Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
5 mins read

Identity crisis: Media, technology, and data in the next decade

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Media shapes experience, both broadly and individually, in ways that no other industry can. It has the power to influence our view of the world and create some of our most lasting memories. Yet all media businesses today – whether large or small, national or local, expansive or specialised – are grappling with an uncertain future.

While there are many forces at play for the industry’s struggles, perhaps none has wreaked havoc on traditional media businesses quite like technology. The rise of the internet, terminal declines in digital advertising revenue, and the disintermediation effects created by social media have left publishing companies reeling from a uniquely modern identity crisis.

So, how should these businesses respond? The key lies in shifting the media mindset to view challenges as a catalyst for new opportunities.

We Should Have Seen It Coming: The Decline of Media in the 21st Century

Anyone who has studied the history of technology knows that technological change is always a Faustian bargain: Technology giveth and technology taketh away, and not always in equal measure. This has proven especially true for media and publishing.

The rapid growth of the internet and the unprecedented access to free information that came with it – both good and bad – put publishers on the back foot, leading to print’s decline and a need to monetise digital ad placements to make up for lost revenue.

While monetising their websites was a logical step, media and publishing companies are now recognising that overreliance on ads has had catastrophic implications on the overall publishing experience. What initially seemed like a good way to take advantage of the internet to deliver quality information quickly turned into a race to get more clicks – a tactic that ruined the user experience and undermined the credibility of even the most prominent publications.

Perhaps worse are the implications of social media platforms like Facebook. What started out as a promising way to distribute content became the mechanism that effectively disintermediated publishing and media companies from their own content and severed the value exchange that serves as the basis of the relationship between the brand and the reader.

The impact of technology on the media and publishing industry isn’t going to ease up anytime soon. Whether it’s increasingly fragmented audiences or newer publishing platforms like Substack, the next wave of change is already upon us. Fortunately, there are ways to not only combat these undercurrents, but also to take advantage of them to drive the industry forward.

Here’s to Second Chances: ‘Old School’ Versus ‘New School’

Historically, media and publishing companies have been reluctant to lean into new technology and the opportunity it offers. But it’s time for ‘old school’ thinking to give way to ‘new school’ optimism about the possibilities that lie ahead. Here are five mindset shifts media and publishing companies must make if they want to drive their business forward in 2021 and beyond:

  1. Embrace the Cookie-Free Future

A large part of many media and publishing companies’ revenue and digital experience is tied to third-party cookies, so it’s understandable that their demise could be seen as cause for alarm. Yet, amid the whirlwinds of the industry’s response, it’s become abundantly clear that the end of the cookie is ultimately a good thing for everyone involved (notable exception: DMPs and 3rd party cookie-based technology providers). In fact, the deprecation may give publishers the aircover they need to rethink their entire consumer engagement model – one that leverages first-party data to create a more personalised (and valuable) experience for their readers across all platforms.

  • Curate Your Consent Strategy

When GDPR first went into effect, many publishers reacted by simply turning off European traffic to their website – primarily because they weren’t prepared to understand what the implications of the law really meant. But like the demise of third-party cookies, privacy laws also open up new opportunities. By embracing a better consent management strategy, media and publishing companies can create new digital products and experiences based on authenticated, identity-driven data and a clear understanding of who their audiences are.

  • Be More Agile

One need not look past last year to understand the importance of business agility. The onset of COVID demonstrated why media and publishing companies need to have enabling technology in place that allows them to respond quickly as circumstances and audience behaviors change. For example, many of our publishing customers were able to adjust their paywall strategy in a matter of hours to meet the demand for free COVID-related content, while still securing the authenticated user data that makes it possible to deliver higher quality content and experiences and build deeper relationships with readers. This kind of agility can make a huge difference in making sure business operations aren’t disrupted when the unforeseen happens.

  • Diversify Engagement

Delivering credible, high-quality information will always be core to media and publishing. But that doesn’t mean companies can’t build on that foundation. By experimenting with new alternative ways of driving revenue, publishers can set themselves up for long-term, sustainable growth. This means being where your audiences are or, better yet, creating more places for them to be, whether that’s ecommerce or events (virtual or eventually in-person) or exclusive, VIP-type premium offerings. Yes, growth in core businesses like subscriptions matters, but healthy, sustainable growth will need to consider new alternatives.

  • Prioritise Direct Audience Relationships

Last but not least, media and publishing companies need to stop outsourcing viable ways of engaging with audiences. The growing number of platforms that disintermediate publishers from readers while simultaneously taking a disproportionate sum of ad budgets means direct audience relationships are no longer negotiable. By experimenting with new audience engagement tactics, media and publishing companies can improve their ability to collect and use of first-party data. Moreover, they can use this data to create a vastly higher quality ad product for their advertising partners – and a more sustainable revenue model for their business.

As Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Now is the time for media and publishing companies to do away with reactive approaches to disruptive forces and instead focus on how technology can help create a more solid and lasting growth trajectory. The cornerstone of this transformation will be tied to audience insight, product and revenue diversification, value-based audience engagement – and a willingness to embrace a new identity in order to preserve the best of the old.

Cory Munchbach
Chief Operating Officer, BlueConic

BlueConic is a leading pure-play customer data platform, liberating companies’ first-party data from disparate systems and making it accessible wherever and whenever it is required to transform customer relationships and drive business growth. Over 300 companies worldwide, including publishers such as Hearst Newspapers, use BlueConic to unify data into persistent, individual-profiles, and then activate it across customer touchpoints and systems in support of a wide range of growth-focused initiatives. BlueConic is a global company with offices in the US and Europe.