Is Data the New Media?

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Owning the Conversation

The young, male lifestyle network Complex Media, LLC is one company that seems to have taken both Wieser's advice to dominate a vertical and McLeod's to leverage data in order to segment and deepen audience profiles for better marketing offers. Growing from 65 million page views in November 2011 to 270 million in November 2012, Complex dedicates three people "who collect data and make dashboards for marketing, editorial and sales product development," says CEO Rich Antoniello. He eschews ad networks, exchanges, and the data-driven digital signal processing but embraces data and analytics. "It is a matter of how you use it, who you share it with and who has access to it," he says. Complex builds many of its own media and sharing tools to avoid having "partners" scrape data and resell their audience. "We don't want any data leakage," he declares. And instead of sending unsold inventory to exchanges for low CPMs, he uses it to drive people to ecommerce opportunities and to better understand how his own visitors move from being content consumers to product buyers.

One aim in controlling its own data is to show advertisers that Complex can satisfy any marketing goal, from branding to video consumption to social followings to hitting a buy button. The analytics show how Complex users move upstream and downstream, convert to buyers on ecommerce, share content, and eventually visit some of Complex's own sponsors. Complex will craft big, branded video programs with sponsors for top-of-the-funnel campaigns but also has the data to prove that bottom-funnel promos really drive sales. "You need to have sizzle on top and broccoli on the bottom," quips Antoniello. Just as marketers use the many inputs to Big Data to get a holistic view of their customers' purchase path and lifestyle, he wants to "own the conversation" between marketers and consumers by showing how his media properties touch that consumer at every stage. "We need to have the data to check the boxes on all of that," he says.

Mining Media

While editorial departments often dread the prospect of analytics determining content, driving scale to content often requires making writers more performance-aware by handing them the data. At the San Diego Union-Tribune (U-T), the model is critical to survival. The regional paper brought its content behind a metered paywall this year, and director of research Joseph Gordon says, "[W]e have a mandate to increase every author's traffic contribution to the site 15% this year." Gordon crafted a data dashboard reporting article-level metrics that authors and editors must consider when choosing topics, assigning beats, calculating length, and fashioning headlines. Using technology from Anametrix, Inc., U-T is teaching editorial to consider why one 20-page article only got 15 views or how another successfully moved people past the meter wall to subscribe.

Only 6 months into the program, "[M]ost authors are hitting the 15%" says Gordon. One author went from generating 20,000 page views a month to 100,000. "We don't want to affect the journalistic quality of what they are doing," he adds. Sometimes gaining reader traction involves just tweaking a headline. "The average time on the home page is seven seconds. To grab their attention you need to be clear and concise and not too far down the page." Real-time metrics let a writer tweak a headline or lead paragraph if a story is not getting attention in its first hour online, essentially doing a kind of A/B testing on copy. The metrics also help writers adjust how they write for Twitter and Facebook in order to drive more traffic. "We got them into performance," he says.

"You need multi-channel and real-time," adds Pelin Thorogood, CEO of U-T's platform provider Anametrix. "You need these real-time dashboards that make changes and reallocate content and ads to different segments." Data brings optimization techniques to content.

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