm, with partners such as Citibank, Discover, Capital One and U.S. Bank, offers data-targeted gifts to customers that expire relatively quickly. “Almost all of the results that merchants are seeing in the card-linked space are the results of accidental redemption,” he says, referring to people who click on offers but use them only weeks or months later when they’re going to that store anyway. Cardlytics says it can prove the positive impact of its program by setting aside thousands of consumers as a control group who don’t get the offer. Some experts fear the success of merchant-funded rewards could prompt banks and brands to move into more sensitive categories such as health care, gambling or sex in a manner that could alienate clients. “Without any type of regulation and without any type of limit other than the profit model and greed, it seems to me to be inevitable we are going to get to the point where abuses are going to occur,” says Scott Dueweke, an expert on alternative payments at Booz Allen Hamilton. “There will be a backlash, not just from the tinfoil-hat, libertarian crowd but from people who are quite average.” “I don’t think anyone has quite figured out what level of sharing is okay and what value can be driven given the constraints,” says Deepinder Gulati, who served previously as the American Express vice president overseeing strategic insights and digital analytics. If the banks lose their appetite for rewards programs, Cardlytics has plenty of others who want access to its data insights. “We have hedge funds calling us at least once a week saying, ‘Will you sell us the data so we can use it to better predict earnings?’ ” Laube says. “ And we have enough data that I can tell you if any given retailer is going to be up or down for the quarter.” There are plenty of tempting lines of new revenue, if the banks are willing to let Cardlytics have at them. TRENDING What the 55 million Forbes.com users are talking about. For a deeper dive go to Forbes.com/TECHNOLOGY COMPANY Salesforce.com A big deal with HP and a hyped customer confab in San Francisco masked a milestone: Salesforce is the first cloud-computing firm to gross $1 billion in a quarter. PERSON Kuwabatake Sanjuro That’s a pseudonym for the creator of Assassination Market, a site that lets anyone anonymously contribute Bitcoins toward a bounty on any government official. It’s Kickstarter for political hits. IDEA Space Horticulture In 2015 NASA’s Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team will try to raise basil, sunflowers and turnips in coffee-can-size aluminum cylinders–on the moon. It’d be the first creation of life on another celestial body.