Because this industry desperately needs another acronym to "clarify" the value chain, now we have the DMPs, or data management platforms. This is one case where the category fills a demonstrable need. Publishers have been urged all year to get into the data game. Even if publishers don't necessarily want to sell their audiences to third parties, they should be learning to segment their own users into common taxonomies to learn the art of "selling audiences" in this emerging demand-side marketplace. As we have been writing about in these pages, a number of vendors have emerged to help publisher better protect their data, manage tags, etc. Allied with this effort is a class of vendors calling themselves DMPs and offering publishers better ways of understanding their own audiences and pulling various forms of user data together into more actionable forms.
While some publishers continue to champion the enduring value of branded media "context," the fact of the matter is that marketers are increasing talk about audience. "There are advertisers sending our RFPs and looking for more audience-based targeting and are willing to pay more," says Jim Soss, CEO of DMP provider Red Aril. "Publishers are trying to leverage that first-party data while they protect their data."
Red Aril indexes a publisher's site and maps the content either to the publisher's own taxonomy or to Red Aril's. The company not only collect the first-party data from the site, but can integrate a multi-platform's publisher's offline other profiles. One of its customers is book, magazine, app and Web content publisher Rodale (Men's Health, Prevention, etc.). Rodale has a robust book sales business as well as premium digital product subscribers, magazine subscribers, email distributions, etc. The DMP can help pull those profiles together into a single pool and segment it for targeting. If the publisher wants to append third-party data or extend its advertising into other ad networks, Soss can help the publisher evaluate the sources.
Most publishers in these early stages are just trying to get a handle on their own sites and audiences, however. "Publishers are apprehensive about selling their data," says Soss. "And they are wary of anyone who says, 'Let us put a pixel on your site and build our business off of you.'" The point right now for most publishers is not to bring their own data onto the open market so much as to be better equipped to sell their own audiences to marketers in a world of audience targeting. "You need to be able to compete in the audience-targeting world without having to pimp your own data," he says.
The field is attracting DMPs already, especially services being offered by a publisher's existing ad network, data or ad exchange partners. Soss says that Red Aril is trying to differentiate itself from the crowd in its independence. "We come at it as a pure play," he says. "We focus on the depth of technology and expertise." He argues that technology can make a difference in getting at a publisher's data at a "granular level" to ensure that segments are defined accurately and advertisers are getting more precisely the audiences they were promised. "You want to make sure it performs and that you aren't just claiming to have that audience. It matters how you collect the data and how you do the modeling. It all drives toward higher quality audiences, so that when you qualify someone into a specific segment, it has a higher degree of accuracy. "
While many publishers still think of audience targeting as something applied mainly to remnant inventory, Soss sees publishers increasingly using audience segmentation even on tier-one positions on their sites. He argues that some clients see CPMs climb 30% or higher across the board on inventory that is audience-enabled. Ultimately, he feels, publishers simply will need to speak the language of audience-centric media buying in most conversations.