Axel Springer’s head of data innovation on FB Instant Articles, ad-blocking and more

Here, ahead of her presentation at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in March, Axel Springer’s head of data innovation, Dr. Jana Moser, talks about how programmatic buying has driven data collection and tells Ashley Norris why data processing around micropayments is going to take centre stage in the future. 

How long has data been a priority for Axel Springer, and what was the catalyst that brought latest developments about?

In our efforts to become the leading digital publisher, we have been focusing on the potential of data for our businesses. Successful global companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, know how to work with data and especially how to utilise and analyse it to provide convenient and popular services to their customers. We too have recognised the importance of data as the element that helps combine different services in our very diverse online world. For our group, data is the glue that connects our journalistic content, marketing and classifieds portfolios, and helps us to leverage the potential of our ecosystem.

Describe the process of how you use data in a commercial way? Is it all about real time personalisation and targeting capabilities?

The most obvious use case for data is targeted advertisements. It seems to be the low hanging fruit. Although real-time advertising has become a rather common marketing product, programmatic is still quite a new phenomenon in for example the German market. We have also observed that our readers/viewers tend to use personalised services more and prefer being treated as individuals. Consequently, real-time personalisation of services, based on data to provide better content or classified ads, is crucial to strengthening conversion rates, reach and clicks. And in Germany there’s another very important requirement that defines our business cases as well: data protection. By complying with data protection legislation we believe that we can find an appropriate balance between the interests of consumers and publishers.

Have you been experimenting with different titles first? Or are your data policies company wide?

We are examining various use cases throughout the entire group. We understand the importance of innovating and adapting services on a daily basis. Every company in our group knows how to do this, but also knows how to utilise data to optimise their services. And from a group perspective, we support them with experts, tools and a group strategy to drive innovation, using data.

What are you doing differently in data harvesting to other major publishers?

Many publishers work with data. What makes our approach different is our portfolio of content, marketing and classified business models. We are able to combine services in an interesting and user-centric way. On the other hand, we are rather decentralised and run our data project bottom-up. Although we have a central data innovation project team, we work closely with the portfolio companies and their experts, to leverage our group potential and achieve common goals.  Additionally, we respect the need of our customers for data protection and set it as a high priority. That’s why we take a privacy-by-default and design approach in our data innovation project.

Will you share your innovation with other publishers?

We speak with various companies exchanging thoughts and experiences. But to find quick wins and show data-driven success, our focus is principally on our German group. Nevertheless, we are evaluating the potential of partnerships with other companies in the mid- to long-term.

What do you think will be the most important innovation in data collection in the coming years?

Companies that have a direct and independent relationship with their users will be in a strong and competitive position. Consequently, cross platform services that are data-driven will be dominant. Additionally, I think the need for security and mobile payment will increase drastically. Therefore, any related data processing, especially involving micro payments, will become the key to companies strengthening their market position.

Is it a concern for Axel Springer that integrated platforms like Apple News and Facebook Instant Stories, give third parties much more control over data harvesting than the companies that produced the content?

Social networks like Facebook, or mobile operators like Apple have a strong position in the market. They know their users’ real identities. Consequently, publishers acting on these platforms have to accept the rules set by the platform providers or work with the platforms to adapt them. We know that our content enhances these platforms, and we have to learn to work with these platforms to leverage our content. We need to analyse why some users prefer to read our articles there, rather than on our websites or in our apps. The downside for companies like us, and for our users too, is that the platform providers enhance the user profiles and collect even more data; which makes the big companies even stronger. We are convinced, however, that we will make fair and favourable agreements with the platforms to deliver content where users want to consume it. Regarding Instant Articles, we have already reached an agreement with Facebook, which we feel respects our needs as publisher.

How is data being used in the fight against ad blocking software?

Analysing anonymous user data helps us to understand the impact of ad blocking. Beyond that, we don’t see any connection between data and ad blocking.

Are you happy with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation? Has it caused Axel Springer and other publishers any key issues?

It is very important that we have European data regulation. It was fairly difficult and time-consuming to deal with various privacy laws in different European countries, and a level playing field is a huge step in the right direction. However, many details are still unclear and will need to be assessed by professionals in the next months. 

Why do you find data sexy?

That statement is related to my previous position as a data protection officer in the formerly famous and popular social network studiVZ in Germany. Privacy and data protection are topics you have to sell to employees who work with data or develop software. If you only think about data protection as a compliance, or legal topic, you won’t peak their interest or achieve any awareness. If, however, you make it interesting and tangible, people will understand the need for privacy and balance.

Meet Jana at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, 20-22 March. Register here to attend.

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