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Adam Singolda Founder & CEO Taboola

How can brands engage consumers and find conversion at scale?

Imagine you are a brand manager. You have a budget and your mission is to increase brand awareness and achieve conversion at scale, in order to win market share from your competitors.

How do you spend it? How would you spend it five years ago versus today?

It took us 20 (bloody) years to master the art of SEO and SEM, only to find that social media has recently eclipsed search as the primary way consumers discover new information. We assumed that people used keyboards and big screens when surfing the web, but that expertise has been undermined by the rapid ascent of mobile, where people now spend a majority of their time online. So our key assumptions about user behavior have materially changed - both how people find information, and the devices they use to actually consume it.

This new context demands new ways of reaching consumers at scale. Marketers currently spend about $60 billion annually on display advertising, but that number is in decline, and the channel will soon recede even faster as the web becomes completely driven by mobile and social behaviors.

How should brands spend that $60 billion in coming years?

Fortunately, a resurgence in one of the oldest forms of marketing, and perhaps the oldest form of communication, has proven relevant and effective on these new social streams and mobile devices - “storytelling.”

People Are Online For Content, So Tell A Story

British author Philip Pullman said: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Storytelling has emerged as an especially powerful way for brands to reach consumers, not only because of its potential to foster more authentic connections, but because it’s embedded in the very nature of human behavior. Recent developments in the mobile and social web have also made it easier for people to create, share and consume content than ever before.

We now spend 76 percent of our time online consuming and sharing content. Digitally-savvy brands are experimenting with a wide variety of media to engage consumers through storytelling, heeding the advice of marketing guru Seth Godin, who has pronounced that “content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.”

Content created by brands can take a variety of forms: online videos, infographics, quizzes, even in-depth reporting. Content can live on a brand’s blog or micro-site, hosting services like YouTube or Vimeo, or as a branded story on premium publisher websites. Many brands -- such as Red Bull, Netflix, Yahoo and Amazon -- have become full-blown media companies in their own right, creating entertainment to not only compete with the likes of Hollywood and network television, but more broadly for consumers’ attention.

Content is the new currency of online marketing, and the sooner that brands invest in their own digital storytelling, the sooner they’ll reap the rewards from an influx of new and especially engaged consumers.

Own and Diversify Your Content Distribution

Context is everything, especially online where audiences and user experiences can vary so greatly between different sites and platforms. Brands must think strategically about how they make their content available around the web, ensuring that each distribution channel serves their particular goals.

For example: Do visitors from a particular channel read the entire article, or only a few paragraphs? Do they read more than one article, sign up for a newsletter, share or comment? Do they eventually express interest, or purchase other products of yours?

Social media platforms are a great way to drive traffic to content, but it’s dangerous for brands to rely too heavily on one channel. By testing content promotion strategies across different platforms -- Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat -- brands can diversify away the risk that losing traffic from any one source could prove devastating to their overall marketing efforts.

Experimenting with different platforms also empowers brands to better optimize towards channels where their target audience is most concentrated and poised for engagement. Many brands have found success through native advertising initiatives on publisher websites, where branded content can sit alongside editorial and engage a high-quality readership. Discovery platforms (such as Taboola) provide a cost-effective way to reach these audiences across the web, by promoting branded media through content recommendations on premium publisher websites.

There is a magical moment that happens when people finish reading an article, or watching a video on a publisher site - a moment of decision, an opportunity to discover something new. These audiences are in “content consumption” mode and more likely to check out something they may like and never knew existed, which could be your story.

Embrace Measurement to Scale Your Storytelling

One of the great benefits of content marketing is that it can be used to reach and engage consumers at all stages of the purchase funnel, from making people aware of a product or service, to more active consideration, and all the way to driving sign-ups and purchases. Social media and discovery platforms offer increasingly sophisticated tools for measuring and targeting content promotion at these different stages, but such capabilities can only be leveraged to their full potential if the brand has a defined goal or mission in mind.

I’ve met brand managers who told me that for them, success means people watching at least two videos. Others told me that if people don’t sign up and become part of the community, it’s a failure, no matter how many articles and videos they consumed.

In order for brands to reach the same scale and efficiency with content as they did in the past with display advertising and even SEM, it is crucial that their content strategy includes specific KPIs off the bat. Consumers today are awash in a sea of information and channels, meaning that optimization is more crucial than ever to make sure brands are presenting the right content to the right users at the right time.

It’s An Exciting Time For Brands

The online ecosystem is constantly shifting, and this won’t change anytime soon. But consumers’ thirst for content and ability to get it when they want it is only continuing to ramp up. Brands who embrace digital storytelling have an unprecedented opportunity to reach audiences in environments where they’re most likely to listen, and drive brand awareness as well as ROI.