Anthony Hitchings, Digital Advertising Operations Director at The Financial Times (FT), explains why the demise of third-party cookies is ‘business as normal’ for the publisher.
How does The FT manage audience data?
Our overall vision is to consistently collect high-quality, relevant information, directly from our audience that provides value to both our users and The FT. A central data strategy and governance team controls the strategy and seeks buy-in from departments and teams to utilise data in a way that maximises its value.
The goal is for all group companies to use a common vocabulary of job titles, organisations, seniority, job function and industry.
Does this approach differ across content lines (e.g. FT.com, vs print, vs live events)?
FT.com and live events will be utilising the same technology platform, ensuring the approach is the same.
What impact will the deprecation of third-party cookies have on publishers like The FT?
From an advertising perspective, we welcome the proposed discontinuation of cookies and believe it provides an opportunity for the advertising industry to reset the relationship with audience data. Direct relationships between the publisher and users helps create transparency and trust.
FT discontinued its use of third-party data in 2017 and switched off open-market programmatic in 2018. Our focus on first-party declared data means we are well prepared for third-party cookies going and this is seen very much as business as normal.
There will clearly be a more significant impact on those publishers who have chosen a scale model with monetisation via open market programmatic.
What are the key priorities that guide The FT’s approach to audience data collection and analysis?
First-party data supports our subscription goals, with the potential to increase customer acquisitions whilst improving retention. It is vital for effective personalisation with experiments indicating that personalisation leads to an uplift in trialist conversion rates.
Key priorities are to ensure the data collected is beneficial to users, with only strategically important data collected in a consistent way. Collecting a company name, for example, allows for an understanding of the user's industry which might help to present relevant content or events to users. It also helps us to inform users, whose company has purchased an enterprise level subscription, that the content is available for them to use and benefit from.
It goes without saying that privacy and the correct use of data is a priority. The FT has a reader charter setting out our commitments in the areas of trust, privacy and user experience across desktop and mobile.
On the analysis front, first-party data is a critical input in our lifetime value models. First-party data underpins our digital advertising offering. It ensures relevancy of the advertising message whilst providing a proof point to advertisers with regard to the quality and seniority of the audience.
Does The FT use audience ID data for internal purposes (e.g. in product/content tests)?
There are significant benefits as a subscription website and our use of data to improve the user experience is relatively sophisticated. User engagement and lifetime value are two key drivers for The FT. When developing new products and page layouts, the impact on user consumption and their engagement is measured with A/B tests running to understand the impact on key metrics. This is measured and reported in aggregate.
Using audience data, we are able to provide links between our product set that would not otherwise be possible – for example inviting subscribers to relevant events. There are also customer service benefits to holding subscription data. User data is stored in a CRM system, helping our customer support team respond to any requests that are raised by customers.
Does The FT share audience data with advertisers, either directly or via data ‘clean rooms’?
The technology behind data clean rooms is something that will be reviewed. With any new technologies such as this, the approach is a deep-dive with compliance and technology teams, which is reviewed by the data governance council. Having consent, where appropriate, will definitely be the path forward.
What kinds of audiences can advertisers buy on The FT?
At The FT, our advertising model takes a privacy-led approach. Privacy is paramount, and we have very little third-party tracking or tagging on our website. There is a strict focus on quality, with a goal to drive digital growth via a better user experience. We always prioritise our reader's experience and use the data we collect to first and foremost improve their experience online. With reader consent, we are able to use data to provide targeting for advertisers’ campaigns.
What ad targeting capabilities does The FT offer to advertisers?
When a user registers with The FT we collect demographic data including industry, job title and job position, which ensures we are not guessing or relying on third-party data for our targeting.
Behavioural targeting allows us to deliver a more personalised and targeted advertising campaign to an audience. At The FT, our behavioural targeting does not include any third-party data and would allow advertisers to target, for example, avid readers of energy content on FT.com.
When a page is published it is categorised using our contextual segments. Contextual targeting allows an advertiser to display adverts alongside content that is most relevant to a campaign. This can be particularly valuable for brands who are conscious about the environment their adverts appear within.
The WARC Guide to the Future of Identity will be published later this month.