The Right Way For Publishers To Be Transparent

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

Today’s column is written by Alysia Borsa, chief marketing and data officer at Meredith Corp. 

As the industry clamors for more transparency in the supply chain, publishers should take the lead.

Publishers are sitting on high-quality, proprietary data sets. Their sources are known, as is the way the data sets are used and leveraged. Publishers can and should be more transparent about their data. Being more transparent can promote deeper relationships with advertising partners, create an opportunity to educate partners and ultimately, deliver better campaign results.

When it comes to data transparency, I see three areas publishers should focus on:

1. Be transparent about data sources

Publishers should disclose the sources of their first-party data. For example, is it collected through subscriber information? Location data? Social signals? A combination of all the above?

Advertisers aren’t often given this level of transparency from third-party data providers, in many cases because they are explicitly prevented from disclosing where their data comes from. But working directly with publishers can give advertisers and agencies a direct view into data genesis and hygiene, and publishers can educate advertisers on important issues such as the relative quality and usefulness of various data sources.

Publishers must also be transparent with consumers about data collection. In addition to fulfilling GDPR requirements and supporting general federal protections, successful publishers will also play a lead role in being more transparent and helping consumers control their data and its use – but that’s a topic for another day.

2. Be transparent about data segmentation

Publishers should be upfront about their approach to data segmentation and how segments are defined. For example, a segment like “busy moms” could mean different things to different publishers or platforms. It could be people who search for “quick, family-friendly meals”; read content about tools for managing kids’ schedules; have more than one child in a household; or any number of other variables.

Be careful, though: For publishers with complex segments of 100-plus signals (and AND/OR Boolean logic statements), the nuance is often lost by summarizing data with a simple segment name. Programmatic advertisers, in particular, want segments to be easy and straightforward (which is what they’re used to when looking at third-party segments), and complex segments can feel overwhelming – but this is the benefit of working with publishers. This benefit also holds true for modeled segments built by publishers, where publishers’ data science teams can share the influential attributes driving the model.

It takes an investment of time on the part of agency and brand to gain a deeper understanding of how audience segments are constructed, which may only come from working directly with publishers.

3. Be transparent about best practices

Publishers have access to data and insights that can help advertisers succeed. We’re programming content for audiences all day, every day, so we know what works. Publishers should be using these insights to develop every segment and inform advertisers of high-performing attributes to drive better outcomes.

Sharing for the sake of performance is a two-way street: For buyers to get the most out of publisher data, they must be transparent about how they are measuring success, ideally letting publishers participate in the measurement process.

There is an important caveat: Just being transparent doesn’t necessarily guarantee better performance.

For better performance, publishers and advertisers need to define KPIs and test them together. As we move into an era of buyer-defined segments, with advertisers bringing their own data to the table to inform targeting, partnership is even more critical.

If the KPI is brand awareness, for example, the campaign most likely requires a broadly-defined audience segment that encompasses both advertiser and publisher datasets. By contrast, if the KPI is driving in-store traffic, brands will need to define a narrower segment (like “in-market moms”), giving greater weight to factors such as intent signals, recency and frequency.

Agencies in particular will play a critical role in helping advertisers understand what works best across platforms and publishers, parsing the data to identify top segments and inventory across campaigns. For their part, publishers can support that work by helping the industry distinguish between high- and low-quality data sources and signals.

The recent joint IAB/ANA initiative to provide a “Transparency Label”  is a step in the right direction, getting everyone on the same page with an industry-wide standard. To be sure, there is more work to be done, and it will take input from all sides to get there. As a co-chair of the IAB Data Committee, I challenge everyone in our ecosystem to provide feedback and input to the standards to make them more useful for your business and clients.

It’s up to us to make the industry more transparent, and by doing so, we will improve outcomes for everyone.

Follow Meredith (@MeredithCorp) and AdExchanger (@AdExchanger) on Twitter.

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