“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 audience and data strategy consultant.
Digital advertising is becoming subtly and silently polarized. Not in the angry, conflicted way currently witnessed in politics, but a bifurcation in the road ahead is clearly taking shape.
On one side is a group with a worldview that identifies the ad slot – rather than the content – as the end product that should be monetized. From an audience perspective, they take a “hunting for identity and addressability” approach that views the user as a means to an end, rather than what should be the dominant focus. Everything – whether it’s stitching IDs together or collecting emails – happens in the background with little or no user engagement.
On the other side are the media owners who realize that audiences have been ignored for too long. They envision a holistic engagement strategy, aimed at regaining the trust of their audiences and all the mutual benefits that come with that, which can maximize their assets and strengthen and differentiate their business models. In contrast to their colleagues, it’s the “building identity in collaboration with the audience” approach.
I believe that the latter can turn media owners’ fortunes around.
The funnel of trust
Citizens’ knowledge of personal data and how it is used online will only increase. The role of media in this discovery process is paramount, and already many media brands’ editorial teams are informing their audiences about privacy-related dangers and pitfalls.
By embracing a path to education and transparency, media owners can rebuild that long-lost trust and differentiate themselves. A knowledgeable audience will be able to discern a trustworthy entity deserving of their consent and personal data from those that should be denied. It would create a solid barrier to entry against murky competitors and parasitic entities.
This approach is not just about an aspirational and philosophical love for the user. It also includes a very pragmatic move toward identity, addressability, a strong data strategy and, ultimately, monetization.
I call it the “funnel of trust.”
Top of the funnel: consent and communication
Consent is the enabler of any data, audience and monetization strategy. A few months ago I described consent as the real new oil. Focusing on it naturally forces media brands to embrace the whole audience, horizontally.
Media owners’ dialogue with their audiences should be fine-tuned to reduce ad blocking, with the understanding that ad blocking will not disappear on its own. But by establishing a real conversation with the audience – and with concrete initiatives, such as focusing on creating a better user experience – a lot of inventory and revenue can be recovered, as well as much more data.
Repairing trust is harder than building it in the first place and maintaining an always-on conversation with audiences requires a two-way communication channel.
That’s why a data and consent management dashboard should be top of mind and the core around which the audience and media brand meet.
A dashboard could let users see in real time, 24/7, what data is held about them. Users should be able to amend it, contribute to it or delete it, and it should include a consent toggle.
I have been around long enough to visualize the terrified looks of the usual suspects when they think about allowing users to withdraw consent. But this is the very tool that can help an ambitious and honest media brand recover and communicate to lost users, giving audiences the peace of mind that they can change settings and control their own data.
Moving down the funnel
This is the stage where a virtuous cycle kicks in and media owners can move down the funnel of trust to the registration phase.
A trusting audience and an open communication channel will facilitate a conversation with users about the benefits of registering. Every step of the audience strategy requires a multidisciplinary collaboration and synchronization across the company, from editorial to legal, from the marketing team to the advertising unit.
It is vital that a value exchange is the foundation of every interaction. Why should users register and create a profile? Whether it’s to manage their own data, access exclusive content or to personalize the experience, the benefits should be compelling.
But being registered is not enough. To maximize the advantage of a known user base, individuals must be logged in. Again, it is only through a relationship based on dialogue and concrete benefits that this can happen. What are your user’s reasons to stay logged-in all the time?
The promised land
For users to be fully engaged, knowledgeable and taking advantage of the tools and capabilities for managing their data, the next level of collaboration and interaction in the funnel would be to enrich their own profiles. That includes providing additional data, responding to surveys or participating in ad-hoc initiatives. When the trust and dialogue are at their peak and the value flows in both directions, it will be much easier to improve a media owner’s knowledge about its audience in a way that no legal tracking could ever achieve.
The advantages are many and cover the whole monetization strategy. While these examples were tailored with advertising in mind, to show how identity and addressability can be improved or rebuilt by embracing the audience, rather than hunting for it, there are other areas that would benefit: subscriptions, memberships, product improvements and new launches.
I have the feeling that, in the bifurcation of the road ahead for media owners, one of the two options will be a blind alley, just protracting their suffering and uncertainty.
Embracing the funnel of trust would maximize their assets and build the strongest foundation for monetization.