Sam Ngo

Sam Ngo

BlueConic-Wehco

Unified profile capabilities in BlueConic's platform. 

At News & Tech, we like to check in periodically with vendors to talk about the industry.

Recently News & Tech chatted with Sam Ngo, director of product marketing at BlueConic, about the third-party/first-party cookie issue. Here’s a primer on the issue. 

BlueConic, a customer data platform headquartered in Boston and with an office in the Netherlands, “liberates companies’ first-party data from disparate systems and makes it accessible wherever and whenever it is required to transform customer relationships and drive business growth,” says a description on the company’s website. Spring Lake Equity Partners, Sigma Prime Ventures, Converge Venture Partners and Angel Investors are BlueConic investors, says the company. Among its clients are Hearst Newspapers, Wehco (see video), Heineken and T-Mobile. 

Top of mind for many publishers now, says Ngo, are these questions: “If they’re relying on all third-party data for advertising revenue, what does that mean for them when this technology starts to go away? And also how do they continue to recognize these individuals as they come to their sites?”

And “how do we remove the hold that some of these large tech vendors, the Googles, the Apples of the world, have on publishers, and how do they start to establish that first-party relationship, a direct relationship with their customers, whether they’re readers or donors or subscribers or not?”

“Our customers are at the point of just trying to figure out all the different ways that they can use first-party data,” she says. One client recently aimed to start an e-commerce arm and a book club as a way to diversify revenue, she said. The client has its “assets,” its first-party data, already in place, as they've been a BlueConic customer for perhaps two years now, she said. “What they can do is take all the people who signed up for their newsletter and target them with the offer to join their book club based on their interests,” she said.

“I think our medium-sized publishers are almost better equipped in some ways to handle what’s coming,” than some larger operations, Ngo says, as it’s easier for them to move more quickly.

Below are more excerpts from our chat.

News & Tech: Can you give me a brief history of the company?

Ngo: BlueConic has been around since 2010. We are one of the first pure play CDPs (customer data platforms) to come to market and we’ve focused on being able to deliver to our customers the tools and tech necessary to create their first-party data assets.

News & Tech: How do you, working with a client, address the issues around third-party/first-party data?

Ngo: A couple of ways. The first, our new release is the first-party hosting console, which is essentially a mechanism for us to continue to allow our customers to collect data on their sites and truly be recognized as a first-party technology that helps them do that. 

While a lot of advertising technology relies on the cookie, so do a lot of other technologies that publishers use in order to deliver that personalized experience. So if you’re not going to ask someone to log in every time they come, for example, or even going from page to page and being able to recognize that the subscriber has already logged in once, it’s making sure that you’re not using cookies to power that experience.

The second way is around innovation space. A lot of our customers are starting to pivot away from using ad tech as sort of their own means of revenue. And of course this isn’t new, this has been happening over the last couple of years, but I think the next phase is also moving away from subscribers and subscriptions being the only other way to get revenue.

It's about being able to diversify, create new mechanisms of gaining revenue, whether that’s having a digital subscription arm, and then perhaps a few other ways of gaining revenue. We’ve seen our customers, for example, start to do things like audience monetization, being able to package these first-party data audiences that they have ownership over and partner with other advertisers to provide that content and insights into who these people are.

Our customers are gathering data about those people on their sites. It’s their own first-party data. They use BlueConic to help them gain insights into who these people are, meaning maybe specific content that they’re interested in, their interests, where they’re located. And then being able to take that and share that with advertising partners so that they can place specific content on-site for these people who are interested in travel, for instance, or being able to give the advertisers insights into what content they should be developing for their advertisements to place on site to make sure that they’re relevant and creating something that’s valuable to the customer.

Because consent management is part of our platform as well, we can make sure that we’re also only gathering data for those who’ve consented to this. And that’s a big part of, I think, why the browsers are making these changes in the first place, because consumer privacy and consent have become such a big topic, and being able to use consent as one way to create these segments. To be able to look at these insights is really critical for any technology that’s going to help publishers do this in the future. With our Dutch roots especially, this has been an important topic to us, consumer privacy. We were at the forefront when GDPR (the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation) first came out, for instance, and we have a number of multi-brand publishers both in the EU and U.S. who use our unified profiles, meaning where we store data about a specific individual to collect consent there as well. 

News & Tech: Have publishers you deal with and potential clients just started dealing with this or are they halfway down the track?

Ngo: From a prospect perspective, I would say that people are just at the beginning of figuring out what first-party data could mean for them. They’ve used various solutions for subscription models over the past couple of years. They’ve already gone over that hurdle of creating some sort of direct revenue line. But I think that this shift into new ways of using your first-party data, being able to monetize your audience, being able to diversify the way that you gain revenue, that’s all stuff that’s like fairly new and down the line because you need to have a first-party data asset in place first.

So I’d say that publishers are looking ahead to hopefully doing that in the future, but I think as of right now, it’s more maybe some panic about what’s going to happen to their advertising revenue and starting to figure out this that is an opportunity for them to rethink their customer engagement strategies, point blank.

News & Tech: When they work with you, they own that data, right?

Ngo: Yeah. Absolutely.

News & Tech: Where do you see registration walls?

Ngo: I definitely think that being able to personalize subscription paywalls is one of the things that’s going to become table stakes down the line.

If you’re looking at predictive models, for example, is a person potentially going to subscribe or not, can you easily manage showing various price points to different subscribers based on their behaviors or their engagement currently?

A CDP is one of the ways that can help you manage all of that and be sure that you’re showing the right offer to the right person at the right time.

You know, it can’t just be a blanket wall. It has to be thoughtful in terms of putting the customer at the center again, making sure you know who this reader is.

We have a customer, for example, who segments their audiences by donors versus readers versus journalists who write for them, making sure that they get the right experiences. A donor isn’t necessarily going to be asked to subscribe, but they’re going to offer them something a little bit different and ask them if they’d like to donate again this year.