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How can a first-party data strategy help publishers stay competitive with the walled gardens?

  • 3 min read

An existential threat to publishers is looming on the horizon, which means even more power for the walled gardens. To stay competitive, publishers need to act now, starting with a first-party data strategy.

There’s no doubt that we’re fast approaching an existential threat to publishers. 

With the death of the third-party cookie coming in the next couple of years, and wave after wave of privacy legislation, the writing’s on the wall for targeting, frequency capping, attribution and therefore programmatic revenue as we know it. 

For those outside the walled gardens, that is. Let’s be clear, the issues above will affect publishers far more than the walled gardens. It is not a level playing field—if it was, then ad-spend would be more evenly distributed.

The walled garden imbalance

The issue is that we’re already at a point where the amount of ad-spend going to the walled gardens outweighs the amount of time people spend in them. 

In 2019, Google, Facebook and Amazon received almost 70% of all ad-spend according to eMarketer, while internet users only spend about 45% of their time there. This means that advertisers and brands are missing out on lots of opportunities to get ads in front of valuable eyeballs on the open Internet. 

Plus, if the imbalance grows further and publishers fail, it’s bad for everyone, including the walled gardens. In fact, spokespeople from Google and Facebook often comment on how they want publishers to succeed. Of course they do, because the content people consume on their platforms has to come from somewhere.

The strength of first-party data

It makes sense for brands to favour the walled gardens; they have unprecedented scale, and are easy to use.

But at both RampUp London 2019 and our most recent breakfast briefing for publishers, we’ve heard very similar things: While the walled gardens cannot be beaten on quantity, publishers are stronger when it comes to data quality.

During the panel ‘Rebuilding the Publisher-Advertiser Relationship’ at RampUp London, Craig Tuck, Managing Director, Ozone Audience at The Ozone Project said, “I looked at my own Google profile recently and I was a fan of the NFL apparently… and cats. I don’t own a cat.”

Chloe Grutchfield, Co-founder of RedBud added, “I was male, and I was into football.”

Craig continued, “Its scale is more convenient for those purporting to have lots of interesting data than it is for the delivery of highly-effective advertising.”

And this is where publishers can really come into their own. Publishers have the ability to connect directly with an engaged audience. So with robust first-party authentication methods, they can reach a level of precision in targeting that would allow them to be more competitive with the walled gardens.  

This would mean a better experience for users, and improved efficiency for brands. 

The data’s value also multiplies when used in conjunction with other publishers’ data sets as it builds a more complete picture of each user. While a few years ago, the most common relationship between publishers was one of competition, there’s now an emerging trend of collaboration.

This trend is most evident in the growing number of alliances being forged amongst publishers like Ozone, a collaboration between News UK, The Telegraph, Guardian, and Reach.

Speaking at the publisher’s breakfast, Chloe said, “Publishers are working together to solve these challenges. They’re not necessarily competing with each other any more, they’re working together to compete with the walled gardens.”

Now is the time for a solid first-party data strategy

In a very real sense the clock is ticking. We see frameworks like TCF 2.0 approaching fast, and we know we’ve got less than two years until Chrome deprecates third-party cookies.

The relationships that we’re talking about here, both with direct audiences and other publishers, take time to foster. The sooner you can get started, the stronger these relationships will be, the greater competitive advantage you’ll have… and the better you’ll be able to monetise your inventory in a world without third-party cookies.