How Publishers Can Diversify Revenue with Identity and a Digital Mindset

By Lynette Kaylor, VP, Media & Publisher Solutions, Merkury at Merkle

It’s no secret that third-party cookies are going away. We read headlines daily about the approaching cookie-apocalypse. And now, with Apple’s move to make identifier for advertisers (IDFA) sharing an opt-in vs. opt-out function, media owners are scrambling to reinvent their ad targeting and data strategies. They are scrambling to avert the inevitable revenue loss that will ensue once these new privacy measures are put into place.

Publishers already got a taste of this revenue loss when Apple stopped allowing third-party cookies in Safari. In addition to the evaporation of these long-held digital currencies, data privacy laws like California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are also wreaking havoc on the digital ecosystem. Media owners are at a proverbial crossroads. Do they continue to put all their eggs in the baskets of the newest industry IDs? Or do they pump the brakes and use this as an opportunity to reassess and invest in a more sustainable foundation upon which to build their businesses?

Digital Identity Providers

Unsurprisingly, trade organizations and adtech platforms are readily available with an “easy button” solution to every publisher’s identity problem. Some are pushing new industry standards that promise to sustain programmatic media buying at parity to current third-party cookie audience reach and revenue scale, while other organizations are pushing for an outright contextual solution to replace the third-party cookie. Both of these options are viable programmatic solutions, but they are nothing more than a band-aid on a rather large wound.

To be viable, each of these solutions requires that the user and the content are brought to the table by the publisher itself. They aren’t solutions on their own, and they only solve for programmatic activation. Simply put, the time has come for publishers to take a page out of the playbooks of Google and Facebook and invest in the ownership of their first-party graph and data assets. In essence, they need to become their own walled gardens.

As we have seen from their latest earnings calls, the established walled gardens aren’t being affected by the third-party cookie going away. Instead, they are flourishing, because they do not rely on outside currencies to sustain their advertising and data businesses. They are capitalizing on the relationships they have directly with their users and monetizing the unique data assets that are only accessible on their platform. The users, the data, and most importantly, the revenue, never cross their “walls.”

As the cookie-less media world rapidly unfolds, transformation must happen in tandem. Publishers who make the investment in strategically pivoting to a more sustainable identity and data foundation will find themselves in control of their own destiny.

Moving forward: Writing (and owning) your future

Media owners that invest in owning their first-party identity graph will be investing in a future-proof foundation for their business. While connecting to the larger ecosystem will always be a necessity, utilizing the various digital ID currencies as connections rather than the source of their graph will keep publishers in control of how and when their data is used. It will allow them to create closer partnerships with advertisers seeking to showcase their brand in premium environments, while also providing publishers with a more holistic view of who their users are across their sites – thus opening the door for major, new revenue streams such as cross-selling subscription products and expanding e-commerce offerings.

To enable this, media owners must engage an identity resolution provider with nationwide coverage of PII-based IDs, a scaled universe of consumer email addresses, and a first-party cookie-based tag that can be deployed across all site pages. From here, publishers can build and grow a universe of first-party digital IDs that link back to a core of PII and emails. It’s important to work with identity providers that have cookie-less integrations in place with numerous supply-side platforms (SSPs) and demand-side platforms (DSPs), so programmatic buying of inventory and audiences can move away from the reliance on third-party cookies and device IDs. These are the core ingredients needed to build, grow, and leverage your private ID graph.

With a private ID graph, you can get started recognizing audiences such as previously logged-in users or email subscribers on your sites, or from wider properties that share in the ID graph. For example, the first-party tag can trigger lightboxes to capture more email addresses and logins by offering access to special content and features. Increasing your CRM and personalization efforts can also help build your known universe of first-party IDs. For completely anonymous visitors, unique person IDs can be assigned to grow your universe of addressable audiences. While these are lower fidelity than those IDs associated with an email address or PII, they are still a first-party identified universe for targeting with the ability to infuse page context as an element for ad programs and monetization. All of these IDs serve as a growing first-party universe that advertisers can onboard and match to for custom audience targeting. You can also enhance your ID graph with PII-based third-party data, which would improve your audience segmentation and modeling efforts.

Benefits of this new approach include:

Optimizing the customer experience: Publishers are able to control the customer and prospect experience across channels for their advertising partners.

Linkage: Advertisers can link their data from CRM, service, events, and commerce to media sold across their sites.

Improvement with third-party data: This enables the best, next generation of third-party data for custom audiences – ideally rivaling the walled gardens’ long-standing custom audience offerings. Prospect audiences can be built from offline PII, sourced from leading providers, appended through identity resolution partners at an email address, and connected to page visits through first-party cookie linkages.

Better value for advertisers: It provides the ability to prove the value of your inventory to advertisers from a true reach/frequency and closed-loop sales perspective. A growing, person-based ID universe (the private ID graph) offered by the publisher to its advertisers is used to build audiences, target, and measure against – just like Facebook and Google. Through this model, ID resolution providers can offer privacy-safe analytic environments where advertisers can onboard their online or offline conversion data and map it to individual ad exposure and the frequency at an anonymized person ID level.

Regardless of new regulations, browser changes, or fluctuations among identity currencies in the Wild West of third-party players, a publisher’s private identity graph will create the most durable, sustainable, and persistent identity currency going forward.