In the “Matrix,” Neo is offered a red pill or a blue pill by rebel leader Morpheus. The red pill frees him from enslavement of the machine-generated dream world. Living the "truth of reality" would be challenging, but ultimately more rewarding. Conversely, the blue pill would keep him in a comfortable yet unsatisfying simulated reality of the matrix.
In 2018, digital publishers are facing blue pill/red pill choices of their own. The red pill would allow publishers brave control through liberation from the yoke of the Facebook/Google duopoly. With the blue pill, publishers remain in their comfortable but vulnerably lopsided relationships with the walled gardens.
Take option 1.
The red pill may taste harsh, but it will reconfigure a publisher’s go-to-market strategy, creating a more robust and sustainable monetization, with greater long-term brand equity and stability.
Finally, with the emergence of credible, open and data-protective tech platforms in 2018, publishers can now wean themselves off their disproportionate reliances on walled gardens and, in effect, nurture their own private gardens.
Within a private garden, publishers would be self-sufficient in nurturing audience life cycles and delivering greater ad experiences through activating their rich first-party audience data without leakage. They would better optimize their yields and partnerships with demand platforms, data providers and alliances.
The result would be greater user lifetime revenue and audience loyalty within a safe, premium content ecosystem, often missing in the typical programmatic setting.
Certainly, the scale of walled gardens is not to be dismissed, but the entire ecosystem is better served if publishers steer their advertiser clients with greater conviction toward committing greater budgets to the private gardens, creating a more balanced and transparent marketplace.
This will generate stronger relationships between publishers and buyers, due to a focus shift from inventory quantity to quality. An emphasis on context, meaning fewer ads and improved viewability, results in better user experiences. This also creates a healthy scarcity that drives higher CPMs.
In fully leveraging first-party data, publishers take the next thoughtful step in their gradual move towards reinvention. In recent years, publishers have leveraged CRM data and built alliances (e.g. Skyline) to compete with the walled gardens.
To truly remain formidable in this David vs. Goliath scenario, publishers must make end users the priority. Or run the real risk of becoming marginalized.
This may sound alarmist, but it’s not. Fraud and other quality challenges have hammered advertiser trust and loyalty. The industry tide has turned towards creating greater user experience—think the emergence of Google’s Chrome Filter—and privacy protection with the imminent implementation of Europe’s GDPR.
Buyers are now looking to purchase more efficiently at scale, in a guaranteed, premium context, dovetailing with publishers’ desires to extract greater inventory value from programmatic monetization. The shift from open exchanges to direct models (PMP, direct deals) is growing in prominence.
In fact, eMarketer says these deals are expected to represent 79.6% of total programmatic spend by 2019.
The forces are lining up for publishers to harness their own data assets to monetize and set a course for long-term stability and growth. Publishers have recognized the value of their raw assets for a long time, but have been stymied by industry indecision. Publishers have tools to go beyond the limitations of traditional data management platforms and cookie synchronization.
They can now truly deliver quality audiences to marketers and quality experiences to consumers, while fully optimizing the value of their data in terms of insights and inventory.
Leveraging massive troves of first-party data will require courage, but woke publishers can no longer afford to sit on this missed opportunity. It’s time to roll up the sleeves and till the private garden, a garden full of assets that are ripe and protected.