Native Advertising Experiment With Local News Site Leads Us Closer to Product-Market Fit

Evrybit-feed-main-photo
Evrybit has a new look. We haven’t rolled out our MVP yet, and our embed story design — how Evrybit stories look embedded on websites for mobile, tablet and Web platforms — has a redesign.

So how did we get from this look (our old design)?

Evrybit-desktop

To this one (our redesign)?

Evrybit responsive story feed

By listening to our customers.

As part of an Evrybit beta test, I pitched a story idea to the publisher of a website that covers local news and culture in Southern California. I proposed to profile a local business with Evrybit. The mobile-produced story — a feature on Vintage Bus Import, a Volkswagen Bus restoration shop — could be embedded on his website as a native advertising experiment. The publisher agreed to run the story on his site.

After producing the Evrybit story, I sent the publisher the embed code. He set up a private post to preview the story. Then, he decided to not run the story.

He explained why via email.

Hi, Eric. I went ahead and embedded your code and story in one of the password-protected posts I use to allow customers to preview their Sponsored Posts. This will give you an idea of what your material will look like if we went ahead and published.

Here’s the link & Password:

[The link and password have been removed.]

I have to tell you … While I appreciate you doing this, I won’t be able to publish this for a couple of reasons:

— The format and styling are very different from my blog – I think a lot of readers would be left wondering what’s going on.

— The photos and videos are washed out and of poor quality – this would not go over well with the advertisers. Can you create a story with better quality and wider images – especially for desktop computers?

— Having your name and time stamp after every element is distracting – especially on the mobile.

— The separate story you sent is good but seems tacked on and not integrated with the rest of your elements. If I put it at the top, it takes a while before the readers gets to the first image. If it put it at the bottom, the reader has to scroll for a while before finding the material.

— I can see the advantage of using Evrybit because all I would have to do is insert the embed code. But all the elements would have to look better and be more closely integrated than they do now — especially if we are going to try and sell these as Sponsored Posts.

— For now it might have better use as a breaking news tool.

I was disappointed, for a moment. Then, I got back to work and thought of ways we could fix the story. I emailed our CTO.

Can we do the following to make the embed story look better?

*Make photos and videos display in landscape mode.

*Remove extra white space between headlines and media bits.

*Make text appear in list form instead of having the text wrap. Text appears in list form in mobile app (photo example attached).

*Make audio player for “How to buy a bus from Vintage Bus Import” audio bit work. The player works in the mobile story (photo example attached).

*Enhance photo/video quality. Is this possible, or does the quality depend on my iPhone?

*Display location after my name in main story summary field at top of embed.

*Anything else?

The feedback from the publisher is good and helpful. I understand his concerns. Changing behavior and convincing people to do something new/different/innovative always is a challenge at first.

We need to make some style/format changes to the embed. Fixing the quality of the embed has to be a top priority for us now. The embed is how we are interfacing with the public, and we need to show maximum quality to prove value proposition and competitive advantage.

I sent this response to the publisher.

I appreciate the feedback. It is useful and will help us refine Evrybit.

I understand and respect all of your concerns, but I hope you will reconsider publishing the Vintage Bus Import story on [Your Site] for the following reasons.

1. This embed is just a starting point. The quality will get better. All of the issues you raised are on our to-do list as bugs and/or features and will be fixed and/or added soon.

2. Substance trumps style. VW enthusiasts are a passionate community, and I think you might be surprised by how much users appreciate the substance of the VW content.

3. Running this story is an experiment, and being an innovator has inherent risk — the unknown. We don’t know how users or advertisers will respond unless we run the content. By running the content, we can get valuable data (traffic numbers, shares, comments, etc.) that we both can use to develop our products and grow our businesses. The customers/users can show and tell us what they think. One suggestion on how we could clarify this story: Could you add an editor’s note to the top of the sponsored post, something like this copy?

Editor’s note: The following story is a profile of a local business and was produced with Evrybit, a new mobile storytelling app. The bits of media have been published in reverse chronological order. If you want to experience the story in chronological order, scroll to the bottom of the feed and then scroll up. Evrybit is in private beta and plans to launch soon. We are testing Evrybit so they can refine the app and so we can explore a new way of publishing sponsored content.

The intro copy then could be posted under the editor’s note, and the embed could be placed after the intro copy.

4. This experiment is a case study. We could gather additional data. I am willing to do two more Evrybit stories with local businesses for [Your Site] — one business that has an active digital footprint and one that has a minimal digital footprint. Users and advertisers could see the development of our experiment. Local businesses could see growth opportunities. We can build on this experiment and create a new advertising business model for publishers. [Your Site] is a well-respected brand. Evrybit is a cutting-edge product and upstart company. Together, we can reimagine the monetization of community news and local media. [Your Site] can play an essential role in this process and gain more attention and visibility than it already has.

In addition to the sponsored content experiment, I would be happy to a cover a news story for [Your Site] to show how Evrybit could be used to report on news in real time.

Again, I respect and understand your concerns. But I think the benefits of running the Vintage Bus Story in its current state with an editor’s note that is transparent about what we are doing far outweigh the risks. I hope you will reconsider running the story.

If you still do not want to run the story in its current state, would you be willing to run it after we make design changes?

Let me know what you think. I would be happy to further discuss on a phone call if you like.

His response.

Sorry Eric but why don’t you send me the story after you make the design changes so I can take a look. I shared a link of the post to one of my top advertisers and she thought it was too rough and might actually hurt your marketing efforts.

So, it’s probably best to work on the concept a bit more before I can use Evrybit, especially on desktop versions of the blog.

That’s not what I wanted to hear, but things don’t always go as planned for entrepreneurs running startups. I disagreed that running the story would hurt our marketing efforts. Since the founding of Evrybit, we have operated in 100 percent anti-stealth mode. I believe that public transparency and showing the evolutionary stages of a product — and company — are good for generating buzz and business. But that is a post for another day.

This was my response.

Sounds good. I’ll let you know once we’ve made the design changes. Look forward to working with you. Thanks.

And the publisher’s response.

Great. Please keep me posted.

The market decides what is a viable product, and the market was telling us that we didn’t have one. We needed to refine our product.

We found a designer to redesign our embed story feed. We hired developers to implement the design and rearchitect the backend of the feed. They are in the process of completing that job.

Our goal with the embed redesign was to create a neutral, modern, responsive story feed that could integrate into any site with ease, regardless of customer site design and color schemes.

We are pleased with the results.

We think customers will be also.

Mobile content production and monetization remain pain points for news and media organizations. We have a product that solves this problem. We believe it is 10x better than what exists and will lead to product-market fit.

Building a viable product that meets market need is key to startup success. But achieving product-market fit can be an abstract concept and take time. Startups are on the clock and need to get to product-market fit as fast as possible. So they can transition to growth. Grow. And become a billion dollar business.

Or at least join the 10 Percent Club.

The path begins by talking with prospective customers. And listening to them.

We listened.

Now, we let the market decide.

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