Tuesday, March 18, 2014

5 Steps to Accessing Audiences

How do you find me on the Internet?

There is a lot of talk about audience extension, or the desire for a publisher to increase its value to advertisers by reaching site visitors elsewhere on the Internet.   However, the real business need is accessing an audience - not just reaching them off-site.

The idea of accessing an audience requires thinking differently about traditional content and visitor concepts.   Since we're no longer interested ONLY in what visitors do on our site, we have to rethink tagging, signal detection and the organization of traits/segments.

To illustrate, we (and yes I work for a publisher) have tags related to the existing content and its purpose for a given site.  But when looking across sites similar content may have very different contexts.  Add to the mix that similar looking tags may also mean very different things and you have a recipe for confusion.   And speaking of recipes, here's a set of tags that make perfect sense when the content is in fact a recipe:

meta property="article:tag" content="Kid-Friendly"
meta property="article:tag" content="Spring"
meta property="article:tag" content="Vegetarian"
meta property="article:tag" content="Bake"
meta property="article:tag" content="Pitas"
meta property="article:tag" content="Cheese"
meta property="article:tag" content="Tomatoes"
meta property="article:tag" content="Cabbage"
meta property="article:tag" content="Pineapple"

I can almost picture precisely what those tags mean.  Something like....

Rainbow Veggie Pizzas
But what would those tags mean if used elsewhere on the Internet?  Without more context the tags "Spring" and "Bake" are terribly ambiguous.

The challenge is ensuring content and tags are both used in a way that can be useful to reach audiences.  

From a text book perspective, the five-step approach for accessing audiences should be:
  1. Develop the segmentation strategy – which audiences make the most sense to access across touch points.
  2. Standardize the concepts – what ideas are core to the audience and how common are they across the entire spectrum? (dare I say, build a taxonomy)
  3. Modify the tagging – allow the tagging of content to be both dynamic and link to the common concepts.
  4. Capture the signals – actually, it is the classification of the signals that is more important.   We need to understand audience signals rather than site-specific signals.
  5. Organize the traits – being able to build segments from pan-site signals requires a new way of thinking and organizing things.
For instance, imagine creating a 'fashionista' segment across food sites, style sites, and financial news….one can imagine linking 'formal dinner parties', 'walk-in-closets for shoes' and 'fashion week' as potential evidence of interest in fashion.   In a site-centric world the tagging strategy would be obvious and literal; in an audience-centric world the tagging is a little more about concepts and human judgement.

The reality is that we actually have a chicken and egg problem:  We need to collect data first in order to determine if we should/should not combine different traits into a valuable segment.  This is very much a test and learn environment.  And I'll save that discussion for a later post….

There are some good resources that explain more of the mechanics of audience extension; for instance AdMonster recently issued a of playbook on the topic.

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