This needs to change.

Audience data is the key to helping publishers compete with the Facebook and Google duopoly for ad dollars, while fending off upstarts. Publishers are being pinched, and they must optimize every opportunity to grow their business. Data is one area where publishers can take advantage and reap real benefits. But how?

While everyone talks about data’s ability to enable greater content personalization and recommendations, these are table stakes for any successful publisher. What about more creative ways for publishers to make data actionable?

Here are three use cases they should consider.

1. Targeted audience segments – a big opportunity

A key step for publishers is to build “off-the-shelf” audience segments that can be sold directly to advertisers. For example, consider the case of a golf club manufacturer. Rather than just selling this advertiser placement on the sports section of their site, the publisher can leverage end-user data to build an audience of people interested in golf, and integrate it on any section. The golf club advertiser is now able to enjoy the benefits of receiving, not just sports-engaged audience traffic, but a more strategically targeted set of consumers who are more likely to convert.

By creating these off-the-shelf audiences, they’re ready to be added into any campaign and mean more options for ad clients, plus more targeted impressions from high-value consumers. The audience segments also offer valuable insights about interests and behaviors of the users. For example, insights could show that users in the golf audience are 4x more likely to share content online. That makes them online influencers, and influencers are extremely valuable. So, this audience just yielded a higher CPM for the publisher.

Additionally, these audience segments can open the door to non-endemic advertising, with publishers able to sell off-the-shelf audiences across their inventory to new types of buyers and marketers. Consider a news publisher. The news publisher can now win clients looking to target “moms with babies” because a mom visited a mom blog prior to visiting the news section of their site.

2. Elevate new biz: Include data in RFPs

Another way publishers can take advantage of data is in the RFP process. The RFP process has historically been onerous and frustrating for publishers. In fact, the average publisher spends up to 1,600 hours per month, or 18% of their revenue, responding to RFPs. However, data can support a better, smarter way forward. Publishers can build a customized response to advertiser RFPs with audience data.

Here’s what that might look like:

  1. Build audience via first-party data. First, the publisher would build the requested audience outlined in the RFP using declared first-party data.
  2. Third-party data for scale. Next, the publisher can enrich the potential scale of a campaign by including third-party data. Depending on the data source (and its quality, mostly), this could be as valuable as the original audience.
  3. Go beyond and add lookalikes. Many publishers try to win a big ad campaign but don’t have enough data to show yet in their RFP. Depending upon the scale required, targeting can be broadened with the use of inferred audiences or lookalikes.
  4. Discovery and reach. Publishers should allow for a portion of the campaign to run without audience or contextual targeting. This is used as an audience discovery tool to identify additional audiences, interests, actions, and behaviors of those who respond well to the campaign but were not included in the initial target.

Incorporating data into the RFP process can deliver a lot of value. Unfortunately, publishers haven’t done enough here. That can change with greater education.

3. Never leave out second-party data

Another option for publishers with high-quality audience data is to sell this data to open up a new revenue stream. Second-party data is collected by the data owner and sold directly to the buyer. And it is of high quality. The benefits of second-party data include the trust and transparency that come with that quality. Among marketers, trust and transparency have quickly become cornerstones of every decision. As a result, buyer demand for second-party data has exploded, creating an opportunity for publishers.

But how can data be sold? Publishers are still learning here. There are multiple ways data can be sold, either directly to another company through a second-party data exchange, or through a programmatic data exchange. Second-party exchanges are particularly popular because they’re private marketplaces to buy or sell data one-to-one to another company, versus an open environment.

Ultimately, for publishers to compete in a crowded market, they can’t leave any stone unturned. Data is a valuable tool, unlocking new revenue streams in a number of areas. From building off-the-shelf audiences to responding to RFPs to selling it, more publishers need to leverage data to drive value for their business. The savviest are already doing so, but there’s a clear adoption and implementation gap in the industry, and closing it can only benefit publishers.