Like other companies of its kind that have shifted strategies (Bitl.y for example), AddThis, which began initially with a distinct focus on sharing widgets and site plug-ins, has since expanded its pitch to include publisher "engagement" and analytics.
The shift was spearheaded by CEO Rich Harris, a relative newcomer to AddThis, who joined the company in September 2013.
"I felt like there was a lot of opportunity to get more out of the assets AddThis had and really configure them in a different way. One of those core assets is really this publisher platform, which has 13 million publishers using it," Harris said. "Another asset is the fact that we have a huge number of users coming to these publishers and we're able to see what they're doing and what they're engaging with on the Web on a daily basis."
The firm tracks 1.7 billion users on a monthly basis and has become a go-to repository for data about what's happening on the Internet, according to Harris.
"I felt that we could enhance and take advantage of that legacy of sharing to move into a full-fledged content engagement platform," he added.
AdExchanger caught up with Harris to discuss the reasons for the change, what it means for marketers and how AddThis will change its business model, accordingly.
AdExchanger: What was the impetus behind this shift? Was the core business you started not performing as well as you had initially hoped for?
RICH HARRIS: The core business was growing and performing fine, but the real question was, “How do we really take this business to the next level?” That was a really important question for me. In the past, the publishers were using our sharing buttons and that provided them with some level of value, but we felt like we could do so much more.
With this new platform, we can actually create what we call a virtuous cycle, where these publishers use our widgets that drive traffic, not just from a perspective of sharing, but also from a perspective of following, and from a perspective of recommending content to people who come to your site. They contribute a small amount of data to our data co-op which then aggregates up to a huge amount of data and then we feed back to them through our tools a really, really large amount of value.
And a lot of that is through our recommended content widgets, which allow publishers to be able to personalize their site's experience for each user based on the data we see for that user.
It sounds like it was an evolution of your technology platform.
Maybe an aggressive evolution. I think we had a lot of the pieces and parts, but I don't think we had the cohesive strategy and product direction. I don't want to take credit for this – it was very much a team effort. Since I came on board, we've really enhanced the team so that it has a lot of experience in content engagement and content marketing. Together we were driven by the question of, “How can we help our publishers, who we found were the core and foundation of our company?” We realized this is where we had to focus our efforts.
Can you explain a little more deeply how the marketplace works?
Let's say you're an existing customer and you've been using our free tools in the past. Now when you log in, you'll see a completely new dashboard. That dashboard is going to have a whole host of detailed analytics and insights in terms of what's happening on your site: what specific types of content are driving engagement with your customers, what specific widgets on your site are driving that engagement and how they're they performing.
You can do that analysis and you can make a determination to let [our] algorithm and our data pool drive your content recommendations. That's a brand new thing and a very powerful tool for publishers to be able to use to drive engagement to specific types of content.
What results are they seeing?
We've seen a number of publishers out there that have shown a dramatic increase in click through rates for example – 50% or more – using this versus the old version of our content recommendation tools.
The next piece is they'll be able to go to a tool gallery [where] they'll see 19 different widgets, each one highly customizable [tools] for sharing [and] content recommendation. We now have premium mobile sharing tools to help create a very significant uplift in sharing.
How will this work for the brand marketer?
If we're specifically talking about marketers for a brand with a lot of content, we can help that brand target an audience based on the behaviors we see out there on the Web (and) determine what kind of content is the right content to show, that would be most appealing, and help identify what kind of content would be most relevant to use in a campaign either internally or [through our] network of publishers.
How have the changes impacted your operating model?
We're very much moving toward Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) recurring revenue business model, rather than the traditional insertion order-oriented world. Already we've got many publishers that are signed up and paying us on a monthly recurring basis for the use of our services and we want to continue to drive that. That's where we see the future of the company and we’re starting to enhance our team in that direction.
What are the overall market trends that are driving your company's shift in this direction?
We're seeing a move toward content marketing, with brands trying to figure out ways to be helpful and show information that's relevant to prospective or existing customers in order to keep them engaged or bring in new prospects. A lot of folks are talking about the content marketing stack and the traditional ad stack merging in many ways. I see ourselves playing right into that piece.
The other thing we're seeing happen is the distinctions blurring between publishers, advertisers and marketers. Marketers are publishers and they're also advertisers and they're promoting their own content out there using sponsored content, trying to drive clicks back to their site. Or brands are setting up websites to try to get customers to engage with content that's relevant to their brand and all these different activities. We feel we can play a central role in that.
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