A Struggle To Value Content Emerges When Publishers Lose Sight Of Their Distribution Channels

The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Chris Martellotti, co-founder at Wholetone Media.

The way people understand the programmatic opportunity in the publishing business is beginning to change.

Publishers used to hire sales leaders who understood the language of programmatic and could navigate conversations with advertisers pushing their budgets toward programmatic. The challenge is that many publishers didn’t understand what the terms meant or the long-term effects on their businesses. There was a sense that media would be bought and sold in the same way, but it would just be done via digital pipes instead of the traditional IO.

Now many publishers realize that to succeed in this programmatic world, the teams and skill sets needed are actually quite different. Sales leaders are now being replaced by product and data leads, supported by operational and analytical groups, as part of a sales and partnership effort that is more focused than in the past. This change is helping publishers understand their audiences in more detail and make better monetization decisions not only about advertising, but also for content creation, staffing, paywalls and subscription offers.

This is a big change. As the market matures, there is a fantastic opportunity for publishers that can figure out the best way to optimize their teams to improve monetization.

It is easy to point the finger at the Facebook and Google duopoly as the challenge for independent publishers, but there is something far bigger behind that. Most publishers no longer understand the distribution channel of their content and thus struggle to segment and value it properly. In any industry, the biggest brands recognized also own the distribution channel. That is their competitive advantage.

McDonald’s, for example, is also a real estate company. Pepsi and Coca-Cola also distribute beverages for dozens of brands. General Motors and Ford emerged from a crowded automotive market as leaders due to their efficiency of product manufacturing and distribution network of resellers, not necessarily because they built the best car.

Many publishers today who produce great content are structuring their teams for an old sales model, when publishers had more insight into their distribution channels. Today’s new global, 24/7, on-demand, multidevice consumption model has a far more sophisticated storyline than any publisher has yet mastered. It is no longer a game of hiring a sales team with a great Rolodex. It is about economic mastery, leveraging unique data and creating product offerings for marketers that help them capture the attention of people consuming content.

Today it is hard to find content that is not written with the objective of driving SEO traffic or click-bait from social feeds; that is the world we live in. Although one can point blame at the duopoly, there has been little done by publishers to understand their audiences in a more granular way and create a more customized solution for their readers, content consumers and the advertisers supporting it.

If the average person has 10 hours of screen time per day, what percentage of that is spent engaging with specific brands? How loyal are they? What information do publishers have on their users? And, most importantly, do publishers have the team and tools in place to figure this out?

On the buy side, very sophisticated marketers can understand their current and potential customer set in a very granular, almost one-to-one manner. Can the sell side do the same? In an arms race to amass large audiences and stay relevant in the eyes of marketers, many publishers have lost sight of who their audiences are, making it difficult to create value from them.

There are a few key things to think about as this shift happens. In the past, publishers loved boasting about how big their audiences were, but to succeed in programmatic, tell me how small a given audience subset is, what they are doing and how that audience is different from other micro-audiences. Publishers must be able to understand the data objectives of a given brand and how its unique audience data can help brands understand new things about their consumers.

If a large part of an audience comes from Facebook and another large part comes from Google, what is different about those two groups of people? Media impressions bought and sold should be one of the last things discussed; the most important match between a brand and a publisher is the data, and that should inform the creative and the execution. Publishers must break out of the focus on campaign-driven media and have partnership conversations. Understanding the who, what, where, when and why of consumer segments is a great place to start.

The buy side has grown more sophisticated, and this intelligence will continue to unravel the publishing business until publishers can granularly understand the value of their audiences. The digitization of our economy has created a world of consumer sovereignty, where consumers are getting what they want, not necessarily what a given seller is offering.

Programmatic has created a world of advertiser sovereignty and the way for publishers to succeed is to offer something that an advertiser cannot get elsewhere. Chances are, due to the growing sophistication of their buying, they will be willing to pay for it.

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