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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Trust, walled gardens and a shining new opportunity for publishers

September 8, 2021 | By Eddie Lee, Head of Publisher Account Management – Nativo @nativo

The future of digital advertising might just revolve around the matter of trust. But before publishers take on that question, they should consider this one: Why is Big Tech working so hard to build trust in their respective walled gardens? 

Take Amazon (please!). They’re rumored to be creating a universal identifier restricted to their ecosystem. Google’s proposed FLoC targeting, presented as the evolution of 3rd party cookies, might be reimagined before it even launches over privacy concerns. But surely whatever takes its place will only serve to strengthen its monopolistic hold on advertising. Apple is pushing to present their core OS’s as privacy-focused —  all while maintaining their typical “advantageous” relationships with the app developers that build and support large parts of their ecosystem. All are effectively fortifying the garden walls while working to convince the public of their respective trustworthiness. 

This new-found obsession should come as no surprise to publishers: Trust is a key ingredient in the secret sauce of ad revenue growth. 

Anecdotally, we know this to be true, and the numbers don’t lie. Privacy is the #1 driver of influence and engagement on social media platforms. Brands and agencies are cutting advertising budgets due to trust issues: Of those who decreased ad spend on one or more major ad platforms, 35% cited concerns over ethical handling of user data.   

A shining opportunity for publishers 

In a new trust-based world of content and advertising, publishers start with a few crucial advantages. 

First, publishers enjoy implicit goodwill from their audiences, which converts to business. More than two-thirds of consumers are more likely to engage with an ad in the context of a publisher they know and trust. Second, publishers have the advantage of knowing the types of content readers want to engage with. Most notably, publishers own the new “oil” of advertising: 1st party data. 

What is the opportunity for publishers? It’s a chance to differentiate themselves from Big Tech as the embodiment of stewardship with regards to consumer data. In short, publishers must buck the status quo and adopt a strategy where the audience is no longer for sale. Sell the site and sell the content. Maybe even leverage audiences on the backend to improve content experiences or implement new rate types. But no matter what, protect audience’s trust in publishers audiences by implementing a privacy-first approach.

Capitalize with balance and control

Successfully seizing this opportunity will take balance and control

Balance subscription and ad-supported strategy.

A paywall that is too high limits exposure and hamstrings new audience gains. However, too much advertising hurts a brand’s value and, most of all, the audience’s trust (that they won’t be constantly blasted with ads).

Control the quality of the user experience

Ad clutter diminishes trust by reneging on the promise of a good user experience. But control also means an increased cognizance of demand sources. Due to its inherent reliance on 3rd party cookies, programmatic demand should be a last resort. And these demand sources should provide the tools necessary to preserve brand-safe environments.

Trust is the answer (and the question)

How does the industry enable publishers to build and maintain trust? The simplest solution may be to step aside and let publishers create quality content. The role of industry tech platforms, in turn, is to support publishers without adding complexity. All the while, brand safety is table stakes: Any digital distributor should guarantee it (full stop). 

Of course, tech platforms must enable publishers to meet their business objectives. They should support multiple pricing models and offer broad customization options for demand sources. Again, this is because publishers know best in a new world of 1st party data and heightened demand for sophisticated content. (Read: the opposite of standard display).

The guiding principle? Trust. The differentiator from Big Tech? Trust. Our final thought? Trust us on this one.

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