Why is managing and monetizing audience data so hard?
Two new studies shine a light on how well - or how poorly, depending on your perspective - publishers' are managing and monetizing their audience data.
A study released Wednesday by the Council for Research Excellence found that relatively few digital publishers have developed techniques for using data for audience measurement, advertising targeting, content refinement or "other meaningful purposes."
Part of the problem: The lack of a "data owner" - a single department, individual or function charged with overseeing audience data. In some cases, the report notes, these functions are dispersed among different departments, individuals and/or data components.
The study, "Can Publisher Data Play a Role in the Digital Advertising Ecosystem," (pdf) was designed to examine how various digital publishers capture and maintain user data. It was conducted by Ernst & Young LLP for the Council for Research Excellence (CRE) and included interviews with 20 major media sites.
Other key findings from the study:
- Data capture is uneven. The amount and type of data publishers request from users vary greatly, with few universal data elements; email address and ZIP code are most commonly used. Very few participants require users to register and provide declared data - though nearly all employ optional user registration.
- Data quality is a challenge. The majority of publishers have minimal or no formal quality and validation practices for handling user data. In many cases certain user data was collected in multiple ways, resulting in different values for the same data element. "Geography," for example, can be defined as a coffee shop from where a user is posting to Facebook via a mobile device, or an IP address associated with a user's desktop device. Few publishers have policies for resolving data conflicts.
- Few digital publishers appear to provide user information externally, and few provide first-party data to third parties. A number of participants said they have concerns with the quality and accuracy of user profile data acquired from third-party data sources.
- Some publishers see the potential of data for geo-targeting or behavioral targeting - but the study found "no common expectation" on how they can better utilize user data in the near term.
- Publishers are reluctant to invest in sophisticated user data systems until they have a better sense of what advertisers and agencies want from the buy side.
A separate study, from customer loyalty consultancy Brand Keys, examined which digital channels deliver the best return on investment (ROI) to advertisers.
Brand Keys examined 83 product and service categories for their ROI contribution of 14 different digital channels to brand and advertising engagement, sales and loyalty. Search was the leading contributor, on average, with an 18% share, followed by a brand's own website (16%). Digital magazine and digital newspaper sites each accounted for just 2% of the ROI contribution across all categories - trailing such categories as mobile apps (5%) and even blogs (3%) and ahead of only classifieds, music and gaming channels.
Amy Shea, Brand Keys' EVP for global brand development, noted that while magazines and newspaper sites scored poorly on average across all categories, they performed well in certain categories that were more relevant to their specific audiences. There's an opportunity there, she noted in an email, for publishers to help advertisers target the precise message for their brand in a particular category.
That opportunity will require better data practices. The CRE study offered several "potential leading practices" for publishers to address the data challenges they face. These practices include validating data at the time of collection; reviewing data for illogical or suspect responses (e.g., telephone numbers such as "867-5309"); and centralizing oversight of data collection, quality and use to serve multiple disciplines such as research and CRM.