Really Simple Success! An Insider’s View of the Rising RSS Tide

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Recently, I set out to more concretely take the pulse of agencies and marketers on RSS.

I’ve talked with a number of interesting, innovative thinkers and practitioners, and combined with reflections on my own experience in the RSS trenches, I’ve learned a number of things about this new medium and where we’re at in its ascension into the mainstream.

RSS in 2006

The one thing everyone agrees on is that RSS is early. If RSS were banner ads, then it’s still 1996, and there’s a lot of work to do to turn the clock ahead.

Clearly, RSS is also growing, and it’s growing fast — RSS use increased more than 50% last year and is growing even faster this year. But, there are also several critical issues that need to accompany the growth to make RSS as powerful as it can be for advertisers, publishers and consumers.

First, RSS needs a viable business model — which means it needs to become a better, more mainstream channel for advertising. Publishers have welcomed RSS with open arms – nearly every major media company publishes extensive content via RSS, but at the same time, publishers have not come up with (or been presented with) a clear advertising model to accompany their RSS efforts.

Second, RSS has great potential as a retention marketing tool for companies, but this aspect of RSS has also not been adopted. We see many publishers jumping on board to distribute content, but an untapped market exists for retailers, brand marketers, service providers and other companies to build loyalty and improve communications.

Third, RSS is a very promising but still immature vehicle for advertising. RSS has room to grow in a number of areas, including: 1) building a critical mass of audience 2) providing well-developed and measurable targeting options and 3) establishing proven, accepted advertising formats and best practices. Also, RSS, while much publicized, suffers from lack of real comprehension and familiarity — the reality is that most folks from all constituents (advertisers, consumers, marketers, agencies, etc.) simply just don’t know much about it.

Targeting and Testing

For Adrian Funnell, Interactive Associate Media Director, Universal McCann SF, RSS advertising efforts have been largely experimental to date. While he plans continued investment in RSS, it’s still all about performance and campaigns need to deliver.

Funnell leads account work for some of Microsoft’s B2B products, and has tested RSS advertising to reach IT professionals, software developers and information workers, as these groups are heavy users of Microsoft products. Today’s early-adopter RSS audiences skew towards more technical-savvy consumers and thus provide an attractive channel for marketing technology products, at least on paper. In practice, however, results at this point have been inconsistent and varied widely.

The big obstacles for RSS advertising, according to Funnell, are audience size and targeting granularity. “We feel our campaigns may have performed better if the targeting opportunities were stronger,” comments Funnell. “Greater contextual targeting opportunities would help strengthen the tactic. RSS can be an exceptionally strong marketing channel but I think it’s still facing challenges in the advertising arena.”

Testing is a key part of becoming acquainted with RSS advertising. Funnell, who says he’s taking a cautious approach to RSS efforts, adds, “As we’ve seen, you wouldn’t want to jump in with both feet to any new media tactic.”

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