The digital marketing industry has always worked at the cutting edge of technological innovation, certainly regarding how ads are bought, sold and served. Unfortunately, one of the more recent and challenging by-products of this position is that the fierce competition between software vendors and platforms has left brands and publishers battling to manage a complex, cluttered and fragmented ad tech ecosystem.

In our recent report, “Marketing in the first-party future: publishers, brands and authenticated data”, we surveyed 251 senior marketing professionals. We asked respondents to tell us how many ad tech partners their company currently had, with more than 72% of those that replied said they had between three and six.

Those surveyed expect their own organisation’s ad tech ecosystem to become even more complex soon, as with each partnership, complexities are layered on. This is due to these partners having tech stacks, many of which don’t communicate with one another, leaving room for things to get lost in translation. It also underscores the need for a neutral and agnostic player to translate and tie it together. Our survey revealed that respondents expect the average number of ad tech partners to increase over the next two years to 3.99, with 24.3% predicting that they will soon have six or more.

Looking at these figures, it will hardly surprise that while the marketing and advertising community faces this increasing complexity, the publishing community is having its ad revenues eroded by the increasing number of ad tech vendors required to execute the digital media buying process.

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A chance to take back control

Despite these challenges, there is good news. While our survey suggests that publishers’ margins will come under increasing pressure over the next two years, there’s also an opportunity for them to insulate themselves and take back greater control.

How is this possible?

Over the past few years, the digital advertising industry has experienced more change than at any point in its history. Increased restrictions on the use of personal data, combined with the upcoming demise of traditional third-party cookies and mobile IDs, have forced publishers to rethink how they execute their core business model, which is still based on offering advertisers access to audiences made up of the target customers they are trying to reach. As a result, they have been working hard on developing strategies that can help brands identify and reach consumers without the signals on their online behaviour that traditional third-party cookies gave them.

Although Google has announced a delay in deprecating third-party cookies, publishers and brands have already become comfortable with the concept. They are already exploring alternatives that work and perform better than cookies. The strategies they have been working on are going to continue to be executed and even accelerated.

A lot of this confidence is being driven by the increasing focus on authenticated first-party inventory, allowing brands and advertisers to have access to more accurate and detailed information on customer profiles. It also allows publishers to connect their inventory to marketer better first, second, and third-party data. As a result, publishers can offer marketers a better buying experience and enable them to buy impressions to measure and connect to real outcomes.

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Bringing brands and publishers back together

Historically, brands and advertisers have always had strong relationships with the publishers they worked with. However, over the past 10 years, the ad tech ecosystem has fragmented this relationship and pushed both parties further away from each other. Now we have a chance to re-align that balance and bring both parties closer together again, which can only be a good thing.

In fact, according to our research, more direct contact with publishers is exactly what advertisers are looking for. When asked if their brand would benefit from a closer relationship with their key target publishers, an overwhelming majority of respondents (84.9%) answered “yes”.

Brands want to target, understand and measure their audiences as much as possible, and through the use of authenticated first-party data, publishers have the ability to connect advertisers with their target audiences and their customers, and consumers have the opportunity to enjoy a personalised internet. This is hugely powerful and will only serve to strengthen the relationship between both parties.  Additionally, consumers gain greater control of the data they share with publishers, advertisers, and brands. Publishers get an opportunity to regain trust in a world where consumer trust has been sorely tested.

So, far from being a threat, the deprecation of traditional third-party cookies is a huge opportunity for publishers to leverage privacy-first, first-party authentications to take back control of the ad buying process, build more profitable collaborations and remind brands about the value of working directly with premium publishers.  For consumers, it allows them to have a personalised experience and gain back control of the data they share.

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