The rise of Facebook and other popular social networks has presented an interesting existential challenge for publishers competing with them for media budgets: they’ve had to build game plans for taking advantage of the opportunity social platforms create while also maintaining control over their revenue options and editorial futures.
The competition for brand dollars has been fierce and when you look at the numbers, Facebook is winning. It has unparalleled audience scale through owning one of the most powerful distribution mechanisms in digital media.
The net effect of a period of upheaval in the media industry however, is that publishers on the open web can offer more unique benefits to brands than ever before. Investing their native spend on the open web allows brands to align their owned content with strong publishers, accessing high-quality, curated and desirable audiences.
There is no silver bullet to give publishers the inside track against powerhouses like Facebook and Google when competing for ad dollars, but they do have powerful owned and operated properties that resonate with consumers and shouldn’t be overlooked. They’ve built unique market propositions, surviving this current era of media bifurcation by leveraging their own brand equity while embracing a digital-native strategy.
Any brand deciding between sticking with the scale of Facebook or investing in the potential of the open web, should think about the following three things.
Publisher brands still offer huge potential for brand advertising
Consumers read, watch and subscribe to publishers because they enjoy, align, and in some cases, disagree with what the publisher has to say. They go to a publisher site because they’re in the discovery mindset and have a specific experience in mind. In contrast, they browse Facebook aimlessly, never paying full attention to any one thing.
Brands should look to publishers who identify a recognizable editorial voice that remains consistent across all content and editorial decisions, pursuing journalism and content that naturally aligns with that voice. This voice is the publisher’s most powerful asset in attracting brand spend and must be a central pillar of any online strategy.
Publishers in 2017 can act like media agencies
Publishers have started to offer brands the opportunity to partner with them and make their creative voice and energy directly available to, in essence acting more like an ad agency. This offers brands something that Facebook can’t match, with publishers leveraging their brand equity to open up an entirely new ad model.
We’re seeing the rise of branded content studios across many publishers. The obvious appeal as a brand is that they can avoid margins paid to a media agency by working directly with a publisher and their in-house creative team to develop creative and content that matches the editorial voice. There is a powerful logic to this. If distribution is reliant on the social networks, then publishers can work directly with advertisers to develop branded, sponsored content, and then exploit the distribution channels to deliver that content at scale.
Forward thinking publishers are embracing experimentation
To claw back some revenue that publishers have lost to social channels, they have embraced experimentation. A willingness to test and the ability to do so with speed have given publishers a vital edge in being able to offer brands cutting edge new native formats.
Often, we’ve seen publishers with multiple sites designate one to serve as a sandbox of sorts, allowing them to test ad units, vendors and technology on a small portion of traffic. By pre-designating a specific sandbox for experimentation – whether that’s one site, or even just an individual vertical – the publisher can keep innovating at pace. The ability to test quickly, make decisions and move on from ineffective tools has made many publishers more nimble and able to maintain pace with Facebook.
For brands deciding where to put their native spend, it may seem like Facebook is a forgone conclusion. But investing in spend on publishers on the open web who have a strong voice, offer innovative avenues to partnership and invest actively in new formats and ad experiences can offer a brand benefits that Facebook can’t match.