Industry Insights
Having Faith: BeaconAds on being a Christian Ads Marketplace

nathan-smoyer

Nathan Smoyer
New Products Marketing Manager
Faithlife / BeaconAds.com

(Currently Publisher Development @ BuySellAds.com)

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For those of us that aren’t familiar with Beacon Ads, please tell us a little more about your company and offering.

Beacon Ads is a direct buy, advertising marketplace for Christian advertisers and web publishers. We’re often referred to as a network, but it’s important to note we’re truly a marketplace. The core differentiators are that publishers have far more control over what inventory they make available for sale, where it’s placed, how it’s priced, and which order(s) to accept or deny.

 

The look and feel of Beacon Ads is very similar to BuySellAds, who were one of the pioneers of programmatic direct / automated guaranteed advertising. What is your relationship with them, and do you think it has been easier, or more difficult for BeaconAds being in a more verticalized space of only faith-based audiences, as compared to their horizontal approach?

Beacon Ads, now owned by Faithlife Corp., is a licensing partner with BuySellAds. The BSA team is fantastic to work with. They keep all the tech running, provide support, and continue to improve the platform.

Working in the Christian-faith based vertical, which is very narrow, is tough. Beacon Ads competes directly with  titans in our space: Outreach, Salem, ChristianPost, and Christianity Today, to name a few. One of the ways I mitigate this challenge is by partnering with these companies directly. For example, we already carry Christianity Today’s inventory. This minimizes our competition while allowing buyers to get a small taste of working with a major outlet, without having to cough up the big dollars to meet minimum spends. It’s also a great deal for the big web publishers because they enjoy sales without having their team chase small buys.

We know our place in the Christian market: direct buys of $2,000 or less. We stick to that because we know our advertisers have conservative budgets and specific campaign needs.

Every once in a while a request for proposal will reach us that isn’t specific to the Christian market, and we’ll have to evaluate if it’s a good fit. Obviously this makes things challenging because we don’t want to turn away ad dollars. At the same time, our publishers trust us to bring them advertisers that will be the best fit for them and their audience. However, in the case of a direct buy that is conducted directly by the advertiser without calling us, it’s then up to the publisher to say yay or nay.

 

I think the industry as a whole is starting to feel the trough of disillusionment with programmatic buying (especially RTB), as can be seen most recently with AppNexus announcing that transaction volume fell by 90% after fraud was removed from their exchange. Where do you think the future of digital advertising lies?

Let me start with what I like about direct. When you buy direct, you get a greater sense of what you’re actually buying. Specifically, in my industry and who I sell to, advertisers need to know their $1,000 is going actually work for them. They need real impressions. With that being said, I still like real-time bidding and programmatic advertising. I’ve used Google and Facebook to run campaigns both for clients and for brands at Faithlife with fantastic success.

In all industries, buyers want authenticity. Nobody wants to buy something they think will break or only be half as good as it’s promised to be. To think advertising is any different is crazy. From my experience (and maybe this is just the Christian focused industry) there’s quite a large knowledge gap between advertisers and those who are building the marketplaces and networks for advertising. Some advertisers still don’t know the difference between direct and RTB, which leads them to request segmentation or targeting on parameters in non-sensible ways. I have buyers asking to segment impressions based on specific demographic information, but they still don’t quite understand that that’s not how direct buy works, especially within Beacon’s environment.

Advertising products that keep the process simple and deliver results buyers need will win—whether programmatic or not. This will continue to be a struggle in finding a balance, but it doesn’t have to be either/or. I placed a direct buy just the other day on a niche website for one of the brands I manage at Faithlife. I get 30-days on the sidebar. I know it’s not scalable, but the option to buy on that site is limited to direct buy. If publishers want and insist on having the ability to sell direct, then marketplaces like Beacon Ads and BuySellAds will always have a place that serves both publisher and advertiser well.

 

How does the buying and selling of faith-based audiences, especially on a verticalized ad network like Beacon Ads, differ from media bought and sold for other types of audiences? (such as financial, moms, gaming audiences, etc)

The short answer is: smaller budgets. Much smaller budgets. I serve a lot of nonprofits, ministries, and book publishers working with campaign budgets of $5,000 or less. That’s $5,000 for FB, Google, email, and direct buy. Helping advertisers the best I know how is SO difficult when I often get less than half of their total allocated spend to work with. This forces me to have an in-depth understanding of Beacon’s marketplace and to be able to quickly thin-slice which websites will be top performers for the buyer.

There are some industries that have a really tough time in the Christian market such as gaming, TV, and children’s products. However, books, educational, and cause-focused campaigns do really well in our market. Having a good understanding of what moves well in the Christian market enables me to focus on which websites to bring onto the Beacon Ads marketplace and how to help advertisers execute the best buys.

 

What types of categories do your core customers come from? Are there counter-intuitive brand verticals that work well, that we would have never expected?

I mentioned a few types of campaigns that work well already. But the number one thing that does well with Beacon Ads is book campaigns. This includes self-study books, curriculums, preaching guides, and general Bible study materials. The Christian market (in particular the protestant, evangelical segment) is full of readers and lifelong students of the Bible.

Outside of books, any product or service that is geared toward moms or depends on moms to make the buy tend to perform really well. The mom blogs, and marriage and family blogs, tend to have higher than average click-through rates and are far more receptive to advertising than other blogs.

We don’t see much come through or have many publishers dedicated to movie or TV entertainment. Even though movies get larger budgets for their advertising, we don’t see much of it because that’s not the focus of many of our bloggers’ sites.

 

Are most of the relationships you have on the publisher-side exclusive? For example, do they only sell their inventory through you or can an advertiser contact them cut a deal directly with them? If they can work with them directly, then what are some ways in which you incentivize publisher and advertising partners to execute campaigns through the Beacon Ads platform?

None of our publishers are mandated to be exclusive with Beacon Ads. That wouldn’t make sense for them—especially for our larger partners. Backfilling with Beacon Ads or backfilling Beacon Ads with another solution (many cases it’s just AdSense) makes a lot of sense. It can be tough sometimes to sell 100% of inventory through one channel. Our publishers who are more savvy, tend to have 2–3 layers of advertising options, one of which is Beacon Ads.

 

How has ad blocking affected your business? What do you think we can do as an industry to mitigate this?

I know it has, but I don’t have great visibility as to how much. I just read an article stating that 57% of U.S. adults use ad blockers for desktop browsing. Adoption of ad blocking on mobile is much lower (according to that article, only 20%), but it’s definitely not something to ignore. My takeaway from the adoption of ad blockers is that we (all those working in ad tech) must do a better job in serving the consumer so that they see what we deliver as a service and not as an annoyance. I won’t hold my breathe that we’ll all come together and reduce our inventory, and remove popovers and native ads about toe fungus, but if we don’t, we as an industry have to be willing to accept the consequences of not delivering a better product.

 

What are some of your biggest challenges as a programmatic direct / automated guaranteed player?

I’ll list out my challenges how I see them in order of significance:

  • small advertiser budgets;
  • lack of good mobile inventory to sell;
  • very non-tech savvy web publishers;
  • media buyers not having an interest in sound advertising strategy; and
  • working in the interest of advertisers and publishers simultaneously.

 

What are some innovations happening in the digital advertising space right now that you are most excited about?

This is where I geek out. Pretty much everything! I’m in talks with a partner whose product would enable me to target users based on a few cell phone actions and their location, and deliver ads via Google in apps and on mobile. I love seeing user-match marketing really catching on. It’s solutions like this that enforce my belief that advertising can (and should) be a service to the consumer as much as the advertiser. I personally love the ability to compete, so things like Gmail promotion (targeting users based on who they receive email from) is a challenging and fun way to advertise. Facebook’s work with look-a-like audiences is fantastic. Despite the amount of ad fraud that is undoubtedly going unchecked, I think we’re entering a time of much greater visibility with ad products that are more honest than ever.

 

Lastly, what do you see as the future of verticalized ad networks?

It’s really hard to say. Direct buy could see more micro-networks develop in order to let publishers keep control and collectively leverage a single buying platform. The demand for better analytics, more flexibility, and more customization (as in every industry) may drive the development of new options none of us have even thought of yet. One shift I’d love to see continue is the development of a marketplace that allows for content advertising on a direct buy basis. Especially in the form of blog posts and podcast advertising—my advertisers want this very much! I think regardless of the shape it takes, there will always be advertisers who value and appreciate the simplicity of direct buy.

 


 

Faithlife is the leader in digital content and tools for the Christian church.

Our flagship product is Logos Bible Software (for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android and the web), a digital library of tools and resources for Bible study. It features more than 40,000 electronic Bible study resources from more than 130 publishers, and is used in more than 160 countries in a dozen languages.

Proclaim Church Presentation Software is a cloud-based solution for putting Scripture, songs, and sermon notes on screen with a unique signals feature that connects directly to congregants’ mobile phones.

Vyrso offers Christian Ebooks with a Bible-aware reading application for one-touch lookup.

Bible Screen lets you stream Bible art straight to your TV and other screens. Use your Roku, computer, or mobile device and be inspired all day long.

Lexham Press publishes biblical content to equip the church. A digital-first strategy keeps them on the leading edge of up-to-date reference works.

Biblia.com is a powerful online Bible with dozens of free resources. You can share notes and reading plans with your church and private groups.

Reftagger is a free web tool that lets your visitors instantly view a Bible passage by hovering their mouse over Scripture references on your site.

Bible Study Magazine features devotional content, how-to articles on Bible study, and inspiring profiles of Christian teachers.

Other offerings include Verbum, Noet, FaithSmiles.com, and Kirkdale Press.

Faithlife Corporation is headquartered in the friendly city of Bellingham, Washington, USA, and has a satellite office in Tempe, Arizona.

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