How Publishers Develop and Monetize Audiences with Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing


“Content is King.”

When Bill Gates made this proclamation back in 1996, the world wide web we know was in its infancy. Gates’s essay was filled with bold predictions, but one thing was already clear–the internet was ushering in a new era of content creation. “Anyone with a PC and a modem,” he wrote, “can publish whatever content they can create.”

The deluge of content that followed has brought upheaval to the media industry. Two decades in, the sheer volume of content has arguably put the spotlight back on high-quality, original content–the kind of content that comes from newspapers, magazines, and many digital publications. But in spite of that, monetizing quality content has never been more challenging. If paid audiences are only shrinking, can Gate’s very first prediction that the “real money on the internet” would be in content hold true?

The short answer is yes. And while there’s no silver bullet for building more monetizable audiences, the long answer starts with a combination of enhancing audience data and taking actions on that data to improve targeting and lift engagement.

Here are three steps I’ve seen publishers taking to develop and monetize their audiences:

1. Understand Audience Interests and Behaviors

Advertisers typically target on demographic or firmographic information, so those slices might always be the primary factor in a publisher’s segmentation and targeting. But, there’s so much more that can be gleaned in a world of digital content consumption. When content is your product, you’re sitting on a mountain of behavioral data–the holy grail for audience engagement–whether you’re looking to lift content consumption or target offers.

For example, you may know that a reader is a part of a cohort that is female, between 18-35 years old, with a household income between $64-96K. Based on that knowledge, you can make some guesses about what might resonate with her. But what could you do–in terms of engagement–if you learn through her content consumption patterns that she’s interested in football, responds to sponsored content from travel brands, and mostly responds to content that’s shared on Facebook? How would that change the subsequent content, offers, and channels you target her with? The possibilities are endless, as behavioral data opens a path to reaching audiences with a message that’s much more likely to be on point.

2. Obtain a Single View

I’m far from the first to suggest that behavioral and interest data is a critical addition to demographic detail. A recent Folio survey found that 71% of leaders in the publishing industry believe data management is key to creating and monetizing media products. The challenge is that audience data comes from a variety of places: the web, email, social media, and even print circulation, and that data usually lives in many places.

Accordingly, you have to have a clear picture of an individual to take meaningful action. For thousands or millions of audience members, that level of detail is unattainable unless you have a single hub for all your audience data that automates a cross-channel listening process in real-time and can incorporate other data sources to build a rich, complete profile for individuals within your audience.

3. Trigger the Right Response

Once the picture of each member of your audience starts coming into focus, there is plenty to go on to lift engagement rates. But you have to be able to respond to these audience behaviors with the right message in the right place at the right moment. Gartner says that digital marketers who master the art of triggers see their “messages receive, at minimum, five times the response rate of non-targeted messages.” Dialogs, after all, happen in real-time and in context. With sometimes millions of audience members, publishers are turning to marketing automation to run them at scale.

So if content is your product, you know it’s still the reigning king. As the dust settles after two decades of radical media industry change, it’s time to turn to better digital marketing to build an engaged, monetizable kingdom.

Are you marketing in the media industry? I’d love to hear about your own observations below.