Brands versus publishers: Who’s winning with data?

Analytics

Whether you are a brand or publisher, it’s a tough time to be figuring out how to reach and retain audiences with content. Numerous publishers this year have restructured their business operations as print advertising continues to decline.

Now brands are increasingly getting into storytelling but adapting a publisher mentality and getting comfortable with data has been far from easy, according to Clare Carr, VP of marketing at data analytics company Parse.ly.

“If you look at some of the research done by people who fully focus on content marketing it does seem that analytics has been a big sticking point for brands,” says Carr. “They're not sure how to measure the content. Even though they have the whole picture they have a harder time saying, okay, how does this piece fit into it?”

Carr is referring to Parse.ly’s survey which found that less than half of brands (45%) feel fully up to speed when it comes to understanding data. At first glance this is unsurprising. In an interview with The Drum last year, LinkedIn’s data expert, Jennifer Brett said marketers find it intimidating jumping into data. Part of the problem, says Carr, is that brands are so used to relying on clicks and impressions that looking at more “publishing focused metrics” like engaged time or loyal visitors suddenly has made things more complicated.

She thinks brands have a lot of catching up to do.

“Brands have to be re-educated based on how the market works now versus how the market worked ten years ago,” she explains. “I think I'd point to that as probably being one of the reasons that brands are not a hundred percent behind the analytics because they have to turn the whole cruise ship to get in line with these types of metrics and they're still working on that.”

But publishers are facing their own battles. With print advertising on the decline, publishers are taking drastic steps to revamp their digital strategy to attract readers. The New York Times is focusing on its subscription strategy (it currently has more than 1.5 million paying subscribers). Meanwhile the Financial Times is trying to generate money from readers looking at content on sites it doesn’t own.

A study by publishing solutions provider Ixxus found that publishers are immensely feeling the pressure of digitalisation in terms of revamping their business models and are focusing on targeted content and predictive analytics. But while they struggle to monetize their content, according to Parse.ly’s findings, when it comes to data, 52% of publishers feel more confident using it compared to 45% of brands.

Why is this?

“I think that brands have a lot more metrics to look at and that can get a little confusing,” Carr explains. “Whereas publishers are able to look at different metrics and piece them together because they are all about a piece of content they're creating.”

On the same token, Carr thinks brands are better at using data to look at the “overall picture” while publishers tend to view each piece of content individually from a strategic perspective. But even as brands and publishers attempt to get viewers on their home page, Carr says it’s pointless if there’s no overall strategy behind it.

“It’s great if all you want is traffic but I think that as advertising gets cheaper and cheaper, if you don't have any strategy around what you're going to do with that traffic, why even bother to have a website?” she poses.

Speaking on The Telegraph’s data strategy, Carr says: “The Telegraph does something really interesting. They tag all their premium content so that their editors and reporters can understand how a subscribed audience is reading content versus the non-subscribed audience. Then they can make decisions based off not just what's popular, but what are their most loyal readers doing.”

Going forward, Carr thinks we are going to see similar actions by publishers making more data-driven decisions based on not just what's popular, but what most loyal readers are doing and with different segments of audience.

Does she foresee a time when business teams will use data to influence certain editorial content?

“I don't think anyone is behind that idea. But if they are making the decisions and the editorial team have a completely different set of data, it will be conflicting. It's got to be the same language for everyone but every team making their own decisions,” Carr concludes.