Publishers have a data problem. While big sites are sitting on troves of information about the habits of their readers, most are still figuring out how to convert that data into insights for advertisers. The market for third-party data, meanwhile, is thriving despite being seen as less accurate and less valuable.

That’s slowly starting to change. Publishers are waking up to the fact that, in today’s climate of sinking CPMs, taking the data offensive means figuring out how to turn all of that reader information they’ve gathered into dollars.

And the publishers who have kicked those efforts into high gear have been in the auto segment, where publishers like Motor Trend and Hearst’s Jumpstart Automotive Group are using their reader data to offer up valuable insights to their ad partners.

The pitch is straightforward: By using their first-party data in direct ad campaigns, publishers can offer auto advertisers more efficient, effective buys. This becomes a valuable competitive advantage, earning these publishers bigger ad dollars and increasing the chance that advertisers will return for future campaigns.

“Our audience and our content are our unique selling proposition,” said Eric Schwab, evp of sales and group publisher at Motor Trend. “Data is huge for us.”

Cars, of course, are a unique vertical, and car shoppers are a unique audience. When readers visit a car-comparison site like Motor Trend, they have already given the site and its advertisers a clear signal that they intend to buy a car in the near future. This puts car-comparison sites in the highest echelons of premium publishers and lets them net CPMs as high as $100, four times the price of video.

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Auto publishers are operating in a highly competitive environment. Data resellers like BlueKai and eXelate offer auto-intender segments for marketers. The trick for sites like Motor Trend is to lean on the presumed higher efficacy of first-party data.

Motor Trend, which reaches 44 million unique visitors a month across its 101 properties, has seen this efficiency of first-party data firsthand. In a recent partnership with a big-name car manufacturer that Motor Trend declined to name, the site was able to use data-management platform Krux to create audience segments around readers it thought would be most interested in trucks and sedans. It then served these segments specific messages meant to push them closer to the manufacturer’s brands.

“Data [is] the holy grail for us,” said Nick Matarazzo, CEO of Jumpstart Automotive Group, which has taken a similar approach to first-party data. “My goal is the same as Ford’s. Ford has a message to consumers, and I have to deliver it.”

Jumpstart Automotive, which represents sites like Car and Driver and US News Automotive, reaches 12.4 million viewers a month, according to comScore, giving it a lot of insight into what readers are searching for when they visit.

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Data of that magnitude may raise privacy concerns with some consumers, though. Jason Kint, CEO of the Online Publishers Association, said that first-party data is about trust, both for advertisers and users, who already have direct relationships with publishers. “By definition, the closer the data is to first-party, the more accurate its is going to be.”

That, in the end, is exactly why buyers find first-party data so appealing, especially at a time when readers are jumping between devices. First-party data like email addresses and cross-platform browsing activity are becoming are some of publishers’ most precious assets, said Barry Lowenthal, president of the Media Kitchen

“Publishers know their audience best and understand how users navigate their site so that information is extremely valuable,” he said.

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