Why Direct-sold Programs Are a Publisher’s Answer to First-party Data Challenges

As the end of the third-party cookie nears, solutions built on first-party data are emerging as the bridge that connects advertisers and publishers. This means the inputs used today for programmatic decisions are changing, and during this transition, logged-in media that swims in identity and first-party data will rise to the fore.

 Direct-sold deals will be a salve for publishers in the interim between today and the complete deprecation of third-party cookies. Direct-sold deals are an ideal alternative because they’re based on a publisher’s first-party data and enable targeting and measurement across the entire customer journey.

 The need for addressable and performant audiences is paramount for advertisers. According to a study conducted by LiveIntent and Advertiser Perceptions, advertisers vet publishers for the quality of their content (56%) and first-party data (51%) to deliver performance. This is amplified in the absence of third-party cookies today with Firefox and Safari and will be uniform once the final Google Chrome shoe drops.

Publishers have obviously earned their first-party relationships with their customers, but how can they best capitalize on this shift away from third-party and towards first-party data? The answer lies with email. 

Email newsletters and alerts present an opportunity to build and leverage a publisher’s owned and operated media, first-party data, and addressable logged-in audiences to provide greater value to advertisers by connecting them with the audiences they want to reach.

LiveIntent connects advertisers to 200M readers engaging with email newsletters sent by 2000+ brands like The New York Times, Meredith and General Mills.

The Challenges of Building Direct-sold Programs

While direct-sold programs are a valuable component of a monetization strategy, there are important first-party data considerations to ensure publishers can reap the benefits.  

Although publishers have had years to accumulate first-party data, many are still lagging and don’t have their coffers full. According to the IAB State of Data report, 33% of publishers are concerned about having enough first-party data, and 55% are currently unable to offer extended reach through first-party data matching to their advertisers.

And even if publishers can get their hands on invaluable first-party data, many publishers are unsure how to best package the data into advertiser offerings. Direct-sold programs highlight the overlapping value of a publisher’s audience and content, but there’s uncertainty around which formats, rates, and metrics make the most sense. 

Rachel Rubin, Vice President of Customer Success, at LiveIntent, partners with publishers on successfully packaging their inventory. 

“We find that most publishers are familiar with how to package up their web inventory, but when it comes to newsletter inventory, it tends to be a ‘let’s see what works approach.’ That’s because the impression-based selling that is typically done for web properties doesn’t directly translate to newsletters which are usually based on sponsorships. Unfortunately, it’s a missed opportunity since the email newsletter represents the most performant of inventory and allows for unmatched targeting and measurement across a publisher’s other properties.”  

Publishers that continue to sell newsletter advertising inventory on an impression-only model will face difficulties from Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP). They can no longer collect data on email opens or exact geolocations from those using Apple’s email client. However, publishers who decide to sell newsletter inventory in an MPP-adjusted environment can thrive with targeting that leverages first-party data around interests, needs, and desires or by structuring direct-sold deals based on different audience engagement metrics, such as email clicks versus opens.

Email Newsletters May Be a Publisher’s Solution

Let’s say a publisher has a prospective advertiser that sells outdoor recreational equipment. The publisher can leverage its first-party data to create a direct-sold deal for the advertiser that extends to the publisher’s email properties, focusing on audiences who’ve engaged with relevant content on its website and newsletters like health, sports, and environmentalism, for instance.  

The added bonus is that the publisher can provide performant audiences to the advertisers in a logged-in environment that the publisher owns and gain additional revenue. And marketers are catching on, with 9 in 10 seeing newsletters as a valuable way to reach, target, and personalize communication. 

“For publishers struggling to meet the demands of impression opportunities, email can be a natural extension through direct-sold,” explains Rubin. “Email offers advertisers premium inventory because publishers can guarantee precision targeting and attribution based on an email address. Advertisers love the logged-in nature of email because it’s similar to other logged-in environments like Facebook or YouTube. Publishers can charge a premium because advertisers get access to a logged-in, cross-device, performant, and measurable audience that advertisers value.”

Concurrently, as publishers continue to try to build up their troves of first-party data, a successful and robust email program allows them to build up that first-party data set. It’s valuable today and the fulcrum of identity in the post-third-party cookie era. 

Unlock Speed and Efficiency for Direct-sold Programs

One of the reasons that native ad formats have been so valuable to advertisers is that they have a custom look and feel that blends seamlessly into a publisher’s web content. But when it comes to native ads in email, publishers have been hindered by a heavily manual implementation and activation process.

Rubin shared how she has seen these issues resolved with LiveIntent’s client Dotdash Meredith. The organization was expanding its email inventory mix to include native ads but needed a turnkey solution to avoid having to manually hardcode an ad into its email newsletter template.  

LiveIntent’s Native Ad Blueprints enabled publishers like Dotdash Meredith to streamline and automate the placing of native display units within email newsletters. 

“The solution provides speed and efficiency when combined with a direct-sold strategy because Native Ad Blueprints allows publishers to gain greater control over their inventory while not slowing them down with manual processes like in the days of yore,” says Rubin.

Launching solutions such as LiveIntent’s Native Ad Blueprints, allows publishers to lean into direct-sold advertising and capitalize on their hard-won audiences. Because, as we have seen, it is not enough to possess first-party data, publishers must monetize the data to be successful in the cookieless future.