The Unwalled Garden: LiveIntent on Scaling the Identity-Based Market

Publishers Go Head-to-Head With Big Platforms

If you’re in digital, you’re more or less destined to be on Facebook and Google. The major platforms have unparalleled scale. But they’re certainly not the be-all and end-all to digital–and publishers would love for advertisers to agree on this point. Publishers are sitting on valuable audience insights of their own, outside of the massive platforms’ infamous walled gardens. Those publishers know they need make those insights scale, and then communicate to advertisers how much that scale and depth of data is worth.

We’ve spoken with LiveIntent fairly recently about how publishers can ply their audience data toward the kind of one-to-one, people-based marketing advertiers crave. Earlier in 2017, LiveIntent teamed up with self-styled “identity resolution provider” LiveRamp to provide deeper people-based marketing solutions across digital channels. We called up LiveIntent COO and “identity programmatic” vet Dave Helmreich to learn more. Dave explained how the LiveRamp partnership can give publishers certain advantages the major platforms don’t, and how LiveIntent as a company has grown past its roots in email advertising.

LiveIntent is a smarter way to market and advertise in email.

BRIAN LaRUE: LiveIntent and LiveRamp announced a partnership in January. Tell me about where publishers can see the greatest benefits in that deal.

DAVE HELMREICH: Publishers have been consistently increasing their focus on not only acquiring data on their customers, but capitalizing on email newsletter programs that are performing beyond their expectations. We’ve had a number of publishers investing heavily in customer acquisition and subscriptions, especially since the election. We find when we look at publishers that they have a very large amount of logged-in, authenticated users. Powered by identity, these audiences monetize significantly higher, because addressable campaigns want to go after specific groups of people.

Email has evolved into this core asset for identity and marketing: reaching people, not devices. The products that we build, largely at the request of publishers, have evolved as well. LiveIntent is no longer just about email. It’s about marketing to people wherever they’re paying attention in this mobile-first world.

Meanwhile, brands are getting smarter about the opportunities to take their customer data and reach specific people with specific messages. On our platform, you can take everyone that perhaps didn’t open a promotional newsletter, then drive high-quality demand customized to those people across our publishers when that audience does open an email from the publisher (we call it “ride-along”). That’s one of the things we’re able to do better with our partnership with LiveRamp. Publishers benefit from this scenario directly—not Facebook or anyone else riding on the back of the publisher’s editorial teams and investment.

BRIAN: About Facebook and Google. The “duopoly” term is already borderline cliché. What’s your advice to publishers trying to show the value of their unwalled gardens?

DAVE: Most publishers haven’t invested enough in audience insights. In programmatic, the prevailing wisdom is that more impressions equates to more revenue. But ultimately, a highly-curated, smaller audience is more valuable, because those audiences monetize better. If you understand the makeup of your audience, you’ll understand their value to certain brands pursuing specific demographics and lifestyles.

Brands are desperate for what they term custom audiences, or what we call live audience—logged-in environments where people are paying attention. That’s one reason why social media initially became so attractive, but the engagement in email is significantly higher than in traditional social media channels. I would advise publishers to not just hand over all their articles and inventory and emails to Facebook and expect them to drive traffic and monetization for you. Take more of the effort on your own. Email and authentication can help combat the power swings publishers experience in the market.

BRIAN: What trends do you think are not getting enough attention right now, and what should publishers be looking toward regarding data?

DAVE: Two or three years ago it was okay to focus on total impressions. You would hear publishers say, “We’re going all in on Facebook.” The benefit to a publisher using Facebook is you could easily post an article, look at its organic reach, boost it and create a sponsored post to then drive higher engagement. But you were wholly at the mercy of Facebook’s organic and paid sponsored algorithms.

Now, platforms like Facebook want brands to send the data to them directly. Publishers need to pay more attention to the quality of their audience—that’s what’s not getting enough attention. In Facebook’s publisher tools, you can monitor effectively who you reach, who they shared with and who engaged. The most successful publishers have found a way to overlap those three curves, which maximizes their engagement.

With this business and with our partners like LiveRamp, we’re providing a valuable alternative at scale to Facebook and Google. That’s beneficial in two ways. One, publishers will drive more benefit from the revenue that brands and agencies are sending to them. Two, we have the ability to give feedback on reach and engagement, because we’re not a walled garden. That data is very valuable for publishers to put in their DMPs or attribution platforms and really understand return on ad spend. The email address is their opportunity to be independent of Facebook “likes.”

BRIAN: While identity marketing is great for advertisers hunting down their current customers and users who have shown intent, how can it be better used to inform prospecting?

DAVE: The industry has historically viewed ad tech and martech as disparate and separate entities. Advertising has been a cookie-based world, where a very small percentage of the universe has been “known”—that is, addressable. Mar tech is 100% known. AI and machine learning, core to advertising technology, have never been available in many marketing channels.

All the stuff that brands love about advertising—sophisticated data management, AI, machine learning, customer acquisition, retargeting—is available everywhere, using identity as a common key. A brand can give LiveIntent a list of 10,000 people with high lifetime value and low likelihood to churn, and ask us to find more people like them. We deliver to the brand more people that behave like, perform like and are more valuable to them. Then our publishers benefit because those brands are willing to pay a premium.

BRIAN: Scale seems like a consistent issue in identity-based marketing. I’m curious how you and your clients have worked around scale issues.

DAVE: Scale is a fascinating thing. Eight years ago, if you had told someone, “I want to reach a quality audience,” their quick retort would be, “How much quality do you want?” You can buy quality by the yard; it just depends how much you’re willing to pay for it.

Today, I think people are smarter, brands are smarter, and we live in a highly deterministic world. In any given month we’ll see around 145 million unique individuals. We’re seeing almost two devices per unique person, so that 145 quickly becomes 290 million possible end points per month.

When we take our Identity Graph, a combination of all unique users across all devices, we can leverage it outside the email inbox, onto publisher websites. Historically, this would have been very hard.

BRIAN: About this multiplicity of devices: I’m curious how publishers are using the Identity Graph for mobile revenue.

DAVE: Safari comes with third-party cookies disabled by default on iOS, the predominant operating system. The majority of the ecosystem uses cookies to target people. So, mobile is a big problem for publishers using traditional demand sources and targeting. But with our Identity Graph, where the key is this anonymized email address provided by the publisher, there are no restrictions. That identifier that works on mobile and all devices.

BRIAN: What are some of the signs you see that identity marketing is affecting  programmatic?

DAVE: I chatted with Joe Zawadski, who’s the founder and CEO of MediaMath, about this last year. He said he believes the majority of impressions purchased over the next few years will be known by some form of anonymous key—a hashed email address, a hashed mobile advertising ID—but not a cookie. That seemed like a pretty bold statement.

At the same time, I talk to a marketing cloud, a data cloud, a DMP and a DSP every week, each wanting its own identity graph, messaging to people not devices. That’s overlaid with a huge push toward native. In this era in programmatic, this is a boon for publishers: Onsite registrations coupled with email newsletters to subscribers are a gateway to identity that brands continue to look for. I don’t think it’s going away.

BRIAN: More personalized marketing brings the specter of privacy concerns. How are publishers addressing consumer data security before it gets scandalous?

DAVE: In a wave of publicized data breaches, publishers have to be strict about privacy, provide consumers clear choice and clear notice, and protect users’ data at all cost. Everything comes to LiveIntent from publishers an anonymized form—we don’t see any plain text, personally identifiable information. We don’t touch PII. Only the publishers can email their customers. And publishers need to be careful, and never give away their consumer information in a plain text form, period.