The publishing landscape has changed a lot in the past five years, much of it driven by consumers’ desire to consume information on digital devices and brands wanting new ways to reach these audiences at the right moment contextually. We sat down with Nicole Perrin, senior analyst at eMarketer, to talk about how publisher data and the increasing need for personalization has impacted how publishers and brands are working together, and how this impacts your ad experiences.
Listen to the podcast or read the highlights of our conversation with Nicole below:
RampUp: What is happening in the publishing world today with data? How is this changing the way publishers interact with marketers?
Nicole: Many publishers have behavioral data about their audience, especially companies with a persistent login across devices like The New York Times and The Washington Post. They know a lot about their audiences. They definitely know when you’re on their site and who you are. They could be doing a lot with that data to help monetize their ads better and charge more based on the kinds of targeting that they offer. This is an up and coming thing for some publishers. They’re figuring out how they can harness the audience data they have to make more money on their websites.
RampUp: Is that about publishers being able to connect marketers with the data they have without sharing too much about the people in their audience?
Nicole: That’s a big part of it. The data is valuable to them, which means that they can’t give it away. If you think about the Facebook controversies over this past spring, a lot of people have been saying, “Facebook sells your data.” Mark Zuckerberg was clear in saying, “We don’t sell your data; that would be really stupid. That’s our value that we have it.”
It’s the same thing for other publishers. Depending on exactly how you’re operationalizing this, there are issues with programmatic data leakage where if you have an advertiser who’s advertising on your site, but then they create a lookalike audience and take all that information and spend somewhere else. You do have to be careful.
Also, I think part of it is that publishers are not used to doing this like Facebook. They’re not used to thinking about what their audience segments are or could be, so it’s a new area for them to be thinking about strategically.
RampUp: Are there new laws like the GDPR that publishers have to adjust to as well?
Nicole: The GDPR definitely affects publishers and I think that’s where we’ve seen a lot of the wrinkles over the past several weeks.
When people discovered they weren’t ready for the GDPR, they turned off sites to Europe or in some cases, created an ad-lite site for Europe. It was just amazing how many fewer server calls there were. The page load taken up by advertising is kind of amazing from a user experience perspective.
I think the GDPR revealed both that publishers were not ready for the law and also that there’s some room to improve the user experience for everyone.
RampUp: One of the things that we talk about consistently is that you want to create a good ad experience. If you have a good ad experience, then people don’t use ad blockers. Is there an advantage to using this data to make a better ad experience so that publishers can actually get people to look at their ads?
Nicole: Yes, that’s such a good question. I last did an ad blocking report almost a year ago, and I’ll be following it up later this summer. When I talked to publishers last year about what they were doing to address the rise in ad blocking, they, I thought, paid some lip service to the user experience issue. I honestly thought that they were not being that realistic. They acted like they had already solved the user experience problem, which I just don’t really think is true.
I think publishers have a huge collective action problem here, which is that they don’t want to leave any money on the table. If they don’t offer some intrusive ad, a competitor will and they’ll get that spend. It’s difficult for publishers to say, “I’m going to give you a clean experience. I won’t have these autoplay video ads in the middle of text.” But if you don’t do that, someone else will. Before you know it, you’ll end up laying people off and closing up shop, because publishing is a tough business to be in these days. It’s very commodified, but people really don’t like it and that’s why they’re blocking ads.
When I did that report last year, one of my conclusions was that there wasn’t going to be a way out unless there was a browser-based solution, which solved the collective action problem. Within days of me writing that, Google announced that they created an ad filter in Chrome. I don’t think that particular filter is going to address the problems that people really have, because it doesn’t actually ban all of the most intrusive and annoying ad types. We’ll have to see how that plays out, but I don’t think that really takes consumer interests into account either.
RampUp: Is it in brands best interest to keep serving those intrusive ads?
Nicole: One of the most surprising things I found last year when I researched the ad blocking report is that brands do not care at all if people block ads. Now, the reason is you don’t pay for an ad that’s not served. From a brand perspective they’re saying, “Well we’re not wasting money on this, so it’s okay.”
My follow-up question was what about reach? eMarketer estimates that around a third of US adults block ads on at least one device. That’s a third of people you’re not reaching and typically they’re younger, more affluent, and probably more desirable consumers to reach. The response to that was we can still reach all those people on Facebook and Google which pays Ad Block Plus to be whitelisted. Within apps there’s pretty much no ad blocking, so we can still reach those people on Facebook’s app, for example, so it’s no problem. I don’t know if that response makes the most strategic sense.
RampUp: Is there anything that you want to add for brands or publishers about what they should be thinking about in terms of personalization?
Nicole: The bar for personalization is probably lower than you think. I’ve talked to many brands who say it’s table stakes to have real time omni-channel personalization. It’s not table stakes. Only about five percent of brand say they can do that. If you’re connecting a few channels, you’re probably doing better than you think.
And again, remember to think like a consumer, because that’s part of how I know that data-driven omnichannel personalization is not table stakes. Are you actually experiencing that out in your real life as a shopper? If you are, please call me because I want to know where you shop and interview these brands for my reports—they’re obviously best in class.
If you think like a consumer, think about how you can make their lives a little bit better. That’ll probably be a big win.