2020 NewFronts Put a Brighter Spotlight on Streaming
As the media landscape is upended by COVID-19, the 2020 IAB Newfronts took charge in making sense of what’s happening and what’s ahead.

In nearly the blink of an eye, streaming video has evolved from “the next big thing” to table stakes in almost any omni-channel strategy.

Based on data from its 50+ million Smart TVs, Samsung reports streaming has taken its first lead over linear TV, commanding 58% of video consumption on those TVs. It’s not a fad, either. A forecast from eMarketer shows time spent with digital content increasing through 2022 while time with linear TV decreases.

Capitalizing on this momentum, streaming content providers used the IAB NewFronts event to make compelling new arguments for winning larger shares of your marketing budget.

Don’t Just Sit There. Buy Something!

Shoppability is a clear focus for streaming innovation. This year’s NewFronts saw the release of new opportunities to merge viewing and shopping experiences:

  • Hulu announced its new GatewayGo format, which uses QR codes and push notifications to bridge ads on televisions to the audience’s mobile phones.

  • Conde Nast shared its new tap-to-purchase Prime Shoppable unit for video content from sites like GQ and Vogue.
  • The Drop will be Snapchat’s first “shoppable programming,” connecting users to celebrity streetwear designs.
  • Outside of NewFronts, YouTube recently showed off a new tap-to-purchase feature that pairs with its existing video ad formats.

Shoppable ads eliminate purchase friction and offer new opportunities to leverage video beyond traditional branding metrics. Rethink KPIs centered around store visits as the pandemic continues and experiment with shoppable video ads as a potential ROAS driver.

Agility and Precision

Streaming content providers are offering smarter and more agile advertising options to help maximize working media budgets:

  • Roku promoted the flexibility to quickly make national buys ZIP code targeted to accommodate changing pandemic conditions. Roku is also partnering with Kroger to offer precise shopper targeting.
  • Tubi is investing in frequency capping technology that scans for logos and text from every demand source before an ad is served, preventing repetition.
  • Hulu will integrate Nielsen Media Impact in its upcoming Disney Hulu XP ad platform for smarter targeting and reach forecasts beyond typical demographics.

Empower has hands-on experience in the Nielsen Media Impact platform. Targeting options, frequency capping and measurement solutions remain fragmented with no industry-wide standard. Expect more transparency and flexibility overall, knowing that sometimes the same words will have slightly different meanings depending on the streaming provider.

Content is Everything

While linear TV is banking on shows just now resuming production and live sports events still shrouded in question marks, streaming publishers have plenty of content ready for diverse audiences:

  • Crackle aims to fill the current sports void with limited docuseries like Road to Race Day and Sports Confidential, part of a raft of more than 200 hours of new content for the months ahead.
  • Vice unveiled a weekly talk show starring former ESPN talents Jemele Hill and Cari Champion. The show will cover sports and current events from a Black woman’s perspective.
  • Ellen DeGeneres’ Digital Network announced content partnerships with social media stars Tabitha Brown and Bretman Rock.

Streaming providers offer a sense of certainty with the amount of new content at the ready. With social justice top of mind for many viewers, streaming offers brands new ways to reach viewers from the Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ communities (and more) at scale outside of cable.

The Rise of the Subscription Era
The social media giant Facebook recently made headlines everywhere after announcing major adjustments to its algorithm. And for a good reason, as Facebook has become a bellwether for the advertising industry.

Opinions on exactly why Facebook made this move vary, but one theme is consistent — Facebook is re-focusing on its users as engagement metrics have not been trending well. Mark Zuckerberg posted that Facebook would begin issuing its users’ surveys regarding the quality of news sources.

Facebook’s stock price has been on a tear, up roughly 50 percent from last year. But the announcement single-handedly drove a temporary 5 percent dip. Why would an organization this influential and rich in capital do this? Maybe it’s because Facebook, possibly more than any company on the planet, understands the power of loyal attentiveness.

Or, they understand the vast potential of reliably exploiting subscribed audience behavior.

A subscription implies that the perceived value of what’s anticipated is so high that the subscriber willingly offers an exchange of value in advance. That could be money, but could also be data or simply unwavering attention. Subscription behavior is on the rise as consumers of products, services and media are establishing their preferences and excluding the rest. This is not some trivial, growing trend. Subscription is becoming a mandatory marketing strategy.

In the attention economy, three fundamental shifts are having a massive impact on audience and consumer behavior, and they’re setting the stage for the next wave of challenges for marketing. Technology has:

  1. Completely disrupted how media (content) gets distributed to the audience and monetized. Audiences are more willing to pay for direct access to premium, high-quality content, rather than settle for free programming that has historically been subsidized by advertising.
  2. Disrupted how commerce takes place, supplementing and replacing a good portion of the shopping experience with content that makes shopping virtual, more personal, informative and efficient.
  3. Firmly established data as a new asset class. While data’s value is appreciating, it is collectively those direct connections to the audience, or the means of capturing that data in real-time, that is potentially appreciating even faster.

While it would appear that technology is at the center of these shifts, it is merely the catalyst. Content is the common theme here. These disruptions will continue shifting control over media consumption to the audience. Publishers of all kinds continue to fight for attention by creating more content just as the value of these efforts diminishes; however, the game is changing.

The quantity game is becoming the quality game, and only the best content purveyors, whether marketers or media companies, who have earned subscribed audiences, will thrive in the attention economy.

The Economics of Attention

Digital publishing’s lower capital costs together with free access for readers helped drive audience demand and established digital as the primary distribution medium. Digital content production volume was heavily influenced by search engine algorithms. The model was predictably elastic — create more content, build bigger audiences and generate more revenue.

However, the internet doesn’t work the way it once did. It’s no longer “build it, and they will come.” Publishers have grown dangerously dependent on significant traffic from Google and Facebook, just as these companies continue to optimize their experiences to changing user preferences. If they play nice with these behemoths, they can continue tapping into this revenue stream. But this revenue stream is diminishing.

Facebook and Google are claiming the lion’s share of digital advertising revenue, and by some reports capturing up to 90 percent of its growth. To make matters worse, over the last few years, programmatic, real-time bidding has put downward pressure on CPM values, forcing digital publishing to offset falling prices with even more supply.

This growing glut may be the final tsunami of content to come. The content volume game is proving to be an unsustainable business model. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the internet publishing and broadcasting sector has essentially doubled since 2010. These dynamics are creating a crisis in digital publishing — too much infrastructure chasing diminishing margins. Some are calling for a “full-blown crash.”

A New, Thriving Model

These disruptions are forcing change and some publishers have decided to reclaim their independence in monetization. The means of accessing real-time data is determining who generates the highest revenue from digital publishing. The New York TimesThe Financial TimesThe Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few, are following Netflix’s lead and paving the way for other digital publishers to transform how they generate revenue. In 2010, advertising made up roughly half of The New York Times’ revenue. In 2018, they will only generate around 30 percent of their revenue from advertising.

But in Q3 of 2017, their digital subscription revenue rose 46 percent, year-over-year.

This shift is freeing up publishers from having to produce such high volumes of content and enabling them to focus on quality, the distribution experience and direct monetization with the audience. What’s good for deeper engagement on NYTimes.com is good for their subscription business. As Jeff Bezos said last June in an interview about Amazon’s approach to their Washington Post business: “We attempt to be customer-centric, which in the case of The Post means reader-centric.”

The Poynter Institute is referencing this shift as the “service era” of journalism, where the journalism will be paid for by readers, for readers. The Atlantic’s How to survive the media apocalypse further endorses this path forward, advising that digital media should embrace the rise in reader subscriptions and effectively pivot on monetization strategies.

More publishing businesses are embracing loyal reader attention as having far greater potential value than advertising revenue. And they are content with being smaller companies if it means establishing more sustainable businesses. As this shift continues, more niche media companies will emerge offering smaller, highly passionate and focused audiences much greater utility and the option to buy the best content direct without disruptive ads.

The Evolution of E-Merchandising

The shift in commerce adds another dimension to this. One of the more disruptive events in 2017 was Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, which coincided with a stream of retailer closings. Last year saw a record number of retailers closing their doors with over 6,400 store locations shutting down. The shopping mall is under assault as mall closings are projected to hit 20–25 percent over the next five years, further spurring online sales to grow from 17 percent today to 35 percent of total retail sales by 2030. As some big box merchants and grocers scramble to follow Amazon’s lead, and as fewer brick and mortar outlets remain available, the industry will continue reconditioning consumers to shop online instead.

Large and small retailers are following suit, increasing their focus on driving shoppers to their own online shopping experiences, offering similar, important features like free shipping and returns. This is further incentivizing shoppers to stay home. But merchandise still needs to be merchandised. Many niche retailers and brands are focused on getting shoppers to stay subscribed to their merchandising content, going beyond product shots and features, placing products in compelling contexts, even stories, and utilizing traditional email and apps as fundamental parts of the shopping experience.

Apps are proving their effective merchandising potential. Mobile users are spending upwards of 86 percent of their time “in-app” versus web browsers. As mobile e-commerce grows, more retailers and brands are launching apps that offer more engaging shopping experiences. According to POQ, an app commerce platform, apps have outperformed mobile web-based shopping by some 40 percent as measured by conversion.

As merchants condition customers to use e-commerce services, expect more media companies to pivot their focus to becoming affiliate models, creating experiences that more effectively merchandise. This would explain why media companies like Hearst are experimenting with affiliate e-commerce. Their Best Products platform has become “the private publisher’s laboratory” focused on testing the ability to drive alternative forms of revenue.

Audiences Expect More, Without Distraction

These macro-economic trends are reconditioning audience expectations and consumer behavior. In the age of information and super-mobility, every engagement is an opportunity to establish a relationship with a specific individual’s needs. Increased niche publishing and e-merchandising will spur increased proliferation of new experiences that will create ‘fresher’ data streams, offering more value to media and marketing companies.

It’s a rejuvenation of the power of the press. Maintaining real-time, exclusive access to user preferences based on their consumption habits is the key to unlock a number of new “cognitive” services, that could generate new sources of revenue.

What should be clear to marketers and media companies alike is that the marginalization of attention is not a sustainable business model. The more they can interact with audiences, the more data wealth they will acquire.

The Ramifications for Marketing

The potential ramifications for both media and marketing are quite interesting.

This has the real potential for driving down the volume of premium digital advertising inventory as the best publishers continue to tailor their experiences to their audience and for direct monetization. As supply falls against increasing demand, this will certainly introduce some inflationary pricing pressure for premium digital advertising.

That’s great for the media and not so great for the advertiser.

This will likely increase the barriers to both entry and sustainability for brands looking to leverage publishing programs to drive engagement. Brands will also need to be much more focused on creating quality experiences to compete for attention. As the barriers to publishing rise so too will the barriers to continued access to first-party data, particularly around high-value, niche audiences.

As the publishing community and the tech giants grow less dependent on each other, this may close off data ecosystems as platforms do less audience sharing — very different from the way the web functioned 10 years ago.

Marketing and media organizations will put greater focus on niche audiences, which will lead to even greater disruption as niche media outlets create new experiences, or data wells, that redefine markets.

Ultimately, content will play an ever more critical role in defining these experiences. The media and the marketer’s utilization of content as a strategic business asset will converge further as both look to sustain consumer attention for direct monetization.

In an attention-based economy, table stakes for all forms of business communications will include establishing some basic share of relationship with the audience. Businesses of all kinds should be developing strategies that are focused on driving subscription.

Highlights From Social Media Marketing World 2018
Social Media Marketing World 2018 finished up in San Diego last week. Those three days were a whirlwind featuring hundreds of sessions.

While plenty was discussed about algorithms and beating those algorithms, much of the content reinforced the importance of word of mouth through innovation, storytelling and having a relationship with your customers to be memorable.

Why a “Yes, And” Mentality Propels Innovation

My week appropriately started with a session on innovation by creativity & innovation consultant, Duncan Wardle. It was a great workshop that got all of us involved and thinking about how we think. We faced the hard truth about how the structure of our day-to-day makes it exceedingly hard for us to innovate and come up with that incredible idea.

If we are stuck in our own routine, how are we going to create an idea that takes others out of theirs? One of Wardle’s exercises reflects one of Empower’s core values, “Yes, And,” which he first started with “No, Because,” showcasing how we can kill an idea before it has a chance to evolve. It was enlightening how ideation can be hindered by routine and that simple things can help us to get out of it — walking meetings, taking a different route to work or even bringing in a naïve expert into a brainstorm. For instance, Wardle invited a customer service rep to a brainstorm and it resulted in a great idea because the rep knew what customers were looking and asking for regularly, and they didn’t think with a marketing mentality.

The And, But, Therefore of Storytelling

Once you have the right idea, two sessions really helped clarify the process of bringing that idea to fruition.: idea implementation by Brad Martineau, and storytelling by Park Howell.

Martineau’s business is all about empowering entrepreneurs and brought the hard process to light about getting your great idea off the ground, linking it to your “little Saturday project that turned into five visits to The Home Depot.” Just because you are in a hurry to bring your idea to life, you can’t pass all the steps needed to make that happen. Another way the right idea can get tripped up is your explanation of it. If it’s clunky or not memorable, it will likely fail.

Howell has built a business on effective storytelling and spoke to the need for telling your story to tell it again to the consumer with a simple framework of “AND, BUT, THEREFORE.” He says it should make a statement of agreement AND increase its importance, BUT add contradiction or conflict and THEREFORE provide your resolution. “People are making up their story about your idea unless you are clear in what you are telling them,” says Martineau, and that story can bring the message to life much like his story about trips to The Home Depot brought to life the importance of planning.

Implementing “Talk Triggers” to Amplify Word of Mouth

New York Times best-selling author, Jay Baer, led my favorite session when he showed us how small acts can get our customers to amplify word of mouth with “Talk Triggers.” He gave a variety of examples from Cheesecake Factory’s massive menu to DoubleTree hotel’s chocolate chip cookies, showing that it’s a choice to do something different, but those choices can be memorable. Each of these triggers carry the same four traits to be successful: remarkable, repeatable, reasonable and relevant. To be remarkable, they must be noticeably different from everyone else. To be repeatable, they must treat all customers equally. To be reasonable, they cannot be so big where people don’t trust them. To be relevant, it must make sense — a food brand shouldn’t be giving away an iPad.

Now this isn’t a “marketing campaign.” This is a mindset organizational shift to be/do more than the same, to break through the saturation. Marketing messages can do a lot, if the organizations are invested in making those messages reality. If not, it ends up being more noise and sows more distrust among consumers in advertising.

Embracing The Super Fans

Wrapping up the week, podcast star Pat Flynn (no relation) had a lively keynote about showing your super fans the love and attention they are already showing you. We as companies and marketers spend a great deal of time trying to turn casual consumers into long-term customers while often ignoring those who are already engaged regularly. We lose sight of them because they are already there, but with some small pushes, they could pull more people into the mix. Fans don’t appear overnight; It takes a series of events that must happen to build a relationship. That is the true essence of word of mouth — giving people the means and methods to share your story for you.

In conclusion, social media is much more than platforms and algorithms. In today’s data and tech driven world, it’s imperative we remember that without social beings (people), social media is no longer social. It’s just another media platform. Brands must remember to humanize their interactions with consumers to build authentic relationships that will sing the praises of brands they love.

Programmatic Trends to Watch in 2018
While the term “programmatic” has been in our industry for years, it continues to surprise, innovate, grow and change the digital media landscape. eMarketer predicts in 2018, 81.5 percent of digital display ad spending will transact programmatically.

By 2019, 77 percent of digital video ad spending will happen programmatically as well. Innovations in programmatic ad tech, transparency, data and attribution are responsible for the growth we’ve seen at Empower. So, what’s next in 2018?


We’ll see continued consolidation in the programmatic ad tech space. In 2017, TubeMogul, Turn and Adelphic Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) were all acquired by larger ad tech companies looking to complete their offerings. For example, Adobe bought TubeMogul to complete its stack focused on creative, ad buying, measurement, and attribution. Completing stacks and offerings is one way to beat tech giants Google and Facebook.

Agency trading desks will consolidate DSPs and inventory suppliers to create efficiencies, promote transparency, and focus on building proprietary solutions. Consolidating DSPs allows programmatic specialists to optimize client campaigns better, rather than optimizing between six different DSPs. It will also allow agencies to work closely with selected top DSPs to integrate their proprietary agency innovations for brands like custom algorithms.

Lastly, agencies will begin to consolidate programmatic supply partners (SSPs). There are roughly 100 SSPs on the market, and most of them access the same publisher inventory. Agencies will begin to narrow down SSPs to those who don’t take hidden fees or buy-side fees, as well as work with providers who are transparent about their inventory supply chain.

Programmatic Pricing Will Increase This Year Before Stabilizing Due to Changing Auctions

Change in the traditional programmatic pricing model of second price auction is shifted to first price auction and will continue to grow. This will impact 2018 pricing.

Initially, prices will rise across the programmatic landscape. Brands and agencies who are asleep at the desk will drive prices up. Bidders who traditionally bid high, to win low, will win a high clearing price if not careful. It also means that those who are not willing to bid high enough may miss out on key inventory. Thus, it becomes increasingly important for brands to work with agencies on media pricing and bidding strategies to evaluate the true cost of each impression.

Fraud and Brand Safety Issues Will Become More Transparent, and Improve With Ads.Txt

For years, the industry has been talking about how much fraud is in the programmatic supply chain, yet minimal improvements have been made. Sure, we’ve created solutions for monitoring and best practices to avoid it, but nothing has been done to truly make a great impact — 2018 will be a different year as we publishers roll out ads.txt.

So, what is ads.txt? Ads.txt is an approved IAB text file that prevents the unauthorized sale of inventory. Publishers are placing the text file within their website to declare who is authorized to sell their inventory. DSPs are working quickly to build technology to confirm a supplier’s right to sell inventory before the bid is accepted. This will help to eliminate fraud and buying inventory from an unknown source. Now that ads.txt exists, buyers will have a way to verify the impressions they bought were bought and sold the way they were intended.

Measurement and Attribution are Becoming Table Stakes

The biggest challenge we face as marketers is knowing if advertising works. While we still have improvements to make, programmatic is making it easier to measure and attribute digital advertising. By a click of a button within a DSP, we can now measure in-store traffic and obtain reporting in near real-time via a dashboard. DSPs are also making it easier for advertisers to create test and control groups to measure campaign impact to online sales. New partnerships between DSPs and big data companies are also enabling in-campaign attribution and optimization to in-store sales, a long-awaited solution for the CPG industry. Instead of waiting post campaign, we can measure and attribute now and make optimizations to impact performance in flight.

It’s an exciting time for programmatic evolution. All of these programmatic trends will evolve and improve the industry as we know it today. Consolidation will allow great partners to succeed and increase agency productivity and innovation. Pricing evolution and ads.txt will put the programmatic marketplace on a level playing field with site verification and better bidding processes. Finally, innovations in measurement and attribution will allow us to prove media works.

SBLII: Which Brands Scored Big And Who Went Home Empty Handed
While Philadelphia fans continue to celebrate an impressive win by the Eagles, marketers and advertisers are analyzing and ranking the commercials.

Pulling off a Super Bowl ad is no easy feat. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of eye balls, and a lot of dollars to consider. We reacted in real-time on Twitter to Super Bowl commercials as they aired, and we’re still talking about what we saw. There were some clear winners and some that missed the mark. Some brands tried to be funny, some pulled at heartstrings, and some went high budget. So who came out on top? These are the talk of the office at Empower right now:

Our Number One Pick: Tide

Tide played the long game with four spots throughout the evening. What started as a tongue-in-cheek question (Isn’t every ad a Tide ad?) morphed into a game-long ad campaign that brought in other brand spokespeople, such as Isaiah Mustafa and Mr. Clean, and poked fun at advertisers during the game in general — a type of self-awareness consumers enjoy because they feel in on the joke. By ambushing ads throughout the game, viewers were expecting every ad to be a Tide ad … even when they legitimately were for a competing product (sorry, Persil). Bonus: No one talked about eating any Tide Pods.

Tied for Second: Toyota and Verizon

Toyota came right out of the gate with a strong spot, “Good Odds,” featuring Canadian Paralympic skier Lauren Woolstencroft. The storytelling was spot-on, and we were all rooting for Lauren by the end of the ad. Taking its brand narrative outside of the expected parameters and hitting consumers in the heart was a bold move that paid off. Verizon also opted to go for the feels, while competitor Sprint went for humor. Verizon was the clear winner. The brand’s emotional “Answering the Call” spot featuring first responders being thanked by those they rescued not only struck an emotional chord with consumers, but also reinforced the brand promise of connectedness and dependability.

Third, But By No Means Last: Amazon

Alexa lost her voice, and laughs — not to mention star cameos galore — ensued. An appearance by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was also a smart move — again, viewers felt in on the joke when they recognized him. It’s like when Stan Lee appears in Marvel films. While the audience laughs along, the different uses for Alexa are showcased, making for an amusing workhorse.

Other Contenders

There were a variety of other strong contenders. Avocados from Mexico channeled Bio-Dome, while E*Trade parodied a catchy earworm. Doritos and Mountain Dew collaborated with well-known celebrities to create a “Song of Ice and Fire.” And we’d never put the NFL’s homage to “Dirty Dancing” in the corner; it made for an entertaining watch too.

Lost In The Clutter

Other brands got a little lost in the clutter. T-Mobile had a lot of babies, but it was not clear what it was selling. Febreze’s spot was funny but didn’t have the sticking power of the NFL spot. Budweiser’s ad, while well done, felt a bit more like a self-serving pat on the back than it should have.

Biggest Misses

The biggest miss of the night though was Dodge. Empower collectively cringed and so did the public. Perhaps it could have been avoided if Dodge had opted to release the ad prior to the game. Consumer reaction was swift and brutal. There are some subjects that should not be used to sell cars … or anything really. Martin Luther King Jr. 9/11. Gandhi. To name just a few. During brainstorms a lot of ideas get thrown around, but it was unfortunate for Dodge that this is the one that made it to the big game. Advertising and politics don’t mix well, as Pepsi learned the hard way in 2017. But hey, there’s always next year!

Flourishing After Facebook Zero: 5 Things You Need To Know To Succeed Post-Algorithm Change
With the dust settled since Facebook’s algorithm change, let’s take a second look at what this means. For a while, it has been increasingly difficult for brands to be seen on Facebook. And unfortunately, it’s about to get even harder.

In an effort for users to see more posts from friends and family, and less from brands, Facebook is giving newsfeed priority to posts that spark conversations and interactions between real people. From Facebook:

“…we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed. These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to — whether that’s a post from a friend seeking advice, a friend asking for recommendations for a trip, or a news article or video prompting lots of discussions.”

Why Did This Change Happen?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says his goal is to help Facebook users have more meaningful social interactions. Facebook users have been complaining about branded content taking over their feeds, and Facebook wants to make a change.

What Does This Mean For Brands And Advertisers?

This change will make it harder for branded content to be seen, which will result in decreased reach and engagement. Buying ads will also be more expensive as the marketplace becomes more crowded when brands increase paid support to make content as visible as possible.

Slow Your Roll, Plan it Out and Live it Up

This change will have the largest impact on organic content, so it’s important to reassess content planning to improve posts’ likelihood of having newsfeed priority. Organic focus should be on quality over quantity; four great posts will go much farther than 20 decent posts. Facebook Live video is a way to interact with community members in real time; consider incorporating that type of content into brand strategy. Giveaways are usually engaging, as long as the prize is relevant and valued by your audience — consider giving away experiences or exclusive offers that will get and keep people talking about and increase brand affinity.

Be Ready to Expand Your Paid Playbook

We believe this will have little impact on paid advertising efforts, except boosted posts, as Facebook is not making changes to ads ranking. The impact to boosted posts is due to the algorithm update, which may see less reach depending on the performance of the organic content from which it was boosted (again emphasizing quality over quantity). This change should force brands to rely on paid advertising efforts more, making it more expensive to reach a target audience.

The takeaway: Facebook paid strategy is more important than ever, making a deliberate, focused approach imperative. Facebook will continue to roll out new types of ads, so don’t be afraid to test them out if research and rationale are sound.

Go Exploring

Re-evaluate the platforms and channels your brand is utilizing to see what still makes sense. As of now, Instagram is not affected by this algorithm change. What current strategies or content can be leveraged on other platforms for maximum impact? Consider earned media as well as paid and social for multiple touchpoints with your audience. PR or third-party coverage efforts can complement a social campaign.

Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

While Facebook can’t confirm where influencers will fall on the spectrum of “friend” to “brand, we do know that, above all, authentic posts that inspire conversations and interactions, such as comments, shares and reactions, will be prioritized over posts that are consumed passively. So, as brands work with influencers, it is recommended to expand the social portion of vetting efforts to ensure that influencers speak in a way that encourages conversation and then leveraging that content in ways such as live video.

Curate Community Management

Community management is now more important than ever. It’s crucial to encourage as much meaningful conversation and interaction with brand community members as possible; engaging an audience and seeking out conversations with them. This will also help you identify influencers and brand champions that you can leverage for future efforts.

Overall, Facebook will continue to make changes as it evaluates how users react to the updates and interact with the platform. That’s why it is essential for brands to balance a focused, deliberate approach when it comes to planning content and can nimbly pivot when something does or doesn’t work.

If what your brand is trying on social isn’t working, quickly adjusting your strategy is critical to mitigating the risk of losing your audience. At the same time, if what you’re trying does work, consider expanding that strategy to capitalize on its success. But what’s important here is flexibility, because as Facebook’s already demonstrated, a simple tweak in an algorithm can change everything.

6 Steps to Franchisee Social Media Success
I recently gave a speech to a group of franchisees who have a very common problem; little to no marketing budget. Their simple question: How can we use social media to drive more engagement?

To succeed on social media, it’s crucial to connect with audiences in meaningful ways. To do this, brands must strategize their online presence around ideas and goals, not just channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Below are six best practices to drive successful digital marketing efforts, and more importantly, healthy audience relationship chemistry.

Audience Mastery

The first commandment of social media: Know thy audience.

Your social media content should feature much more than updates on your products or brand. Endlessly promoting these things in every update is akin to using a bullhorn — it’s disruptive, won’t drive much engagement, and could even lead to users muting your posts.

Instead, talk about more than just your brand name. Broaden your use of language around what your audience is searching for. They have a problem. You need content that lets them know you can solve it.

Understand when your audience is most receptive. Data can help you identify the best times to post, when your audience is most responsive and much more.

It’s also wise to plan content around key seasonality, to stay fresh and relevant.

Receiving and Passing On

Show up on their terms and turf with a surprise that will knock their socks off. You need to surprise and delight your audience. Do that by celebrating your stars, the loyal users who are constantly sharing and interacting with your content — these people are so crucial for your brand.

So how can you publically acknowledge your loyal customers? Is there an experience or digital currency you can give them?

You must amplify your stars to show them the same love they’re consistently showing your brand. Their unpaid endorsement carries significant weight. Create content that celebrates these loyal customers, then amplify these posts with paid support to gain reach.

Moves to Create Whitespace

Create whitespace for consumers by unleashing the influencer effect. If leads and ultimately conversions are your goals, you must engage the decision-maker. But if your decision-maker isn’t looking to buy right now, at least capture their attention.

Consider partnering with active bloggers or popular (and relevant) social media personalities that can sample your products and give reviews.

Your goal here isn’t so much to gain leads but to simply entertain your audience, and get a nice plug for your brand. That’s the unspoken agreement between you and your audience — you provide the entertainment, they hear your message.

Work with entertaining influencers who enjoy your product. Let them make music videos, parody songs, etc. that tell the brand story. Your audience will love it.

Speed to Market

Using live tools can build audiences quickly and offers instant engagement. Don’t be afraid to use them for unparalleled access to your audience. With Facebook Live, you could hold live videos showing how to use products or answer questions.

You must give to gain. By giving away that valuable “insider knowledge,” you’ll draw a more devoted, passionate and camp-ready audience that now considers you a trusted subject matter expert.

Your audience is hungry. So, satisfy their hunger with snackable digital content that entertains or educates. Good social content provides one or the other.

Great content does both.

Finishing on the Frontlines

Every social interaction (big or small) has the potential to cause a spark. Remember that when you or your team are responding to someone on social media. You want to be the brand, live the brand. Community management is your chance to represent it. Take the opportunity to be helpful, insightful and encouraging, so that people associate your brand with those qualities.

If someone comments on a post, a simple reply is expected. Going above and beyond to interact will truly resonate with your audience and show them you care.

Group attract

Sometimes the most successful content comes from your community. Consider a series of posts that ask your followers to try out something specific with your product.

What you get in return could make for outstanding content, which carries more credibility because it’s not sponsored, branded content, but content provided by just another user. That’s about as authentic as it gets. Be sure to leverage impressive community content.

Social media marketing isn’t easy. In an era where consumer attention is becoming more and more competitive people are more resistant to intrusive marketing now than ever before. So, don’t disrupt — delight. And win their confidence and trust with valuable content.

Experiential Marketing
With consumers putting down the phone and craving real-life experiences, marketers are taking note.

Event Marketing 2019: Benchmarks and Trends Report found that 41% saw experiential marketing as their top marketing channel. This was up 32% year-over-year, showing greater spend growth than other channels like content marketing or social media. What’s more, Forbes 2019 State of Experiential Marketing report found that 92% of brands believe integrating experiential marketing within the overall sales and marketing funnel is imperative to their success. So, what is experiential marketing and what should you look for in an experiential marketing agency to bring activations to life?

What’s Old is New Again

Experiential marketing has been around for over a century. Before consumers were having virtual experiences online, marketers were engaging with consumers in person. From Pabst Blue Ribbon’s activation at the Chicago World Fair in 1893 to the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile launching its mobile marketing tour in 1936, experiential marketing is nothing new.

As new media channels emerged through the 1950s up to the 1990s, advertisers were quick to decrease experiential marketing budgets to launch their brands on radio, TV and through digital marketing. These new avenues offered mass awareness at a similar cost to experiential tactics, but lost the personal, exciting touch of a 1:1 experience.

With the dawn of social media, marketing became more of a two-way street than ever before. What a consumer says about a brand is equal to, if not more important than, what a brand says it is. As such, what a consumer experiences and shares with their friends, family and followers expands the footprint of brand activation. Consumer experiences weren’t just for the attendees anymore, and experiential marketing agencies took note.

Jomo and Cutting Through the Feed

Ads on their own don’t do it for consumers anymore. You can fast forward, pay for apps to avoid commercials, scroll through your Instagram feed if a commercial is on, use ad blockers or just look out the window. Did you know that we scroll through 300 feet of content each day, while making about 35,000 decisions each day, most on auto-pilot? On top of this, the growing movement away from screens – JOMO – is gaining popularity. JOMO (the joy of missing out) is the antidote to FOMO and is essentially about being present and being content with where you are at in life. Essentially – living in the moment and being open to new experiences.

The fight between FOMO (the zoned out, mindlessly scrolling way of life) and JOMO (craving new offline experiences and being present) has led marketers to understand one thing – the best way to reach consumers is to create experiences that they actually want to be a part of.

Creating Experiences That Matter

Experiential marketing can take many forms, but the ultimate goal is to create a lasting impression on consumers by bringing to life what the brand says it is. It’s not about advertising a product, but showing and immersing consumers in how their life would be with that product. You let them see it, touch it, feel it. You’re working to create a positive association with your brand and product. Positive brand experiences are connected to customers brand loyalty. This is why immersive brand experiences are important in providing the best customer experience.

So how can you find the perfect experiential partner to bring your brand to life?

Choosing An Experiential Agency

When looking for the right match for your brand, there are some key qualities you should look for:

  • Holistic Approach: Experiential isn’t meant to live in a silo in your marketing plan – it should be at the core with extensions and legs to build off of it. And it’s not just media. Or creative. It’s creative media. Data-driven, tech-enabled, and emotionally-charged creative media. It’s both precise and passionate, logical and imaginative. You need to bring together the best minds across experiential, influencer, PR, social, digital, research, and beyond to make this happen and that’s what we pride ourselves on at Empower.
  • Pulse on Culture: Not only should the agency you work with be a good cultural fit for you, but it should also be immersed in the latest and greatest in cultural experiences. There is a delicate balance between brands creating culture and brands chasing culture, making inauthentic connections. The best brands are integrated into our cultures and communities; they don’t tell us what we should want, they unlock the things we already desire. The agency you choose should be tapped into the pulse of culture and be a driving force in what’s next.
  • Experience in Experiences: Look for agencies who understand planning experiences from all aspects, even extending the event footprint. There are many things that seasoned professionals know to look out for, like negotiating sponsorships, training street teams, curating booth spaces, etc. A well-rounded agency with experience in these tasks can make a world of difference for your brand in executing flawless experiential activations.
  • Data-Driven: When all you hear from upper management is “What’s the ROI?” or “Was that worth it?” it’s clear that you need an agency who understands measurement and showing the value of experiential. We all know 1:1 experiences create a long-lasting impact and drive consumer loyalty, but proving this is another story. Look for an agency that understands the importance of measurement in experiential marketing and can utilize data to identify where your brand should be. We leverage data to uncover the audiences most likely to engage with your brand, and a robust measurement strategy is baked into every plan, then data drives our optimizations.
  • Trust: Experiential marketing is personal. Like all personal relationships, brand relationships require trust. You should trust the agency you work with to make the right decisions for your brand and be transparent about how they work. Transparency is more than a cultural imperative for Empower. It’s part of its operating system. We have learned time and time again that transparency works better for both the brand and the agency.

The Future Of Experiential

Experiential is always evolving as marketers strive to stay relevant for consumers. From mobile experiential tours to immersive influencer experiences to one-time sponsorships of major events, the opportunities to connect with consumers are endless. As marketing changes, one thing is certain – holistic, interconnected consumer experiences are the ones that make an impact. You need to bridge the gap between the emotional pull of an event and the digital push after the fact that reinforces the brand.

At Empower, we tackle challenges with the precision of an engineer and the heart of a matchmaker. We’re not just counting impressions, we’re making impressions count. That’s how you build trust in the space between brand and consumer at scale, and that’s what we do.

Chrome will Start Blocking Ads February 15
The rumors are true. Google will start blocking ads on February 15… and that’s a good thing. It’s a positive step towards cleaning up the industry.

Google Chrome is by far the largest browser on mobile and desktop, with 60% of the browser market share. So, this new policy will certainly change the ad experience as we know it today.

For our clients, not much will actually change, because we always recommend the best user experience and discourage intrusive ad methods. For ClearTrade® (Empower’s proprietary fully transparent programmatic solution) specifically, we don’t purchase ads that are pop-ups and interstitials, and steer away from auto-sound on video as much as possible (currently, auto sound is largely controlled by the publisher/site). We don’t recommend intrusive ads as an option for our clients to buy, even though all of our demand-side platforms (DSPs) and many partners offer interstitials and intrusive ad types. However, if you are using this type of ad or your agency is buying them you could experience significant loses in impressions and clicks.

While we don’t participate in buying intrusive ads, the industry as a whole will still be affected by Google’s new policy. Here are three major changes to expect.

Prices Will Go Up

The removal of poor quality inventory/intrusive inventory decreases overall supply. Demand will still be there, so prices may initially increase across the industry. Additionally, publishers who currently allow intrusive ads will see decreases in revenue, so they will likely increase prices on non-intrusive ad types.

We will closely monitor campaigns and CPMs, and plan to adjust CPMs based on current market rate and share with clients.

Partners Will Go Away

Partners/exchanges who largely focus on these ads may go under. While many media companies use intrusive ads to create immersive and beautiful ad experiences, the ads are still intrusive and take over pages unexpectedly.

Viewability Will Go Down

The industry may see a decline in average viewability. Intrusive ads are great for viewability metrics, but have artificially been increasing industry viewability benchmarks because of the nature of the ads. We don’t anticipate our client’s viewability changing much, since we aren’t participating in non-intrusive ad types.

Google Store Visits Feature Can Help Bridge Gap Between Online and In-Store Metrics for Small Businesses
Although the power of the online purchase has revolutionized how consumers buy things, getting people into the store still has value, especially for smaller businesses.

Now, these small businesses can gain access to a Google AdWords feature — Google Store Visits — previously only available to larger, multi-location retailers whose ads generate more than 100,000 clicks per month.

The premise of Google Store Visits is simple. The tool tracks users from the click of an ad to shopping in the store. Nestled between that click and store visit are a number of questions and contingencies. Understanding the intricacies behind the feature is the first major step in realizing the benefits of the tool and paid search as a whole for smaller retailers.

How Do They Track Actual Store Visits?

Google uses two main data sources to estimate store visits: opt-in web histories and opt-in location histories. Web histories allow Google to track a particular user’s clicks, while location histories allow them to follow a user’s visits to physical locations. They combine these two sources to compile aggregate statistics regarding actual store visits that can be traced back to individual clicks.

What Ensures These Are Valid In-Store Visits?

Google uses multiple touch points, technologies and methodologies to assess the validity of possible in-store visits. They only count a visit when enough of the below factors combine to ensure confidence:

  • Time spent at retail location
  • Google Maps searches
  • Navigation routes accessed
  • Google searches
  • Strength/accuracy of location-based signals (GPS, Wi-Fi, etc.)
  • Google’s historical visitor identification accuracy

Google has unparalleled information as it relates to the location-based geometry of stores. They have data on hundreds of millions of buildings globally and have registered more than 5 billion store visits since the feature’s inception. Accuracy is a valid question, though. At this time last year, when Google launched this same feature within their Google Display Network (GDN) offering, they noted 99 percent accuracy at “200 million stores globally.”

Their ability to scan and map out a retail store’s Wi-Fi signal strength also helps them confirm the difference between someone standing inside a store and someone who merely passed by the store or visited an adjacent store. Additionally, they have a consumer survey panel with over 5 million opt-in users constantly asked to evaluate the accuracy of their own visit-based data. This allows for constant refinement and helps ensure their signals are as accurate as possible.

What Keeps it From Being 100% Accurate?

Despite these measures to ensure accuracy, it still isn’t an exact science. Google still struggles with accuracy in scenarios such as densely packed cities and multi-tiered shopping malls. To combat this, they rely heavily on machine learning to model out the inconsistencies, but accuracy is still affected.

Why is Wider Availability of The Feature Important?

Provides Access To Smaller Advertisers

As mentioned earlier, this was previously a feature only open to large retailers. Granting smaller retailers access means Google’s faith in their data has expanded. They’re filling in the gaps (i.e., non opt-in users) with machine learning and modeling, while opening their data up to a larger audience.

Strengthens The Overall Accuracy Of Google’s Offering

The feature’s expansion benefits more than just small businesses. Opening up the feature to more retailers and an increase in data means their machine learning capabilities will have more information to base modeling on. The more data their internal teams and algorithms have to work with, the better their overall accuracy will be.

Potential Advancements In Other Aspects Of Targeting

Google trusting the value of tight geo-fencing means they may soon extend this type of targeting to tactics such as YouTube. Google has sat idle while smaller digital vendors have brought tightly geo-targeted services to market — offerings geared towards sophisticated retailers and local advertisers looking to gain foot traffic and store-level insights. Unleashing building-specific targeting within search would give advertisers granularity beyond Google’s default one mile radius limit.

Possibilities For Advertisers Without Physical Locations

Google could look to expand Store Visits by linking them to affiliate extensions. This would allow advertisers who may not have a physical location to gain value from this — perhaps via a time-decay model in cases where products are sold via larger, high SKU retailers (i.e., Home Depot).

Proving The Value Of Paid Search For Smaller Retailers

Wider adoption of this feature is a big win for small retailers who have difficulty matching site-based conversion metrics with in-store purchases. The idea of tying paid search dollars to actual foot traffic would often require capabilities beyond what they have in-house. Store Visits can help these retailers demonstrate value at physical locations without additional heavy-lifting.

The expansion of Store Visits serves to benefit all parties involved. The tool and the data that accompanies it will continue to evolve, but the time for small businesses to gain big insights from their Google advertising is now.