This article is sponsored by Publishers Clearing House.
Now that Google has helped put a firm date on the death of the third-party cookie (within the next two years) many publishers are prioritizing the acquisition of new first-party data assets via logged-in users. At the heart of these efforts is the question of value exchange: What can publishers offer that users will view as being desirable enough to warrant a log-in and exchange of valuable personal data?
The quest for this logged-in data isn’t a new one for most publishers, but it is newly urgent – and the consequences of dropping the ball are more real than ever. A 2019 Google study found that average publisher revenue among the top 500 global publishers decreased by 52% when access to third-party cookies was disabled. No doubt, the transition to a cookieless world will be painful for those publishers who don’t adjust their revenue models accordingly. However, it is still possible for publishers to sustain their revenues – and ultimately reclaim more control over their futures – in this new environment.
Logged in, authenticated audiences allow publishers to improve their ability to provide programmatic guaranteed deals to advertisers, to transact via deal IDs and – most importantly – to understand their readers’ needs and desires. Logged-in users provide the best first-party data, not only because they provide correct information, but because their login is the basis of an ongoing relationship that will yield richer data over time. But publishers shouldn’t assume that readers will automatically agree to register to get the same content and digital experiences they’ve grown used to.
In that sense, the push for better first-party data becomes a product development challenge. What new experiences can publishers offer that will intrigue readers enough to follow a login prompt where one previously did not exist?
Very few publications can assume that the majority of their readers will suddenly consent to a log-in for access to content that they’ve enjoyed “for free” for years. Some loyalists will, yes – but many more will not. This is even truer for new visitors arriving at a publisher’s site for the first time with no established relationship or understanding of content value. Obtaining that valuable login will require a tangible incentive that’s well-understood by existing and new visitors alike.
To understand the kinds of tangible incentives visitors expect in exchange for a login, look no further than the companies that already enjoy these relationships with their customers. Perhaps the most noteworthy are commerce companies – ranging from retailers such as Amazon and Walmart to service providers such as Uber – that require personal details from the customer in order to deliver on their fundamental value proposition. Facebook and Instagram, for example, need this information to connect you with your friends, geotag your posts, and so forth. The reason such companies require access to a person’s name, email, physical address or other details is obvious and understood by consumers – and the benefits of remaining logged in as an authenticated user are tangible. That’s one of the reasons why these companies, many of them from outside the media world, are currently making significant forays into advertising. Publishers that play in commerce have the tangible incentive built in.
Vertically integrated media companies, including Comcast NBCU, AOL/Verizon and Xandr/AT&T, also provide organic reasons for their customers to log in, because their media business is domiciled within a larger and more tangible network business. Customers provide first-party data because it’s required to access the internet, their cell phones, and their connected televisions. Incentives do not get more tangible than that.
Most traditional content publishers, unfortunately, don’t have these obvious value exchanges built into their current models or existing customer relationships. That’s why they – and the marketers that work with them – need to look closely at their core product offerings and ask whether they provide fair incentive for users to register, log in, and remain logged in.
Is this the type of experience that requires a login? Does providing accurate information about yourself result in a tangible benefit? Does the benefit justify the friction of signing up, remembering passwords, or surrendering your personal information? If not, it’s time to expand.
Build new incentives into the customer experience
One area of expansion to consider is that of interactive content – experiences that go beyond the norm of “lean back” content ingestion and give personalized value back to readers. These interactive experiences can take many forms: quizzes, customizable guides and recommendations or even games. Likewise, any offering that includes the possibility of a prize – a sweepstakes or chance-to-win experience – provides an obvious value exchange for a login in which customers will not question why a publisher is requesting their personal contact information. These experiences encourage engagement and represent a clear path to clean first-party data and a deeper customer relationship.
Ultimately, publishers can survive in a cookieless future, but not without innovating on their core product offerings. The clock is ticking. What can you offer that will deliver new, unquestioned value to new and loyal readers alike?