Is the Podcast “Live Read” an Actual Evil or Just a Necessary Evil?

Originally written for Fusion Lightworks' "Native Insights from the Team" series.

Podcasts have exploded in popularity in recent years, and this has lead to an increased focus on how advertisers and brands fit into the medium.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s break podcast advertising down into two categories: an “interstitial ad,” where the ad is read by a non-host, and a “live read,” where the ad is read by the podcast’s host.

These categories mirror the split between traditional display ads and more fashionable branded content and native ads, where advertiser content is created to mirror the style and format of editorial content. Interstitial podcast ads are often read in a pitchman’s voice, separated from the podcast content, and can be easily skipped. On Apple’s podcast app, which accounts for 82% of all smartphone podcast listening according to Clammr, listeners can easily skip ahead and avoid bothersome ads with the help of a 15-second fast-forward button. Live reads, producers and advertisers hope, can be smooth enough to keep listeners away from the 15-second fast-forward button and engaging enough to drive entertainment for the audience and value for advertisers.

Often, live reads take brand integration one step further by creating custom segments and narrative features about an advertiser. Before their legal struggles, daily fantasy sites Draft Kings and Fan Duel made headlines this fall by over-saturating the media world with advertisements, including heavily integrated podcast ads. On ESPN’s The Dan Patrick Show podcast, Patrick does a live read promoting Fan Duel, which segues into a segment about a Fan Duel game where listeners play against him and the Dan Patrick Show staff.

Live reads and associated integrations are far more engaging than interstitial ads, but they can also put producers and talent in difficult situations. Draft Kings and Fan Duel’s legal difficulties have been hot news lately, but Dan Patrick reporting on Fan Duel legal proceedings after a Fan Duel live read, or even during the same episode, feels disingenuous at best.

On the other side of the spectrum, Draft Kings frequently ran interstitial ads on Deadspin’s Deadcast throughout the fall. Deadspin, well-known for its aggressive reporting and candid takes on sports and sports media, did not shy away from reporting on Draft Kings, or reflecting on its position as both an advertising partner and a critic. Columnist and Deadcast host Drew Magary went as far to write a blog titled “I Tried Daily Fantasy Sports and It is Evil,” which including the line, “And so I have to state here, explicitly, that I have no control over ad buys on that podcast, and I am free to say F*CK DRAFTKINGS all I like.”

The easy link comparing these two examples would be to say that all live reads are evil – since they must inhibit editorial independence and limit the opportunity to frankly report on situations that an advertiser may be involved with. However, much like in the world of native advertising, effective brand integrations come in shades of grey. The worst integrations invite mockery, while the best win awards. Best practices for native advertising have become clearer as the tactic becomes more common, but podcast advertising is still in its infancy. Roughly produced, heavily promotional branded content often leads to more effective, and more clearly labeled examples over time, and the same is true in the podcast world.

The podcast shop Gimlet Media perhaps exemplifies this best. On a recent episodes of its meta-referential show StartUp, Gimlet co-founder Alex Blumberg has examined his company’s advertising strategy and the need to balance engaging live reads and brand integrations with the detached perspective of objective journalism. Their solution – a narratively driven piece of advertising that is reported like a story and offset by background music that indicates a shift to an ad block. This format is still a live read, albeit one that strictly minds the editorial/advertising divide.

It seems that the live read is here to stay. The nonprofit Public Radio Exchange reported that sponsorship revenue, most coming from podcasts, grew 9x form 2013 to 2015. The debate shouldn’t be the format of podcast ads, but rather, who can do it better?

TL;DR? Live reads are a necessary evil.

How to Create Compelling eBooks

Have great ideas but are unsure how to package them as effective content marketing? Blogs are great for short takes on topics your readers love, but some ideas are so rich they deserve a more in-depth treatment.

That’s where eBooks come in.

eBooks are perfect for content that’s too long for a blog post, but too short for a whitepaper. When done right, eBooks can bring in new quality leads, showcase a staff’s writing and design chops, and position brands as thought leaders. In today’s collaborative economy, sharing what you know is a perfect way to show how your brand is best.

But like anything, poorly-made eBooks can be a bust, so make sure you spend your time and talents wisely.

At Visually, some of the best sales-qualified leads and largest opportunities come from our ebook content – and using the following techniques, we increased that figure by over 400 percent over a five-month time period.

To help brands get started creating their first quality eBook — or even just improving the eBook practice that already have — Visually has created an eBook guide to eBooks (yes, it’s pretty meta). It includes lessons learned from experience creating eBooks, including the best strategy for maximizing impact, design and writing ideas to keep readers “turning” the page, and a checklist for distributing the eBook in all the right places.

Up your eBook content marketing game by downloading “How to Create Compelling eBooks,” then be sure to share it with friends and colleagues.

How to Go Native: Make the Most of Sponsored Content

Originally written for Lean Back, The Economist Group's blog of intelligent insights for the entrepreneurial chief marketing officer.

In 2014, everyone talked about native advertising, but few were making the most of it. This will all change in 2015, as publishers offer solutions that are both impactful for marketers and compelling for readers.

However, winning with native is not as easy as simply purchasing an ad. The first stage is to partner with those publishers that are getting the basics right, confidently identifying their ads as sponsored content, matching them to their site’s editorial tone and creating content that resonates.

The process should include identifying the publications your target market actively consumes but also knowing which of them have created their own custom content groups. In addition to stylistic differences that reflect their parent publications, different in-house groups have different specialties. For example, SlateCustom has perfected the art of the infographic and Onion Labs specializes in video production. These groups are perfectly in sync with their publication’s tone, style and audience, and working with them makes it more likely that your efforts will be successful.

Ensure you have a story to tell: It’s no secret that great storytelling is a sure-fire path to success – make sure that your message can be crafted into a compelling and interesting story. Onion Labs may be able to make comedy gold out of most topics, but don’t set yourself up for failure by creating a brief that won’t lend itself to a good story.

Rely on your partners to know their site best: Your content lab partner will be completely in sync with their publication’s tone and audience so there is less of a need to micro-manage. Let go a bit. After all, this is why you’ve partnered with a content lab.

“Trust in a publishing partner is paramount,” says Adam Clement, a native content strategist at Mental Floss. “We’ve seen what happens when brands throw caution to the wind and achieve real virality by allowing publishers in the driver’s seat. It’s why brands like Intel are able to piggyback on a Mental Floss list show about lifehacks to reach a discerning yet receptive audience rabid for intellectual content.”

Align your native ad with your strategies: While native is a unique form of advertising, don’t ignore traditional promotional and distribution tactics. Traditional social media strategies still work and can be amplified by your content partner’s social media reach. Forbes, for example, tweeted a BrandVoice native ad for SAP from their main account with 4.43 million followers.

Make sure your native strategy supports your larger strategy: Native is not the place to indulge your dreams. This is still paid content and if your native/sponsored content doesn’t fit with your larger strategy, it won’t drive any benefits for your brand. While custom content is meant to be different, ensure that it still fits with your larger goals and brand voice.

Connect it to e-commerce: Similarly, don’t forget your overall goal, be it driving awareness, favorability or identifying new leads and new customers. Using your content lab partnership to drive traffic to Amazon, an e-commerce store or a specific section of your website can lead directly to sales lifts.

How Experiential Commerce Can Take Your Online Store to the Next Level

Originally written for Visually, the world's marketplace for visual content.

Experiential commerce, as its name suggests, often combines immersive and engaging web experiences with traditional online shopping. With more and more consumer dollars going to online stores every day, it’s important for brands to make their eCommerce sites as robust and engaging as possible. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Online shopping was born out of convenience – shopping from the office, the couch, or even the restroom is easier than driving to a brick and mortar store, sorting through isles to find the right product (that might not even be in stock), and then driving back home.

As marketers look towards content to drive sales and bolster their brand, many are ignoring a huge opportunity in their already existing eCommerce sites. By turning away from the standard rows and columns of products and instead toward bespoke experiences that truly engage consumers, eCommmerce can regain some of the magic it had in the era of the first online stores.

Building engagement

Only 11% of retailers have embraced experiential commerce tactics, according to research by CoreMedia. The term is rapidly shifting and evolving, but the key difference between experiential commerce and the typical online store is the engagement factor – online retailers that are able to engage consumers beyond just a few scrolls and a mouse can stake a claim to the strategy. The minority who have incorporated experiential tactics in their online stores are seeing enormous returns. Warby Parker, which was recently named Fast Company’s most innovative company of 2015, allows customers to do a virtual glasses try on via their webcam and then download the image or share on social media.

Trunk Club has also embraced experiential commerce to diagnose customer preferences. Trunk Club pairs consumers with personal stylists who select, curate, and source clothing that fits their needs and style. To diagnose what kind of clothing consumers need, Trunk Club utilizes a survey that is a survey only in name. By putting a premium on clean design and eye-catching pictures, the onboarding process feels decidedly unlike a traditional customer preference questionnaire.

Experiential commerce is not just a way to improve the experience on your existing eCommerce page. It is also an opportunity to take advantage of the most cutting edge advertising and technology trends. The fashion retailer Asos hosted a massive Google Hangout showing how female sneakerheads can pair outfits with the iconic Nike Air Max trainers. This was the first ever “shoppable hangout,” using Google+’s new in-hangout display ad unit. It allowed viewers to go directly to products on the Asos site while the hangout was taking place. And, for those who missed the hangout live, the video now lives on YouTube where the brand uses in-video links to drive traffic to the site.

For retailers, eCommerce is a must. Without an online store, you can expect sales efforts to fall flat. But to truly drive brand lifts and reach new consumers, experiential commerce is the way of the future – just ask Sky Mall how they’re doing.

Native Advertising’s Platform Advantage Will Help Marketers Win in 2015

Originally written for Visually and Entrepreneur.com. 

Native advertising was much maligned in 2014 as marketers and publishers struggled to effectively walk the fine line between sponsored native content and editorial content. Many native ads were either too obviously promotional, too distantly related to the medium’s core content, or perhaps worst of all – not forthcoming about its status as sponsored content. After examining the trajectory and possibility of native solutions, however, it is clear that native will help marketers win big in the new year.

I wrote about native advertising for Millward Brown’s 2015 Digital and Media Predictions, and predict that the best publishers and the best platforms will help clients win with native. The solutions that are clearly identified as sponsored, expertly match editorial tone, and contain content that will resonate with a specific audience will perform best.

Creating winning content to fit each medium is half the battle, but native advertising has already won the other half due to its inherent platform advantage. Native will succeed in 2015 and beyond because of the numerous different forms that native ads can take. Advertorials in magazines and infomercials on TV were the precursors to the first native ads. But it wasn’t until marketers could adapt content to fit various online platforms did the practice truly take hold.

Why else would you immediately skip over a kitchen appliance infomercial on TV, but immediately share Buzzfeed’s “10 Summer Emojis That Should Definitely Exist” as soon as you visit Buzzfeed? The latter is a native ad for Starbucks, moonlighting as Buzzfeed brand publisher Frappuccino. It clearly identifies itself as a native ad with a byline by a “Brand Publisher,” instead of a Buzzfeed writer, seamlessly fits in with Buzzfeed’s editorial tone, and contains high quality content that Buzzfeed readers expect.

Native content has the advantage of blending into media platforms that consumers are already comfortable and familiar with. In addition to the above editorial example, native ads can adapt to a variety of platforms. They include:

  • Sponsored tweets that mirror a Twitter user’s followers and interests
  • Google search ads on the top and right side bar of a results page
  • A Grape Story short-form video that blends advertising content with million-follower video stars
Yes, even Google Search is an example of native advertising

Yes, even Google Search is an example of native advertising

Native advertising is a successful strategy because it is truly platform agnostic – it works well everywhere from editorial platforms to social channels. This is an advantage that other forms of digital advertising can only covet. It’s no secret that the Internet’s first and most prominent ad format, the display ad, sports an abysmal .1% click through rate.

But this wasn’t always the case. The world’s first banner ad, a cryptic leaderboard ad for AT&T, invited those browsing the web to click on the ad itself, which had never been done before. Consumers clicked 44% of the time, and the display ad has only become less powerful since.

The world’s first banner ad

The world’s first banner ad

More than twenty years after the banner ad took hold, native advertising offers a viable alternative to other forms of online advertising can greatly improve on that .1% statistic. With a variety of platforms to choose from and the ability to tailor content to fit each one, investing in native is a no-brainer for seasoned marketers.