"We want to make sure that we're controlling what happens with data…we want to make sure we control pricing. Control's a very important message. We don't want there to be a cottage industry built on our backs." - Nick Johnson, SVP, NBC Universal
What do publishers really want? It's simple: power and control. In order to survive the ad technology era, publishers need the power to monetize their audiences without relying on third parties, and complete control over how they sell their inventory. In this era of "Big Data," there is a fire hose stream of tremendously valuable information for publishers to take advantage of, such as keyword-based search data, attitudinal survey data, customer-declared data from forms, page-level semantic data, and all the third-party audience data you can shake a stick at.
All of this data (cheap to produce, and ever-cheaper to store) has given rise to companies that can help publishers bring that data together, make sense of it, and use it to their advantage. Currently, ad technology companies have been using the era of data to their advantage, utilizing it to create vertical ad networks, ad exchanges, data exchanges, demand-side platforms (DSPs), and a variety of other smart-sounding acronyms that ultimately purport to help publishers monetize their audiences, but end up monetizing themselves.
Rather than power the ad tech ecosystem, what if data could actually help publishers take back their audiences? If "data is the new gold" as the pundits are saying, then smart publishers should mine it to increase margins, and take control of their audiences back from networks and exchanges. Here are the five things a good data management platform should enable them to do:
Unlock the value of first-party data. Publishers collect a ton of great data, but a lot of them (and a lot of big publishers) don't leverage it like they should. Consider this recent stat: according to a recent MediaPost article, news sites only use in-site audience targeting on 47 percent of their impressions, as opposed to almost 70 percent for Yahoo News. By leveraging site-side behavioral data, combined with CRM data and other sources, it is possible to layer targeting on almost every impression a publisher has. Why serve a "blind" run-of-site (ROS) ad when you can charge a premium CPM for audience-targeted inventory?
Decrease reliance on third parties. The real reason to leverage a data management platform (DMP) is to get your organization off the third-party crack pipe. Yes, the networks and supply-side platforms (SSPs) are great "plug-and-play" solutions (and can help monetize some "undiscoverable" impressions), but why are publishers selling raw inventory at $0.35 and letting the people with the data resell those impressions for $3.50? It's time to turn away those monthly checks, and start writing some to data management companies that can help you layer your own data on top of your impressions, and charge (and keep) the $3.50 yourself. Today's solutions don't have to rely on pre-packaged third-party segments to work, either, meaning you can really reduce your data costs. With the right data infrastructure, and today's smart algorithm-derived models, a small amount of seed data can be utilized to create discrete, marketable audience segments that publishers can own, rather than license.
Generate unique audience insights. Every publisher reports on clicks and impressions, but what advertisers are hungry for (especially brand advertisers) are audience details. What segments are most likely to engage with certain ad content? Which segments convert after seeing the least amount of impressions? More importantly, how do people feel about an ad campaign, and who are they exactly? Data management technology is able to meld audience and campaign performance data to provide unique insights in near real time, without having to write complicated database queries and wait a long time for results. Additionally, with the cost of storing data getting lower all the time, "lookback windows" are increasing, enabling publishers to give credit for conversion path activity going back several months. Before publishers embraced data management, all the insights were in the hands of the agency, which leveraged the data to its own advantage. Now, publishers can start to leverage truly powerful data points to create differentiated insights for clients directly, and provide consultative services with them, or offer them as a value-added benefit.
Create new sales channels. Before publisher-side data management, when a publisher ran out of the travel section impressions, she had to turn away the next airline or hotel advertiser, or offer them cheap run-of-site (ROS) inventory. Now, data management technology can enable sales and ops personnel to mine their audience in real time and find "travel intenders" across their property - and extend that type of audience through lookalike modeling, ensuring additional audience reach. By enabling publishers to build custom audience segments for marketers on the fly, a DMP solution ensures that no request for proposal (RFP) will go unanswered, and ROS inventory gets monetized at premium prices.
Create efficiency. How many account managers does it take to generate your weekly ad activity reports? How much highly paid account management time are publishers burning by manually putting together performance reports? Why not provide an application that advertisers can log into, set report parameters, and export reports into a friendly format? Or, better yet, a system that pre-populates frequent reports into a user interface, and pushes them out to clients via an email link? You would think this technology was ubiquitous today, but you would be wrong. Ninety-nine percent of publishers still do this the hard (and expensive) way, and they don't have to anymore.
It's time for publishers to dig into their data, and start mining it like the valuable commodity it is. Data used to be the handcuffs that kept publishers chained to the ad technology ecosystem, where they grew and hosted a cottage industry of ad tech remoras. The future that is being written now is one of publishers leveraging ad technologies to take back control, so they can understand and manage their own data and have the freedom to sell their inventory for what it is truly worth.
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Chris O'Hara is an ad technology executive, and the author of "Best Practices in Digital Display Media," a contributor to ClickZ, and the author of the new whitepaper "Best Practices in Data Management." He can be reached through his blog at www.chrisohara.com