Solving the Data Catch-22
How can a publisher not take advantage of data? It would make no sense. However there is an oft-overlooked Catch-22 at work.
In order to plug into the world of cookies and data, publishers must plug into global data exchanges. By definition an exchange means I give you something, you give me something. What you give is called N-PII—non-personally identifiable information about your readers.
Let's say you have a horse breeding magazine. (I once did.) The horse-breeders you reach are valuable to many advertisers. Put that publication online and you attract more and more of this highly specialized audience. Advertisers need to go through you to reach them.
Here is the Catch-22 – in order for your magazine to take advantage of the global exchanges, for which there are perfectly fine reasons to do, your own data is no longer exclusive. Now advertisers can reach your horse-breeders on CNN.com or Yahoo. It is not that black-and-white, of course; but this is definitely worth paying attention to.
Finally there is a company offering the ability to capitalize on audience data without allowing others access to your data. Crowd Science of Mountain View, Calif., offers publishers a "prediction engine." This combines a sophisticated, evolving series of surveys with behavioral and contextual analytics about your readers.
Crowd Science CEO Corey Liebow and co-founder John Martin told me how they help publishers cultivate an audience into data segments with high value. They had me when they added "without the value of your audience being diminished." I've not yet had the chance to try this technology, but am happy to report what they told me and shall quote them in tandem.
Data within your four walls
This all starts by asking questions. Data is gathered by surveying statistically representative samples of various portions of the audience on your website. The surveys are branded by the publisher and built into the site's copy in a polite, unobtrusive way.
Then you mix analytic data about site visitors' actions and interest in specific content with their surveyed attitudes and purchasing needs. Now you have hundreds of pieces of data which can be cross-tabulated. Publishers gain the opportunity to understand their readerships in minute detail, according to the company.
The real-time predictions generate targeting information for advertising and lead-generation, say the Crowd Science execs. Publishers can create templates that are used to project interests and buying-intent across the wider audience, as well as open new audience extension opportunities. Combining surveys with behavioral and semantic data provides actionable conclusions not just for ad delivery, but to spot new brand opportunities. Audience insights can also inform content development and guide your CMS to deliver select content to particular readers, increasing site satisfaction and return visits.
The clincher is gaining a new ability to track the effectiveness of campaigns for your advertisers. They say you can actually track how the advertising impacts the readers' brand awareness and propensity to buy, and even measure brand effectiveness mid-flight.
Ironically, when I first read about Crowd Science in Bo Sacks' daily industry newsletter "Heard on the Web," it read like a company promotion. On closer look I saw it was an article written for Forbes. Contributor James Marshall Crotty was so high on Crowd Science, it just sounded like he worked for them. I guess that makes two of us.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.