February 21, 2024

Four Ways 1st-Party Data Can Help You Grow Your Revenue

This is a special edition of A Media Operator, sponsored by BlueConic. In these sponsored deep dives, we dig into a specific topic and go into much more detail. I hope you enjoy it!

Media is going through massive disruption. It can look pretty bleak if you read much of the coverage out there. But I firmly believe that when things are getting disrupted, it helps to get back to basics and focus on the things that you, as an operator, can control. And there are all sorts of things that you cannot control.

  • Social platforms are cutting back on traffic?
  • Google is deprecating the 3rd-party cookie?
  • AI is making search a questionable future?

All of these are frustrating, but as a media operator, you cannot control them. However, what you can control is how you react to them. The best way to do that is to go back to basics. That means you need to focus on strengthening your reader relationships. In other words, if you understand your readers and what content they care about, you can build things for them. The only way to truly give value to someone is to know what they value.

This is why I have been a broken record over the years about 1st-party data. Because we are dealing with scaled audiences, we can’t always talk to them 1-on-1. That means we need to use behavioral data to help inform what our readers actually care about. Publishers can unlock numerous revenue growth opportunities by connecting who the individual is with what content they are consuming.

I will go through four, but you will need some tools before you can do that. One of those tools is a customer data platform (CDP). Where can you get that? Enter BlueConic.

We transform the way your growth-focused teams operate by empowering them with unified, actionable, and privacy-compliant first-party data to increase their agility and drive business outcomes. 

  • Drive retention: Reconvert likely-to-churn subscribers with bespoke renewal messaging in the weeks, days, and hours before their subscription ends.
  • Improve ad performance: Tailor messaging whether they are anonymous or known individuals with real-time, unified profiles. 
  • Boost acquisition: Target likely-to-subscribe visitors with personalized omni-channel messaging.
  • Deepen engagement: Serve highly personalized content recommendations to keep audiences engaged.
  • Monetize new audiences: Package and sell interest-based segments to ad partners to create new revenue streams.

Want to learn more? Request a demo today.

So, let’s fast forward and assume that you are now in good control of who the individual is and what they consume on your site. What comes next? Here are four ways that 1st-party data can help you grow your revenue.

Topical-based ad products

As we continue to move away from 3rd-party cookies, advertisers will need to find new ways to find their target audience. The good news is that publishers are uniquely positioned to do that by introducing new, topical-based ad products, otherwise known as contextual advertising.

This is a good place to operate because it ties the user to the content. In other words, advertisers are not simply paying to promote to an audience but are paying to advertise at the moment they are consuming a specific type of content.

But that’s elementary ad targeting. If you take the data you have about an audience and merge it with the content they are consuming, you can create far more advanced topical-based ad products. Let’s imagine one based on your newsletter.

Step one is aligning your website taxonomy to your newsletter and introducing link tagging. When someone clicks on a link in the newsletter, whether to your site or not, you want to understand what that link is about. For example, if I had a link in this newsletter that point to an article about topical-based ads, I might tag it with “advertising models,” depending on my taxonomy.

This is an essential first step because it ensures that when people click, you can put them into topical segments. So, using the “advertising models” example, I want to know everyone in my database who cares about it. Not only do I want to know that, but so do my prospective sponsors.

Step two is to introduce a new product that I’ll call the “Topical Based Dedicated Blast.” Instead of emailing your entire database with a dedicated blast, you identify the people most likely to be interested in that product using their contextual behavior and only email them. It puts the ad in front of a person when they are most interested in that topic.

Step three is building an email automation. Any time someone who matches the target buyer of your partner clicks on a link in your newsletter about a sponsored topic, they’ll automatically receive a dedicated blast.

Here’s why I like this product…

First, you don’t need to create new content to support this sponsorship. You’ve already invested the money once, so you are increasing your monetization opportunities against your fixed costs.

Second, the same content can be sponsored by multiple parties. There’s no overlap because the sponsorship is tied to the topic and the target buyer. For example, for AMO, one segment could be Product Management, and the other could be Audience Development with two distinct sponsors.

Third, it’s a quality, not quantity, play. And so you may only send hundreds rather than thousands of dedicated emails. But because the message is more focused, there is a smaller likelihood of churn while, at the same time, you can charge more on an individual basis.

By the way, you could do the same thing but on your website. If your partner’s target buyer clicks on an article on a topic they sponsored, that buyer can also receive a dedicated email. This is all possible because you track who they are and their behavior.

Targeted content recommendations

Whether you are running an advertising or subscription business, the name of the game is engagement. If users hit your site, read one article, and then leave, you will not build something sustainable. That’s why developing strategies to keep people on-site is so important.

For years, vendors have introduced many recommendation engines to accomplish just that. The thesis was that since a reader has finished one article, they would likely want to read another article on a similar topic, so they would promote related articles.

However, this only took into consideration aggregated consumption data. In other words, “people who read an article about X are likely to read an article about Y.” By using 1st-party data to inform your content recommendations, you can do a better job of promoting information that this reader, at the individual level, might care about.

For example, aggregated consumption data might say that someone who reads an article about advertising will be interested in articles about yield maximization. But because you have 1st-party data, you’d know that this particular reader is the CEO and, therefore, is less interested in yield maximization and more interested in something else—maybe something entirely unrelated to advertising.

You can then use this data to power your content recommendation widgets. What I see when I visit a site might differ from what someone else sees. The outcome is that the time spent on the site improves considerably, increasing the opportunities for monetizing those users. Like I said up top, increasing engagement is the name of the game.

Drive subscriptions

If we build on the last section regarding engagement, there are, ultimately, two ways in which users become subscribers:

  1. Serendipitously because you have created a hit piece of content
  2. Habitually, because they consume a lot of content and, therefore, hit the paywall more often

The first one is hard to predict. I’ve been writing AMO for 4.5 years, and I still cannot confidently tell you which pieces will do great and which will not. And if you ask Hollywood, the last few years have seen many examples of what they thought would be hits actually turn out to be flops.

The second category is readers who have started to build a habit with your content; if pushed toward the right kinds of content funnels, they are the more consistent subscriber wins because they are already sharing behaviors similar to your paying subscribers.

But this is so impactful when using the entire swathe of your 1st-party data because you are not limited to only your platform to get them to convert to becoming a subscriber. Once you have someone’s email, promoting content to them on other platforms becomes incredibly easy.

Let’s say that you find users most often engage after reading five pieces of content a month. You can develop a segment called “5+ Articles,” where users who have hit that threshold are automatically added to a marketing automation sequence. And that sequence can look two ways.

First, you send them an ad hoc newsletter with many other articles you know they will likely want to engage with (especially since you know their reading behavior). This can be RSS populated and custom to each reader.

Second, you can send them a very targeted offer to help get them subscribed. For example, the language might say, “Hey, we’ve noticed you’re reading a lot about TOPIC; here’s a coupon for 25% off your first month’s subscription.”

In both cases, you are using their reader behavior to trigger an action once they’ve reached a threshold that your data says they are most likely to convert.

But you can go even further and introduce omnichannel marketing. In other words, if you have users who have entered the “5+ Articles” segment, you can start to promote your best-converting content to them on social media. Your customer acquisition costs will increase, but these users have already built a habit of consuming your content. They simply need a nudge over the finish line.

You can also use serendipitous content for opportunistic marketing. If you find a piece is driving a lot of quality subs, you can create a segment of your most engaged readers who have not yet landed on that article and alert them that it exists—either in email or with a social ad. Since you know this piece is a hit and is likely to convert, you can get more aggressive in converting them.

Many publishers resist using marketing dollars to acquire users, but that’s the wrong way to think about it. If you can get a user off zero and get them spending money, you should feel comfortable with some semblance of an investment. Using your 1st-party data to target your highest propensity readers will increase the likelihood of success.

Minimize churn

But growing subscription revenue is not just about acquiring new people; it’s also about keeping the ones you’ve got. What’s interesting is that there are common behaviors that pop up for users who are at risk of churning.

The American Press Institute did a study on subscriber retention strategies and wrote:

The Arizona Republic realized that almost half of its paid digital subscribers were not visiting their website at all in a given month. They found that the group accounted for 50% of subscription stops each month. They used analytics to guide content changes that cut the share of unengaged subscribers from 42% to 26%, increasing retention as a result.

It makes sense if you stop to think about it. Why would someone pay for something they are not using?

And so, with your ability to track the behaviors of every subscriber, you can move readers in and out of segments depending on their activity level on your site. When a user hits 30 days with zero site visits, they should enter a segment that I’ll call “Churn Risk.” Once in here, it’s your audience and marketing team’s job to do everything possible to stop them from unsubscribing.

Ironically, the tactics you use here are very similar to the ones you use when acquiring a subscriber. So, that means you could start sending them additional emails to try and get them to engage with some of the content. In that email, you could also ask them if they are still satisfied with their subscription, though the question alone could be the push they need to unsubscribe. Finally, you could target them on platforms to get them to visit your site.

Wait a second… spend money to get a paying subscriber back to the site? Absolutely. You’ve already convinced this reader to pay for your content. It is more expensive to replace a paying customer than to keep one. Therefore, you should be comfortable using marketing dollars to keep people subscribed versus letting them leave.

But how do you do this?

It’s obvious that using 1st-party data to drive serious revenue growth is a no-brainer. As 3rd-party cookies continue to get deprecated, it unlocks numerous opportunities for publishers to see material growth.

But it requires the right tools. A customer data platform (CDP) can help facilitate all four of these use cases and more. BlueConic is one of those CDPs.

The shift from third-party to first-party data is disrupting the industry, and publishers that will thrive on the other side of this seismic shift aren’t taking a passive approach; they’re embracing privacy and consent and using their first-party data as a competitive advantage.  

Take a look at how media and publishing companies liberate their first-party data, transform reader relationships, and drive business growth with BlueConic.