The following piece is a guest post from Geoff Alexander, the president of iContact. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.
The publishing industry finds itself inside the perfect commercial storm. Not only have consumers almost completely abandoned their desire to pay for content, they are now waging war on the advertising partnerships that enable publishers to distribute content for free.
With nearly 60 percent of all Internet users between the ages of 18 and 34 employing ad blocking technology on their desktop and mobile devices, it is estimated that the publishing industry can expect to lose some $41.4 billion in digital advertising revenues in 2016.
And it’s not just publishers that are suffering. Thanks to ad blockers, marketers who rely on online advertising to drive brand awareness and demand for their products and services now have a much smaller audience for generating sales and new business leads.
As publishers and marketers seek to increase engagement and drive revenue from dwindling audiences, advertising has at times become more aggressive and obtrusive, slowing sites down (in some cases making them virtually unusable) and ultimately driving more people toward the ad blockers. In many cases, it’s something of a self-perpetuating problem.
However, some publishers aren’t ready to give up so quickly.
Blocking the Blockers
Earlier this year, when an Apple iOS 9 update allowed ad blocking on iPhones and iPads for the first time, the gauntlet was thrown.
Facebook, which generates 96 percent of their revenues from advertising, is most famously leading the charge in what is sure to become something of a battle of attrition between the publishing and ad blocking industries.
When Facebook started blocking ad blocking technology on their desktop service back in August, it took just two days for the technology company Adblock Plus to circumnavigate the social media giant’s initial efforts to take back control of their advertising eco-system.
It took even less time for Facebook to fight back with a workaround of the workaround. The furious back and forth that ensued between the social media giant and the ad blocking giant was almost comical, but the stakes are high. It would be foolish to underestimate Facebook’s resources or their ability to force the ad blockers into constant and unsustainable rounds of development — especially when important advertising revenue is at risk.
The battle of the blockers will absolutely rage on. There’s too much money on the line for this to go quickly or quietly. But, as one door is simultaneously opening and closing for publishers, it helps illuminate another door that has been there all along.
What Doesn’t Kill You …
At iContact we often joke, there are only four things that will survive the apocalypse: Twinkies, cockroaches, Chuck Norris — and email marketing. To say email marketing is a survivor is an understatement.
As one of the oldest online applications, email actually pre-dates the Internet as most of us know it. Email marketing has not only survived continuous threats and potential disruption from all manner of newer and potentially sexier apps, it has actually grown stronger. While digital fads come and go, email consistently performs year after year. A 2016 survey of US marketers conducted by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Demand Metric found that email had a median ROI of 122 percent.
Just think about it for a moment. Two of the biggest things to happen to digital communication in the past decade – social media and mobile – have actually strengthened email marketing’s proposition. Social media enables emails to be easily shared with a wider audience adding potential reach at no extra cost. Mobile technology enables people to carry their email inbox with them everywhere and engage with it constantly.
The inbox is right there next to the consumer, day and night. Email is one of the original mobile apps and certainly one of the most frequently used. So it should come as no surprise that email offers an opportunity to publishers struggling to find a foothold in a constantly changing media landscape.
Email marketing provides a number of highly targeted opportunities to help publishers retain readers, drive engagement, increase content consumption and deliver commercial opportunities in an environment where consumers are decidedly in control.
Many publishers invest in email marketing technology to deliver newsletters to their subscribers – but this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the broader opportunity available to them.
In an age where consumers are constantly bombarded with media, the email inbox remains a place your readers visit multiple times per day. Everyday distractions or work might prevent users from visiting your website or engaging with you via social media, but email remains a ubiquitous tool for work and play and completely ingrained in our daily lives. The inbox is always “On,” giving publishers a fantastic opportunity to keep readers informed and inspired.
Careful segmentation of subscribers allows you to send much more effective campaigns to clearly defined audiences. As long as your emails respect audience preferences by remaining timely, relevant, and engaging, you can never send too many. Listen to your audience – they will tell you what they like, the time they like to receive it, and when you are sending too much.
But email isn’t just about sharing content and driving website visits. Email itself is evolving and becoming smarter. Marketing automation is just one example of how email continues to create new opportunities for businesses of all shapes and sizes, including the publishing industry.
While publishers invest in becoming more targeted and relevant with their own content, there is an increased need for smart marketing tools that harness their audiences in more effective ways. Communicating with targeted audiences on their terms is more powerful and lasting than what an ad blocker can hope to take down.
Marketing automation technology helps publishers drive new streams of revenue by carefully identifying prospects and guiding them through the sales funnel based on previous engagements with a publisher’s website, social media channels, or email marketing campaigns.
Equally importantly, email marketing technologies enable publishers to compete in the 24/7/365 information age without adding significant costs to their operation and provide detailed and accurate insight into reach and engagement levels that advertisers and other commercial partners love.
When all is said and done, the inbox remains one of the most effective workarounds to the ad blocker challenge and email marketing and marketing automation will become central to meeting revenue objectives and driving growth. As many publishers explore new opportunities beyond the traditional advertising and subscription models, email and sophisticated marketing automation technologies can ensure they are sending the right message to the right person at the right time.
Geoff Alexander serves as the President of iContact at Cision AB and Cision, Inc. Mr. Alexander oversees iContact’s day-to-day business operations, including strategic direction, revenue, sales, services and marketing. Previously, he served as Senior Vice President of iContact at Cision, Inc. and Vocus Inc. and has 20 years of experience in management, marketing, product strategy, revenue optimization and business development with a concentration in business-to-business online/software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications.