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Luminate’s Imagesphere Summit 2012

On Tuesday we gathered 60 friends from the publishing community — execs from Conde Nast, Viacom, Thompson Reuters, Wenner, NBC, American Media, Time Warner, Getty, Dow Jones, Gannett, the IAB and others — for an afternoon deep-dive into the rising role of image content as publishing moves to digital and mobile platforms. Our first “Imagesphere Summit.” (Official release here.)

Our CFO suspected it was just an excuse to order Luminate-logo’d pillows. But most people, I think, actually came to learn from industry peers how to hone their image strategies. Given that more than a third of the web’s pixels are image content, 70% of social media activity revolves around a photo, and many of these publishers are seeing upwards of 60% of their pageviews coming from photo galleries, there’s an eagerness across the industry to figure out the image opportunity.

Steve Rubel, EVP at Edelman, kicked off the programming. He identified a schism dividing the landscape of digital publishers. On one side the “Continental Content Divide” publishers focus on ‘spreadable media,’ using infographics, lists and slideshows — short, frequent and easy-to-share content nuggets — to fuel success among social-media consumers. On the other side of the divide are practitioners of ‘drillable media,’ where depth, context and rich visual experience are designed to pull readers deeper into the story. At the center of both approaches (represented by the Play Button in his Media Cloverleaf) is content that directly addresses the visual culture. (More at Steve’s site.)

Paul Asel, managing partner at Nokia Growth Partners (and a Luminate board member) shared a global perspective: How mobile and touch screens are accelerating growth of the Imagesphere. Half the photos ever taken by humankind, he told us, were taken in the past 2 years. He also shared a prediction about the future of digital photos: Today if you hand a non-touch screen device to a child, she’ll ask, Is it broken? Soon all of us will ask the same question if we find ourselves starting at a static image.

Bob Lisbonne, Luminate’s CEO, presented a deck entitled “Welcome to the Imagesphere.” He posited a theory of photo evolution, where the Kodak Era has given way to the Imagesphere — a new phase in which technology has streamlined our ability to take, share and interact with photos. Members of Facebook alone upload more than 300 million pictures a day, and our sprawling social graphs mean that we each (on average) have access to nearly 100,000 photos shared by friends. Imagesphere technologies have enabled digital and mobile publishers to use photos in 3 new ways — as repositories of hidden information that can be revealed with the swipe of a mouse; as drivers or richer experiences; and as a new paradigm for navigation. An effective image strategy creates publisher value via more inventory, higher user engagement, and new monetization.

Bob also proposed that we borrow a concept from fighter jets, “heads-up display,” to imagine a richer experience for digital photos. Heads-up displays allow fighter pilots to watch their gauges without looking down at the instrument panel — relevant data appears as an overlay to visual content outside the windscreen. When an image has “stopping power” and sparks reader demand for more information, don’t force them to look down, look elsewhere on the page, or (god forbid) click off your site to get answers elsewhere. Interactive images can mimic the “heads-up display,” providing your readers answers right inside the image experience.

Rafat Ali, founder and former editor-in-chief of PaidContent (now doing the same at Skift), interviewed Steve Carpi, the global director of production Fantasy Interactive. They discussed FI’s partnership with Gannett around the recent re-design of USAToday.com. Touch screens are training media consumers to navigate by way of photos instead of headlines, Steve said, and websites that steal from tablet design will be better positioned for the next wave of mobile and desktop user experience. It’s an approach he called ‘tactile design.’ Rafat provoked an interesting discussion around two questions: One, now that every story is an image, are image galleries dead? Two, with images moving into such a central role in publishing, will important stories will be lost if they don’t have a compelling picture to pull in readers? (An audience member from Getty volunteered to help!)

Advice from Liz Coughlin, former head of the entertainment sites at Yahoo (now at Young Hollywood): You can either attempt to push your readers to content types that you know how to monetize (eg, articles with large IAB units) or you can figure out how to monetize the content they love, which tends to be your photos.

Brandon Whightsel, design director for WSJ Digital, started with a shot of the newspaper in 1889, the year it began publishing. Beyond turning a five-column format into six columns and the introduction of those iconic woodcut images, though, the paper’s look and feel evolved only gradually until 2003 when it introduced color photos. WSJ Digital, however, has evolved at a radically faster pace. A large photo element across the top of the website — the “Assassination Module,” he called it — was once reserved only for very, very big stories. The importance of images on the tablet experience, however, has changed the design rules. Large photos now anchor many digital and tablet stories, assassination no longer required. Whightsel tipped his hat to Rupert Murdoch as an outspoken advocate for the migration to a more visual approach to publishing.

Offir Gutelzon, business development VP at Getty, talked about the potential unleashed by image metadata. Once a publisher knows what’s inside each image, it can automatically deliver photos relevant to every story and can attach ads targeted by image context.

Luminate CTO James Everingham wrapped up the afternoon with a sneak peek at some products Luminate will launch later this fall — support for new content types, upgraded social features, new controls for publishers and users, and some snazzy functionality for tablet users.

Throughout the day there were more questions than the speakers had time to answer. I guess we’ll just have to do another one of these soon.

The New Currency of Visual Storytelling


(Photo credit: Betharie)

“Visual storytelling is in renaissance — but with a twist. Photography, rather than video, is fast becoming the lingua franca of a more global, mobile and social society…. Businesses that bank on visual storytelling with images will win,” says Steve Rubel in his recent column for Ad Age.

When you observe consumers using mobile devices, social networks or the web, you see a strong preference for photos over other media formats. Facebookers upload 300 million photos a day, and Harvard Business School study concludes that 70% of all activity inside social networks involves a photo. iPhone users can choose from over 10,000 photo-related apps in Apple’s App Store. All told there are more than 3 trillion images online. Rubel attributes the popularity of photos to three factors: images are global (they transcend language and cultural divides), they’re distributable (small files are easy to share across digital pipes, even skinny pipes), and they’re digestible (full of content that humans can process more quickly than text or video).

Meanwhile big marketers, who credit moving pictures (not still ones) with building their brands, show a different preference — a desire that digital, social and mobile media platforms create space for TV-like ads. They seek out inventory into which they can insert those very same (if slightly reformatted) television spots, and when that runs out they create animated banners they hope will deliver similar results.

Results are bound to be disappointing, however, when consumers gravitate to one type of content (photos) and advertisers try to foist another type (animated banners) upon them. A recent study by some folks at Moat, Accordant Media and the Advertising Research Foundation provides one startling data point. In their experiment, blank rectangles — IAB units with white space in them — performed twice as well as the industry average for animated banners created by brands and their agencies. In other words, the absence of advertising is working better than the average online ad.

Taking Rubel’s advice — telling your brand’s story through pictures — can hardly be worse than what you’re doing today. With a little practice, maybe you can outperform empty rectangles!

All Media Is Social Media

Amen, Steve. All Media Is Social, All Social Is Media Death Ride aka Haunted Highway dvd Manhunter download Cut Off trailer

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Rubel Applauds Conversational Marketing By JCPenney and Sony

In his 2008 Digital Trends Part I piece at Micro Persuasion, Edelman PR exec Steve Rubel calls out JCPenney’s sponsorship of FM’s Fall Shopping Guide and Sony’s integrated content center at Digg, the HDNA Stories We Digg section as leading examples of a major movement in digital marketing:

“the biggest story is that marketers are becoming a lot more confident online. They are starting to plow a significant portion of their budgets into digital media. As they do, they are investing in creating their own content. These properties leverage the same distribution channels that we, as individual publishers, use – most notably informal word of mouth networks, structured social networks and search engines.”

Sony HDNA Center on Digg

JCPenney's Fall Shopping Guide, Powered By Real Voices

FM’s Fall Shopping Guide, sponsored by JCPenney, rolled out last week. Earlier today, I searched for “fall shopping guide” at Google. Among the 44,600,000 relevant sites Google identified, the JCPenney-sponsored Fall Shopping Guide is the 3rd result. In the #2 position is a post at Craftzine, one of the participating sites, on a page where they tell their readers about the sponsorship program. Wow, what’s going on here?!

Goog results on Fall Shopping Guide

Here’s what the Fall Shopping Guide is:

“The Federated Media Fall Shopping Guide, brought to you by JCPenney and the new Chris Madden Collection, is debuting for the 2007 season, bringing together the most influential voices in the parenting, women’s lifestyle, travel & leisure communities.The Fall Shopping Guide features authors of the best and most influential independent parenting, cooking & home accessories web sites that exist today.”

JCPenney Pioneer Post

The site aggregates editorial content from leading, independent sites affiliated with FM such as Dooce, Celebrity Baby Blog, Amalah, Parent Hacks, The Mommy Blog, Paper Napkin, Sweetney, Craftzine, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, and The Pioneer Woman Cooks. JCPenney doesn’t review or influence the content provided by these sites, though the sponsorship includes banner ads and product promotions for the Chris Madden line on the Fall Shopping Guide site.

If Opening Weekend is any indication, JCPenney also gets the benefit of engaged audiences that come for the third-party content, but find themselves talking about the JCPenny brand. “Giving Up My Vanity for a Laundry Room,” a post from Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, published to the site on Friday, September 14. In four days readers have posted 77 comments.

JCPenney Pioneer Comments

One reader, a fan of Pioneer Woman, gives JCPenney full credit for the site:

“I never knew JC Penney even had a blog. But even moreso, I never dreamed I’d be reading it. And yet here I am. And there you are with your lime green countertop. And I’m going to have to subscribe to the dang thang to get the rest of the story. Darn you Ree.”

Another:

“As if I don’t spend enough time reading Confessions of a Pioneer Woman and The Pioneer Woman Cooks, now I’ll be checking in here regularly. Clearly, less sleep is the only answer!”

And:

“Ree, your writing is like crack cocaine to me (or how I imagine it would be anyway.) Last spring I stumbled upon your blog-I think it was the chocolate cake recipe before your ‘cooks’ site came along, started reading previous posts, and unless we’re camping in the woods away from internet connections, I MUST read it everyday. At least it’s a healthy addiction-provided I don’t cook your recipes every day. Thanks for all you put into it for all of us strange people who just can’t get enough of what you and your family are up to. I can’t wait to hear the solution to the vanity delimma!”

And:

“I am right there with OMSH. You’ve done it again Ree…and all of your faithfuls are following you. JC Penney has no idea what they have gotten themselves into do they?”

Or maybe — just maybe! — they do. By leaving the content decisions to established third-party authors, they allow the “sponsored” site to maintain the authenticity and active audience engagement that makes the participating sites themselves successful. Because the Fall Shopping Guide site assembles editorial (not advertorial) content, several authors, including those at Craftzine, invited their readers to have a look. When highly-influential, highly-trusted sites feel a sense of ownership over the project, it’s a winning formula for the marketer.

The FM team that built out this program includes James Gross, Sam Kahn, Matt Jessell and Pamela Parker. More on them here.

UPDATE 10/2/07: We’re just a few weeks into JCPenney’s sponsorship of FM’s Fall Shopping Guide, but today I came across an interesting stat: Among the top 5 URLs driving traffic to the Guide is Google’s RSS reader. In other words, visitors to the site like what they see, and they’re subscribing to RSS updates to the site.

UPDATE 10/4/07: Someone who’s enjoying the JCPenney-sponsored Fall Shopping Guide added it to social-bookmarking site StumbleUpon, and 500 StumbleUpon members paid a visit to the Guide. I have to admit, I don’t know much about StumbleUpon or the usage patterns of the self-reported base of nearly 3.6 million users. But if one-tenth of a percentage of them click through to the sites listed on a given day, that says 500,000 StumbleUpon users were exposed today to a free promotion for the Guide. Maybe a full percentage of StumbleUpon users click through, which would say 50,000 of them saw a link to the Guide. Either case, thanks for the love, Stumblers!

UPDATE 12/18/07: Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion applauds JCPenney’s Fall Shopping Guide sponsorship as a model for an emerging trend in digital media: brands “investing in creating their own content.”