Reducing cookie reliance, The Telegraph rolls out ways to share data directly with advertisers

In an effort to find secure ways to target audiences so that campaigns still deliver on goals while driving more publisher revenue, The Telegraph has started to showcase ways for advertisers to target audiences across the publisher’s own properties without using third-party cookies—which have a dwindling lifespan.

The effort, called Telegraph Unity, has the publisher and advertiser separately uploading their first-party data to what tech provider Infosum calls a ‘bunker’ so no other party can access it. Infosum’s tech then adds a tiny statistical error to the anonymized data sets, making it impossible to reverse engineer back to the originals. It then overlays a statistical model to find matches.

That segment can be targeted on the publisher’s site to show offers or different creative to Telegraph readers who are already customers of the brand. Or to suppress a certain group so the brand can target lapsed or unknown customers. Over the last few weeks, The Telegraph has had dozens of conversations with brands, although it was too soon for them to name them, about running these types of campaigns.

“[This is] changing the conversation, now it’s about deeper, richer partnerships with advertisers and how we can work together to support the power of their audience,” said Karen Eccles, senior director, commercial innovation at The Telegraph. “It’s about moving from third-party to first-party and from anonymous to known audiences. It’s an opportunity that sits squarely under our reader-first, subscriber-first strategy.”

The Telegraph has been moving towards subscriptions-first over the last two years. In May, it had nearly 500,000 subscriptions across print and digital, with an average revenue per subscription of £198.63 ($248.75). It also has 6.6 million registered users who have entered details like name and email address. Now, subscriptions are the company’s dominant revenue stream, overtaking advertising. Last week, the publisher cut its branded content team, Spark, in order to focus on bigger ticket ad partnerships that dovetail with its subscription strategy. 

There’s a wealth of data showing that targeted ads are more effective than non-targeted. In tests from October 2019 to March 2020, before coronavirus, The Telegraph used its own first-party data segments to target audiences on its site. Targeted versus non-targeted ads led to an increase of 43% on average in engagement rate, measured by time in view and time spent.  

Previously, publishers and brands have been rightly nervous about sharing their unique selling point — their first-party data. The Telegraph tested the match rate of two of its own data sets — one set from a recently-hosted Telegraph event, the other was a defined subscriber group. The publisher knew the exact number of event attendees who existed in the subscriber audience. The output, run through Infosum, was accurate to 99.9% of the actual number. The 0.01% arose from the tech provider’s added statistical error.   

Generating the most interest form ad buyer in the last three weeks are insights of existing advertiser customers generated from editorial analytics, its data management platform and its Metrics that Matter initiative. For a finance brand that has a deep understanding of its customers’ financial profile, The Telegraph shares consumption habits and keyword and tonal analysis. Since coronavirus upended consumer behavior — people’s life, hobbies, what they care about, who they are with, is all in flux — advertisers are groping for information on new and existing audiences. 

“More questions, more richness and more definition of who the customer is we’re going after allows us to get closer to an efficient way of spending and investing the funds,” said Isabelle Baas, managing partner, digital, data and technology, Starcom Publicis, which completed its acquisition of Epsilon last July indicating its first-party data ambitions.

Aside from the pending cookie collapse, mingling data sets has not gained pace because many advertisers don’t have large enough first-party data pools, especially post-GDPR, which has put a crimp on information collection. The Telegraph is taking each campaign on a case-by-case basis in terms of data-set size: Some segments need to be broad to be effective. Others, like targeting only CEOs, are smaller and richer. For scale reasons, it’s offering Unity only to campaigns costing more than  £15,000, ($18,788).

“I’d be lying if I said every single client had well-structured databases,” said Baas. Indeed, brands that are not direct-to-consumer have a long road ahead of them to build up data point reserves across all channels, like connected TV.

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Moreover, agencies are keen for an alternative solution to spending in the walled gardens of Google, Facebook and Amazon, where one-to-one audience matching at scale has always been available. Another benefit is Infosum’s tech lets agencies carry out custom audience planning, compared to working with managed services, which limit buyers by defining audiences by taxonomy.

“This will make audience planning grow up,” said  Daniel Chapman, managing director, products and solutions at Havas Media Group. “Agencies have to bring in good strategy and hypotheses that you can test, that’s the essence of what we used to do. If it’s just the programmatic team doing this, you won’t get to the point you should, it needs to involve the strategy and planning community.”

Like all publisher-specific tools or partnerships, it will live or die by its scale with publisher and advertiser partners. The sell-side has been quicker to adopt alternatives to third-party cookies: Channel 4 and Immediate Media are also working with Infosum and agency Infectious Media and live campaigns are imminent. There’s an opening for agencies to show their worth and collate other data sets, said Chapman. Otherwise, and as The Telegraph found, brands can easily, and are willing, to work with the publisher directly. 

Whether IDs will connect across properties and within walled gardens in a compliant way is the next hurdle in trying to re-architect a digital ecosystem without third-party cookies.

“I’m hoping there won’t be any scale issues, but that depends on how each publisher ultimately monetizes its audience and is happy to share information that is associated with that ID,” said Baas. “That allows a new stream of revenue coming into publishers’ business and gives power back to those players in the market.”

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