About.com and ExpoTV Let Audiences Guide Them to Ad Sales

Sites with unique content and audiences are finding ways to tap them to draw in new revenue streams, sometimes from new advertisers. About.com has ramped up an “Insight Network,” wooing advertisers and informing campaign strategy through information gleaned from its editorial guides. Meanwhile, CGM video product review site ExpoTV will soon offer advertisers the ability to communicate with and seed new products to its audience of brand fans, and solicit ideas from them.

About has landed ad sales commitments worth over $1 million each with a mobile telecom firm and a consumer packaged goods company, neither of which the publisher worked with last year.

“We have a built-in engine here,” explained About.com SVP of Sales Sheryl Goldstein in regards to the hundreds of guides About.com relies on to generate its special interest content. Guides, who cover topics ranging from cocktails to Christian music, communicate regularly with their readers through discussion forums and e-mails. They also keep up to speed with how people discover their sections by monitoring the search terms they use to locate the site.

“It’s not just an age and a demographic; there’s a mindset,” said Goldstein. “And our Guides really take that guesswork out of it for us.”

Recognizing the vast resource those editorial staffers are when it comes to understanding their own niche audiences, Goldstein and her sales team in January began to devise a way to make that knowledge accessible in a structured manner to advertisers.

The process is starting to come to fruition. The company has hired a director for its Insight Network. According to Goldstein, “Her role is to be a liaison between what clients are seeking in the marketplace and what insights we can garner from our guides.”

For instance, a cooking-related guide might discover a large amount of traffic comes to his section in the afternoon on Thursday or Friday when users are seeking recipes for weekend meals. About.com would employ such information by running a day-parted ad campaign for a food brand within appropriate cooking sections, or highlighting sponsored content at a given time.

“We do not ask the guides to write about brands or endorse them,” stressed Goldstein.

Part of the goal is to take a more consultative approach to selling online advertising, which has become more of a commodity with the rise of ad networks. “It’s become harder and harder for About to distinguish itself from what the networks could offer for a lower price,” said Goldstein, noting an upcoming site redesign and new sales staff should help distance the firm from its prior RFP-reliant sales strategy towards helping develop more unique ad offerings.

In its own consultative sales approach, ExpoTV will gather audience insights for advertisers by contacting its video reviewers directly. In the few years the site has been around, reviewers have demonstrated interests in certain brands and products, and some have established credibility through user ratings of their commentaries. Expo aims to reach out to them on behalf of advertiser clients, and build branded site sections for advertisers.

“We are building out specific areas on our site — they’ll be launching later in the summer — where brands can engage directly with consumers,” said Dave Rubinstein, ExpoTV’s VP of brand engagement. CPG and consumer electronics advertisers seem most interested in the new marketing services.

Expo also plans to distribute new products to people who have already expressed an interest in particular brands or synergistic products. The site might connect coffee reviewers with a maker of teeth whitening strips. Expo may also send fans of one product an item from a competitor. A recent survey conducted by the firm found 93 percent of participants would be interested in communicating with competitive brands that expressed interest in their opinions.

“We’re giving members of the Expo community access to products before they launch to start to create buzz and share information about those products with other consumers,” Rubinstein said. Only reviewers who have shown interest in a brand or are highly rated by the community will be contacted to take part in these brand-centric efforts.

According to Rubinstein, advertisers may want to use videos reviewing or demonstrating new products on their own sites or as promotional vehicles elsewhere. “We’re getting a lot of interest from advertisers [about] leveraging some of the content that’s generated off-site,” he said.

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