Simply put, direct-to-publisher deals are what will save the open web. Google owns the rest. Direct deals enable marketers to leverage data across multiple touch points and provide flexibility for them to find different ways to get their message across to an audience.
The use of third-party data enabled true audience-based targeting, and Google will still have a solution for that kind of targeting at scale, but direct publisher deals can be useful once you default back to the idea that context helps define audience.
Contextual targeting is how the online ad business began. Media planners identified publications with a high composition of an audience and/or high coverage. That meant low waste and/or high reach.
In those early days, the phrase “content is king” referred to the contextual nature of the content and its ability to prequalify the audience. Over time the phrase came to symbolize that content itself, distributed in a targeted fashion, was king As some of the ability to target at scale shifts backward, more traditional methods of reaching an audience will resurface. In this case, contextual targeting by the nature of content offered by a publisher makes sense.
No contextual targeting works 100%, because you are not selecting the user, you are selecting the location. What contextual targeting does offer is flexibility, and that flexibility is more pervasive in this late stage of digital publishing.
Direct publisher deals in 2001 were comprised of different display sizes, search and email offerings. These days, the publishers are more diverse. You can do a direct deal with a digital-first publisher and they will have a far more robust offering to work with. Today’s publishers include the basics (like different display sizes) but they have mobile, events, video, social media, and stunt-PR offerings they can usually offer you. They also have robust first-party data they can merge with your data to create a more holistic view of the audience you are trying to engage, leveraging your insights into customers, customer size and more.
Working directly with a publisher also enables you to map out the customer journey across their touchpoints and try to build successive messaging stories that leverage the relationship and push those customers toward engagement with you and your sales team.
The most important benefit of working with a publisher directly, beyond flexibility, is the associative value for your brand. Much of digital marketing these days is about building awareness and preference. Digital can be used very effectively to introduce an idea, but one of its strongest benefits is frequency and delivering a message multiple times to create familiarity. When you build that familiarity in association with a specific partner, some of the trust that their users have in that brand can rub off on yours. This is valuable if you are trying to build or rebuild your brand.
Publishers are always looking for a strong Fortune 500 brand to spend money on their platform because they perceive these brands to have deep pockets, but the relationship is mutually beneficial when you factor in that they have a loyal audience who routinely engages with them daily or weekly. That returning, loyal audience becomes familiar with your message and if it resonates, it can work its way into their conversations, etc.
This is especially true when you develop co-marketed content efforts that go much deeper than just advertising. Getting deeper into content that provides value to your audience can have a strong impact on your ability to build your brand.
Google may have a stranglehold on the industry, but it can’t stop creativity. The web is comprised of millions of pages of quality content (and millions of pages of junk, but that is a story for a different day). Direct publisher deals may be a valuable tool in your toolbox for moving forward, so don’t overlook those relationships.