Friday, April 11, 2008

The Vertical Advantage...Know What I Mean?

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to work in the local media planning trenches. It’s been a real eye-opener to business models in the local landscape and one of the benefits has been exposure to the “feet on the street” and the role they play throughout the media planning and buying experience.

Working as an agent allows you to delve deeply into a business sector while representing the company’s media spend. In booking across various business verticals within a multitude of directories/engines, there have been some highlights (as well as bleaker realizations).

Here are just a few…

  • There is a major variance in sales service across the publishers. This includes differences in self-procurement, sales contact and follow-up techniques.
  • User experiences across the landscape leave much to be desired. Some sites with the most visually appealing content suffer from poor navigation, glaring typos, horrible grammar or confusing messages.
  • As new players gun for share in a difficult marketplace, the challenge remains one of positioning the property as a viable advertising platform while generating users to sustain client bases. Marketing budgets only stretch so far, making the right decision on budget allocations is essential to survive.
  • Vertical directories, by the nature of their focused content, have great potential to succeed.

Focusing on the last point, vertical directories have an advantage over broader based directories in that they have extremely focused operations. They tend to have been founded by industry members. These members bring a wealth of talent to the table. A deep understanding of a vertical is key to targeting advertisers through personal contacts and industry event networking. From a selling perspective, the ability to speak the same language as your buyer is priceless.

Industry language goes deeper than just lingo like skids, plates or seats. Each sector has its own business owner profile. Profile variances run anywhere from attire and level of professionalism to hard factors like seasonality and peek business day hours.

In the buying seat, being approached by someone close to the industry goes many miles beyond a homogeneous sales representative. They come at the right time, say the right things and most importantly have customized products that simply make sense to the business owner. One of my favourite added features is the business-to-business angle.

Splitting into verticals may not be feasible under all circumstances but for publishers that have a sustainable mass directory working the front lines (granted, not everyone has that luxury), there is time to develop deep content with industry specific customized features. The challenge is in bottling the winning model vertically while not making the mistake of hastily cutting and pasting across various sectors and renaming – that would just be silly.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

TrustPlus Mobilizes eBay Reputation Data

Building significantly on its offering for users looking to create portable reputations online, TrustPlus has just licensed eBay’s buyer/seller data to further enhance user reputation profiles. TrustPlus users now have the ability to add the valuable ratings they’ve built on eBay into their TrustPlus profiles.

Users of the TrustPlus system download badges that are visible on their profiles at partnering sites like Craigslist, FaceBook, MySpace and LinkedIn. With this new partner, existing users of the system are encouraged to securely import data from eBay and when they do, the eBay brand appears as part of the user’s reputation portfolio. Profile viewers are able to drill deeper into the user reputation details after clicking to display a slick profile dashboard.

The move is a timely one as TrustPlus has capitalized on eBay’s first forays into monetizing its reputation data. As an established player in the field of personal online reputation, TrustPlus remains a free service with upgrade services available to users. In April, TrustPlus surpassed the 1 million unique system users per month mark and Maggie Wells, Vice President, Business Development said that the recent deal has created an even greater uptake in downloads as well as user activity.

Deeply ensconcing itself in the trust game TrustPlus will soon be offering a payment service allowing users to pay for online transactions through its platform.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Online Revenue Sneaks in Stability for Newspapers in Canada

A release from the Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA) today indicated some stability in advertising revenues.

“Total 2007 revenues for Canadian newspapers, including online operations, were marginally lower (-0.8%) dipping to $3.576 billion, the CNA reported. The slightly sharper decline in print advertising (-2.4%) was offset by vigorous growth in online revenues (+29%). Circulation sales were also down slightly, to $808.9 million, a drop of 1.2% over 2006, a year in which circulation sales posted a 3.8% gain.”

While the numbers represent a positive outlook for the publishers (there's time), the 29% increase in online ad revenue and its marginal impact on offsetting the decline in print revenue might signal the industry’s ongoing struggle to appropriately monetize the media channel.

Luckily, interactive local media is still in its early stages in Canada and so, the potential to further offset the “gentle” decline brings hope. Strategies are a foot and we’ll see a lot of strength coming from the online print networks once they’ve got their ducks in a row.

The release went on to make a salient point for online media planning/buying agencies. Over the past two years, there have been many tales of gloom and doom south of the border for the newspapers. Proximity and blurred media sources can easily influence a media planner’s decision and this is an example of why geographically specific research is so important.

The US Story...

“…total print advertising revenues in 2007 fell 9.4% to $42 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), the biggest year-over-year decline since 1950, when the NAA first began charting the numbers. The NAA said online revenue growth softened substantially, increasing by only 18.8% in 2007 (compared to 31.4% in 2006), ten points lower than the rate of growth in Canada in the same year.”

I believe that the newspapers have tremendous potential to mobilize their content and build out their online communities. In the meantime, one truth remains - fragmented media consumption calls for fragmented media planning.