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Why Medium Placed Its Bet On Attention Metrics


joe-purzcyki-mediumThe fast-moving space of sponsored content has already gone through three different metrics.

First, brands paid a CPM to show article snippets. Now cost per view dominates. When Medium launched its sponsored content program in April, it took the currency one step further. It charges for “total time read” (TTR), a metric that bets that longer view times drive results for advertisers.

At the same time, the platform made a move to bring in more engaged readers. It opened up its platform to publishers with small but dedicated readerships. Engagement-focused but lacking revenue, these publishers traded banner ads for the opportunity to show sponsored posts or help create them on behalf of brands.

Publishing brands lend credence to platforms dominated by user-generated content, which Snapchat learned when it launched Discover a year and a half ago. The influx of their content diversifies the user base and ups quality.

As head of partnerships, Joe Purzycki leads Medium’s foray into generating revenue for the platform and its publisher partners. He spoke with AdExchanger on the status of Medium’s new revenue initiatives and why attention metrics will become more common.

AdExchanger: You joined Medium a year before the revenue beta launch in April of “promoted stories.” What went on behind the scenes for that year?

JOE PURZYCKI: When we looked at the broader landscape, it was clear that the internet is broken. Signals such as the rise of ad blockers show that existing ad products and the way we think about monetizing is not sustainable. We have been building up to helping digital publishers make sustainable revenue, as well as make revenue for Medium as a platform. We wanted to start with new ad products.

How did you land on the promoted stories idea?

In talking to brands and clients, the most identified opportunity was how to distribute the [branded] content more broadly. Content was just the most natural place to start, because it is what the platform is about.

How did Medium come with the TTR metric?

Attention metrics capture the most valuable thing a consumer can give to an advertiser’s content: time. How we value consumer interaction is the amount of engagement and time spent with our post. On our business side, it made sense to align with TTR. Every deal we’ve done so far, with Intel, Bose, SoFi, Marriott, Microsoft and BMW, were all deals done on TTR and engagement.


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TTR is unlikely to fit neatly into an agency’s weekly reporting to clients. How do they evaluate according to a new metric?

You’re right saying it doesn’t fit in existing boxes, but what we’ve seen to date are partners that are willing to test and experiment. There are a lot of nods when we tell people we are only charging based on active amount of time spent with content; that it’s a taxi meter. We thought we could prove success against a metric that mattered to brands, and that the more time spent with content, the more we move the needle on brand metrics. We’ve worked with partners like Nielsen to prove out success and move this metric forward.

What have you learned from Nielsen’s studies?

We recently worked with Google on a campaign to improve perception around Google security. We created a digital roundtable hosted on Medium by Backchannel, a partner publication. A moderator sent questions out to the heads of security at companies like Dropbox, Twitter, Google, and consumers weighed in as well.

What we saw from Nielsen’s Brand Lab was a significant shift in the metrics that mattered most to Google: a 48% uplift in those that thought Google was a leader in security and a 55% uplift in people that thought Google was trustworthy for engaging in a transparent discussion. Double-digit movements on brand metrics are huge.

Many platforms, like Facebook, start out only offering first-party measurement but eventually added third-party measurement. Are you open to third-party measurement? Is this something marketers ask you about?

We currently offer only first-party metrics and this has not been a roadblock in working with brands. TTR is a nonstandard metric, but there is a broader conversation about time and attention as commodities in the digital space. You have leaders like the Financial Times that moved to a time-based metric, and measurement systems that are fine-tuning capturing this in an accredited way. In general, it’s a topic of conversation bubbling up more and more.

Who will be the winners and losers as the world shifts to time and attention metrics?

The people best positioned to attract quality audiences will be the winners in the long term. Because we are talking about time, which is a limited thing, platforms or publishers that are optimized for quality and engagement will win. Those focused on low-value clicks, or more traditional metrics – over time there will be a shakeout of people focused specifically on that [in favor of] people focused on the post-click value they can provide.

Medium has logged-in users. Does it use that data to help advertisers? 

We want to place content in contextually relevant environments, so we have started there. We might choose where to place an ad based on the audience. We will evolve that over time, with a bend toward being fair to the consumer, which is a priority of ours: a good experience for brand, consumer and publishing partner.

How mobile is your audience, and how does that affect that TTR metric?

In terms of lower-performance TTR [on mobile], it’s not something we’ve run into. Mobile represents a huge opportunity in terms of thinking about what the branded content experience will look like over time, and we will keep a close eye on that in the future. Right now, we talk about cross-platform as the opportunity in conversations.

Is there an opportunity to create content for performance advertisers, or does Medium’s content only work for branding?

I think there is, but it’s not our primary focus right now. With a travel brand, we saw a 17% lift in purchase intent. Content done right can get across a more direct-response message, but it’s not what we see brands wanting to do that on the platform now, and not what our audience is receptive to. As we grow, we will look to service more business needs. But right now we want to get this metric right, TTR. Then we will move toward the direct-response opportunity.

This interview has been condensed and edited.


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