Advertising Guest Columns
4 mins read

Lessons from lockdown: what key learnings can publishers harness to move forward?

Publishers weren’t the only ones facing paradoxes in 2020; while lockdown sparked record online interaction and the highest content consumption growth since 2014, the pandemic-induced disruption sent shock waves across the industry leaving marketers with limited resources to seize the available opportunities.  

With reduced product demand and tighter advertising budgets media buyers had to reign in marketing efforts leaving publishers with huge volumes of traffic but less scope to harness its revenue-driving power.

Savvy publishers, however, spotted opportunities amid the challenges. They saw the potential to enhance future gains by investing in developing their audience relationship through technology innovation and reassessing monetisation and data strategies.

Whatever shape the mediascape will take in 2021 and beyond, the following lessons and best practices will be vital for publishers to ensure lasting post-pandemic success.

Survival of the fittest

Despite fears of steep and enduring declines, the ad market recovered much faster than expected. In fact, AA WARC’s latest forecasts estimate 15.2% growth in the UK advertising market in 2021, with most media sectors expected to see double-digit growth. Although good news for all media owners, this speedy improvement has proved particularly beneficial for digital publishers able to leverage one of its key drivers: programmatic.

Initially, programmatic was one of the worst hit channels due to brands pausing campaigns. However, with versatility, scale, and data-driven efficiency more important than ever, advertisers have flocked to programmatic shortly after the first wave of the pandemic. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), 70% of advertisers are now allocating over 41% of their display budgets to programmatic, up from 50% in 2019. As a result, publishers with advanced ad tech and data management in place to facilitate automated buys have thrived amid the pandemic.

Thanks to advancements in technology, most modern stacks have the capacity to handle programmatic requirements, however to succeed in a programmatic environment publishers need to increase investments in the right expertise and technology.

Data is key to drive engagement

As well as illustrating the huge demand for digital media, lockdown-driven surges in online engagement highlighted how much a smart data strategy matters for publishers’ performance. Appetite for online content was soaring, but so was competition for user attention. Shrewd media owners recognised that to effectively capture, retain and monetise expanding audiences, they would need to bolster their data strategies.

Prioritizing first-party data collection allowed them to obtain detailed knowledge of user interests, habits and preferences; providing the ideal foundation for delivering resonant and relevant experiences. From a content perspective, this expanded insight enabled deeper media personalisation that kept users on site for longer and strengthened relationships.

When it came to boosting profitability, the capacity to build granular audience profiles created broader possibilities for fueling a number of revenue streams, from helping brands with more accurate targeted advertising to subscriptions and related marketing offerings.

Additionally, it set publishers up to cater for advertisers who were becoming more discerning in their media planning and keen to buy inventory that came complete with refined targeting options.

The fact that 80% of advertisers have cited ‘better use of data’ as the key reason for going programmatic gives a significant indication of which way the winds are blowing. Previously an advantage, advanced data strategy will be a publishing essential from here on.

Maintaining close ties and brand safety

Being in the same boat might not have removed challenges but it has positively affected ties between publishers, advertisers, and agencies; many of which stretch back decades. Grappling with a common problem heightened industry-wide appreciation for the value of collective effort — and the players that embraced the need for collaboration have come out stronger.

From the publisher perspective, this has meant working with buyers to ensure the best outcomes on both sides; such as being flexible about moving campaigns, media allocation and budgets.

It almost goes without saying that the pandemic-driven challenges have reconfirmed the importance of protecting brand reputation, particularly through brand safety criteria that accurately identify risks while allowing for relevant messaging to be placed in appropriate environments, as, in fact, not all pandemic related content has been harmful. Stories of solidarity, fundraising efforts and medical breakthroughs, for example, provided positive contextual association opportunities.

In an ever-changing digital media landscape, brand safety is more than avoiding unsafe ad placements. It’s about building trusted connections with your audience by delivering relevance and positive user experiences. With this in mind, a holistic contextual approach to audience building, based on robust verification processes, opens up the opportunity to run campaigns at scale without compromising brand equity. The gains are mutual; advertisers maintain control over their media buys and reach, while publishers can fully monetise their inventory.

The pandemic has triggered sizable changes in both consumers and advertisers’ requirements and expectations. For publishers to flourish in the new digital media scape it means having to adjust their strategies to reinforce their core business pillars, specifically the relationships with their audience and advertising partners.

This includes having in place a solid data-driven infrastructure, to allow for flexibility in shifting budgets between campaigns and channels; having access to richer first-party data insights to personalize user experience and fuel different revenue streams; and delivering 100% user-centric experiences. Ultimately, publishers exist because their content is worth consuming. Technology is an important component when it comes to catering for the modern user, however a media owner’s first mission is to offer high quality, engaging content. Only when a publisher gets this right, data and technology-driven strategies work and yield excellent results tied to business goals. 

René Plug, Chief Business Development Officer, 1plusX

About: 1plusX, a marketing intelligence platform, enables leading media companies and brand marketers to unlock the full potential of their data. Developed by two ex-Google directors, 1plusX’s technology is powered by state-of-the-art AI algorithms that recognize patterns in user behavior across client data assets. In real-time, those are transformed into predictions and meaningful customer insights. With teams in Switzerland, Germany, Paris and Singapore, 1plusX brings together international experts in product management and engineering.