LiveIntent President: Local Publishers Need to Leverage ‘Gold Mine’ of Email Newsletters

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More and more community news publishers are using email newsletters to build closer relationships with their audiences and develop a new source of ad revenue. To help publishers maximize benefits from newsletters that go to subscribing users, a number of companies have sprouted up in the digital landscape. In effect, they put newsletters on steroids.

One is seven-year-old, New York-based LiveIntent, whose 1,300 publisher clients include Hearst, New York Times, Washington Post and ESPN. Through these relationships, LiveIntent can target 130 million unique visitors.

In the following Q & A, the company’s president Jason Kelly, who joined the firm in January from Millennial Media (where he was president before it was acquired by Aol), details how, among other things, LiveIntent can help publishers compete with Facebook and other social-media platforms for ad revenue.

Why is a user’s email address the most important piece of data he/she can provide?
Email is the rare medium that works across all devices. We check our email on our phone in the mornings. We check that same email on our tablets while we drive to work (well, hopefully not.) We check email on our desktops at work. It provides a silver bullet to a cross-device conundrum that is plaguing publishers large and small. Our data shows that over 60% of emails sent by publishers are opened on mobile devices, and it’s only going up.

The email address is data that is tied to a real person, not a “cookie.” That real person is what brands want to reach, not a device. The email address has evolved to become the linchpin of what brands now pine for: people-based marketing. Brands want to be able to reach consumers irrespective of device. The publisher newsletter, previously an afterthought in that equation, now shines as a beacon of media that is opt-in, requested content and delivered to a known person.

The email address is how we identify ourselves across the web. We use our email address to sign up for the newsletter from local publishers. We use it to sign up for iTunes, Facebook, Spotify, hell, it’s even the sign-in for the email killer Slack! The email address, in other words, is now our passport to nearly every web experience.

The power of the email address represents a very real opportunity for publishers to capitalize on an opportunity that eludes other online properties of theirs: When they can capture an email address, they have found a dedicated subscriber. That data lets your publication be supported by advertising that is seen by a real person, is 10x more effective, and is natively cross-channel and cross-device. Capitalizing on a logged-in audience acts as a bulwark for an industry increasingly under attack from ad-blocking adoption and rampant bot traffic.

Why is email “more important than ever” as a revenue generator?
Publishers are actually sitting on a gold mine, but more often than not they underestimate the true power of email. What advertisers crave in this era of ad-blocking, bot infestation and imprecise targeting is a way to reach real people, unobstructed, where they are paying attention in a channel that offers measurement and attribution. Publishers have that in spades via their email newsletters. The email newsletters are requested content that are delivered to the right person at the right time. And, what platforms like LiveIntent provide to the publisher is transformational: The publisher’s email newsletter becomes another place for a brand’s message to be seen, all without the brand having to send another email.

It’s a tough time for publishers. Over the years, they’ve been sold a lot of technology that’s Byzantine, difficult to use and not delivering revenue. The email newsletter, almost a quaint throwback at this point, has reemerged as a source of significant revenue because it lies at the center of the renewed discussion of online identity. And no one has better access to the heart of online identity than the publishers who have invested in their email newsletters.

You say you deliver “the right ad to the right person.” How do you make that happen?
Our platform is as simple as a publisher dropping tags into their email newsletter, allowing for ads to be served on open, not send. The ad that gets served is smarter: The ad that is served on open is determined by a number of factors which include geolocation, gender, device, historical data, data we pull from third party partners (Nielsen, Webbula, Netwise, V12 and LLC), and, of course, from anonymized first-party data provided by publishers and brands.

By leveraging all these data points, we’re able to deliver a targeted message to a known person that is set up for a publisher to succeed. By delivering a smarter way to market and advertise in email, the publisher creates a revenue stream to a known person where the reader is present and paying attention.

You say your “Live Tag” tool — which helps publishers and advertisers sell and buy ads in email — is “40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.” Please document that claim.
This isn’t just chest thumping, it’s data from the consultants at McKinsey, who have stated that the email channel is a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media — nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined. Simultaneously, according to a study from Marketing Sherpa, across almost every demographic surveyed, email was the preferred way to communicate with companies. Social is great and has an important place in how we communicate, but people don’t want to hear from brands on social, in messaging or via text.

What’s important about your “Predict” tool?
Predict allows us to do an autopsy on a campaign before it even begins. We identify and rank the variables in isolation (advertiser, ad-slot historical data, gender, browser, etc.) and quickly determine the likely performance of a particular ad creative.

What does Predict mean for publishers? It means that the ad we serve in the publisher newsletter will be the optimal ad. The ad our platform chooses brings the publisher the most revenue via decisioning built on the intelligence gained on the billions of emails and auctions seen previously. It’s a true auction, without using anything like “header bidding” and “waterfalls,” so that we can optimize publisher yield. With Predict, publishers always get the highest bid: The best ad wins!

You say you’re committed to being “responsible and secure” for the 130 million addresses you have through your publisher relationships. How do you ensure being responsible and secure?
The LiveIntent platform, through emails sent by 1,300 publisher clients, reaches 130 million+ unique people with unique email addresses every month. To ensure privacy for our publishers and their subscribers, we never actually touch any Personally Identifiable Information (PII/CRM data). Instead, any email passed by our clients to the LiveIntent platform is converted to a hash (a secure 32-character code unique to each email address that can be matched but not reversed so they are completely private and anonymous). This allows advertisers to target their own customers in emails sent from publishers in a totally privacy-safe way. It supports features that brands are looking for, including frequency control and suppression lists. But most importantly, it protects email addresses.

With your resources, including those 130 million email addresses, what’s the next best thing you’re planning to offer publishers?
LiveIntent acquired a company in January of this year that is helping make the ads served in emails sent by our publishers even more profitable for them. LiveIntent will be able to map intent to email opens. So, essentially, instead of a publisher serving an ad for a hotel room in an email newsletter you read because you also are on the mailing list for a large hotel chain, you receive an ad for a hotel room in London. Why? Because you’ve expressed intent in visiting London through other web traffic (maybe you stopped by the Tate’s site, maybe you tried to make dinner reservations in Shoreditch).

This is another reinforcement of the idea of the email address sitting at the center of identity in the modern era. As marketers struggle for a stable ID to solve the cross-device challenge, publishers sit in the catbird’s seat, poised to capitalize on the email data they’ve so studiously grown over the years.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.