The future for the whole market around marketing and advertising is quietly teetering on the brink of change. Soon, Google will halt third-party cookies in its Chrome web browser, halting the ability to track individuals around the web at some point in the next two years, while Apple’s Safari and Mozilla Firefox already block them.
What does this mean for users? More privacy and less intrusion from advertising. For publishers? The benefits and costs are less clear.
Many publishers today rely on advertising technology to link their readers and their adverts to future results – a purchase in the future, say, or a visit to a website – alongside programmatic advertising to serve adverts to site visitors. The theory here is that visitors see adverts that are more relevant to them, making them more likely to click, and therefore more likely to convert over time. The ideal result should be more engagement with readers, and more results for advertisers.
However, how much does this reflect reality?
One organisation that decided to get ahead of cookie removal is Nederlandse Publieke Omroep, the Dutch public broadcaster. Wired’s Gilad Edelman covered how the organisation volunteered to remove tracking cookies and run its own ad server. The financial results were impressive – in January and February 2020, the broadcaster saw digital ad revenue up by 62 per cent and 79 per cent respectively compared to the same months last year.
Rather than relying on the adtech vendors to supply context and adverts, the publisher relied on its own content to provide this. In the article, Tom van Bentheim, Ster’s digital strategy, operations, and technology described this as meeting readers’ needs when they want. “When do people want to buy a Snickers? It’s not because someone is in a specific age or in a specific region or has a high income; it’s because they are hungry and they are looking at food at that moment.”
This makes sense for this publisher, which serves an extremely broad audience. But what could it mean for others?
Removing cookies and the reliance on programmatic advertising puts the focus on the content that publishers create, and the audience that might read that content. Rather than relying on adverts that follow individuals around the web to remind potential customers that brands exist, brands and publishers have to do a better job of attracting readers in the first place.
Publishers can build up more loyal audiences through providing content that helps them carry out their roles, develop their careers or target their interests. However, this will rely on understanding those audiences’ preferences around content and format. Rather than the traditional case study or news pieces, content may be driven more by personality or innovative ways of displaying that material. This approach has to focus on how to make audiences more likely to return over time, rather than seeing one article and leaving.
For brands and publishers alike, looking at brand personalities and marketing themselves out to increasingly picky readers will be essential for the future. This does require more investment – in time and effort, alongside looking at new approaches to digital marketing – but it should pay off over time. Putting the emphasis on quality and reach over time should replace the incremental revenue that came from external ad tech.
For communications teams, what could this new world mean?
As PR professionals, understanding these issues is important. Companies will want to reach audiences and ensure that their messages connect with potential customers. Publishers will need connections that help them create that content, but they also need the long term support to build out this new business model. PR can help foster those connections, shape company voices and measure the effectiveness of this approach alongside sales and marketing.
Here are three areas to think about:
Prepare your approach to your audiences
If your products appeal to a technology audience, then think about who uses your products on a daily basis and who buys those products. If they are different, then you may have to come up with different streams of content for each audience. However, you’ll also have to work on how you can be more consistent in your messaging across those audiences too.
Think about long term partnerships and co-creating content
Brands can support publications over time, helping them to create material that appeals to their audience and to your own.
Ask the right questions
Getting your sales team involved and finding out specific pain points and problems can provide some insight into what matters to your customers. It can also tell you more about how those customers like to get this content in the first place, and the kind of personalities that appeal to them too. This can help you design your content to appeal to more people in your target markets.
For publishers, the chance to reduce reliance on ad tech vendors should be treated as an opportunity to build better and more direct relationships with brands. For brands, these kinds of conversations should help maintain audiences and lead to long term sales. However, it has to remain in the control of those brands and publishers, rather than the big tech companies that control browser development, such as Google and Apple, or the companies that control social platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. The alternative for brands and publishers that don’t think about this and develop their own creative approaches is that they will miss out on the opportunity to maintain control over their destinies.
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