By Anu Nathan
A session during the event focused on niche revenue opportunities and featured Leilani Han, Director of Business Development & Partnerships at Wirecutter, Dasheng Toh, Senior Vice-President & Head of Commercial Planning and Solutions at Mediacorp, Singapore and Rama Mamuaya, founder and CEO of the DailySocial.id website in Indonesia.
In Mamuaya’s view, online display advertising is old news and distracts from the true value of any media outlet – content.
“Our value is delivering niche, quality content. Content that you can only find on DailySocial.id,” he said.
DailySocial is Indonesia’s leading tech portal covering startups, apps, gadgets, social media, enterprise and technology. Its vision is to connect society with niche technology through content, events and research.
Helping readers find solutions for their needs
Wirecutter is the product recommendation arm of the New York Times Company. Its aim is to be the most trusted product recommendation service on the internet.
“We don’t want to just help ease the shopping experience for our readers, but also surprise and delight them by helping them find solutions for their everyday needs,” said Han.
“We have a laser focus vision on the readers and their needs. Commerce content not only diversifies revenue but differentiates from the competition. It builds a more robust experience for your audience and deepens your engagement with them,” – Leilani Han, Wirecutter
The company was established, like most start-ups, from frustration. Founder Brian Lam started Wirecutter in 2011 as a blog that gave buying recommendations across a range of products because he was frustrated by the lack of product reviews in the market. Most reviews focused on specs and not usability. The model was simple – service journalism supplemented by affiliate revenue.
“Historically, most companies saw affiliate revenue streams as being difficult to implement. They required a lot of resources and were slow to scale,” Han said.
That view changed in 2016 with more publishers entering the content commerce space. Ad blocking became the norm, drying up revenue from advertising. Banner blindness led to a rethink and, as Han said, publishers began to see unique content and helpful recommendations as a better way to engage with their audiences.
That same year, the New York Times Company acquired Wirecutter. The combination of editorial integrity, a rigorous approach to research, testing and reporting, and unbiased recommendations (Wirecutter does not accept freebies or sponsors content; it buys the products it reviews, and returns or donates products received from manufacturers.) won over readers.
“Today, we have 15 million readers using Wirecutter,” Han said.
“The pandemic led to a surge in online shopping and the consumption of online reviews. Wirecutter was uniquely positioned for people to find the information they needed and we’ve seen an acceleration in usage and revenue growth,” she added.
‘An increasing number of people paying for content’
The pandemic was also the catalyst for a shift in business at DailySocial.id.
“In April 2020, we started exploring ways to monetise content. We’d looked into it before, but with the pandemic, we knew we had to do something. Aligning business and editorial agenda was our North Star metric, with a focus and emphasis on quality content,” says Mamuaya.
Online consumption is still not very popular in Indonesia, but the country is also home to a growing middle class (often seen as the drivers of digital consumption in South-East Asia).
“We worked with Fewcents, a micropayments vendor based in Singapore. They have an engine for pay-per-view (PPV) and we’re very happy with the results of this collaboration,” he said.
“Growth has been significant with an increasing number of people paying for content. 83 percent of people who previously subscribed monthly have converted to an annual subscription, and we’re registering monthly PPV growth at 12 percent. This is actual validation of value from our readers,” he added.
But to be successful, the media companies and their clients must also be nimble and data-conscious, as Mediacorp’s Dasheng Toh made clear.
The omnichannel amplification approach
“We saw five years of digitisation happen in one year. It was the most incredible time for Mediacorp, unleashing a level of innovation,” said Toh, who added that the media conglomerate put in place an omnichannel approach.
“Omnichannel combined pay for performance has become the standout for our network. We’ve applied this model to other sectors with good success,” – Dasheng Toh, Mediacorp
For Mediacorp, Singapore’s largest content creator and national media network, this meant elevating publisher-platform partnerships with creative content commerce collaborations across all platforms from TV to social media.
The first of such collaborations was with Lazada, a leading e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia. Their sellers were offered Mediacorp’s assets, including television and radio spots, as part of marketing packages to amplify their engagement with consumers and drive sales for Lazada’s National Day Mega Sale campaign.
“We reach 99 percent of Singapore via our omnichannel network, providing consumers with a variety of channels from which to consume content. For instance, TV and radio can drive a massive surge in search and subsequent app activity,” he said.
The Lazada campaign saw consumers being prompted to shake their smartphones while watching TV shows on Mediacorp’s multi-language channels to receive redemption coins that could be exchanged for vouchers on the Lazada app.
Data-driven, dynamic deliverables
Mediacorp also invested heavily in analytics to fine tune its campaigns in real-time.
“We fused data across all platforms as much as possible so that we could provide clients with a single point of planning,” said Toh.
Clients were asked to share data with Mediacorp to allow for the media plan to be dynamically rejigged and for new platforms to be activated to drive up delivery.
“We want to be Singapore’s No. 1 premium digital network. Brand safe content and effective storytelling is at our core. We don’t only deliver in terms of scale and loyalty. We want our clients to see us as the location of choice,” he said.
Unlike most other companies, Mediacorp has a stable of celebrities from TV stars to radio DJs who it can leverage. It registers 32 million followers across all social media accounts and is able to offer platform-centric content with multiples of different CTAs that are perfectly timed each day.
“We have sharpened our data sense to deliver content that resonates. Live streaming when aligned with our stable of celebrities and influencers has created a successful Awareness-Engagement-Conversion funnel,” Toh said.
Editorial integrity and ground reporting fosters loyalty
Wirecutter is seen as having the same journalistic DNA as The New York Times.
“We work with total editorial independence,” said Han. “Set an editorial strategy that is true to your brand but keeps the reader experience at the core.”
Putting the reader first is crucial to developing consumer loyalty, Mamuaya said.
“The editorial team must be equipped with a high standard of analytical skills and more importantly domain expertise. We have had a good reputation in the market for quite a while,” he said.
Added Han: “Every market is specific, so you must take into consideration what is specific to your region. Solve a problem for the reader from every angle. And then, holistically address the problem in a conversational and real way.”
She is also a big believer in tapping local experts with on-the-ground insights that an outsider will struggle to provide.
“Research and know consumption patterns and behaviours across multiple platforms,” Han said.
Mobile dominates in Asia, so her tip is to work content and campaigns to be mobile-friendly.
Added Mamuaya: “We write while actively moving the industry forward by helping businesses in the ecosystem. We don’t sit on the sidelines. We produce content that no one else is producing.”
About the author: Anu Nathan is a former TV journalist and producer who has worked with BBC America, Al Jazeera International and Channel NewsAsia.