Survey shares media companies’ thoughts on first-party data model

By Shelley Seale


Austin, Texas, USA


Google might have delayed its plans to phase out third-party cookies in the Chrome browser until next year, but this is no time for news media companies to delay their first-party data strategy.

In fact, Google’s delay presents an opportunity for media organisations to be proactive, rather than reactionary, to the eventual demise of third-party data. It offers them the chance to be very intentional and prepared with their first-party data strategy, according to Viafoura COO Mark Zohar.

Speaking to INMA members at a Webinar, Zohar shared responses from a survey Viafoura conducted earlier in 2021 about the biggest concerns surrounding first-party data:

  • 80% of respondents said the biggest concern was revenue loss from third-party partners as a result of lower ROI from non-personalised ads and moving budgets to different channels.

  • 53% said it was augmentation and segmentation of first-party data.

  • 33% cited increased costs due to adapting new business models.

  • 33% cited negative impacts to the user experience on their Web site.

  • 20% said activation of first-party data (scale, transparency, and/or cost).

  • 20% said it was the shift from DMPs to CDPs.

“This has really created the impetus, and maybe the imperative, for publishers and media companies to really consider, ‘What is my first-party data strategy?’” Zohar said. “What do I have today? How do I get where I need to be at a level of scale that can mitigate some of the revenue loss considerations?”

This can put publishers in the position of opportunity and leverage, rather than fear and concern — in other words, taking control of their own destiny.

Optimising the user journey

Viafoura works closely with its customers to create the optimal user journey for first-party data. They call it an “always on customer acquisition and engagement journey.”

Zohar said that when they ask their customers what their No. 1 priority is for 2021 and 2022, the almost universal response is to turn their unknown audiences into known audiences.

Optimising the user journey creates more engaged readers and leads to subscriptions.
Optimising the user journey creates more engaged readers and leads to subscriptions.

The first step is creating a level of engagement and loyalty that will begin to move the user towards becoming registered and known. Some tools for doing this include newsletters, personalised feeds, live Q&A, comments, and other tools such as topic follows.

Once they become a registered user, they can be turned into a known user by deepening the relationship through personalisation, increased involvement, and understanding behaviour and data insights. This can lead them to becoming a subscriber or paid user.

“This is very different from a transactional, one-off model,” Zohar said. “It’s how we think about the experiences we deliver to our customers and end users to keep them engaged, and move them down this journey and funnel.”

As a user moves through each stage of this journey, their propensity to subscribe increases, as does their lifetime value.

Engagement drives first-party data

When viewed as a funnel, users move down from anonymous to engaged, UGC consumer, registered, and UGC contributor. The further a user moves down the funnel, their pageviews, and time spent on site increase significantly. This adds value to the publisher through both monetisation and user data for marketing and advertising.

Engagement drives first-party data.
Engagement drives first-party data.

This represents a shift to a world where publisher first-party data replaces that of third-party data to a large extent. This is especially true at the premium end of the market, where a media company operates alongside other larger publisher brands.

While the end of third-party cookies might present some pain points in adapting, Zohar said that ultimately, this can completely shift the leverage in publishers’ favour.

“They can deliver that premium audience, a known audience, that marketers can look at and understand that this is a targeted audience that we have insights around. This can really flip the model for publishers if it’s done right.”

This shift also provides another benefit to the user experience, which overall is greatly improved with first-party data.

“There may be some short-term pain, but long-term we really see this as an opportunity to get more leverage for publishers,” he added.

The power of user-generated content

When users consume — and ultimately contribute — user-generated content (UGC), they become some of the most engaged.

“This is one of the most important segments to focus on,” Zohar said. “Not only moving down the funnel to registered and subscribed, but really driving to monetise them in other ways. They’re spending a lot of time. We can see the value of that segment doubles from where the engaged user was.”

He shared a quote from Google: “Marketers that effectively use their first-party data can generate double the incremental revenue from a single ad placement.”

The UGC consumer is spending so much time engaged with content, ad revenue generated from this segment can be much more than double, Zohar said.

Both the retention and lifetime value of registered and UGC users increases to the point where they can be four or more times more likely to become a subscriber compared to an anonymous reader. This also generates highly valuable first-party data.

First-party data examples

Zohar shared with INMA members the different types of data categories, along with some examples of the type of first-party data that can be obtained in each category.

  • Interest data: topics of interest, which editors a user follows, topic preferences by time of day, and comment-type preferences.

  • Behavioural data: personality information, political preference, personal opinions, frequency of site visits, time of visits, and preference to comments.

  • Social data: language, ethnic group, gender, social sharing, and which content or topics they are more likely to share.

  • Declarative data: polls and quizzes, topic follows, UGC, and shares.

  • Inferred data: sentiment, dwell time, and other interests.

  • Enriched data: user profiles, personas, propensity score, and recommendations.

“Declarative data is probably the strongest signal you’re going to get from your audience,” Zohar said. “This is where a user absolutely declares their interest in something.”

Enriched data is where publishers can begin to build detailed user personas, as well as making personalised recommendations, offers, and outreach.

“One of the areas we are starting to see opportunities in this first-party data is, we can create cohorts based on all that information we talked about,” he said. 

Building these for cohort assignment, and ultimately activation, is only possible with first-party data and engaged users. With third-party cookies and programmatic advertising, there hasn’t been enough investment in getting the requisite foundation to enable cohorts. This is changing.

First-party data can allow publishers to build cohorts for personalisation and targeted marketing.
First-party data can allow publishers to build cohorts for personalisation and targeted marketing.

“If publishers can do this well, they will have a very premium audience to deliver to marketers,” Zohar said. “This is going to be a high-impact, highly known, highly segmented audience that can deliver premium value.”

He shared the way Viofoura is thinking about personas:

  • Direct integration with a publisher’s first-party data to create personas.

  • Automated mixing with a third-party database containing more than 400 attributes on over 270 million U.S. consumers (consented data).

  • Machine learning — unsupervised classification algorithms that sort the enhanced data into distinct groups that form the bases of a brand’s personas.

When Viafoura uses several distinct customer personas, it offers key customer insights such as age, gender, household size, marital status, household income, and more.

Building personas with first-party data offers key customer insights.
Building personas with first-party data offers key customer insights.

“We then have more insight into that consumer than we could potentially glean from just first-party data,” Zohar said. “This creates an even further 360-view of customer insights. We’re starting to take this to market and think this could be really effective at getting to that known state, to that premium segment.”

It can also help editorial understand their audiences and create content specifically for them.

About Shelley Seale

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