Seven common pitfalls digital publishers face when shifting their focus to first-party data
Published: 20 Jul 2021
Last month, Google announced that they would delay the move to block third-party cookies until 2023 – a move that is still sending ripples through the industry as digital publishers re-evaluate their existing strategies. However, as highlighted by our Managing Director, Richard Reeves, while the goalposts may have moved, the overall direction of travel hasn’t changed. Cookies are on their way out, and future-proofing the digital publishing industry is still paramount.
Publishers don’t need a like-for-like replacement for third-party cookies; instead, it’s an opportunity for digital publishers to reassert their authority and control as the owners of a treasure trove of first-party audience data. But what could that future look like? And what are the challenges facing digital publishers?
A few months ago, we asked our panel of experts what innovative strategies publishers could use to engage with their subscribers better. This time, we flipped the question on its head to understand what were the most common difficulties publishers faced as they shift their focus to building and leveraging their first-party data more effectively. If you’re challenging your organisation to be more resourceful with your first-party data, here are seven pitfalls to keep in mind in order to achieve success:
After Google delayed its deprecation of support for third-party cookies until 2023, it might be tempting for publishers to breathe a sigh of relief. However, the fundamental consumer and regulatory push toward more privacy and less tracking hasn’t changed - as a result, one of the biggest pitfalls for publishers as they shift their focus to building and leveraging first-party data is waiting too long to take action.
Rather than following Google’s timeline, publishers must recognize that other browsers like Safari and Firefox have already ended their support for third-party cookies. The time to act is now, and the companies that are most successful in building deep relationships with users and large cohorts of known customers will be most successful in the world without third-party cookies.
With the demise of the third-party cookie and other challenges with online tracking, publishers are increasingly looking to build their own data assets – but their value will be intrinsically linked to being able to use them in a privacy compliant way.
Key to success is to be upfront with users about how and why their data will be used and shared. Any use or sharing which is not within users’ ‘reasonable expectations’ – viewed through the ICO’s eyes – is likely to be unlawful.
Equally important is to put privacy in the users’ hands. The less choice that users have, or less control over who has access to their data, the more difficult it will be to establish a legal basis. Those that will prosper will be those that build sophisticated yet easy to navigate privacy dashboards and those that incentivise (but don’t trick) their users into trusting them with rights to use their data.
Shifting an organisation’s focus to first-party data can be a fundamental change to your business; preparing for these two pitfalls is critical. Firstly, consider the full breadth and variety of your first-party data sources when constructing your strategy. Because they don’t collect any declared data, such as age or gender, publishers are often concerned they can’t rely entirely on first-party data. But first-party data includes many sources, such as reading habits, ad engagement, and content interaction. These insights, fully supported by your proprietary data, give a competitive advantage as they reveal nuances about advertisers’ target audiences and allow for better targeting decisions.
Secondly, get serious about sales enablement. First-party data is the new media currency for the advertising ecosystem; however, for the sales team, it could mean fundamentally changing the go to market and value proposition for advertisers. Publishers should spend time crafting the sales story, including how first-party data fits into their wider offering, Mail Metro Media, Business Insider, and News UK have done this successfully.
Huge amounts of attention are focused on the delivery and targeting of ads with first-party data, and rightly so. Publishers should get paid for access to their hugely valuable audiences. But how valuable are they? How can you defend the premium you deserve from brand marketers, and get them to come back for more?
In addition to investments in creative capability, publishers would do well to include improved campaign measurement in their list of priorities to prove their ability to deliver the key advertising metrics marketers require - namely awareness, consideration, preference, and action intent. This simple effort will let publishers stand apart from their rivals, including the platforms, and provide the tangible evidence advertisers need to release more and bigger budgets to publishers.
In the end, while it’s crucial to collect and control your very valuable data, you still have to prove that value or buyers won’t pay what you’re worth. Better brand lift measurement, combined with accurate targeting, improved creative and strong sales teams will ensure brands keep coming back for more.
The most common misconception with first-party data is that publishers who own large amounts will thrive in the post-cookie world with their first-party data alone. The biggest issue with first-party data is that without third-party cookies it can only be used within the publisher’s website. This is not valuable in an ecosystem that is becoming cookieless.
Creating mini-walled gardens won’t benefit publishers whose biggest competitors are YouTube and Facebook. Even the largest premium publishers will never be able to compete with the amount of user-level data that the Walled Gardens own. The best way to monetise first-party data in the Open Web is to share them and allow monetisation platforms to activate them outside of their domains. This can be done by working with solutions that enable publishers to share their first-party data with their monetisation partners in a privacy-compliant way.
When implementing Universal IDs that are informed by hashed email, a type of first-party data, publishers can choose whether or not to pass the ID to a DSP in the bid request. The buy-side prefers to see an ID in a bid request for several reasons, including frequency capping and measurement/attribution. Frequency capping on a person-level Universal ID ensures that individuals don’t see impressions beyond the point where ad exposure starts to diminish. Those additional impressions result in wasted media spend. If a DSP can bid on an impression with certainty that the ad spend isn’t wasted, their bid price will be higher. The publisher stands to attain higher CPMs when a Universal ID is passed in the bid request.
However, many publishers are reticent to allow this, as they are prioritising control over their data, and using a Deal ID. Publishers fear third-parties may monetise their audiences and data, thus restrict the ability to see the Universal ID associated with an ad impression. As time goes on, publishers will need to experiment with the balance between control and monetisation. The industry is currently developing solutions that will help publishers strike the right balance. One option would be mechanisms that provide publishers control so only trusted parties can receive an ID. In short, Publishers should seek to find the right balance between control, data protection and monetisation.
The key message is this: now is the time to start experimenting with these levers!
With the decline of third-party cookies, the value of first-party data is growing significantly, providing publishers more control over how they monetise their assets. However, some are concerned that these changes may result in buyers shifting budgets to the walled gardens, considering this to be the path of least resistance. Greater relationships, collaboration and education between publishers, agencies and marketers are going to be key to moving forward. Likewise, understanding how buyers currently structure and consume data today and how they would like to scale and use your first-party data will enable digital publishers and advertisers to move forward together.
Remember, privacy comes first, so to begin with, you have to understand what privacy-safe strategies buyers are developing. Then ensure that there are no barriers to your inventory being represented in these marketplaces. Finally, expand visibility of your data. Buyers will still search for efficient ways of trading, so make sure your data is also available in all the SSPs you work with so that they can build inventory plus data deals. This may require updating your headerbidding set up to ensure it is passing the data correctly to the SSPs.
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