The rapid advance of ad-blocking tech turns up the pressure on content owners to seek more engaging and effective ways to monetize their assets. While the results of strategies aimed at delivering content and communications aligned with our context in the mobile moment are impressive, the progress is overshadowed by the steep decline in digital advertising revenues. The latest edition of the annual Internet Trends report, from partner Mary Meeker, highlights the emergence of a dangerous Facebook/Google duopoly, revealing that the companies together now account for 75 cents of every ad dollar spent.
Recent months have seen a flurry of activity as companies strike out in new directions, searching for new formulas and models that use digital content to drive commerce. Case in point, there’s the BuzzFeed Product Lab, which grew out of BuzzFeed’s quiet and clever acqui-hire of Scroll in October 2016. In a recent interview with Fortune, the lab team laid out its ambitious plan to ignite (and monetize) what it calls “identity-based” commerce through relevant content.
In this scenario, compelling content is served up to relevant audience segments in order to capture attention, excite emotions, and ignite commerce. The Fortune article details one such experiment that promotes Homesick Candles to an audience that feels homesick, luring this sensitive consumer segment with articles that bear headlines such as “28 Products for People Who Miss Southern California.”
You may argue that BuzzFeed’s approach to content creation is uncomfortably close to crossing the line. Fortunately, not all companies are exploring models that exploit our emotions. Some publishers are pushing the envelope, and winning our hearts, by being genuinely helpful and trustworthy in how they pair content with commerce.
It’s all about increasing the utility of content and removing the friction in commerce. A broad range of companies are exploring an even broader range of models. The New York Times, for example, acquired The Wirecutter last year for $30 million in a bid to trigger consumer-friendly commerce through helpful product reviews. It’s one of a string of publishers that are snapping up content assets in a move from a model that makes money from ad impressions to one that influences—and hence monetizes—our purchase intent.
But publishers don’t have to buy new destinations in order to help mobile-first consumers research and buy products that fit their interests, intent, and context. Companies can also enhance the user experience, and increase customer loyalty, by equipping existing digital destinations and apps to enable real-world actions.
A prime mover in this space is Button, a company that is helping publishers—including Condé Nast, The Huffington Post, and Refinery29—monetize the transactions they trigger, not the advertising they display. The aim, according Michael Jaconi, CEO and co-founder of Button, is to “enable actionable mobile web and app content with contextually relevant buttons.” In practice, and with just a few lines of code, Button’s technology is able to scan a publisher’s mobile site for relevant, actionable information and pairs this with the proper “buttons”—which are natively set in the webpage. Partnerships between Button and Uber, Hotels.com, Ticketmaster, and OpenTable allow consumers to take action and make transactions in the moment of discovery. The key is IP, which Jaconi says allows Button to “infer intent in given scenarios based on data signals,” thus linking users and companies at the point of inspiration.
A consumer on a music app might get the urge to book a concert. This is a no-brainer in the desktop experience, but the mobile internet and apps were not built that way. This is where Button comes in to expose content deep in apps and websites and then allow users to do what they want without leaving the destination. It’s all about controlling real-world interaction through a button. The result is a new stream of revenue for publishers whose content sits at the lucrative intersection between intent and context—and a new sense of freedom for consumers, who can get what they want and do what they want, when they want, at the click of a button.