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Digital Domain

MediaVest initiatives keep clients ahead of the technology curve
  • April 18 2011

It wasn’t that long ago when a publication was considered technologically advanced and in line with savvy consumers when it simply redesigned its Web site. But today, tech devices like Apple’s iPad have elevated the standards. Many experts believe that in order to survive and thrive, traditional print publishers must deploy digital technologies and emerging media to reach consumers in a more relevant way. MediaVest follows this mantra—and it is one that has produced several new creative partnerships for the agency.

One high-tech collaborative effort last year involving Meredith and Walmart led to the development of TheMotherBoard.com. Motherboard is an online community where women share ideas on topics such as health and wellness, seasonal entertaining, home decorating and raising children. As a business venture between the world’s largest retailer and the publisher of such lifestyle-oriented magazine titles as Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens, it is also a place where women gather to learn about new products, offer tips and recommendations to their peers, browse and shop.

Motherboard launched in July of 2010 after a study revealed that 64 percent of moms ask other moms for advice before making a purchase. Mothers consider other moms to be “the most credible experts” on product-related issues, says Robin Steinberg, director of publisher investment and activation at MediaVest. Steinberg says the program, which has surpassed its initial goal of signing up 1 million members, creates a unique editorial platform that drives business between an advertiser and publisher without infringing upon the latter’s journalistic credibility. Meredith’s magazine editors carefully monitor the site and update content weekly to “direct the conversation based on what their readers are telling them,” she says.

The Motherboard home page is limited to editorial content and is noticeably devoid of advertising. However, upon clicking a link for a topic like how to find the perfect pair of jeans, a user finds expert advice alongside a “buy-it-now” option for T-shirts at Walmart.

Similarly, a page with tips on how to avoid manic mornings might feature interactive ads for Parenting magazine or Procter & Gamble’s Crest toothpaste. Motherboard members receive a weekly newsletter that links to the results of surveys, expert advice, recipes and style tips—all of which can be shared via blogs, Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. Community discussions are also prompted through Meredith’s social networking tools on BHG.com, FitnessMagazine. com and Parents.com

“These opinions and insights are providing us a deeper understanding of the social priorities and preferences of today’s moms,” says Michael Brownstein, senior vice presi dent and chief revenue officer at Meredith.

Walmart, meanwhile, is using data gleaned from Motherboard to tailor product offerings to its core female customers. “As the exclusive launch partner, Walmart has access into the survey findings as well as the information about the products and services that Motherboard moms are seeking,” says Brownstein.

Ultimately, for MediaVest, Motherboard is proof that it can help clients keep pace in a rapidly changing digital world. “We wanted to go beyond the typical vendor partnership of buying pages in magazines,” says Steinberg. “We’re leveraging Meredith’s great publishing assets in a way we think is truly unique.”

Expanding Capabilities

took several steps to expand its research and insight capabilities in 2010. Those included the formation of a Data & Analytics practice to develop new measurement tools and cross-channel optimization strategies. MediaVest also signed on as the charter agency for Nielsen iMonitor, a new tracking system for mobile publishing applications that are being tested on various devices including the iPad.

In 2011, the agency continues to lead an “environment where content and context collide,” says Bill Tucker, CEO of MediaVest USA. “All of our insights and data practices are vital to understanding how consumers, with the iPanel in particular, are using their devices throughout their day.”

Much of the intelligence is coming from Media- Vest’s Civic Observatory, a continuous tracking study of consumer sentiment. The monthly rotating group of 1,500 participants offers insights in quantitative online surveys on everything from TV watching to Internet use to holiday spending habits. “We’re looking at different consumer segments that make the most sense for our clients,” says David Shiffman, the agency’s senior vice president and director of research. For example, Shiffman says respondents might be divided into heavy Internet users versus average users. “The hard-core users might be willing to pay subscription fees for a video-based Web site,” he says. “For this group, the idea of payfor- play through a subscription model is perhaps more viable than for average users.”

Civic Observatory has mined a considerable amount of data with regard to iPads and eReaders. A smaller group of early adopters known as the iPanel, ranging from age 18 to 59, are given weekly assignments and report on their experiences with the devices. MediaVest has learned, for instance, that iPad users rejected a PDF version of magazines and were seeking more interactivity from static ads. “The expectations for these technologies are very high,” Shiffman says. “People want an experience that they can’t get anywhere else.”

What Consumers Want

Through its iPanel research, MediaVest has conducted an evaluation of what consumers want from their iPad experience. These qualitative studies confirmed that iPad users demand a high level of interactivity when reading magazines and viewing ads. One iPanel member raved about the “beautiful animation” in a Popular Mechanics application that featured 3-D graphics.

However, another user said, “I don’t think ‘digital print’ version of these ads are where they need to be. I want the 360 view of the Lexus and to paint it different colors, not just see a static image. If that’s what I wanted, I would just buy a copy at the newsstand.” Shiffman says that each time consumers are presented with a new device like the iPad or Amazon Kindle that “blows their minds,” the bar is raised on expectations. “For advertisers, it’s better to try and fail than not try at all,” says Shiffman. “This is a setting where advertising is actually very welcome. It’s less about an interruption than providing something of value in terms of the overall experience.”

Just as with online advertising, contextual targeting appears to be an effective strategy for the iPad. Feedback from the iPanel determined that ads directly related to the type of content being consumed delivered a positive user experience. “I liked the ads within the ABC Player app,” reported one user. “I like that commercials were short and funny and did not distract from my viewing experience. Since I was watching Scrubs and the ads were comical, it was more of an intermission than a commercial.”

is developing a set of best practices for publishers and advertisers based on iPanel results and new measurement tools including iMonitor. It is dividing engagement metrics into three main categories: impressions, involvement and action.

“There’s a huge opportunity for publishers to extend their connections with their audiences by delivering content in new and different ways,” says Shiffman, citing a Wired ad that calls attention to itself by announcing, “Hey iPad users . . .” as an example of effective audience awareness. “It’s shortsighted to think this is all about print,” he adds. “Look at how people are using video on the Web. It’s about ‘my own’ this or ‘my own’ that.

Personalization is what’s driving the user experience. Consumers have the entire media world in one device. That raises competition to a level we’ve not seen before.” Looking Ahead Going forward, one of the questions that MediaVest is exploring is where consumers are using tablets and eReaders, and whether these are acting more as mobile or portable devices. That’s an important distinction, says Shiffman.

“Consumers are just as likely to use the Kindle in the living room as in a coffee shop. It’s one of the few technologies that acts entirely in its own way,” he says. “The iPad lives also in its own space. It’s in between a smartphone and a laptop.”

MediaVest researchers have been impressed by the rate of acceptance of the iPad. “I’m surprised at how quickly we’ve started to talk about tablets going mainstream,” says Shiffman. MediaVest’s iPanel data also showed that the Kindle and similar products are not just for techies: 40 percent of consumers who were considered in the market for an eReader had only two to three other new tech devices, and 15 percent had zero to one new device.

Other areas on tap for Civic Observatory in 2011 include DVR testing and a new shopper marketing model. Shiffman says that while the DVR category is still growing, there’s a segment of the population that is rethinking the need for the technology because of the increasing availability of free online video content. “The question then becomes how do you push your content across every possible platform,” he says.

Research is currently underway to determine what’s driving consumers to make purchases in stores. “We’re looking at shopper behavior from a platform-neutral perspective,” says Shiffman. “What news outlets are consumers following online? What’s driving value to the health and beauty category, for example?”

MediaVest will also continue to monitor the likes of Facebook through its social monitoring service. Shiffman says that while social media will continue to play an important role in consumers’ product decisions, there is a limit to that influence. “People do still talk to each other face-to-face, write and e-mail,” he says. “We’re looking at all the different ways people are connecting. In this day and age, it’s all about content, communities, currency and conversation.”