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  • Writer's pictureAnat Mann

Digiday Publishing Summit recap: publishers speak up

If you weren’t able to attend the Digiday Publishing Summit held in Vail, Colorado from March 28 through 30, fear not:

I’ll be offering my humble opinion on key talking points from three days of executives and thought leaders from the global publishing industry.

Insights, tips, strategies, but also concerns - a lot was said as publishers continue to solve multiple issues such as data protection and compliance, ROI on diversified types of content, employees getting back to the office, and so on.

Still, one crucial theme that emerged was the issue of first-party data and how to form and maintain strong audience relationships.

We all know that third-party data is effectively over but until the plug is pulled, there is still a lot to be done. Against the backdrop of a permission-based, privacy-first online world, building and retaining audiences remains an especially delicate subject - one that saw plenty of proposed solutions and ideas.

Understanding the bigger trend at hand

I was excited to finally attend a proper in-person event after a long time, and I can tell you that I was far from being the only one who felt that way. You could say that was the first major thing of the event.

Trinity Audio team rocking the pink sneakers

But as soon as the real talk started, it was clear what was on the publishers’ minds the most:

successfully transitioning to a post-cookie era.

First-party data is a tough feat to pull off across platforms and different geos.

More to the point, it’s a big part of an even bigger privacy-first trend - something that Michael Silberman, SVP Strategy at Piano, focused on during his ‘Why Strong Audience Relationships Will Rule the Post-cookie Future’ session.

It is essential to recognize that implications go beyond the third-party cookie phaseout.

The fundamental shift of moving away from user tracking toward an online world that is based on user consent requires publishers to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships. To do so, it seems what’s required is to first understand three factors that accelerated the ongoing change in the past year/year and a half:

  • Privacy legislation is gaining steam in the USA

  • What Europe is doing will reflect back to the USA at some point

  • What Google and Apple are doing

Privacy legislation is gaining steam in the USA

At the moment, four states in the US have different comprehensive consumer privacy laws: California, Colorado, Virginia, and Utah as the latest addition. Others are on the way, as more than 30 states are considering privacy regulations.

So, it’s reasonable to say that, by the end of this year, digital consumer privacy will be legislated and presented as the de facto law of the land.

In turn, this only adds more complexity as there is and will be no single law regulating online privacy. Hence, those operating on a country-wide level will have to figure out how to comply with different legal rules in different states and meet their obligations to every user.

Attending one of the sessions.

What’s happening in Europe

European regulators have stepped up their enforcement of privacy regulations, which puts the data transfer as is between Europe and the US on shaky grounds.

Among the more impactful cases is the decision of the Belgian Data Protection Authority regarding the Transparency and Consent Framework or TCF, which essentially allows user consent to be transmitted through programmatic advertising.

The Belgian DPA issued a €250,000 fine on IAB Europe for TCF violations of GDPR, ordering the association to introduce additional functionality and propose corrective measures. IAB responded with an appeal, so we’re yet to see a resolution to this.

It’s important to note that this can potentially undermine the entire current mechanism for transmitting consent data within programmatic advertising.

For US publishers that operate in any way in the European Union, it's critical to understand the current climate and what their responsibilities are. Until a new agreement between the EU and US on data transfers occurs, recent developments in the Old Continent could put the entire idea of transmitting consent in programmatic advertising back to square one.

Obviously, that could have a big impact on the US publishers as well.

Google and Apple vs. publishers

With these two mammoths pushing privacy changes, invasive tracking is being scaled back or blocked to protect people’s privacy.

This is happening, as further pointed out by Google through its introduction of Privacy Sandbox on Android and its plan to disable the tracking tech in Chrome by 2023. Apple has already introduced a feature for iPhone users to choose whether they want to be tracked by different apps.

The good news is that there are more than enough opportunities for publishers, one of them being Topics - a new Privacy Sandbox proposal for interest-based advertising.

Trinity Audio team getting its groove on.

The Topics API replaces FLoC and introduces predefined interest groups that add a certain level of broadness, thus being more privacy-friendly. Because Topics isn’t very granular, publishers have much better first-party data about their users and their user's intent than Google can communicate through Topics.

And so, the possibilities to create stronger relationships and communities are significant.

Seizing on the opportunities

While identifying all the challenges was an important part of the discussions, navigating around them and leveraging openings were equally under the spotlight.

The consensus was that publishers need to act now and start collecting first-party data so that they have as much of a head start as possible.

Getting more direct relationships with the respective audience, engaging them on-site, and building up a real first-party datastore are principal activities that any publisher should follow.

It’s clear that creating an engaging experience for audiences is the pillar of every and any effort to gather first-party data.

But - the challenge to move users from an anonymous to a known state remains. The publishing industry is still shrouded by a thick veil of uncertainty regarding identity resolution, data mapping, and new privacy laws. Hence, there is a need to explore strategies beyond paywalls and newsletters, ideally with a holistic understanding of their impact on the overall business.

Some of the ways presented to go about this were:

Audience segmentation

Tobias Bennett, Vice President, Revenue and Partnership at Local Media Consortium, had an interesting session where he shared how LMC members are leveraging on-site engagement and personalization solutions to create unique first-party data and insights around their audience.

One of the major points was building additional user segments in the first-party funnel that didn't exist before. Essentially, it’s a three-tiered system:

  • Passive - consists of anonymous users who comprise the vast majority of all users

  • Engaged - consists of active engaged users who are still anonymous but have gone down the funnel, engaging more with the brand via push notifications, content circulation widget, reading comments, and so on. This tier also includes those who progress to registered users, as actively engaged users are far more likely to register or subscribe than the anonymous cohort.

  • Loyal - consists of users who engage with user-generated content by liking content, leaving comments, participating in Q&A sessions, and so on.

Slide from Bennett’s presentation

The idea is to define valuable user segments and extrapolate lookalike audiences while understanding that each segment is significantly impacted by the other one. It’s a cycle: without loyal users, there won’t be as many registered users, which will diminish active engaged users.

Think about your data value statements

It’s about having a conversation with your audience, getting them to think a little bit about their action as opposed to just expecting them to click or tap a button.

Consider what you’re asking of them and what you’re giving them in return for providing the data.

This is something that Sharon Mussalli, EVP, Revenue and Operations at BDG, discussed in great detail during her ‘Re-Establishing the Audience Relationship’ session.

The idea is to do your best to explain why you need this data and what value it will derive for the user by having access to ad-free or ad-supported content. There are a lot of nuances here because it’s equally about targeting the users at the right time as much as it is - if not more - about getting at them with the right message in order to collect valuable bits of information.

Start with what's the audience data that your advertisers need - what is the data that you need to create value for them? Then, compare it to the data you have such as your best performing content, demographics, and anything else you have available to work with.

Address your tech stack

It’s a given that virtually nothing of the above would be possible without technology’s involvement in the order of affairs. The right tools can not only solve multiple problems regarding various user touchpoints but also make executing your first-party data strategy far easier.

So, from identifying and managing your audience to connecting certain segments of it to demand sources, tech plays a pivotal role here. Old news, more or less - but news nonetheless.

Make sure you fully understand what every tag on your site brings you

I’ve mentioned gaining a holistic understanding as a very important part of any effort moving forward.

The truth is that a lot of publishers have clue about what adtech and martech companies are doing with their data.

For every publisher, the place to start is to review every single contract associated with a tag on their site and really dig in with every partner. If the partner is responsible as they should be, they will have no problem being transparent about where all the value is created so you can figure out how to maximize the opportunity and grow.

Ultimately, the end goal is to get to a place where a publisher is sure that they are seeing a fair share of the revenue for every single cent generated by any type of data pulled off of their site at any time and place.

Sure, it's easier said than done but it’s something that’s a must when building a proper foundation for the cookieless future.

Publishers have all the power

Content has evolved, fundamentally changing how and when people read, listen, and generally experience it.

The good news is that publishers have an amazing opportunity to take back control and wind up in the driver’s seat. Whether they seize on it is a different story but there is no denying that for the first time ever, maybe, the publishing industry holds all the cards.

After all, it’s they who create deep audience relationships.

Once again, it’s important to emphasize that engaging experiences are at the very core of the digital publishing industry’s effort to come out on top after third-party cookies disappear into oblivion.

After attending the Digiday Publishing Summit, I’ll add that at Trinity Audio, we’re in a great position to play an important role in these ongoing audience retention and monetization efforts. After all, audio content is all about engaging experiences, with listeners just about the definition of a loyal audience.

Moving forward, having an audio option across different browsers, devices, and platforms means audio will be one of the ways for publishers to move the needle from red to green on the cookiemeter.

Not only are people engaging with audio content but are also more likely to share their data due to the high trust in the medium and personal connection. So, in the quest for a personalized experience, keep your ears open for audio as a linchpin between collecting and enriching first-party data.

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