Hearst says it has better data than Facebook does for using ads to get people to buy things. The company wants to start thinking more like Amazon.
Hearst Magazines is taking the duopoly head on.
In fact, the venerable media company, which publishes magazines like Cosmopolitan and Elle, says it not only has more powerful advertising data than Facebook in some cases but can also be mentioned in the same breath as the ongoing obsession for everyone in media and advertising: Amazon.
Specifically, Hearst says it has amassed unique profiles on 120 million digital consumers over the past year. And it's touting this pool of data, which the company says is rich with information on how people shop, along with a slew of new shopping-oriented ad products, in meetings planned with numerous agencies and marketers over the next few weeks, the company told Business Insider.
The message is simple: We are uniquely positioned to help marketers sell products.
Spearheading the effort is Troy Young, the global president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media, along with Adam Harris, the vice president of data products at Hearst Digital Media, who joined the company from Mashable in May.
"This is the Amazonification of media," Young said.
Harris, who has logged stints at ad-tech firms like Collective and PointRoll, said that while Facebook excelled at targeting people using basic demographic information like age and gender, "we know more about people's shopping habits than Facebook."
That's bold talk for a company thought of by some as a print dinosaur, given Facebook and Google's dominance — the two companies by some estimates devour upward of 75% of every new dollar spent on digital advertising.
In fact, it's the data aspect of this claim that might get you laughed out of some conference rooms on Madison Avenue, as those two tech giants are seen as winning again and again because they have more data on real people than anybody else — and as a result are the best in the business at helping marketers get people to make purchases.
But Young argues that magazines like Redbook, Good Housekeeping, and Esquire have long been in the business of telling people what to buy. And more recently, rather than shying away from that fact in its sales strategy for fear of casting doubt on its editorial integrity, Hearst is embracing it.
A few years ago Hearst even introduced a standalone commerce-oriented site called Best Products. Now it's encouraging editors to grade themselves on how many products they sell.
"There's a misperception that journalists don't like feedback," Young said. He said when the company started talking about producing content for paying advertisers a few years ago, his public-relations team would warn him never to suggest that editors worked on content for marketers.
Now things have changed, he said, as the company hires more versatile digital-content producers. "They all want to know how much stuff their work is selling," he said.
OK, but surely magazine brands don't have the kind of data to prove the efficacy of this content and advertising the same way Facebook and Google can, right?
Well, not in the same way that people build profiles using their real names, Harris acknowledged. But Hearst's magazines do have a solid number of email addresses from various subscription lists as well as billing info from print subscribers and a growing number of anonymous mobile-device identifiers, he said.
To help tie all this together, the company has invested in data science and ad technology, Harris said. Plus, over the past year, Hearst's various publications have pushed out editorial content designed to both entertain and furnish these profiles with more shopping info.
Think BuzzFeed quizzes centered on sussing out people's shopping inclinations. For example, Cosmo asks "When I need retail therapy, I'm most likely to buy" followed by various shoe-style choices.
"We needed to be smarter," Harris said. "We're building a database of human connections that we can exploit."
Plus, Hearst now has seven brands on Snapchat Discover, where people interact with content frequently. Young pointed to a recent poll on Seventeen's Discover channel asking "Which Celeb Would You Want to be Your College Roommate?" (Zendaya, Dove Cameron, Yara Shahidi, Kylie Jenner).
Young said that a million people responded in an hour and that more people would see that content than read some of Seventeen magazine in a month. "That's real data!" he said.
Of course, knowing that some people like Zendaya over Kylie Jenner won't tell Hearst which shoes they'll buy. But it can convey something about their style or perhaps their age. That can be appended to other information Hearst has on its consumers.
Young believes that the traditional patterns people go through when learning about brands and making decisions on which to buy have collapsed, given the emergence of Amazon, Fresh Direct, and other direct-to-consumer shopping services.
"The funnel is dead," he said. He's referring to the traditional marketing treatise that people are made aware of ad products with brand advertising (the top of the funnel) then are further convinced with other ads later on — moving them down the funnel, metaphorically speaking, before getting them to pull the trigger on a purchase when ready.
Facebook, Google, and Amazon are thought to excel at the bottom of the funnel. And that's where Hearst wants to make inroads.
"I'm not even sure young people care about certain brands that much anymore," Young said. "We know who people are and what you can sell to them. We want to help marketers figure out what is going on."
Hearst will surely face some skepticism. Even if magazines like Cosmo are known for their influence, people don't typically buy things on those sites. They'll have to prove they can pull all this together from both execution and tracking perspectives.
"The traditional publishers have a good story around knowing their customers and content," one ad buyer said. "It's how their business was built. Their ability to translate that to a digital offering has been slow."
"I don't think the concept is crazy per se," this buyer said. "The question is how much scale they have, which can be a challenge when it comes to data matching. I'm not sure it's big or unique enough."
Still, there's surely an appetite among ad buyers to do something other than spend more on Facebook and Google. That's what Hearst is looking to tap into.
"There are areas we believe we have more leverage," said Young, who wants Hearst's new data/tech business to be viewed as a platform — like Facebook's and Google's — that can be used to launch new brands. "We need to capture the value of the whole thing, the whole funnel. We can bring this all together in a way few people can."