June 15, 2023

Leveraging 1st-Party Data to Maximize Audience Monetization

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!

Over the four years that I have been writing AMO, I’ve come back to a single point time and time again: it is unbelievably important to collect first-party data. The media companies that do so will find themselves in a much stronger position, driving more revenue than those that continue to primarily rely on third-party data strategies. 

The crux of it boils down to targeting. Over the past 15 years, the primary method of targeted digital advertising has been through the use of third-party cookies. But over the past few years, we have seen more browsers blocking them, with Chrome expected to deprecate third-party cookies in less than two years. Therefore, publishers that have collected actionable first-party data will be able to maximize audience monetization through more personalized ads and smarter subscription growth. 

The problem is that it takes time to acquire sufficient data so that it is actionable. The best time to have started collecting data was when you launched. Since you can’t go back in time, the next best time is today. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you collect first-party data from multiple channels, you need a way to unify it for activation. To do that well, you’ll need a CDP. Enter BlueConic. 

One example of a publisher that identified the need to collect actionable first-party data was Dennis Publishing, now part of Future plc. Known for publishing magazines, when the pandemic hit, the senior leadership team recognized that it had to prioritize business transformation and drive growth through audience monetization.

In this case study, BlueConic walks through how Dennis Publishing was able to expand the CDP use cases beyond marketing, grow ecommerce revenue through smarter audience monetization, and get the entire company speaking a common language. 

As Pete Wootton, Dennis Publishing’s Chief Product & Data Officer says: “No matter what your business objectives are, you need to understand your audiences and you need to be able to leverage that data to fulfill whatever your objectives are as a business.”

He’s right. Check out the full case study here.

Now… let’s dig in.

Declarative vs. Behavioral Data

Before we can talk about the different ways first-party data can help you maximize audience monetization, we need to first consider two main buckets of data. 

The first bucket is declarative, which is information that subscribers share directly with you . For a typical b2b media company, this data can include an email address, job level, job function, company name, or other industry-specific information you might request. Email is one of the most impactful data points you can collect as it allows you to follow a subscriber as they move across websites, apps, and devices. 

The second data bucket to consider is behavioral. This monitors actions the user takes while on your properties. Let’s imagine you’re running a retail publication. You will have insights into what content each individual is reading. For example, one individual may be reading stories about logistics while another person is reading about ecommerce. 

On their own, declarative or behavioral data can be valuable. But when you merge them together to create a complete 360-degree view of the subscriber (or user) profile, you have something special. If we continue to use the retail publication example, maybe you have the Director of Logistics at Kellogg’s reading a story about something happening in the Panama Canal. That sort of information, when put to work, can result in more robust audience monetization. 

Growth in Ad Dollars

Advertisers care about one thing: getting in front of the right people, at the right time. Historically, publishers haven’t had a lot of data about their audience, so flush with data, programmatic providers became the new gateway for brands to get their ads in front of the right people. And most publishers grew complacent, giving dozens of ad tech vendors a cut of their revenue.

And so, we’d install our header bidding solution, slap ad calls across our sites, and then watch the pennies drip in. It’s no wonder so many media companies have failed. Traffic became a commodity and with an abundance of it, the price advertisers were willing to pay for it dropped. 

But with carefully curated first-party data, publishers are back in the driver’s seat. Suddenly, you can actually target exactly who an advertiser wants, at the right time, without needing third-party programmatic partners. 

Let’s revisit that Director of Logistics at Kellogg’s example. Oracle has a software called Fusion Cloud Logistics. I suspect Oracle wants to get their software in front of that Kellogg’s employee because they’ll have the decision making ability to choose Fusion. Utilizing first-party data, you can sell a campaign to Oracle that targets an audience that shares similar attributes with that person. Here are a few ways that can be done. 

First, since you are also tracking the behavioral data, any time that specific person hits a story about logistics, you can serve Oracle ads exclusively. And since you are targeting such a specific persona, you can charge a higher CPM than if you were doing a standard run of site ad campaign. I’ve seen some publishers successfully deploy popups that only fire if someone with the right job level and function consumes the right type of content. 

This is a good tactic for Oracle because brand awareness is critical when people are buying software. 

Second, you can build a custom segment of logistics professionals that match that specific criteria using a CDP and push that into your email service provider. Now, you can send an Oracle-branded dedicated send. Instead of hitting your entire email list, it would only send to the people that are most likely to benefit from the information. This helps you reduce subscriber churn. Too often, publishers take a scatter shot approach to their dedicated sends and it can hurt the health of your email list. 

Third, you can take that same custom segment and upload it onto social platforms. Advertisers want your audience. So, deliver your advertiser’s message to your readers when they are on platforms. Your first-party data becomes an asset that you can leverage offsite, providing more scale. 

Fourth, you can do all of them. By understanding both the declarative data and the behavioral, you are in a position to build a full funnel marketing campaign for your clients. Let me break it down for you. 

  • Step 1: Oracle sponsors the Logistics category on your site. And so, every time someone comes and reads a piece of content about Logistics, they’ll see Oracle ads.
  • Step 2: When someone with a predetermined job level, job function, industry, company type, or whatever other first-party data arrives on one of those Logistics stories, they get flagged and pushed into a Journey. A CDP is tracking this for you and can help automate the movement of data. 
  • Step 3: That Director of Logistics receives a dedicated blast automatically telling them about an Oracle white paper that discusses the “5 most important things every logistics professional needs to know in 2024.” The CDP can track who actually downloads that content. 
  • Step 3A: The custom segment of Directors of Logistics are targeted on LinkedIn and Facebook using your first-party data. These ads promote the same white paper, extending the reach of your audience considerably. 
  • Step 4: Anyone with the right level/function that downloads that content might receive a second dedicated blast promoting a webinar that talks about the Fusion Cloud Logistics software. The CDP can track anyone who registers—and depending on where the webinar is hosted, anyone who actually shows up. 
  • Step 5: A final dedicated blast is sent to all of the people that registered for the webinar telling them how they can sign up for a demo of the software.

A CDP, in connection with your ad server, email service provider, and webinar platform, can handle all of these steps. The outcome is a number of high quality, engaged leads that have demonstrated interest in the exact software that Oracle is trying to sell. You can charge a lot more money for this than you could just a static banner ad campaign. 

The point with all of this is that by having that first-party data—both the declarative and the behavioral—you can create new ad products that monetize your audience far better than traditional methods.

Growth in Subscription Dollars

Fortunately, this sort of actionable first-party data isn’t only helpful for ad businesses. It can have a large impact on your subscription business as well. But let’s take a step back. 

We know two things are true:

  1. Different people want to see different things, so being able to go 1:1 with what you’re promoting to people is impactful.
  2. The more often someone uses your content, the more likely they are to pay for it. Therefore, creating the correct lifecycle messaging is important. 

If we can put the right messages or content in front of the right people, at the right time, we are more likely to get them to sign up. Let’s walk through a couple of examples using the same Director of Logistics at Kellogg’s versus the CFO. 

For the logistics professional, you might want to show messaging on the subscription CTA that talks about the latest news on disruptions in shipping and the latest technologies that are streamlining last mile delivery. For the CFO, the language might be slightly different, focusing more on cost saving measures or new revenue opportunities. 

Historically, serving up those two separate messages might have been difficult because we didn’t know a ton about who our readers were. But with this first-party data, you can almost get 1:1 with your messaging. Your marketing team can use the data you’ve captured to create better calls to action. 

If we turn to the second truth, this is about focusing on what I call the three rights: right content in front of the right people at the right frequency. This is especially helpful on the retention side of the operation. 

Let’s say that your data shows that engaged, paying subscribers read at minimum five stories a month. So long as people are reading that much, you have nothing to worry about. When someone falls under that five, their propensity to churn increases. Being able to automatically action this so that they can hopefully fall out of this cohort is important. 

Since you are able to track behavioral data using a CDP, you can automatically move subscribers into a re-nurturing campaign if they hit that threshold. There are a couple of ways that you can do this:

  1. If they are on the website, show them a pop up with the three latest stories in topics they have shown interest in.
  2. If they have subscribed to your newsletter, send them a custom, dedicated email that shows five cherry picked stories that they are most likely to find interesting.

The goal in both of these cases is to get the reader to consume more content. The mistake publishers make is they assume that acquisition is all that matters when, in fact, it’s retention that determines the health of a business. By using a CDP to collect and unify first-party data and to activate specific lifecycle messaging, publishers can reduce churn and, therefore, increase their revenue. 

Wrapping up

Collecting first-party data is one thing… putting it to work, that’s entirely different. To do that effectively, you need to make it actionable and accessible to various teams in the organization. The issue is that tools are often disconnected. The marketing team might work in an ESP, whereas another team has a separate CRM, and the ad ops team has their own ad server. These disparate systems make it hard to sufficiently monetize and grow your business.

That’s where a CDP comes into play. I like to think of these tools as the traffic control of user data. It ensures that all data can flow correctly between the various tools in your ecosystem. It’s important to think about this as a single source of truth about your audience. Through that, you can unlock the ability to maximize your audience monetization. 

Thanks to BlueConic for sponsoring this deep dive. 

Putting your audience at the center of your business is about more than delivering relevant ads or deanonymizing online visitors. It’s about building a 1:1 relationship with your audience utilizing first-party data. 

Check out our eBrief: Business Transformation in Media & Publishing as we explore how to turn your first-party data into a strategic business asset. Inside the eBrief, you’ll uncover the essentials of effective business transformation, modern audience engagement models, and the key to driving growth through audience monetization. 

It’s the ultimate resource to stay ahead of the curve and thrive in this ever-evolving landscape. Download the eBrief here.

If you’re ready to liberate your data and unleash growth, contact us today and let’s get started!