The past 24 months have been challenging for everyone in the digital advertising sector. Indeed, there has been concern from publishers that the recent changes to the advertising technology (adtech) landscape would result in disintermediation from their users, a loss of advertising revenue and even workforce. 

But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt, it’s that the current system — which is predominantly built on third-party cookies — is not fit for purpose, both from an efficiency and privacy perspective. In a new landscape without cookies, publishers face the challenge of having to develop deeper, trusted relationships with their consumers. With this in mind, the move towards addressable solutions built around first-party data can help regain consumer trust, putting the consumer and the publisher in control whilst creating an environment where advertisers and publishers can work closer together to deliver meaningful outcomes.  

This sets the scene for three issues that I think will happen in 2022, and which I believe publishers need to be aware of. This understanding can help brands and publishers reshape their business models to make them easier, more efficient and more performant. This will allow them to connect and deliver premium content experiences to individuals and, ultimately, drive greater success and revenue.

1. Democratization

Advertisers have always wanted the most effective way to reach their customers. Historically that has only happened in the big walled gardens, because it requires an individual level of personal data that hasn’t been leveraged on the open web. This is clearly highlighted when you look at digital ad spend in the UK: 69% goes to Facebook and Google, leaving just 31% for all the other digital publishers. One of the reasons for this split is that Facebook and Google demonstrate a clear value exchange, delivering functionality and content that users need to log in to access, which drives engagement and makes it easy to collect and organise data. If publishers, however, are able to establish a better user experience, then they too are able to create a value exchange. Following this exchange of a user’s personal information for a publication’s content, publishers can help marketers find their audiences more accurately through addressable solutions. This is essentially leveling the playing field and allowing digital publishers to target a slice of that extra 69% of digital media spend, providing them with an opportunity for incremental sales growth. 

2. Diversification 

Running on from democratization, if publishers are not happy with playing within that 31% of digital ad spend, then they need to look at their offering. If publishers really want to fight for those people-based marketing budgets then they need to look at diversifying their revenue streams and monetisation capabilities.

Let’s take British high street retailers as an example. A lot of publishers will be working with them, particularly in Q4 as this is likely to be their biggest quarter by far. On the open web, publishers will likely be working with them on awareness campaigns, while also looking for ways to directly target existing customers — loyalty card holders, for instance. If a publisher can find these customers and carry a campaign that can deliver them to the retailer, that represents a new revenue stream. This will produce a higher yield for publishers’ inventory. In fact, one of our research projects from earlier this year shows that marketers are willing to pay more to find their customers. This way, publishers can start to diversify how they monetise inventory and how they access different types of budgets. 

3. Differentiation

Differentiation works across a couple of levels; firstly creating a first-party data strategy that makes a publisher stand out.

Publishers are looking at all manner of different solutions right now — from authenticated solutions to contextual solutions. And rightly so. Publishers should be testing as many different privacy-first solutions as they can, because they need to find the solution that works for them and helps them communicate their point of difference to brands.

Differentiation is also about how publishers facilitate their new relationships. Publishers need to think not only about how they utilize their first-party data to attract those brand budgets, but also how they can actually bring those brands back into the fold. The relationship between brands and publishers needs to be rebuilt so publishers can discuss directly how they can execute that next customer-focused campaign.  

The digital advertising ecosystem is changing, giving publishers the opportunity to re-architect it in their favour. If publishers can use their improved data strategies to help facilitate a stronger relationship with brands and work with them in a new way, then they are opening up new revenue opportunities. This will ultimately drive greater success and help re-establish publishers’ footing in the digital ad landscape in the year ahead. 

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