A monthly look at the world of digital from NORTH’s point of view

August 2015 Edition

Beacon Tipping Point?

By Stacey Gallarde, Senior Media Planner

The state of “being online” is no longer a relevant reference because we are always connected. Smartphones (and now wearable devices) have blazed a particular trail as they are constantly on our person, allowing the digital world to follow us wherever we are. What this opens the door for (more than ever) is the ability to communicate with consumers with the right message, at the right time, at the right place.

What is beacon technology?

Beacons are low power micro-location devices that have the ability to communicate with smart devices through bluetooth connectivity. Beacons bridge the online and offline worlds. Though the technology can be utilized in almost any industry, thus far they have been primarily utilized to enhance the retail shopping experience. Beacons have yet to hit critical mass, though the market potential for their usage is huge. BI Intelligence has forecasted that sales influenced by beacons will skyrocket from $4.1B in 2015 to $44.4B in 2016.

Who are the players?


Apple was one of the first companies in the beacon space, introducing the iBeacon in October 2013. Adoption has been slow, though big-name retailers have been steadily launching in-store beacons experiences (such Sephora, Macys and Lord and Taylor). Most recently, Target has announced they will be launching a 50 store program and utilize the iBeacons to serve up relevant and timely deals, product recommendations and auto-sort customer shopping lists as they move throughout the store.


Social networks are also getting some skin in the game. In April of this year, Twitter made a large investment in micro-location startup Swirl Networks. It is not a secret that Twitter has struggled to gain advertisers in recent years so this move seems to be a strategic move to bolster revenue through a technology ripe for growth.


Not long after Twitter, Facebook announced plans to enter the beacon space in June ‘15. The company is now offering free beacons to businesses for integration into their Place Tips service. Place Tips is a new feature within their mobile app that allows users to learn about the places they visit (friends that have been there, photos, reviews, etc). With the integration of beacons, the service can now more precisely push information and/or deals to consumers while they are in-store.


In most recent beacon news, Google has jumped into the arena and is poised to make some big waves with the launch of Eddystones. Eddystones are open-source cross platform beacons that will work across iOS, Android and any other device that supports BLE (Bluetooth low energy) technology. This is particularly exciting as it expands micro-location technology outside of the Apple-controlled realm. Perhaps the most important feature of Eddystones however is the addition of Ephemeral Identifiers (EIDs). EIDS allow the ability to privately communicate with individuals instead of broadcasting a message to all users within range.

Why is this important for brands?

Beacon technology has opened up a two way street. Not only is there the ability to reach consumers at their precise locations, but there is now the opportunity to collect data from the same locations.

“We’re going to be able to track the physical world just like we’re able to track the digital world, with beacons as a proxy to help understand what consumers are doing, where they’re going, and what type of messages are creating action just like we do online,” said Jeff Malmad, Managing Director and Head of Mobile and Life+ of Mindshare North America

What now?

Beacon technology is a prime example of how our reality is becoming increasingly digital. The upsides for brand and advertisers are vast, though it is important not to take the technology for granted as irrelevant messaging may lead to notification blindness or worse, notification annoyance. Brands should ensure that content being pushed out is valuable to consumers so that they continue to opt-in and engage.

The Rise & Implications Of Ad Blocking

By Caroline Lewis, Director Media Strategy

The trend

Ad blocking has grown significantly in the last two years, and it is something we will likely hear more about in the coming month with the September rollout of iOS 9 ad blockers for Apple devices.

Granted digital advertisers should not panic yet, because adoption of ad blocking is still relatively low worldwide. As of Q2 2015, there are 198MM monthly active users of ad blocking software. While this sounds like a big number, it is only 6% of the global web population. Some countries are also adopting much faster than others. For example, in the US there are 45 million monthly active ad block users (roughly 19% of the US web population currently reported by Comscore). Whereas, PageFair and Adobe find that across Europe, around 35% of the internet population use an ad blocker at least once a month. Nevertheless, while ad block users do not make up a majority by any measure now, it would still be wise for brands to be aware of this trend and proactively think about how to integrate into the new digital landscape where consumers are even more in control of the content they consume.

Why it matters

Adoption may be low now, but this could change in a hurry. The rollout of ad blocker software next month within iOS 9 will allow Apple device owners to block standard display ads on Safari, and Safari is the most used mobile browser globally at 42% share. In the US alone iOS devices make up 43% share of the US mobile smartphone market and roughly 80 million unique users based on Comscore. If all iOS users in the US opt into iOS 9’s ad blocker setting, this could mean an even steeper growth curve for ad blocking adoption than we’ve seen in the last two years. This in turn could have a major effect on revenue streams for publishers online as brands worry about the effectiveness of their mobile ads.

On the bright side…

This could be great news for brands. Ad supported publishers will feel the pressure to rethink the standard banner buy and could put more emphasis internally on crafting “beyond the banner” proposals for brands that provide true native integration. In a recent post from Digiday, we see this style of subtle and seamless integration referred to as the new Native 9 model of native advertising, presumably named after the upcoming iOS 9 update.

“In a true Native 9 partnership, the synergy between brand and platform should be so natural that the only possible result is to enhance and enrich the reader experience.” — Emma Geary, Digiday

So, in actuality ad blockers could be the champion of better digital media advertisers versus a roadblock. Less interruptive and ultimately providing richer brand experiences, the new wave of native ads spurred by ad blocker adoption could lead to more meaningful engagement between brands and readers overall.

Yelp vs. Google

By Crystal Stanford, SEM/PPC Manager

The issue

Is Google unfairly skewing search results to their advantage and Yelp’s detriment? That’s what Yelp claims, and it’s the basis for their involvement in a recent EU antitrust case against Google. While Yelp has already challenged Google on this front in the U.S., they were ultimately unsuccessful when the FTC decided it’s actually legal for Google to prioritize its own services (such as Google+ or Google Shopping) over competitors.


To get an idea of what the fuss is about, take a look at a couple examples of search queries where Yelp and Google are going head-to-head for clicks:

In this first example for “chinese food portland”, Google uses enhanced search engine results containing Google+ reviews to bump Yelp to a lower position. This seemingly subtle difference in position is actually very important. In study after study on click-through rates relating to page position, it’s clear that CTR drops precipitously from the first result down. Moz recently found that 31% of clicks go to the first position on a search engine results page (see graph below), and that percentage drops by more than half (to 14%) when you go from first position to second position. It’s all downhill from there.


Yelp claims that if Google were to remain true to their own algorithm, then Yelp reviews would find themselves in those coveted primary positions. (Google’s algorithm is designed to prioritize search results based on a combination of historical CTR and the most relevant, recent, and quality content in an effort to return the most relevant results for search queries.) Instead, Yelp claims, you’re returned a compromised result, something like what you’d see if you were to plug “pok pok” into Google.

The result shows Google+ reviews yet again (883 of them, plus some others for Whiskey Soda Lounge) positioned above Yelp’s result with 3,120 reviews. Beyond just the sheer number of reviews Yelp has over Google+, in a study commissioned by Yelp and conducted by researchers from Columbia University and Harvard Business School, it was discovered that when users were shown something similar to the result above vs. something with “merit-based” results (i.e. Yelp results), users clicked on the Google results only 32% of the time and the “merit-based” results 47% of the time.

So who’s right?

While Yelp hardly has a pristine record for honest business practices — they’ve been accused of shaking down restaurant owners for advertising dollars — it isn’t too difficult to see the case they’re trying to make against Google. Google has always touted providing the best user experience as one of their highest priorities. Considering that, Google should remain true to its own algorithm and allow the best result to win, even if that means putting a competitor like Yelp in the top position.

A Search For Relevance

By Nathan Johnson, Assistant Media Planner

A thought amongst the cheers

A wave of excitement rolled through the advertising community earlier this month when the long awaited opening of Instagram’s API (application programming interface) finally arrived. The development has already given way to predictions about revenue growth ($2.81 billion by 2017 according to eMarketer), future ad quality and more. I also found myself wondering if the platform would follow Facebook and add an algorithmic feature to the feed, forcing brands to “pay to play.”

Algorithms bring relevance

While some may argue that limiting post reach is a way to force brands to buy ads and bring in profits for the social platform, I also believe that it enhances the user experience when ads are well targeted. I personally would much rather see content I’m inclined to engage with than my friend’s choice of food for the day. Simply put, feeds can quickly become a dumping ground of irrelevant content if left unchecked. Facebook found their user base felt they were experiencing too much promotional content and not stories from their friends and family:

“One of the main reasons people come to Facebook is to see what’s happening in their News Feeds. Our goal with News Feed has always been to show people the things they want to see…[They] told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content. ”

Twitter continues to see declining user growth so much so that the CFO, Anthony Noto, said that an algorithmic feed is needed, and changes will happen in 2015:

“[Arranging tweets based on time] isn’t the most relevant experience for the user…An algorithm that delivers the depth and breadth of content we have on a specific topic and then eventually as it relates to people.”

Whether it be users seeing too many promotional posts or simply not finding the platform’s feed digestible, the real issue is relevant content becoming harder to find quickly. What seems to be the solution is an algorithm that sifts through content. Facebook has already implemented an algorithm within their platform and Twitter seems to be hinting that it will likely do the same as it seeks to make the platform more palatable.

Content remains king

While Facebook and Twitter continue to improve the relevance of the content users are given, the question remains whether these are issues that only the two platforms face or if this a broader issue that other social platforms such as Instagram will face? As platforms grow and users’ feeds become increasingly crowded, will brands need to fork up the cash in order to have any real share of voice?

In short, I believe this depends on the the social platform and its function. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are used to share stories and news updates, which typically mean linking out to longer form content such as blogs, videos, articles, etc. On the flipside, platforms similar to Instagram are heavily visual and centered around short form content that can be digested within a swipe. Therefore, there is less need to police content in the feed via an algorithm.

Though I don’t think this will be an issue for Instagram, social platforms are continually evolving and changing in function. Snapchat is the perfect example of a platform that seems to be changing constantly. While Instagram tends to be slow to change, it could eventually evolve into something not previously imagined. At the very heart of this issue, I believe it’s not a matter of whether brands should be concerned about a possible algorithmic feed on Instagram, but instead making sure that all posts on all social channels are relevant and emotionally provoking to our audience.

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