The 21st century disturbance of the publishing industry’s once calm equilibrium is an all too familiar tale. For more than a decade publishers have seen traditional revenues from print subscriptions and advertising pages flatten or decline. Digital revenue growth has been stubbornly slow to fill the gap.

“Publishers have had to react to massive disruption to their traditional business models,” says Ian Fremaux, senior consultant at marketing technology company Acxiom “There have been some success stories for publishers delivering content through digital channels, but it has taken time for the desired increases in revenue to materialise.”

Over the last four years, Acxiom has helped a number of industry leading publishers boost their digital revenues through the creation of more profitable customer relationships.

“Historically publishers have been very good at a narrow aspect of marketing, particularly subscription marketing,” says Fremaux. “But now they need to move beyond their traditional customer relationships, improve the broader customer experience and understand customer behaviour, to expand digital revenue opportunities.”

Providing technology, data, analytical expertise and strategic thinking, Acxiom has helped publishing clients, including The Guardian and Hearst, become more customer centric. The firm enables publishers to identify their most engaged audience members, driving brand loyalty and developing and executing campaigns to get customers transacting with their brands.

Fremaux uses the example of brand extensions: “If you take a publishing brand like Good Housekeeping, they have a lot of trust from their customers and this creates real opportunities for recommendations, on insurance for example, that can be aligned with brand values.”

Central to the development of Acxiom’s ability to assist publishers deepen their online relationship with their readers and create a true single customer view (SCV) is the firm’s LiveRamp Connect data onboarding solution.

“The on-boarding process can be described as activating offline data,” says Chloe Grutchfield, digital products team leader at Acxiom. “It means that things you know about your customers in the offline, CRM, world can be used in the anonymous online world of digital advertising.”

Subscription databases are the primary source of offline data, particularly for magazine publishers. Other important offline data sources include e-commerce transactional and partner data related to brand extensions, attendees at events and subscriptions to online communities. Digital behaviour data from web analytics can also be integrated to derive interest and engagement segments.

Grutchfield explains that LiveRamp is all about helping publishers extract more value from their subscribers. “Onboarding offline data provides publishers with one more channel, so that they are not just reaching customers by email, but targeting display ads to sell subscriptions, renewals or cross sell offers or advertisers.”

It also powers audience extension efforts for publishers, allowing them to monetise their audiences outside the boundaries of their own websites. “If BMW is targeting people with three kids, Hearst can act like a media buyer and target BMW ads at people it knows fit the profile, but outside the boundaries of its own websites,” says Grutchfield.

The good news for the publishing sector is that, for once, it is reasonably well placed to onboard its data. “Publishers have always seen the value of their audiences. At Acxiom we help publishers put their customers first by deepening their understanding of them and increasing the likelihood that they’ll receive the most relevant advertising from brands. Advertising being essential to subsidising the cost of publications to readers”. ,” says Fremaux. “They normally already have their marketing permissions and T&Cs aligned with commercial propositions like running email campaigns on behalf of third parties. They encounter less internal barriers to onboarding their CRM data.”

Fremaux says the process of data onboarding and integration has the additional benefit of breaking down silos within publishing businesses. “The CRM marketing teams are normally the custodians of this data and by making their data available to the digital advertising team it helps bring these teams closer together and become more aligned in their objectives,” he explains. “Data is coming to be seen as an organisational asset to be used by the CRM team and the digital sales team.“

Acxiom’s role is in developing data as an asset.  Fremaux explains that for some marketers, developing a SCV is almost a philosophy, a quest for the Holy Grail. “But for Acxiom it is a repository of data, an actual database, all data linked together, everything a brand knows about a customer.”

This is a big data challenge. “We have publishing clients with well over 1 billion transaction records in their offline SCV relating to over 10 million customers,” says Fremaux. “This figure doesn’t include their semi-structured web analytics data and for many clients we are integrating data from 40 to 100 plus data sources, both batch and real-time.”

Fremaux says that, compared to clients in industries like grocery retail and financial services, the volumes of data publishers put into their SCVs is still quite modest. “But looking at what data UK publishers are managing in their offline and online platforms, they are becoming big data companies.”