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The Publisher’s Secret Weapon: Using Self-Declared Data to Build Audience Profiles

To succeed in attracting advertising spend, publishers need to drastically expand their ability to provide the self-declared data that Facebook, Google, and more have made commonplace.

There is an ongoing quest to reach audiences in our multi-channel world and marketers, advertisers and brands have had to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape in the digital marketing space. No longer are marketers able to target consumers just through television or magazines. Instead, these experts have been compelled to embrace new ideas, technology and strategies. With the consumers’ shift to mobile, ensuring the right audience for a brand’s message has never been more important.

The emergence of ‘People Based Marketing’ has been a welcomed and boundless innovation, gaining immense traction thanks to businesses like Facebook and Google. With its cross-platform user profiles, Facebook has undoubtedly become the king of self-declared data.

Where are we now?

Reaching the right audience is the Holy Grail for advertisers, and web publishers in particular rely on this as their source of revenue. To succeed in attracting advertising spend, publishers need to drastically expand their ability to provide the self-declared data that Facebook, Google – and even players such as Amazon – have made commonplace.

Most web publishers have long relied on inferred data, licensed from a third-party provider running a Data Managed Platform (DMP), as they do not necessarily have the ability to regularly uncover rich, self-declared data from their current audience. Inferred data is an acceptable way to audience target, but questions about recency and accuracy persist. In fact, a study conducted by Atlas found that there was only a 65 percent accuracy rate in demographic targeting when using cookie-based measurement – that is a 35 percent error rate! This begs the question – is it even possible for publishers to compete with the current data giants?

Help is at hand

During their data quest, some publishers have turned to third-party solutions to provide a viable way to passively track audiences to gain inferred data via surfing behavior. Unfortunately, this dynamic inevitably creates conflicts. To take one example of many, Business Insider found itself in a dispute with cross platform measurement company comScore. Business Insider published a data breakdown illustrating a monthly audience of 300 million – more than three times its comScore estimate.

Instead of relying solely on measurement companies, publishers are in the perfect position to use a lucrative source that is right at their fingertips – their own audience base. Publishers have always known that they have strong brands and credibility with their audiences. But the legacy of the print mind-set meant that many publishers have not known how to make the leap from a strong brand to premium ad rates. The answer is surprisingly simple: just talk to your readers, who are usually more than willing to divulge demographic information to support trusted news outlets. By inviting their audience to become survey panelists, using email, social media and the website, publishers are enabling their users to supply self-declared data which can be combined with inferred, to provide richer, more insightful data.

For a web publisher such as the New York Times, with around 30 million users, panelizing a relatively small percentage of that base would supply a large enough sample size to extrapolate data and create accurate insights. The benefits of creating a panel of users specific to a publisher are infinite. Uncovering more audience insights will not only benefit the publishing platform, but also help generate further revenue from the increased advertising sell. Similarly, there is the potential to create a panel marketplace, thus generating added user engagement – as both panel owner and panelist are rewarded.

Does size matter?

While publishers with millions of users can quickly generate this level of data, smaller brands may believe that their audience base will not yield substantial results. This is not the case and even modest publishers can obtain lucrative data from their users. In fact, consumer loyalty is frequently stronger with smaller brands as they are able to better connect with the audience and cultivate ongoing relationships.

Rewards are a key area where publishers can generate benefits for their audience. A publisher might attract or retain a panelist based on incentives and can create further brand affinity during this process. For a subscription-based publisher, a panelist could be incentivized via a subscription credit or several free article reads. By using a virtual currency that will benefit both parties, ‘stickiness’ and enhanced user engagement are created for the website, resulting in incremental page views and ad impressions. This in turn, feeds the cycle of creating data that will validate effective audience targeting to advertisers.

Where do we go from here?

Surveying a portion of an audience base may seem like a daunting task while also being time-consuming and expensive. The truth is, technology is a publishers’ most trusted ally. Generally, publishers are unaware of the options available to them to generate their own self-declared data.  They are sitting on a gold mine of insights and just need to implement the right mining tools to unearth the benefits. When first-party, self-declared data insights are combined with inferred data sets, the result is more relevant audience profiles that can be used by brands for accurate ad targeting – and that is how publishers can compete with the data giants!

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Kevin Gianatiempo

Kevin Gianatiempo

Senior Vice President - Partnerships & Alliances, Cint