Digital Essays 2019: Reclaiming power: publishers’ audience data has never been more valuable by Youmna Borghol

By Youmna Borghol, Chief data officer, Choueiri Group

Every few years, something new pops up in the world of digital advertising that threatens the revenue of publishers and puts the digital publishing industry at risk. The latest to emerge is the pivot-to-privacy trend.

Today, privacy regulations are being implemented right across the globe, from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to the US’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) kicking off in 2020.
Now, more than ever, protecting users’ data is not only a moral obligation but also a legal one, meaning privacy regulators are enforcing publishers and marketing platforms to be fully compliant with new laws and regulations.

When it comes to controlling how personal data is used for targeted advertising, however, it’s the
browsers not the regulators that are in charge. The likes of Google, Apple and Mozilla are now defining the ‘public good’ and rewriting the rules for privacy, pushing the advertising industry into
a state of disruption.

In the last couple of years, data privacy has become an arms race for the browsers. Apple and Mozilla have tightened control of third-party tracking in their Safari and Firefox browsers, making it more difficult for advertisers and companies that use third-party cookies to track digital advertising behaviour and performance across websites. Chrome browser is also adding cookie controls so users can block and clear third-party cookies. This is already causing major challenges for the whole media supply chain, reducing the amount of commercially available data.

A big question mark looms over how this will unfold, as all the tracking technology we have built as an industry is currently underpinned by cookies. Cookies are used to identify, track and measure an
individual across various platforms online. With third-party cookies crumbling, the core currency for measurement and ad targeting is crumbling.

When it comes to targeting, we’re seeing a major decline globally in the availability of third-party
cookies; we’re seeing fewer users and tracking their behaviour over a shorter range of time. With data degrading quickly, it becomes difficult to create scalable audience segments and to connect data and audience-based buying. Without the user’s browsing history, we are also unable to track from impression to conversion, meaning methodologies like multitouch attribution won’t work any more. That’s not to say that it’s the end of measurement, but things are going to be diff erent from now on. The reality is that marketers need to completely rethink how to use testing frameworks for measuring marketing value.

It’s easy to hold negative views about the state of the market right now, but this challenge presents itself as an opportunity for publishers. Why? Because we are starting to witness a shift to a fi rst-party ad economy.

The privacy initiatives will devastate third-party cookie makers, creating a crisis for all ad-tech businesses dependent on that data. Third-party data providers are going to be significantly challenged but demand for first-party data will rise tremendously. Which basically means that these moves created a scarcity on the market that publishers can take advantage of. Using key-value pairs to segment audiences, publishers can offer advertisers a new source of reliable audience data that will become a main form of targeting at a more attributable cost. The stronger the relationship between brands and major independent publishers, the richer the data sets will be, allowing for more engaging advertising targeted to the right audiences.

Publishers have a golden opportunity to better monetise their inventory if they futureproof their audience data management. Although cookie-based targeting options will not be phased out entirely, the industry should prepare for a world where the cookie is no longer the most dominant way of identifying, tracking, targeting and measuring. To pivot from the reliance on cookies, a few things need to be done:

  • Map out a beyond-the-cookie data strategy that prioritises identifying audiences using first-party.
  • A good understanding of profile identifiers, browser storage mechanisms, privacy regulations,
    server-side cookies, client-side cookies and match rates is no longer an option.
  • Re-evaluate your current data management suppliers. The industry needs trusted solutions that deliver complete, consistent and compliant data connections with greater scale and precision.
  • Ask the right questions. If we’re talking about data management technologies that are operating in a
    web browser context, then there is no such thing as a “cookieless DMP” and “100 per cent match rate”. How do they collect data? Store profile identifiers? Target passer-by traffic? Define match rates? Do they depend upon third-party cookies or do they also use first-party cookies and browser local storage?
  • Think long-term and build a first-party identity graph that involves multiple ID components and identity methods. Also foster direct relationships with consumers via registration, subscription or by providing alternative goods and services that require the sharing of the user’s deterministic identity.

In parallel, publishers are actively pursuing strategies to combat the decrease in their cookie pool and control audience monetisation. We’re seeing greater focus on second-party data partnerships with advertisers, and advertisers selling fi rst-party data for targeting audiences outside of their own properties. We’re also seeing a push toward developing next-gen contextual targeting off erings that incorporate more granular targeting around audience intents, behaviours, sentiments and interests.

Data isn’t going anywhere. The utilisation of data has been one of the greatest economic fuels in
history. Inevitably, 2020 will be another year of transformation and change for digital publishers. However, just like in years past, publishers will thrive if they embrace industry changes and develop new, diff erentiated sources of revenue. One thing that is clear, though, is that as media companies strive to be innovative in monetising content and diversifying revenue streams, it is data that will increase their chances of success and lead them into the next era of media.