As Competition Grows, Publishers Must Find A Way To Offer Data That Matters

alexmagninsellsiderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Alex Magnin, chief revenue officer and partner at The Thought & Expression Co.

Data has become table stakes for publishers wooing large advertisers. That’s how it should be. Data is the fuel that powers digital marketing.

However, with the data market getting ever more crowded and sophisticated, the average publisher’s offerings aren’t going to stand up to the competition. If publishers don’t adapt, the types of data offered by publishers will soon be obsolete.

Publishers need to plan to have data that matters.

What We Do Now

Too much publisher data today has a low signal-to-noise ratio. Eager to check the box on ad buys and aided by plug-and-play data-management platforms (DMPs), publishers may create “tech audiences” based on parameters such as “visited our tech section twice in one month.” Since that will be more accurate than no targeting whatsoever, it will show some lift to the client, but it’s not a particularly strong signal. Given where the data market is going, these weaker signals will end up outcompeted unless publishers evolve.

Some publishers have meaningful login and first-party data. A magazine website has subscriber data and can make users log in to view content. Others might piggyback on a social or commenting platform or have a small percentage of premium subscribers they can track. Many take what they do know, mostly about the types of content being consumed, and layer on third-party data purchased on exchanges. That’s how a simple blogging site can offer “tech audience of males age 18-34 with two children who are in-market for trucks.”

Don’t Forget The Competition

This sort of data offering is ubiquitous. That’s a problem for publishers because once everyone can offer an audience, it’s not worth so much. Sure, it’s better than completely random impressions, but it won’t be a market differentiator that can drive up CPM rates.

The data most publishers have is the tiniest drop in an ocean of relevant data. Consider what percentage of users’ online time the average publisher captures. Even a site that gets two minutes from a user every day of the month captures only one-half of 1% of that user’s online time. Facebook alone captures upward of 20% of time spent for some demographics.

Then, compare how rich that publisher data is compared to Facebook’s or Google’s. It’s a humbling comparison, but this fact of life is key to how publishers should think of their future data strategy.

Data That Actually Matters

There is a bright future for publisher-side data, but it isn’t via telling advertisers a user went to your tech section and then buying a bunch of commodity data to put on top of it. That is already par for the course.

What publishers should think about is what data they can create that no one else can, how that can be valuable to advertisers and how it can be captured.

A niche mountain-biking website, for instance, could add polls that get authentic feedback on products they review and use that to change messaging for “hot,” “lukewarm,” and “cold” respondents. A fashion site could build a design-an-outfit feature, which could help it understand what users think pairs well with what, showing ad creative accordingly.

Defensible data is built out of a core functionality of the site. It flows from the raison d’être for the site and its users. This is a hard task because reading an article out of hundreds or thousands each month is not inherently a rich signal. Accomplished successfully, this strategy inheres user consent and gives entre to deeper, data-driven relationships with advertisers, rather than transactional one-offs.

Just as an explosion of commodity supply in ad inventory drives publishers to promote the premium, culturally meaningful nature of their sites, so too will today’s data explosion push publishers to more focused, differentiated solutions.

In the future of our industry, premium publishers matter. They just need to make sure they have data that matters, too.

Follow Alex Magnin (@alexmagnin), Thought Catalog (@thoughtcatalog) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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