David Sasson is COO of content discovery solution Outbrain, the sponsor of the Content Marketing Survey Report being published by Econsultancy next week.

David, who will be on the panel for the research launch event in London next Wednesday, spoke to us about the growth of content marketing and what the company’s platform can offer for publishers, advertisers and consumers. 

Why do you think everyone seems to be talking about content marketing?

Digital advertising has historically butted up against a branding wall. It has been a terrific medium for direct response advertising, but has not succeeded to date in telling consumers a compelling story at scale to create awareness, which is fundamentally what is needed to support mass branding.

Content marketing is finally allowing us to do that in digital, to tell a story that supports brand positioning and messaging.

In addition, consumer trends point fully to a world in which overt “advertising” is ignored. The DVR fast-forward button, the adoption of ad blockers, the decline in CTRs in display advertising … all of this points to users putting themselves on a holistic “do not call” list for marketers.

With this as a backdrop, brands must think of creative ways to attract people to their environments rather than being able to interrupt people in other environments … the creation of robust content can be the cornerstone of a “pull” versus “push” marketing strategy.

Is your content discovery model an alternative to display advertising or is it complementary? 

It is complementary. We really think of content discovery as a different discipline than display advertising. In fact, we see content marketing as a supporting pillar to almost all forms of digital advertising: a large variety of content helps SEO (search); it can be used as the basis for igniting discussions/conversation through existing channels like Facebook and Twitter (social); and it can provide a ton of insight into which audiences are receptive to your messages and where on the internet to find them, thereby allowing for better targeting for display efforts. 

Do publishers have any concerns about driving traffic away from their own web properties?

Most publishers understand their users pretty well by now. That is, they know that people visit many sites across the internet and won’t be held captive to one site. Because of this, publishers have been investing in ways to complement their own editorial with aggregation and curation of interesting content happening anywhere, even outside their own walls.

Many of the sites that have the highest visitor loyalty are, in fact, those that aggregate and link out to many sources (think Twitter, or Drudge Report, or Google News)….there’s no reason publishers themselves can’t play this role for their audiences.  

In addition, it’s no secret that publishers are under extreme revenue pressure. The ability for them to accelerate revenues by linking out to high-quality, third-party content that complements their editorial, rather than affiliate or direct response advertising that may degrade it, is a welcome alternative. 

So, in general, the pros of helping users discover great content from other websites while simultaneously developing a new revenue stream on the back of that good user experience far outweigh any perceived negatives from linking out.   

Has it been harder to get the publishers or the advertisers on board?

Publishers, of course, have always known the power of content marketing – it’s what they’ve done for decades. So getting them on board conceptually has been fairly straightforward.

For brands, however, content marketing is still in its adolescence. A few years back, it was a totally new concept and getting brand marketers to think about how to put a strategy around content creation and amplification was really tough.

Now, it’s growing incredibly quickly with all the questions adolescents always ask themselves: what do I want to be when I grow up (what’s the strategy), where do I fit in (what marketing channels do I touch), how independent am I (who should “run” content marketing), etc. But there’s no doubt it’s growing quickly and we’re helping as best we can.  

How significant is the growth of video, and how does your technology cater to this trend?

Consumption of online video is growing quickly. Users want the power of “on demand” availability for every piece of content, regardless of whether it’s an article, a video, a book, or a piece of music. So users are now experiencing many of the frustrations with video content that we at Outbrain set out to solve originally for text; namely, how do I find what’s really interesting to me in a world of content fragmentation?

Our Engage for Video product is designed to help solve this issue. We use behavioral and contextual information to personalize the recommended video experience for each user.

We apply this solution both within video players as end-slate recommendations when a video finishes, as well as throughout the site to move people into video experiences from other starting points. 

One trend we are seeing is that as more publishers mix their content assets – adding more robust video sections, putting out photo galleries, while continuing to publish a lot of articles – we are able to use our technology to segment their audiences by content preferences and tailor recommendations to people based on the kind of content they prefer to consume. This approach is an important way to optimize screen real estate and maximize overall site engagement.  

And what about mobile? How problematic for publishers is the increased use of smartphones (in terms of disrupting display advertising revenue models)?

Mobile is having a huge impact on publisher monetization and the issue is growing as the user consumption curve kicks up.

The fundamental issue of course is that advertisers feel they get a lot less value when the size of their advertisement is cut into small-screen-size, and that simultaneously, publishers feel those smaller display ads actually are more disruptive to the user experience than web advertisements (because they monopolize a larger percentage of the screen).

As a result, publishers are left monetizing a smaller pool of buyers, at lower CPMs, with a less satisfying user experience.

Content marketing is actually a perfect fit for mobile, so we’re very excited about it. From a publisher standpoint, showing a link at the base of their own content to a piece of third-party content is wholly unobtrusive. It blends into the user experience very well with minimal impact on real estate.

And from the marketer standpoint, the value of having someone read or watch a piece of brand content on the small screen is just as powerful as having someone read it on the web. The impact of the story is the same. So while it’s true that the move to mobile is disrupting the display advertising economy, if anything it’s a growth catalyst for content marketing. 

In which markets are you seeing the most appetite for your technology?  

We are seeing a healthy appetite for “content discovery” solutions in all the markets we’ve entered so far, but I’d say there are different areas of emphasis in different locations. In the United States and UK, the full set of solutions – from publishers using us to recommend their own content, to showing third-party content links for revenue, to mixing our video, article, and mobile solutions – are all generally being adopted aggressively.

Continental Europe has been very interested in our video solutions as well as our ability to link media properties together (that is, help publishers recommend content from their sister publications to drive cross-site audience development).

Our early work in Asia has a distinct mobile ring to it (no pun intended). But in general, since our mission is fairly broad: help users find interesting content. There is appetite for some flavor of it in each market where we operate. 

Follow @OutbrainUK and @Econsultancy for coverage of Wednesday’s research launch event (#OCM12)