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Advertisers buy audiences, not publications or platforms, and data is the key

Publishers are traditionally used to selling advertisers space in their publications. But that model is working less and less as major advertisers stop buying publications and start buying audiences. And that concept may be more important now, as mobile pricing poses even greater challenges to publishing revenue.

Mobile ad buys, especially, often occur via ad networks and in real time. The advertiser on the other end may not know or care which publisher is serving the ad, they only care whom their ad is reaching. They are looking for people with a certain purchase intent, income segment, location, age or other factors.

The advertiser may not know or care which publisher is serving the ad, they only care whom their ad is reaching.

The only way for publishers to compete effectively in that environment is to possess and exchange that kind of detailed targeting data about their individual audience members, the mobile ad experts at our summit said.

That’s a new challenge, but fortunately mobile technology can help with gathering that kind of individual data.

The phone is intensely personal. It’s not a shared device in the same the same way as TVs or tablets are. This enables individual targeting because you know unique device identification numbers represent unique individuals you can track over time.

But most publishers are underinvested in ad targeting based on data, said Allen Klosowski, mobile vice president for ad network SpotXchange. Tech companies like Facebook and Google are using personal data to target ads better, and the prices show it. Any publisher with no data to target ads against is living at the bottom of the ad pricing food chain.

For standards on how to collect and offer reader targeting data to advertisers, look at Interactive Advertising Bureau guidelines, particularly the real-time bidding standards for programmatic buying.

Publishers can send ad networks real-time data about each pageview, such as the Apple or Android device ID, the user’s location, or other common data that will make inventory more valuable when compared with other publishers.

Targeting ads by using the rich data publishers already know about their subscribers could be highly profitable, however technology decisions must be made at the outset on how to collect the data and make it actionable for advertising on the local and national levels.

Sales staff should span multiple platforms

The audience-first interest of advertisers also means that publishers should tightly integrate mobile ad sales with the organization’s overall sales strategy.

Some organizations have success at building separate mobile sales teams, which works at large scale. But to get started, it helps to bundle mobile buys into every ad deal, which helps get advertisers comfortable with results and sellers able to speak to it.

The ad staff at Vox, for example, tries to sell its whole audience rather than specific platforms, said product manager Chris Haines. Rather than selling “mobile” or “desktop,” the pitch is that Vox reaches a valuable audience in many ways and an advertiser should use all of them.

The Washington Post also has integrated its mobile sales with other digital ad sales staff, said Director of Mobile Julia Beizer. This took a lot of work to unify the ad product lines, but now clients can buy ads across platforms, which has helped grow the business greatly.

As mobile revenue grows, publisher may think about potentially building separate mobile initiatives, profit-and-loss statements, and make sure there is responsibility in the organization to deliver both mobile audience and mobile revenue results.

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