Aligning Subscriptions and Advertising in a World Driven by First-Party Data

By Christopher Sopher, CEO, WhereBy.Us and Letterhead

The publishing industry is undergoing yet another period of dramatic upheaval as new policy shifts among the tech giants further limit the ability of publishers to target ads using third-party data or identifiers. As publishers wrestle with the implications of such shifts—particularly the long-anticipated loss of third-party cookies on Google Chrome—they’re exploring a number of paths toward continued sustainability, from subscription models to newsletters to refined targeting within their advertising opportunities.

The mercurial nature of social platforms, and the fact that publishers don’t control the (often sizable) audiences they reach in these environments, is prompting publishers to invest in solutions that prioritize first-party data and directly owned user relationships. This need, in fact, is transforming the social platforms themselves. Consider Twitter’s recent acquisition of Revue. This acquisition will offer creators on Twitter the chance to pair the network’s broad reach with a direct community of users known to the creators—that is, Twitter followers who consent to provide their email addresses to the creators to enable this direct relationship. This is a pattern that will continue; in fact, it’s imperative for the next generation of online communities.

That said, when it comes to monetization in the publishing industry, there is no silver bullet. Rather, continued viability will rely on a blend of new tactics, all coalescing to strengthen a publisher’s bottom line alongside their audience engagement. Importantly, however, these tactics mustn’t be approached in a fractured or one-off manner. Given the necessary pivot away from third-party data in a privacy-first world, all publisher initiatives need to be undertaken in a way that increases their control over their reader relationships, while strengthening their first-party data assets for the future. Let’s take a look at how publishers can align their efforts.

At the Nexus of Subscriptions and Advertising

Most publishers today are trying to figure out the ideal balance of subscription revenue and advertising dollars for their businesses. At the nexus sit email newsletters—tried-and-true delivery vehicles for digital publishers that provide a basis for subscription and advertising models alike.

According to a recent study, an astounding 84.1 percent of consumers say they are unwilling to pay for newsletters—even for the type of content they like most. Along these lines, 79.6 percent of respondents said they would prefer to access ad-supported content for free rather than pay for ad-free content.

In other words, even though consumers are increasingly turning to newsletters as means of cutting through the clutter of content in their social media feeds, they still expect these experiences to be underwritten by advertising. Thus, within the publishing model of the future, advertising is not dead—but it will have to be handled differently in a media environment where first-party data rules.

Gaining a 360-Degree View of Readers

For publishers with blended subscription and advertising models, newsletters will continue to play an important role in maintaining reader relationships—and publishers need to ensure they’re owning all aspects of those relationships. In the past, the advertising portion of newsletters has been largely outsourced to ad networks by most publishers. Going forward, however, publishers need to ensure that their ad monetization and subscription management efforts are aligned in a way that gives them a more complete view of their audiences. This also improves the performance of ads themselves: In one study, 66 percent of respondents said they made purchase decisions based on email advertising.

Benefits of bringing newsletter advertising under a publisher’s own control include the following.

  • Improved First-Party Data: Having full visibility into reader interactions with ads enables publishers to better understand audience interests and improve targeting and segmentation for the future.
  • Improved User Experiences: By better-understanding reader engagement with ads, publishers can better optimize offers and experiences to improve user engagement.
  • Improved workflows: By tapping into tools that enable publishers to control newsletter advertising within the same workflow as newsletter building, publishers can save time and resources, while reducing the likelihood of templates breaking or rendering awkwardly within certain email clients.

In 2021, publishers will continue to refine and improve their monetization models as it relates to both subscriptions and advertising. These monetization strategies are not at odds with one another. Rather, they’re overlapping paths along which publishers can gain a stronger understanding of their readers for the future. By bringing greater control into the advertising and subscription management of a media organization’s newsletter, publishers can align their efforts for optimal results in a world driven by first-party data.

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