The Agency Within The Publisher: Conde Nast Ideactive Head Of Strategy Connolly On Industry Trends

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Pat ConnollyPat Connolly is Head of Strategy, Conde Nast Ideactive, an agency unit within publisher Condé Nast. Connolly discussed his views on industry trends recently with AdExchanger.com.

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AdExchanger: How is programmatic buying affecting your world, if at all, at CondeNast Ideactive?

PC: There have been a tremendous number of evolutions in the buying world where – over the past three or four years - the traditional models of buying have evolved to things like buying audiences, executing media buying [programmatically], the importance of context, etc. Buying media has definitely evolved. And, if you look at "social" as an example, where people are trying to aggregate audiences, and brands themselves have relationships with consumers, there's a need for them to provide some relevance in that relationship.

If you are a marketer and do a program where you buy a bunch of Facebook fans, or Twitter followers, or the like, there's an expectation that you have started a relationship with those consumers.

What a lot of clients are discovering is that they must think beyond campaign‑like terms with new ideas such as, "We're going to go out and buy media for an advertising campaign to inspire people to fall in love with our brand, but also as part of an ‘always on’ relationship‑building strategy." A lot of times this requires the same approach that a publisher might take in building its own followers or loyal base.

Discovering that over the last few years is what led me to Conde Nast and to help start this new venture in which I’m involved. There are a lot of interesting things that are going on right now in the advertising community where more and more brands are starting to behave as publishers.

I had a conversation with a brand the other day where I said, "You might not consider yourself to be a publisher. But if you have more than one Facebook fan or one Twitter follower, you are whether you like it or not." You've created a relationship with someone that's a direct relationship, and they're going to expect something in return.

And it's not going to be on campaign terms where you can talk to them over the span of three weeks and then go away. You want to maintain a relationship that is "always on," always improving the relationship - and that's the same type of perspective a publisher would have on building a relationship.

The branded content world seems to be what you and Conde Nast are entering into here. What are you thinking regarding success metrics for the client?

There are two ways that are important to look at regarding the success metrics of opportunities like branded content. As a starting point, Conde Nast has done some work with Nielsen around looking at certain key metrics of branded content programs, comparing it to things like traditional television advertising. In other words, "How does incorporating your brand into a content experience perform against traditional television advertisements that's really more slot‑based?"

What we saw there was a significant lift in most of the key brand metrics over the traditional slot advertising. The reason is because the more relevant your brand is within the context of something that's interesting, the more people start to respond to it.

So, as a starting point, we've already seen some metrics that do tend to align with the traditional metrics that brands like to look at - purchase intent, brand affinity, and things like that.

We have seen lifts in branded content programs that exceed traditional spot TV advertising. The more interesting question is if you think about the idea of investing in content, it’s similar to this idea of creating a new type of CRM, where relationship marketing is on equal footing with the concept of what advertising is.

We're going to reach out and we're going to inspire people to connect with our brand. And then once they have, we're going to develop that relationship. So this idea of developing a relationship would almost be on equal footing with advertising itself - it requires a different approach to measurement. It’s almost an indirect-effect measurement as opposed to a traditional marketing model. A lot of the traditional marketing models have been focused on reach.

This requires a shift - sometimes an uncomfortable shift for marketers – in their thinking about measurement. It's the indirect impact that you have on those consumers - you're deepening a relationship with them. And then, it’s about how they affect the broader community and the buying habits for that community.

For Conde Nast, the Company has progressively moved into the digital space. Can you share some trends on how print and digital are working effectively together?

Well, there has always been some level of fear that as people started to consume content across other types of devices, we would see decreases in consumption and engagement across the traditional mediums that they tend to engage with content on. One of the trends that's been interesting for us is…we haven't seen that. What we've seen is incremental audience growth and engagement by adding multiple channels.

And so a lot of our audience growth has come from the digital editions that we started to publish ‑ which I think Conde Nast is on the leading edge of – [websites,] iPhone applications, iPad applications and so on.

We've started to see people picking and choosing their initial relationship with the Conde Nast brand depending on what their primary channel of consumption is.

And what we've seen is they tend to increase that - they may subscribe to the magazine as a staring point, but they're not moving over to a digital edition or moving over to an iPhone application to replace the magazine.

Consumers don't look at these brands as just a magazine brand. They look at these brands as a cultural brand.

"What's hot" on the digital side right now from your viewpoint?

Tablets are certainly becoming important, and a lot of brands are trying to figure out exactly what they do with the tablet right now. As an example, I'm on the IAB Mobile Rising Stars Committee for the ad units they're establishing in the IAB community. One of the big conversations was about how the tablet is this in‑between device - where it's not mobile but it's not desktop, and people are still trying to figure out how they use it.

Most smart brands are treating mobile experiences a little bit differently than they treat a desktop experience. Where the mobile experience may be more utility‑like, where they're providing information on the fly, or location‑based information, whereas the desktop experience may be more lean-back and provides information that's more searchable.

A lot of brands aren't recognizing the importance of a growing tablet market, and that it's eventually going to replace desktops or laptops all together.

The other stuff that's interesting right now is content in general I think is going to change for brands. Going back to my earlier point about whether a brand realizes it or not, they tend to be in the publishing space now, a lot of publishing requires a very different type of thinking, which is again, balancing the campaign approach that you take with advertising, which still remains important to an "always‑on" content approach.

At SXSW, I went to a panel on the importance of the concept of agile software development, its more iterative approach and how important it was to take that approach to marketing. So while "big reveal" campaign objectives continue to serve a very important purpose, organizations being set up to iterate and create things on the fly are important. That's been one of the other things that we've seen – brands are starting to think more like that.

By John Ebbert

Follow Pat Connolly (@connollypat), Conde Nast (@CondeNastCorp) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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