The Data Metamorphosis: One Publisher’s Product Transition from Content to Data Wellspring
Programmatic media buying has been stealing the lunch of publishers for more than a decade. I know this because, before running MEDQOR, a leading B2B publisher for the healthcare industry, I worked on the media agency side. I know as well as anyone how the promise of data and technology streamlining the media business has amounted to a race to the bottom as publishers gave away their readers to data-driven audience targeting and bargain-basement CPMs. It’s been my experience that life doesn’t often offer genuine redemption. Fortunately, this is the opportunity I now enjoy at MEDQOR and Chronicle Health.
It may be difficult to remember, but prior to the advent of programmatic in 2007, delivering digital campaigns in full was an impossible task for publishers. We sold media with a handshake and an endless email barrage complete with the requisite Excel docs attached. Then a synapse of technologies and third-party data vendors emerged between supply and demand and began to streamline and scale media transactions. The promise of “right person, right message, right time” filled the hearts of advertisers, empowering them to buy their precise audience in real-time across multiple inventory sources. Overnight, campaigns began to deliver promised impressions cherry-picked from cheap remnant inventory and supported with centralized frequency capping, bid optimization, and unified campaign reporting.
The Silver Lining
Fast forward to today. Depending on whom you ask, Facebook and Google devour 60-80% of all digital ad budgets, while Amazon and trendy mobile-first players like TikTok eat up their share. Historically, publishers’ knee-jerk answers to challenges like these were to tweak their inventory strategies by adding more video, more podcasts, more sponsored content, and more ad slots. Unfortunately, adding inventory dilutes scarcity, requires significant investment to implement, and risks agitating user experience. It’s rarely a magic bullet for publishers.
Moreover, new consumer privacy legislation passed in the EU and California has quickened the demise of the third-party cookie, which underpins the entire addressable advertising industrial complex. Sounds apocalyptic, doesn’t it? It does only until you realize that third-party cookies were always a programming hack and never intended for audience targeting. It’s time to do this right. Digital advertising should be rebuilt upon a foundation of first-party data. This is a chance for publishers to slip back into the driver’s seat if they can successfully transform their product paradigm from content to data.
This is precisely why we began to rethink MEDQOR’s mission. We were receiving pressure from our clients to deliver not just access to a specific audience, but deeper insights and more sophisticated products. Meeting these needs required a digital transformation. To that end, a first-party data tzar was appointed (yours truly) and a separate data-centric entity, Chronicle Health, was created to complement MEDQOR’s media business. We invested in new technology, specifically a customer data platform (CDP), to manage critical data across 10 vertical-focused titles, uncover actionable insights, and drive measurable results for our advertisers.
Sourcing the technology and talent needed to take advantage of first-party data was another huge challenge. Publishers are content experts by nature, but now we must be technologists too, building our own tech infrastructure to take full advantage of our own data. This requires data scientists to work with marketers who understand how to extract the full value of first-party data and enhance its appeal to advertisers. For digital-first publishers, the transition may be easier, but for traditional publishers with a print legacy, the shift from traditional publishing business models to a data offering is particularly daunting. We leaned heavily on Leverage Lab, a media and technology consultancy, to transform our media and data products and help reinvent our business models.
The New Offering
First, we needed to get a handle on our first-party data. Like most publishers, MEDQOR’s data was spread across multiple silos, including our CRM, website, print publications, email platforms, social media channels, and events, just to name a few. Leverage Lab guided us through a process that pinned down our data sources, defined use cases, established processes, and identified potential tech solutions. At the end of the day, we invested in a CDP to manage all of our data streams. The platform came with an AI layer out of the box for behavioral scoring, content affinity, and predictive analytics to build insights and deep audience segmentation to power our own paid campaigns and better package our media offering to our advertisers.
Transforming MEDQOR from a traditional B2B publisher into a data-driven media company radiated waves that rocked every boat within the organization. This required a major internal education effort to get every stakeholder on the same page and align organizational priorities around data. No stakeholder was more affected than our sales team. They had to grasp the fundamentals of digital advertising before we could expect them to adopt our new insights-infused product mix.
With our stakeholders aligned, MEDQOR gradually developed an integrated engagement network that connected existing and new reader touchpoints collecting a rich mix of behavioral data needed to present advertisers a high-definition picture of our audiences. Leverage Lab built dashboards and reports that delivered campaign, engagement, and content affinity scores in real-time. We were determined to end the days of sheepishly sending over a report 30 days post-campaign. Today, we arm our advertisers with real-time data and actionable insights so they can optimize strategies and identify opportunities while their campaigns are still live.
A metamorphosis like this is expansive and stretches the scope and mission of MEDQOR and its publications. Ultimately, we decided to create a new business, Chronicle Health, around our new data products. Chronicle Health focuses on marketing our healthcare-centric data to inform advertising campaigns targeting patients, practitioners, medical device manufacturers, pharma, and capital investors. We spent $1.6 million in 2019 and budgeted another $1.8 million this year to launch KAIROS, a proprietary dataset that contains the most current contact information, demographic, psychographic, and firmographic information on 8.5 million healthcare professionals across multiple disciplines. KAIROS represents MEDQOR’s transition from publisher to data wellspring.