“The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.
Today’s column is written by Alessandro De Zanche, an independent audience strategy consultant.
A lot has already been said about how General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ePrivacy offer an opportunity for publishers and advertisers to kickstart a new, more truthful and respectful relationship with consumers, leaving the polemics and the ad-blocking wars behind.
But the law also comes with a lot of resistance, especially from agencies and ad tech players that fear the new regulation will cut them from the relationships between brands and consumers and publishers and their users, a position they should have never occupied.
And, frankly and counterintuitively, the resistance is also coming from quite a few publishers. While some publishers will regain control of their relationships with their audiences, complying with GDPR will come at a high cost, in terms of the required skills and effort and the potential short-term revenue hit. While a failure to plan ahead may be the driver behind much of any revenue declines, some stick their heads in the sand or turn the other way.
User experience and engagement in a post-GDPR world are not just philosophical concepts supported by a legal framework. They are embedded in the strategy and the values of brands and publishers and tightly linked to the technology they employ, in terms of capabilities and best practices.
This is why advertisers and publishers must thoroughly reassess their technology and data partners while preparing for GDPR.
Agencies and ad tech vendors must listen to their clients’ needs without the distraction of parallel agendas in the background. In a healthy and balanced ecosystem, they should be agnostic facilitators at the service of their clients’ needs.
Reach + Quality Is Finite
Before GDPR, the obsession with scale brought agencies and ad tech companies to a point where individual clients and their audience data were just a small piece of their main agenda: market domination. It often led to client-agency or client-ad tech platform relationships that were more beneficial for the latter.
But reach and quality are finite, and the circle cannot be squared: The tide is turning with the “help” of huge issues such as fake news, brand safety and ad fraud.
Now the ball is in the advertisers’ and publishers’ courts. Due to their need to be GDPR-compliant, it’s their responsibility to review their strategies, especially for their ad stacks and data.
Tech, data, GDPR and user experience are tightly intertwined
Advertisers and publishers should see their ad stack as an enabler of better digital environments, both from a “tangible” (formats and frequency capping) and “intangible” (data handling, perception of privacy and compliance) perspective, rather than as a reason to outsource these crucial aspects to ad tech vendors or agencies.
I am convinced that the clean-up will also reflect in value – less reach but higher-value engagement opportunities in premium contexts – and result in much slimmer and agile ad stacks.
One big worry, especially among publishers is that GDPR will cause third-party data availability to shrink due to a long daisy chain of opt-ins and permissions required. Every challenge is a solution opportunity; GDPR represents an amazing excuse for publishers to review their first- and second-party data strategies.
Breaking the old status quo is needed.
Publishers Should Ally With Users
Allying with users could mean diverting budget from third-party data providers and reinvesting it in benefits for users in exchange for providing accurate data about themselves. It’s a radical turn from hunting for data to having user data provided by the “targets.” Those previously treated as “prey” become partners and share the benefits in the common interest of both.
No, it won’t mean additional costs because the money would be shifted from buying often nontransparent or low-quality data to creating strong deterministic profiles and reinforcing the bond with customers and users.
And yes, we all agree that the “digital media pact” should be free content in exchange for data but the way in which the industry has managed it means the status quo is unsustainable for much longer, unless the relationship is redefined. Consumers and users providing data also bring an accuracy never had before, without compromising the relationship with the user (remember ad blockers?).
GDPR’s rule introducing user data portability, which gives consumers more control over obtaining and reusing their personal data, will further reward brands and publishers with stronger and fairer audience strategies, especially those that best implement a balanced value exchange. A tighter and more meaningful bond with users and customers will incentivize their submission of additional personal data “ported’ from third parties. Its impact on monetization strategies is evident.
Brands Should Ally With Publishers
Publishers are naturally the main connection point between brands and consumers in a digital environment. In a cleaner environment, where ad tech agnostically provides a framework that is fully controlled by clients, this connection can create a stronger and more effective dialogue.
GDPR’s true value can be brought to life only by reinforcing the axis between brands, publishers and consumers in these kind of one-to-one data partnerships.
And as a great side benefit at a “macro level,” a properly performed review of technology partnerships will cause a natural selection within the Lumascape by accelerating the “death by lack of good practices” and “death by cunning agendas” of bad ad tech players, which will benefit consolidation. This should be welcomed by the good guys in ad tech and media agencies, who should put significant efforts into supporting their clients during this reassessment process.
The financial implications are huge, and a lot of revenue is at stake, so the resistance is and will be strong. That’s no way back, though: The only alternative to evolving and successfully riding the change is drowning while trying to square a circle in a parallel reality.