With so much negative coverage of publishing, we at Bibblio are shining a spotlight on the many vertical publishers that are thriving. Welcome to the "Vertical Heroes" series of interviews.
In this eight edition, Chief Revenue Officer at Digital Trends Bob Gruters tells the growth story of the tech and innovation publisher. With more than 100 employees in New York, Portland, Chicago, and Los Angeles and 30 million global monthly unique visitors, Digital Trends is a heady mix of product reviews, important breaking news, and deep-dive features. Founded in 2006, the site offers reviews and information on a wide array of products that have been shaped by technology. Bibblio CEO Mads Holmen had a chat with Bob about distributing content where your audience naturally spends their time, hitting the right tone for 'HENRY' and their daily live video show.
Mads: Who is Digital Trends' target audience?
Bob: Our primary focus and target audience is the H.E.N.R.Y (High Earners, Not Rich Yet), as they are in that critical stage making life-changing decisions such as getting married, buying a house and having kids. The HENRY have disposable income and typically come to us when they are in-market looking to make a purchase. They need a trusted advisor and they see us as a friendly, authoritative voice that thinks like they do. And advertisers can’t really find our dual (gender) audience elsewhere since we have incredibly low duplication with other tech publishers.
M: Which different types of content are you offering the HENRY?
B: We offer a wide range of content, including but not limited to, in-depth product reviews, marketplace analysis, predictions and comparisons, with an emphasis on video. Better still, we offer them a glimpse into what’s coming. Our content is relevant now and helps people get excited about what’s coming next.
M: How large is Digital Trends in terms of audience?
B: We reach well over 100 million unique visitors on a monthly basis across our distribution network.
M: You’ve managed to grow impressively, what has been the secret sauce?
B: The secret sauce has been setting up bold expectations for each department internally that are attainable while also being a bit ambitious. We hold each other accountable for company-wide goals including audience development and growth, creating and curating compelling story-telling, advancing our tech capabilities and speed to market, revenue diversification and growth, and commitment to brand safety.
Everyone is encouraged to work autonomously while being accountable to each other. It starts with living our mission and adhering to our core values – being authentic, driven, connected, approachable, passionate, and (always) fun.
M: How do you prioritize attracting new audiences vs. engaging existing users deeper?
B: The formula for the success we’re enjoying is to create destination-worthy content that's widely distributed and discoverable. People can find our brand on our owned properties, but they may also discover us across platforms where they spend the majority of their time. We invest heavily in our owned properties, scale what’s working with our partners, and keep increasing our reach with strategic partners that value our brand mission. Like others in the space, we measure everything, and we make decisions fast and implement faster.
M: What's your strategy across the platforms where your users spend the majority of their time?
B: Realistically, people will be on and off our platform. When they’re off, we surprise & delight them by being in the right place at the right time. Our results speak for themselves. We’ve gone from worst to first in social over the last 6 months, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Our growth on YouTube has been astounding and we’re working hand-in glove with LinkedIn to develop original video content for their platform. And we’re investing heavily in the OTT space - ad based video on demand (AVOD) specifically.
In other words, we find our users where they find us while not putting all all of our eggs in one basket – we feel like that’s an antiquated strategy focusing mostly on “hope” and we don’t subscribe to that – hope is never a strategy.
M: How are you retaining your audiences?
B: We are retaining our audiences by being the go-to authoritative voice that covers technology for the way we live. People trust and respect our opinions and the way we cover this fast-moving space. We also are listening intently to what they’re asking for and then delivering in real-time. Our new live show, Digital Trends Live, was born out of this feedback. We followed this up quickly with our newsletter and podcasts, which were also responses to the people who love Digital Trends most.
M: What does SEO mean to you these days?
B: To us, SEO is really about the audience experience from search. Do we have the content that best answers their query? Did our page load quickly enough? Did we present in a way that was easy to enjoy and understand? Would that person want to share our page with others? We strive to make search fast, effective, and friction-less.
M: How do you drive engagement when readers land on your site?
B: By giving them snackable and shareable content with a CTA (BUY NOW button). People come to Digital Trends wanting to learn more, discover relevant products and services, and to buy tech that adds value to real human experiences. Digital Trends equals intent.
M: Do you work together with other publications in your vertical?
B: We have partnerships in place with several other premium publications that we represent exclusively in the marketplace. These partnerships all have the same things in common - they are 100% brand safe (an absolute must) and they all reach the HENRY. We also distribute our content with relevant partners.
M: Would you describe Digital Trends as data-driven?
B: We aim to infuse data at every stage of our business. We use data to focus on the content people really crave and desire. Data obviously informs how we build and deliver successful, KPI-driven marketing campaigns for our partners too. But data is helping make our programmatic strategy wildly successful. We aim to make everything measurable, from start to finish.
The key audience metrics we define success by are audience growth, average time spent and/or meaningful interaction with our content wherever they discover and enjoy us.
M: Could you shed a bit of light on your revenue model?
B: Simple, we offer solutions that drive real business results – in other words, however a partner seeks to do business, we find ways to deliver the right solution to meet and exceed their goals. We are 100% not married to a set way of doing things. We’re independently owned with no outside investment. That means we can be nimble and scrappy and trial new things in real time. We love a challenge and our business is built to be test-ready, audience focused and marketer friendly.
M: When you do branded, sponsored or affiliate content, how do you drive site visitors to this
B: Many publishers will place content on a landing page and then drive people to that content through forced delivery of impressions. We emphasize right prospect, right time, right place. A healthy portion of our audience discovers us organically from other platforms such as social already, so we’ve ingested that thinking into our distribution strategy. But algorithms change consistently so we are intentionally not overly reliant on any single social platform or partner for our growth or success.
M: What’s the area you’re most excited about?
B: Live video! We have doubled down our efforts into a daily live video show that is distributed across all platforms and OTTs as we've seen a void in the marketplace for high quality longer form content. No one else was doing original 100% brand safe, live tech and innovation content on a daily basis so we are filling that void successfully.
M: Why do you think your model has been successful?
B: Our model has been successful because we simplify and humanize real story-telling around tech and innovation for everyone to enjoy and use. There is also a fun, playful tone to everything we do. People really enjoy, appreciate, and trust our brand’s voice.
M: From your own journey, what do you think other vertical publishers could learn?
B: Build for your audience first – never waver on this. Always stay true to your brand, your mission, and never compromise your integrity for anyone or any amount of short-term revenue opportunity.
M: Lastly, which other publishers do you look to for inspiration?
B: We don’t look specifically at other publishers for inspiration, but we do love vibrant brands. We love what Disney means to families, what Hulu means to its subscriber base, what BMW means to performance drivers, what Qualcomm means to 5G, etc. Brands that own their “truth” are brands that we watch and learn from.