Condé Nast's VP of marketing analytics on how tablets changed publishing

Condé Nast's vice president of marketing analytics describes how the historic publishing house is using new digital solutions to trace user profiles across every brand and device endpoint.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The print industry has arguably been one of the most stubborn verticals in the face of new technology, but that's all changing rapidly. Certainly, this shift is affecting everyone from editors and publishers to the consumers, but digital marketing teams have some heavy tasks ahead too.

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During the 2013 Adobe Summit this week, I had a chance to sit down with Chris Reynolds, vice president of marketing analytics at Condé Nast, to find out more about how one of the world's largest and most well-known publishing companies is trying to get ahead of the curve.

Reynolds started off by noting that Condé Nast has had websites for the last decade or so. But it wasn't until the last five to six years that publishers started looking at them as more of a consumer revenue play and treating them as an extension of the brand, he continued.

"The quality of the print product -- that was always the most important factor that anyone paid attention to. That's how these magazines became what they are," Reynolds emphasized.

But moving into the digital era, Reynolds highlighted the emergence of the tablet as the game changing device and form factor for publishers -- and thus their advertisers too.

Reynolds posited that the format of the tablet made it easier not only for Condé Nast but the entire print community to make that move into digital because it was more familiar, than say compared to the desktop browser.

"The way you navigate a website is not the way you navigate magazine content," Reynolds quipped.

"The way you navigate a website is not the way you navigate magazine content," Reynolds quipped.

That doesn't mean Condé Nast is shunning other platforms and devices. For example, Reynolds said that The New Yorker and Vanity Fair are being pushed to the smartphone, adding that the company's strategy is to eventually offer an all-access pass of sorts to the user from every digital endpoint.

In fact, mobile traffic for Condé Nast has leaped considerably from just six percent of visits in January 2011 to 24 percent in January 2013.

Reynolds acknowledged that some brands are embracing technology and change more than others, citing Teen Vogue, Glamour, and GQ as a few titles that are thriving more on mobile. Reynolds primarily attributed this to younger audience bases.

Yet even as these shifts having been taking hold at Condé Nast for the last few years, it hasn't been until recently that the digital marketing potential also started to garner attention in-house.

Reynolds said that his team made a lot of ground in the last year in communicating "out the data we had available to us to develop our websites." He stipulated that alone raised the unit's profile within the organization.

Initially Omniture clients and then Adobe customers following the 2009 merger, Reynolds described how the integration of Ominture with the Adobe Marketing Cloud and Adobe's AudienceManager data management platform is enabling the connection of online and offline data at Condé Nast.

The benefit here, as Reynolds explained, is that the internal marketing team can go then bring these narrower audience profiles to advertisers instead of the other way around.

Given that Reynolds described Condé Nast as a 100-year old publishing company, it's obvious that the corporation already has plenty of data about its subscribers.

Reynolds cited the company's own survey of its preferred subscriber network. Out of a pool of roughly 55 million, he said they get back about 400,000 to 450,000 responses annually, explaining that the driving strategy has been to obtain research about their audiences not already in the marketplace.

Boasting that the company has "unmatched data on a huge sample," Reynolds asserted that enables the marketing team to synthesize this catalog of data with large volumes of digital data. The end result is that they have been able to identify and profile 10 segments of users and subscribers within the publishing house's network.

Actually, that's not quite the end. The benefit here, as Reynolds explained, is that the internal marketing team can go then bring these narrower audience profiles to advertisers instead of the other way around.

"We know we have this audience, what they like, what they don't like. We're here to help you market to them," Reynolds reiterated, noting that was the most immediate application of the Adobe Marketing Cloud at Condé Nast, which only took place a few months ago.

But what Reynolds is most excited about are the "overall user experience implications of this, the ability to create this unified customer profile, especially considering how many mobile platforms there."

More specifically, he is looking forward to being able to use all of this data to trace an individual user across all digital experiences as well as know who they are in the offline world based on subscriptions.

Reynolds explained that these tools are making it easy to understand what what the connection really is, arguing publishers need to understand it can't be a "race for volume" anymore.

"I'm having a hard time thinking about how far reaching it could get. It could be dramatic. We're right at the tip of the iceberg of this," Reynolds exclaimed.

From a media environment perspective, Reynolds noted that the biggest change he's seeing is the emergence of measurement capabilities available to advertisers, including "inexpensive tools" for measuring audience delivery.

Historically, Reynolds said, the currency in digital has been the impression. But now with tools tracking online campaign ratings and verified essentials, that changes the game a bit and puts more pressure on advertisers.

Reynolds explained that these tools are making it easy to understand what what the connection really is, arguing publishers need to understand it can't be a "race for volume" anymore.

Instead, he advised, the focus now should be having valuable audiences ready for your advertisers.

More coverage from the 2013 Adobe Summit on ZDNet:

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