The digital media space is experiencing a reversal of its usual order. Generally, what matters to advertisers is seen as equally vital to publishers. Currently, however, difficulties on the sell-side in leveraging first-party data are creating problems for buyers, especially as 2022 features the last chance show to finalize their post-cookie preparations.
It is now widely accepted that there is no single path. Future industry operations will likely be fueled by a mix of first-party data, contextual media planning and alternative identifiers – with identifiers already seeing encouraging growth in the UK. Major or minor, the data held plays its part in feeding all these options. Thus, the fact that collection, organization and use remains difficult for publishers is also problematic for the entire ecosystem.
Urgent action is clearly crucial. But first, it is necessary to better understand the main obstacles that hinder publishers: poor scalability, protection of data ownership and cost of the enablement infrastructure.
Scale is the biggest barrier to activation
Obtaining first-party data isn’t the toughest challenge publishers face. This is partly because many have recognized the need to build proprietary data stores as third-party cookies decline. Developing strategies to increase consumption of audience data has become a top priority, leading to greater use of subscriptions, site registration and newsletters. At the same time, increasingly mature, fast, and affordable customer data platforms (CDPs) have enabled easier data collection.
But improving data flow isn’t all it takes to effectively leverage first-party data; publishers must also ensure sufficient scale to make the data usable. Frequently cited as one of the biggest sticking points in moving to proprietary insight, limited scalability is a familiar obstacle. In addition to posing challenges for publishers hoping to frame monetization around deterministic data from consenting users, it poses challenges for effective ad targeting, frequency capping, measurement and reporting, and alternate identifiers that need to be scaled to work.
The reason the difficulties persist is simple: most publishers simply don’t have the necessary independent reach. The recent successes of Insider and NBCUniversal are outstanding examples of what major media giants can do, especially those with multiple titles, large subscriber numbers and significant resources. Although it is important to note that even for those who have spent a lot of money developing their ability to offer audience extension to buyers, the investment is not always worthwhile. For example, several publishers have found that purchasing their own demand-side platform (DSP) provides insufficient or no rewards.
Crossing the ladder barrier is going to be a complex task. But there’s a growing array of avenues publishers can explore to expand data reach, without setting up major new ad ventures, including making smart, select additions to current stacks.
Romain Job, Strategy Director, Smart AdServer
Are cleanrooms the way to go?
The short answer is in part. The longer answer calls for a closer look at the current state of data sharing. Until now, collaboration within the industry has evolved relatively slowly. Aside from alliances such as the Ozone Project, most publishers have remained hesitant to share data amid fears of losing their competitive edge. With sellers and buyers fearing data leaks, first-party data has largely been left locked away in separate DSPs. This severely limits its use and scalability, while giving an unfair advantage to large platforms that already control large advertising budgets. This then leads to extremely opaque price arbitrage schemes, such as bidshading.
Cleanroom technology strives to change this situation. Recognizing the importance of protecting audience data, emerging solutions aim to unlock data while providing security. Typically, this involves the use of a single authorized query that allows buyers and sellers to create unified information and basic identities, without transmitting their data; eliminating any doubt about data security, storage and access.
With so much promise, the cleanroom concept has unsurprisingly risen to the agenda and is even becoming a key factor in partnership agreements. But he is not quite formed yet. There is still a lack of clarity on the practical aspects; including how it integrates with other elements of publishing systems and what steps are needed to maintain the balance between monetization and activation. What publishers need today are transparent, flexible and open technologies that will allow them to stay in control easily and efficiently.
The curation method: self-service value generators
As cleanroom innovation continues, another new generation of technology is poised to immediately put the power of data back into the hands of everyone involved: curation platforms. Designed as a self-service toolkit for creating value-added media solutions, they do more than organize fragmented stacks. From an activation perspective, their primary benefit is to turn high-quality, high-fidelity owned data into a scalable solution for buyers.
This is achieved by using multiple layers of smart capabilities. For starters, the platforms allow sellers to upload a variety of first-party data — covering pre-bid performance, audience, and brand safety data — and then connect to a broader inventory they can use for audience extension by enabling access to advanced supply-side platforms (SSPs). Next comes the level of curation. With the ability to apply custom business rules and curation preferences, publishers can create bespoke auction packages, or so-called curated marketplaces: build audiences by geographic location, domain, context and type of device, or associate them with advertising KPIs. When connected to whichever DSP they prefer, these packages make the most of valuable first-party data and empower publishers to differentiate their advertising offering in the crowded digital space and retain ownership and control of their data.
Additionally, curation platforms also reduce barriers to sharing buyer data. In addition to allowing agencies and ad networks to pre-filter inventory, sophisticated solutions allow ad curators to enrich it with their own audience data. The result is a virtuous circle where each party receives maximum value by making better use of first party data. Not to mention the opportunity for publishers and advertisers to build closer relationships and build trust, paving the way for long-term, mutually beneficial transactions and ongoing data sharing.
By themselves, first-party data is of little value; the real power comes from processing and translating it into intelligible and useful insight. Until publishers are successful in moving their assets out of storage and activating them, navigating the post-cookie world will be a considerable challenge for everyone in the digital space.
If the industry is to make the availability of large-scale, compliant data from multiple, high-quality publishers a reality, it is essential to focus on the ultimate goal of enabling publishers to safely synthesize and aggregate disparate first-party data.
Romain Job, Strategy Director, Smart AdServer
Cleanrooms are poised to be an integral part of achieving this goal, and when combined with a preservation platform, they appear to be the best choice for unlocking the value of held data for everyone, now.
Director of Strategy, Smart AdServer
Smart is the leading independent adtech platform designed to serve the interests of buyers and publishers. Smart’s fully transparent platform and shared-interest business approach enables premium brands and publishers to get their fair share of advertising value at every opportunity, on their terms. Smart works directly with hundreds of buyers and over 1,000 publishers worldwide, including Groupe Marie Claire, TracFone, Le Figaro, Leboncoin, Altice Media Publicité and IMGUR to deliver display, video, native and rich media ads to more of 50,000 sites and applications. .