Four Ways to Leverage Audience Data to Solve Publisher Challenges
In this post Ashu Mathura, Product Director Data Management Platform, outlines several of the key challenges facing publishers and how data can be used to bridge these challenges.
In part one Ashu explores the threat of ad blockers and how publishers can deal with the ad blocker threat while remaining cautious about over-stating the actual risk they pose.
This post identifies four primary challenges facing publishers while diving into their potential solutions, including how to use data to fight the threat of instant articles and platform news, while touching on how publishers can collect, enrich and make addressable audience data.
Audiences have shifted from desktop to mobile. Unfortunately, advertisers have been slow to tackle this shift and many are still playing catch up leaving publishers with high-potential but under-monetized mobile channels. There are a handful of exceptions to this: Large players who were quick to pivot to and now dominate the publisher space with mobile-centered walled gardens which leave the vast majority of publishers at a significant disadvantage.
Invest in mobile in-app! As publisher audiences are shifting to mobile devices, many are seeing positive results from closing down their mobile sites and migrating the audience to mobile native applications. This is in part about user experience, but more than that, it is about more robust tracking data and a more controlled (and difficult to block) ad experience.
It’s true that mobile network providers like 3 (IT and UK), O2 (UK) and EE (UK) are working on ad blocking programs that will also block ads in applications. However, the reception is lukewarm and the execution is likely to be much more limited in scope leaving publishers in a far more defensible position than desktop.
As user experience is once again an increasingly important part of the discussion, a native application will allow publishers to design a much sleeker ad experience across all ad forms, further improving the display, video and notification experience. A robust mobile application is also readily adapted to other forms of exciting new technologies such as smartwatches and smart TV’s along with the treasure trove of rich data they bring with them.
Last, but certainly not least, mobile persistent device ID’s allow publishers to identify and track users on a much more reliable and granular level than the traditional 24-day cookie while also developing valuable and highly accurate cross-device user profiles in their DMP platform.
Walled Gardens are taking all the (automated) ad spend. Publishers are losing the battle for advertising spend to large walled gardens who are by default ‘data management platforms’ and have enabled advertisers to target against their data. Publishers with basic data strategies typically have little-to-no data to sell to advertisers and are moving very slowly to get ‘something’ in place. Despite the disadvantages and lack of data ownership provided by these walled gardens, advertisers have felt they had no choice but to allocate a growing portion of their spend.
Login Data. Having a platform to store data, mine and make addressable for advertisers is only part of the game. Collecting the data is often a big challenge for publishers.
As part of the data strategy, it becomes important to get users logged in as quickly as possible. In some cases, this has been done by limiting people to 3 free unregistered articles per day before requiring a login to continue reading. While this approach has been met with mixed results, asking people to register and login should also bring clear benefits for them, like personalization, saving of articles, easy sharing and posting comments in addition to the absolute simplest login process possible. In return for registration, publishers can also promise less advertising and leverage more targeted messaging.
A key aspect of this approach is ease of registration as even the slightest barrier leads to significant drop-off or abandonment. Registration should not be done per publisher title, but should use single login tools across all of the publisher’s titles.
This provides a three-fold benefit as it also allows the publisher to show people relevant content across titles, driving additional impressions and thus revenues. It also opens up added potential for cross-device tracking, enhancing accuracy while providing a richer understanding of the user journey. Being able to provide refined messaging that spans across titles, devices and publishers also increases available inventory significantly, paving the way for opportunity 3.
Publishers lack the reach required to remain relevant for advertisers. Publisher unique audience reach tends to be limited and localized compared to the major walled gardens. This makes it very inefficient for advertisers to directly buy and or find in RTB exchanges. Basically, advertisers need to have a very advanced and in-depth idea of what they want and are looking for, in order to buy a specific publisher’s inventory. Due to this, many publishers face major difficulties in getting found by advertisers, especially in the automated space.
Bundle Inventory. In some European countries we have seen publishers collaborating to bundle inventory while providing increased relevancy for advertisers who are presented with a single-inventory proposition. Examples of publishers who are already doing this effectively are La Place Media in France, CPex in the Czech Republic and DUN in Denmark where publishers bundled their inventory and created a more extensive offering. This is a good idea, however, to work fully it requires a single login (DMP) strategy across all publishers to ensure accurate tracking. This remains one of the biggest advantages the large walled garden players retain, though it is partially counteracted by their refusal to grant advertisers reasonable rights over the data they’re paying for.
One of the most effective solutions publishers have found is to join forces while reaching beyond their own immediate properties. An exciting example of this is news aggregator Upday from Alex Springer. In September 2015, Upday launched in beta and now claims around 1,200 publishing partners including The Economist, The Daily Telegraph, Le Figaro, Der Spiegel and Axel Springer publications. These publishers are all eager to take a stand against platform offerings like walled garden initiatives such as Instant Articles and Apple News. So far the results have been promising with Upday claiming users were spending over two hours a month using the platform during the test period.
Once these structural processes are put in place, it becomes logical to sell audiences and interest across all titles and publishers automatically paving the way for the fourth opportunity.
The shift to automated ad spend. Publisher direct advertising sales are moving into the automated space quickly, leaving sales teams with an increasing challenge to demonstrate value to advertisers. Implemented badly, automated ad sales deliver a lower eCPM to publishers versus direct sold. This has led to restructuring and created an increasing demand for innovative solutions.
Automate and go all-in! Programmatic is growing rapidly and is no longer the domain of low-quality remnant ad units. Increasingly, programmatic has become the common-sense tool for serving premium guaranteed ads. As an indication of the future, Bauer Media in the US is closing down their direct ad sales team and moving everything over to programmatic and I’m sure more publishers will follow their lead in 2016. These shifts indicate the direction things will continue to head in, with old roles replaced with new responsibilities that focus less on logistical tasks and more on driving, maintaining and servicing relationships and new opportunities.
If 2015 was the year where publishers enabled all of their ad positions for programmatic buying, then 2016 will be the year were publishers need to demonstrate audience value. For publishers, being able to deliver audiences and data will become key tools to aid advertisers in discovering their inventory within the high-volume automated eco-system. As a result, the ability to deliver audience data for programmatic is directly linked to the ability to collect (mobile, single login), mine and make addressable (DMP) by publishers.
Publishers need to focus, invest and fight or surrender!
In short; to maintain and/or grow ad revenues publishers will need to focus, align and invest heavily in 3 key areas: mobile, programmatic, and audience data. I’ve excluded ad blockers as their primary areas of impact are largely irrelevant in many of the new emerging areas that will shape publisher revenue such as mobile, tablet, watches and smart TV applications. On average mobile publishers now have 3-5 years of experience, while they have 1-2 years’ experience with modern incarnations of programmatic. However, when it comes to mining audience data most publishers almost completely lack experience which makes data one of the key strategic items for publishers to master in 2016.
Are there alternatives for publishers? Yes of course, but unless publishers are ready to reduce their business to symbiotic content factories utterly dependent on the whims of large walled garden providers with a history of playing poorly with partners, these alternatives are more liability than opportunity.
Stay tuned for future updates as Ashu takes us on a deep-dive tour of data’s potential as a core resource for empowering publishers with added monetization options, enhanced control, and new routes to added efficiency.