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How publishers are using first-party data to drive engagement, conversions and better ad targeting

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Forbes will soon have a registration wall on its site offering readers an ad-light experience in exchange for their email addresses, reports Digiday. The move is designed to help the publisher develop a better understanding of what its readers value. The publisher plans to use the data collected to inform its revenue diversification strategies.

It’s about leveraging first-party data, it’s understanding the inter-connectedness of the content they’re consuming. This is the tip of the iceberg of supporting products that are not ad-supported.

Mark Howard, CRO, Forbes

“We’re thinking about how we develop more products for those communities,” added Howard, speaking at a recent Digiday Publishing Summit.

“Build the media businesses of tomorrow”

Forbes is not alone, anti-tracking measures adopted by popular browsers, coupled with increased scrutiny of privacy regulators, has forced many publishers to think about how to leverage their first-party data. Publishers have rich behavioral, subscriber and social data. It can be used to inform editorial strategies, as well as offer advertisers precise targeting opportunities. 

The Washington Post has developed a first-party data ad targeting tool called Zeus Insights. It offers detailed contextual targeting capabilities along with user-intent predictions for marketers.  The idea is to give marketers a sophisticated ad-targeting tool that does not depend on third-party cookies and yet drive results.

Zeus monitors the content individual users are reading or watching. It records how far they have scrolled to on a page, where they are clicking, and the URL used to arrive on the page, among other parameters. The publisher matches this data to its existing audience data pools to create assumptions on individual users’ consumption intent. The technology uses machine learning to identify patterns. 

The Post plans to license Zeus to other publishers by integrating it with its Arc technology platform. Currently Arc reaches 750M unique users globally. 

“This is about how we build the media businesses of tomorrow,” Jarrod Dicker, VP of Commercial Technology and Development at The Post told Digiday. 

He added, “Right now, a lot of publishers are thinking about how to sustain and survive — not grow. That’s what we’re bringing with the Zeus Insights — we want to bring value in future years and build an experience that respects [consumer] privacy and constructs a better [advertising] ecosystem that we all want to live in.”

“Drive high-engaging content and experiences”

Hearst and News Corp use advanced targeting strategies to serve personalized ads to readers. The messaging is based on a combination of specific keywords within content they’re consuming, their preferences, opinions and even emotions. These targeting tactics have reportedly led to an increase in ad engagement by up to 45%.

We are starting to understand how ads perform in different contexts for certain audiences. Say you’re advertising insurance, it generally would work better in a more serious article. If an ad runs in along a story with the same emotional context, there’s a 60% greater chance for someone watching your videos.

Ben Walmsley, Commercial Director of Publishing at News UK

Publishers are increasingly looking at how they can use data to create a more personalized (and valuable) experience for their readers across all platforms. “Ultimately, the more we understand our consumers, the more we can drive high-engaging content and experiences, that will drive direct and indirect revenue,” says Meredith’s Chief Marketing and Data Officer, Alysia Borsa.

Nicole McGuire, SVP of Consumer Marketing at Kalmbach Media told Folio, “By collecting data and insights about our customers, both purchase and behavior, marketers are better able to deliver relevant messaging to customers and inform content decisions.”

In our shift from a more linear acquisition and retention model to a relationship model where the customer is at the center, data and insights about our customers is critical. 

Nicole McGuire, SVP of Consumer Marketing, Kalmbach Media 

Targeted content, combined with dynamic and personalized subscription offers, increase the likelihood of conversion. Publishers can also use their first-party data to target content at lookalike audiences who have a higher likelihood to engage with it. 

“If you cast too wide a net, there’s a cost”

Kalmbach Media uses data to create targeted marketing messages for driving conversion. McGuire said, “On the content side, site audits and analytics are helping to drive more deliberate digital content planning with a better understanding of what kinds of content drive audience, engagement and ultimately conversion.”

For example, when a subscriber is due for a magazine subscription renewal, the publisher sends him a custom renewal offer. If the data shows that a reader is consuming a lot of content that might appear in a sister publication. Then he will be sent a message about subscribing to that publication as well.

Real estate B2B media company Hanley Wood uses reader location and behavior data to promote attendance at live events. For example, when the publisher is organizing an event, it will ensure that readers living nearby, who consumed content related to the event’s focus, are notified and invited via emails, sites, or phone calls.

Hanley Wood’s EVP of Digital and Data Operations Sarah Welcome says, “Without the data, we might have to market 20 times more than we do in order to get the event registrations.” 

If you cast too wide a net, there’s a cost, both for the company and the audience. If the audience receives too much information that is not important to them, they may disengage.

Sarah Welcome, EVP of Digital and Data Operations at Hanley Wood

“If a user is consuming a lot of content about a particular topic, and we have a related newsletter, we are likely to serve them a promotion about subscribing. We use the data to better understand their interests, and then make sure they are aware of content and offers related to those interests,” adds Welcome.

Ammunition for competing against Facebook and Google

According to marketing consultant Patti Devine, data is an important ammunition for competing against Facebook and Google. “Every publisher and marketer, large and small, B2B and consumer, has to understand and leverage their data. First-party data is critical in the days of GDPR and other privacy laws and restrictions that have gone into effect,” she says.

Fred Marthoz, Managing Director at data solutions company Lotame comments, “Publishers that want to not only compete but thrive in today’s market need to look at what they already have in their back pocket. We often talk about the pivot to video or the pivot to podcasts. The pivot to data is really the biggest opportunity in the market today.”