Intersections: Data and Digital Advertising

By: Gretchen A. Peck

Intersections: Data and Digital Advertising

As they now become digital publishers, newspaper organizations have a glut of audience insight into what both readers want and advertisers want to know.

“Newspapers … are among the most trusted brands for providing valuable and useful content. Further, they have long-standing relationships with huge numbers of consumers,” said Peyton Marcus, practice executive at Digital Media Solutions, Infinitive. “But they must learn to think along the lines of truly digital and 100-percent audience centricity if they are to thrive as ad-driven businesses. That means seeing more clearly the links between the technology they use to run the business, how it impacts the customer [and] audience experience, and how they use data to manage their businesses.”

In buying or selling targeted digital advertising, it’s prudent to know the target—in this case, the newspaper publishers’ audiences, and among them, advertisers’ prospects. Marketers may wish to target members of the community based on demographics alone, but may be more easily compelled by greater insight into preferences, interests, geography, chronology, behaviors, hot buttons, shopping histories, and other information afforded by digital media.                

Audience Intel
At KPC Media Group, Inc., mining data is becoming increasingly important to delivering good content and targeted advertising across a variety of media and platforms. Data comes in from a variety of sources—digital ad and native ad performance statistics, geographic and demographic data, behavioral insight from the Web and e-publications, and third-party measurements from social-media properties.                

“We can look at how long people are looking at certain things, and what type of things capture their attention for a longer period of time. I think that everybody would agree that it’s not really about how many people are accessing a site, as much as it’s how long they’re staying on the site,” KPC Media’s COO Terry Ward said.                

This is good data, insightful information and valuable intelligence.                

“Newspapers have been erecting registration gateways and paywalls,” noted Marcus. “They have been collecting precious marketing data on their users’ demographic, geographic and potentially psychographic data. “Since in exchange for the information provided users are often incentivized with more relevant content, the data is typically clean and relatively current. In addition, more modern publishers are able to combine this rich, explicitly collected data with implied or behavior-based data—like articles read, sections frequented—and externally purchased data to highlight the niche audiences amongst their users, which their advertisers are so desperately trying to reach.”                

Clark Gilbert, President and CEO of Salt Lake City-based The Deseret News said that behavioral targeting has proven particularly effective.                

“Google has such a powerful model because it can take revealed behaviors through search, and target someone through that,” Gilbert explained. “Someone may be looking for a mortgage. So why would a lender want to spend money to target anyone other than people who are looking for mortgages?”                

In addition to acquiring third-party data—about which Gilbert said, “Everyone can do that; everyone should do that”—Deseret also relies on behavioral intelligence for audiences accessing a range of its publications and properties, including a long roster of social-media communities.                

“We’ve also built a classified model,” Gilbert noted. “When someone searches for a car or a home or a restaurant—you could go on and on—they’ve now revealed behavior to us, and we use that to retarget throughout our site.                

“The bigger your classified section is, the more chances to retarget that audience into your news site,” Gilbert continued. “News isn’t very targeted. A fire in the neighborhood or a story about the State Capitol? Well, how do you target that? But if I have first-party data from my site about people who’s looking for a new car, I can now retarget them around the site to content that would otherwise not be as valuable.”  

Creative Considerations
One “transformative” strategy at The Deseret News has been the rethinking of what it means to sell advertising, versus what it means to service advertising clients.                

“We’ve divided our business between our sales team—account sellers, account executives, people who sell—and account managers, the people who run campaigns for clients,” said Gilbert. “The sales team is those people who know how to build relationships, to write contracts, and close accounts, but the campaign managers know all about targeting, retargeting, brand strategy, call-to-action and data. They run data reports for clients, but more than just reporting on how campaigns are performing based on data, they’re able to suggest ways that advertisers can create and adapt their campaigns based on performance and our behavioral data. … We’ve become almost like an agency to these clients.”                

Gilbert also said that campaign managers will be increasingly in demand, as advertisers leverage the publisher’s native-ad/sponsored-content expertise. 

“For their part, marketers and advertisers must recognize that publishers are hugely conscious of their reputations for impartiality and the quality of the content they provide,” said Marcus. “So a little more deliberation and planning may be necessary, especially relative to programmatic and sponsored or native ads.”

“Certain local advertisers may still need help transitioning to a digital buy,” Marcus advised. “They don’t have agencies to help them through the planning, creative, optimizing or measuring processes. Although there are emerging technologies that help automate this through programmatic channels. Regional newspapers that offer agency-like support services may find less barriers to converting paper dollars to digital.”

The publishers’ new role isn’t just to deliver audiences and eyeballs to their advertising partners, but to gather data, distill it down to something meaningful, insightful and then to counsel advertisers on how best to leverage that information. It’s a far more consultative sales process and that’s become immediately evident to publishers in this space.

KPC Media, for example, launched a new division in 2013—Keyflow Creative—for managing these new relationships with advertisers, serving up marketing and creative support that they may need. The firm mostly helps small and mid-sized businesses make sense of data supplied by the publisher, or data they’ve acquired on their own, and creates digital campaigns based on that actionable intelligence.

The years spent learning about user behaviors and preferences for editorial content have been well spent, and what they’ve learned at KPC Media now carries over to advertising.

“We’ve hired some filmmakers who create mini documentaries about businesses or people,” Ward explained. “What we’d learned was that the sweet spot for video is between three and five minutes. That’s the time it takes to really engage and capture an audience. So we use that knowledge now—something we’ve learned from the editorial side—and we’re sharing it with advertisers who may want to create an engaging video, too.”  

Data and Distrust
Naturally, the publishing companies making the most waves for data-driven innovation are large news organizations, those with the resources to reinvent and the forethought to monitor marketing in and outside of publishing.                

“It’s the biggest companies that are making the biggest investment in analytics; the gulf between the national/global and local yawns wider in the digital age. The Financial Times, long a leader in analytics, is making new pushes, and Schibsted, arguably the most digitally advanced big news company in the world, is investing substantially in customer intelligence,” said author Ken Doctor in a 2013 Nieman Journalism Lab article, “The Newsonomics of Little Data, Data Scientists, and Conversion Specialists.”        
“Unlike metropolitan newspapers, community properties have the possibility of continuing to provide advertising customers with both a cost-efficient and effective mass-audience approach and targeted advertising to very precise categories of prospects within a geographic area,” said Michael Bush, president and CEO of Civitas Media, LLC. “Given the small group of targeted numbers involved, a great challenge will be to develop a pricing strategy that makes sense to both the media company and its potential clients.                

“As with any advertising medium, community publications must be able to demonstrate to advertisers that the dollars spent with them provide a quantifiable ROI,” Bush added. “Every advertiser has a different way of measuring the R portion of ROI. So the most important thing that community publishers can do is to continue to demonstrate that they ensure they have the best and most comprehensive data about their markets, and that they continue to build and develop programs that leverage that data.”

But when the trust between publisher and audience is breached—or has the perception of breach—the results can be detrimental to the brand and the bottom line. Take Facebook as an example. Fresh in the New Year came a BBC News report that two disgruntled Facebook users had filed a class-action lawsuit based on distrust and data (“Facebook sued over alleged private message scanning,” January 2, 2014).                

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook misled users of its private-message and email features, who presume that they are, in fact, private. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs allege that Facebook is ‘intercepting’ these messages for the purpose of user data mining—which, if packaged, can be lucrative information for third parties such as data aggregators, advertisers and marketers, according to the BBC News article. The BBC and others reported that Facebook dismissed the allegations as being “without merit.”                

The Huffington Post’s Alexis Kleinman wrote about the legal battle and noted just how big the targeted-digital-advertising slice is to Facebook’s fiscal pie: “In 2011, the company made $2.7 billion in targeted ad sales, according to the lawsuit,” Kleinman reported.

Time will tell as to the suit’s teeth and the public’s opinion about the brand in light of it. But newspapers aren’t nearly as flippant about brand image. In the business of news, integrity and trust is everything, after all.

“You have to guard and protect your user, their information, and the types of ads you serve to them, with absolute rigor, or else you’ll lose the trust of your readers and advertisers,” said Gilbert.

“I think you can maintain trust while increasing targeting and data collection, as long as you are a steward over that data.”

“Regional newspapers have a particular advantage on converting advertisers to digital platforms, if executed well,” said Marcus. “They have trusted brands in certain markets—in some cases for more than 50 years. … Their relationship with users is long standing. They may have covered their high school sports, helped their users sell their car, find their job, announced their wedding, and now, advertise their business.                

“There are few publications that can offer such an intimate history as a baseline for their advertisers. If the newspaper can follow through on successful and measurable marketing campaigns, it is a relationship that will be tough to compete with.”                

Could data gathering compromise the relationship newspapers have with their loyal readers? It’s possible, Ward acknowledged, but that’s where brand integrity becomes so important.                

“When you’re in a small market, or have a local family-owned paper, for example, I think the trust tends to be a little bit stronger,” he said. “We make donations locally. We still do a lot with local communities. And we’ve been adding staff rather than reducing staff. And all of those things, your role in the community, feed that trust level.                

“When we’ve collected data, we’ve established ourselves as good stewards of our community. Knowing that we’ll use that data responsibly makes a big difference.”

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