A Publisher’s Success Begins And Ends With A Data And Audience Strategy

The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community. 

Today’s column is written by Alessandro De Zanche, an independent audience strategy consultant. 

In a world of “popcorn data,” quantity and reach are more important than quality and depth, and users are seen as “data cows” rather than customers.

But even as shrinking revenues, privacy issues and user backlash force this world to recede, it is important to learn from the mistakes that allowed that world to flourish and plan for the future.

Media brands’ monetization future depends on solid audience and data strategies. The main objective should be to gain and use true people knowledge as a foundation for engagement and monetization, rather than simply collecting isolated data points.

Where some see context as a limit for reach, media brands should see it as a value multiplier and the foundation of their own identity and reason to exist in the eyes of their users.

Paradoxically, the last element of an audience and data strategy is data.

Obstacles and scenarios

Traditionally, one of the biggest obstacles of a comprehensive audience and data strategy has been changes in media business models, which have caused an evolution of the internal balances between departments. The editorial team sits on one side, advocating content detached from any commercial urgency, and the commercial teams sit on the other side, focused on advancing the brand in the name of revenue.

While this scenario is rapidly improving, there is still much overlap across teams. In the middle is the audience and data team, which is either standalone and supports the advertising, marketing and editorial teams, or it is replicated on a smaller scale within each of the three teams. The risk is that the team is pulled in three different directions or must triple its efforts with a different approach for each use case.

I’m not suggesting a “carpet strategy” across the whole company because the objectives of each individual team are different.

The phases of an audience and data strategy

I see the audience and data strategy split into three components.

The data part encompasses the collection of the data, the pipes it flows through and all the related data management tools and platforms.

The audience part covers how the data is processed, assembled and translated into a single customer view, an old-fashioned term that perfectly describes the need for a company to have a consistent approach to all customer-related data sources, even though different teams may leverage only some of those attributes.

The third part of the strategy is monetization. This includes the application of products for specific use cases, such as insights, ad targeting, personalization, email marketing or customer acquisition and retention, as well as all related platforms.

The first two parts form a framework that should apply across the whole company and enable the third part with its individual use cases.

It is paramount for an audience and data practitioner to clarify responsibilities and scope of the project, making sure he/she represents the whole of the business and avoiding being seen as a one-man band begging for favors across the company.

A company-wide effort and collaboration

These concepts should shape the core foundation for an effective approach.

I cannot describe a successful modern media brand without thinking of jazz music, where the audience and data, editorial, marketing and advertising teams play together, following yet leading each other at the same time. Don’t be misled by this image – there should be little improvisation in the framework of an audience and data strategy.

The potential scenarios can be broken in two categories: digital-only media and digital plus traditional media, such as TV, radio and print. About 90% of the concepts are universal, but I will focus on the second category because it is slightly more complicated due to its nature and legacy setups.

Auditing before building

There is no effective audience and data strategy without a deep phase of separate auditing of both the data and audience. I will assume that a data protection impact assessment and other tasks related to the General Data Protection Regulation have been performed and the necessary steps have been taken to be compliant.

The audit phase is a fact-finding exercise that will shape the data and audience strategy.

The data audit starts by documenting all users’ digital and offline touchpoints. In my experience working for big media brands, this is both a frustrating yet exciting phase due to internal fragmentation between teams.

It is frustrating because you’ll have to play detective, hunting for information across the company, getting tips that lead to further meetings, following the trail of user touchpoints across properties, departments, sections, apps, initiatives, events, CRMs and current and legacy systems. It will include conflicting information, people who will tell you that they have no idea and others who will in good faith put you onto the wrong path.

Yet, it will be incredibly exciting at the end of this journey, as not only you will have a clearer picture of all the user touchpoints, but you will also likely realize what a treasure trove of potential opportunities you are sitting on. It is definitely worth the effort and will contribute to building an extremely useful internal network of contacts.

The audit’s objective is also to gain information on if and how the data is being collected, by whom and where it is stored. It is important in this phase to also identify any data that is either sold or bought externally.

A useful tip

Deeper knowledge, opportunities for engagement with the audience, access to insights and a more streamlined use of data is normally of huge appeal to almost every team in the company, so it is crucial to highlight this mission before every meeting. Never assume that everybody in the company understands data.

In a LEGO world, the deliverables of this phase would be a few lists: the shape, size and color of all the bricks in use; the inventory of all the additional bricks not in use, possibly scattered across the room or stored in boxes; and the location of the unused bricks. Also, it would map the “owners” or points of contact for all items.

In my next column, we will look into the audience audit then move on to the fun part: defining the strategy once all the information has been collected. Don’t be misled by the term “fun.” Building a solid strategy without having performed a thorough audit would be excruciatingly painful, ineffective and no fun at all.

Follow Alessandro De Zanche (@fastbreakdgtl) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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