What People-Based Marketing Means for Digital Publishers

October 19, 2015

Earlier this month, Signal teamed up with Econsultancy to publish a report, “Digital Publishing: Increasing Advertiser Value Through Data and Identity,” based on findings from a survey administered to more than 125 digital publishers. The survey asked a number of important questions at a time when publishers are challenged by diminishing CPMs, shrinking margins, fierce competition, and growing advertiser concerns around viewability, ad fraud, and ad blocking. But the results aren’t all doom and gloom.

On one hand, there’s a huge opportunity for growth in light of increased marketer demand for capabilities beyond content creation and conventional digital ad sales. On the other, you have walled gardens like Google and Facebook enjoying seemingly unlimited resources, gobbling up ad spend, and capitalizing on opportunity before the rest of the publisher community can catch up. In fact, the survey found 80% of respondents say they can’t compete with these alpha-publishers based on their data and identity capabilities today. Suddenly the prospect of growth feels more like a challenge. Throughout the report, the findings paint a picture of a potential new direction for publishers—one focused on high-quality ad inventory and people-based identity, and on value and not volume.

So let’s take a deeper look at this possible path. Publishers’ bread and butter is content creation. And for true content creators, the quality of that content, as well as their control over it (compared with the minefields that can accompany user-generated content), attracts a premium set of eyeballs. Indeed, a survey last year found that a “brand-safe environment” was the number-one quality concern for marketers and agency professionals. For these publishers, content is their greatest asset and revenue generator when it comes to advertising dollars.

If I’m an advertiser concerned with both strengthening the brand and driving clicks, I’m willing to pay top dollar to align my brand with this premium content and its corresponding audience, but I also want to allocate a significant portion of my budget to reaching my specific target audience and influencing them to perform an action. These lower funnel, action-driven objectives are not often fulfilled by content publishers.  And based on Signal’s study, this fact is correlated to their inability to accurately identify users.  Publishers cited “insufficient scale to recognize individuals online and across channels” and “inability to recognize consumers across devices” as the top two challenges for their display advertising programs today and the top two barriers to growing these programs in the future.

There’s no doubt publishers see value in investing in a people-based targeting solution. 84% of publishers agreed or strongly agreed that they see growth in enabling advertisers to upload first-party data to target in-market consumers, and 82% of high-growth publishers stated that the creation of customized audiences can add a “high premium” to their CPM.

What if publishers were able to overcome the challenges of scaling identity to keep up with the big dogs? When they can combine premium, quality content with the addressability of known customer identities, they can offer advertisers the best of both worlds and maximum relevancy. This achievement can transform publishers into an effective full-funnel solution for clients and give them a competitive advantage over Google and Facebook, because neither of those companies have content creation as their core competency.

But in order to offer that holy grail of maximum relevancy at great scale, publishers need to be able to recognize their users across web and mobile. Publishers are competing with walled gardens that have massive numbers of authenticated, cross-device users—like Facebook with its nearly 1.5 billion users. How are publishers to compete with the internet giants, in terms of what they can offer advertisers? Publishers are now focusing on ways to amplify their cross-channel identity data—such as pooling data through collaborative identity networks, for the betterment of all. Nearly all publishers agreed that some form of secure, anonymized data sharing would be valuable for their businesses.

Consider this opportunity at a time when many publishers plan to continue shifting inventory toward exchanges and other third-party sales solutions, which we know all too well is reducing their margins on any given impression. If they’re moving impressions to third parties and programmatic platforms and struggling to charge a “premium” in this space, using data more strategically can bolster CPMs.

Signal’s research found that some publishers are experiencing high growth, even in a challenging time for the industry. What are they doing differently? They’re proactively building data and identity strategies, because they know how crucial data and identity are to adding value to their display advertising sales. Publishers can’t and shouldn’t wait for the world to change around them—and smart publishers are getting ahead of that change by embracing the data they already have.

Download the report, Digital Publishing: Increasing Advertiser Value Through Data and Identity, to learn the strategies of high-growth publishers and gain insight into opportunities of people-based marketing for publishers.

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Katie Dettman

Katie was formerly the Product Marketing Manager at Signal.