Content, Meet Reach and Targeting

It’s no secret that Federated Media has deep roots in content marketing: We re-imagined CM for the modern web eight years ago, and since then have executed thousands of content-driven programs with hundreds of awesome publishers, services, and brands. “All Brands Are Publishers” has been one of our core mantras since our founding. And each year we run the CM Summit, where the topic of native, content, and conversation-driven marketing across all digital platforms is dissected.

Back when I was first studying the intersection of brand marketing and technology – about the same time as The Search and the founding of FM – I started talking and writing about  “The Conversation Economy.” Its core theme is this: “In the future, all companies must learn how to have 1-1 conversations with their customers at scale, leveraging digital technologies.”

Back then, actually executing on such an idea seemed a pipe dream. Recall, this was before Twitter, before Facebook, and before the Lumascapes. But one reason I love this industry is that we can dream big, and a few short years later, those dreams can become reality.

With the proliferation of “native” platforms like Twitter, Google, Facebook, Tumblr, and blogs, the idea of “branded publishing” has truly caught on. Every major agency (and publisher) has a brand storytelling shop, some have gone so far as to declare publishing to be central to their future. This is a very good thing – the massive infrastructure of media and marketing is slowly reshaping itself to become more nimble and responsive to how the world actually communicates.

But storytelling alone isn’t enough to get the job done. As an industry we need a platform that allows us to distribute those stories to just the right people, at just the right time, in just the right context. Up until recently, the only platform that allowed that kind of precision was search – hardly a great story telling medium for marketers, and driven by direct response dollars, in the main.

In the past few years, programmatic adtech has erupted onto the scene, but again, this technology platform has been used primarily for direct response. Programmatic’s rise has in large part been driven by “retargeting” – the practice of identifying a customer who visits your site, then finding him or her across the web and serving ads related to what they saw during their visit. Retargeting is now a core conversion tool for sophisticated direct marketers. It’s why that pair of shoes you looked at on Zappos keeps following you around the web.

Two years ago, we developed a thesis at FM: Programmatic adtech was going to drive brand marketing, and the bridge between the two would be content marketing. That’s why we bought Lijit Networks, one of the largest independent adtech companies in the United States. We believed then, and even more so now, that programmatic + content marketing = brand building.

While direct response is important, building brand awareness, preference, and loyalty remains a fundamental need. Brands need a scaled way to tell their stories to the right people in the right context. In the past 18 months,  “scaled walled gardens” like Facebook land Twitter began to offer native advertising suites that offered just that promise (Tumblr offers a similar promise, one Yahoo! believes it can deliver upon).

But what about  the “rest of the Internet”? While it’s fun to try out new “native” sites like Buzzfeed, the web wants a scaled play in “content marketing” that also checks the boxes of efficiency and highly evolved targeting.

Well, we’d like to introduce you to FM’s newest product suite, which (for now) we’re calling “Content Reachtargeting.” Internally, we like to refer to this effort as the “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup” of marketing – you have your chocolate of high-quality content mixed with the peanut butter of programmatic retargeting. A perfect combination.

Here’s how FM’s content reachtargeting works (it’s quite simple, really). A brand executes a content marketing program  (for illustration purposes, let’s use Levi’s, whose Curve ID program with FM recently won Gold from the Content Marketing Awards.) Below is one of the many pieces of content we created for that campaign:

At present, most content marketing, including the Curve ID program, is created and distributed in what might be called a “traditional” fashion. We worked with Levi’s and its agencies to create great content through our network of high quality independent publishers. Those publishers posted their content on their own sites, and we distributed it as part of a flighted media plan across related FM sites. Our best performing units are often our “native conversationalist” product, which place the content in the editorial well of related sites.

But while these kind of content marketing programs have extraordinary results (I’ll spare you the details, but FM’s content programs perform three to thirty times better than industry benchmarks), they lack the reach and frequency that brands crave. Wouldn’t it be great if you could identify individuals who have seen that great branded content, then show them more of it as they cruise the rest of the Internet?  And better yet, wouldn’t it be great if that content could be presented to you in the right context – IE, if you first saw that Levi’s Curve ID content on a women’s lifestyle site, you’d see similar content on similar sites that you visit across the web?

The possibilities are quite diverse, and very exciting. You could create concentric circles with branded content at the core, identifying audience members who have shared the content, viewed the content, or simply visited sites where the content is hosted. And you can extend your reach and identify audiences similar in nature to those who have responded to your branded content, but haven’t yet been exposed to it. Or you can narrow down your messaging to just those who have shared the branded content – those special individuals might get exposed to creative  that thanks them for sharing. Imagine that – intelligent banners that speak directly to an individual! It’s now possible with the combination of content marketing and programmatic infrastructure.

In essence, FM’s new product suite is all about making this possible. It combines Federated’s two great strengths – our eight years of content marketing savvy and our scaled and sophisticated programmatic exchange (we see around 300mm uniques a month – that’s scale!). We’ll be announcing the details during Adweek this coming September, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’d like more information about working with us on content retargeting, give us a shout!

Congratulations, Deanna!

I am very pleased to announce that Deanna Brown, who has been leading FM as President and COO since Fall of 2009, will be stepping up to the role of CEO, effective immediately.

Those of you who’ve been reading my posts on the FM site for some time may recall the announcement of my original search for a partner back in May of 2009. When we announced that search, I wrote:

It’s time to take it to the next level. FM is no longer a scrappy startup, and while its leadership team is deep and experienced, we’ve come to the conclusion that to take the company to the place we all know it can go, we need an additional leader on board.

During the past year and a half, Deanna has become an essential and highly respected member of our FM family and, if I might be selfish for a moment, she’s been a crucial partner to me. She has expertly led our team into exciting new territory and continues to focus on our growth and evolution as a company. And her promotion marks a new high in FM’s nearly six years of growth. (For some deeper reading on my approach to being a CEO, see the first post I wrote announcing the business, six years ago this March).

A few milestones during Deanna’s tenure, from our press release announcing her promotion:

·       Six consecutive quarters of profitability for the company

·       A 62 percent growth in top-line revenue and a 35 percent growth in ad programs

·       Investments and acquisitions to help better serve partners, including TextDigger, BigTent, FoodBuzz and Clever Girls

·       Continued focus on hiring top level talent to supporting client teams and new product offerings

While Deanna is taking over the role of CEO, not too much will change – as you can see from the results above, she’s already been effectively running the company for nearly a year and a half. She will continue to do what she has always done and does very well: run this company and lead the FM team into an action-packed 2011 and beyond.

So what about me? Over the past year, I’ve come to depend on Deanna and our senior managers to manage the company, and I’ve been increasingly in the field, talking with partners and staying on top of this extraordinary industry. This will not change. As I wrote in that post back in 2009:

In order to take FM to the next level, it’s essential that I intensify my role working with our major clients, thinking hard about where the media business is going (a fascinating question), and evangelizing the market in which we operate.

I will continue and deepen this work. I’ll be very involved in the company in my new role as Executive Chairman of the Federated Media Board of Directors. This move will also allow me to lead Federated Media’s own event series, which has expanded significantly for 2011, and to focus on strategy.

I’ve been working closely with the Federated Media Board over the past year to prepare for this leadership transition that highlights both Deanna’s and my strengths as partners.

Please help me congratulate Deanna on her new position. I’m thrilled for her, for Federated, and for all our partners.

Tiny Urban Kitchen Wins Project Food Blog, $10K

New FM community Foodbuzz has announced Jennifer Che, creator of the Boston-based blog Tiny Urban Kitchen, as the winner of its first Project Food Blog competition. The survive and advance-style contest saw 700 food bloggers through 10 weeks of challenges that ranged from hosting and photographing a luxury dinner party to preparing and sharing foreign cuisines. Finalists of the Buick LaCrosse-sponsored program included Oh She Glows’ Angela Liddon and No Recipes’ Marc Matsumoto, and Che’s win was announced during a recent community tweetup.

Che’s entries, including advice on sushi making and flag-themed pizzas in homage to her 12 favorite countries, won her a $10,000 prize. Three judges — FOOD & WINE Magazine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin, La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton, and author Pim Techamuanvivit — narrowed down the field weekly with the input of Foodbuzz community members. Ben Dehan, Foodbuzz founder and FM SVP, described the project as a showcase for the food blogger community’s creativity, passion, and talent. “Due to the high level of community support, it’s clear that Project Food Blog has value as a platform feature for lifestyle brands, and we’re looking forward to hosting the contest in future years,” Dehan said. Foodbuzz became part of FM in November.

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FM Announces Foodbuzz Acquisition

We’re excited to share news of FM’s acquisition of Foodbuzz, a leading online food community that is the fastest growing in its space. The combination will make it easier for brands to surround one of the web’s most popular topics.

Exclusive relationships with more than 4,400 independent food bloggers allow Foodbuzz to reach more than 14 million unique users per month. Combined with FM’s premier food sites, including Serious Eats and Bakerella, the new offering gives marketers increased opportunities to engage with audiences sharing recipes and recommendations.

FM’s purchase of Foodbuzz comes on the heels of three other significant transactions: the acquisition of BigTent, the leading community platform for local groups, especially groups of parents; the acquisition of semantic-search technology from TextDigger; and a partnership with the Clever Girls Collective to reach audiences on more than 1,000 top-quality lifestyle blogs.

You can read more about the news from AllThingsD, PaidContent, and AdAge, in addition to the press release.

Signal Series Coming Soon to a City Near You

With the completion of the Web 2.0 Summit today (and the headlines it brought), we’re excited to share plans for a three-city series of online marketing events. Day-long sessions as part of the Signal Series executive produced by John Battelle are scheduled for Los Angeles, Austin and Chicago in the early part of 2011.

The first meeting of business leaders and marketers will take place on February 8 in Southern California. Scheduled speakers around the theme of content marketing include FM COO Deanna Brown, Mandalay Entertainment Group CEO Peter Guber, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, and Slideshare co-founder Rashmi Sinha among others. Signal events will take place in advance of the sixth CM Summit during Internet Week next June.