Why Brands Should Demand API Before KPI

This summer seems to have been open season on “walled gardens.”

There are good reasons why the big-kahuna platforms restrict third-parties from operating on their networks – after all, the biggest walled gardens have few incentives to share their data, and mounting privacy concerns give them good cover. But, for brands trying to better evaluate their media spending, the inability to share data across and layer third-party measurement tools over the big platforms is increasingly an issue.

No wonder we are seeing so many advertisers and brands clamoring for more open platforms. While these DSPs and exchanges may not boast the same depth of customer data that a Google or Facebook do, their algorithms are a differentiator and their apparent connectedness is a potential virtue. By allowing third-party audience data, measurement and verification tools to connect, they are making a tangible play to poach restless buyers.

But buyers should look beneath the surface. While many ad platforms may appear to be more “open” than the walled gardens, the true extent of that openness can sometimes be diminished when you explore the details.

What lacks in openness is often manifested in limited integration. Specifically, support for third-party measurement and verification software is often enabled through a proprietary and private vendor-to-vendor set-up. That means alternative platforms can appear to be open, while actually being only selectively open. You only get to connect your data with your vendor’s preferred partners.

What happens when an advertiser wants to switch one service to a perceived rival, to best optimize their media spend towards reaching the best audience? Not much. When the lack of truly open integration with the range of in-market platforms ends up functioning as a kind of lock-in. Connectivity remains all on a vendor’s terms.

Not many of these proprietary platforms offer an API. A set of rules providers can offer for opening up their platform to third-party peers, for truly connecting functions like campaign measurement to their services.

Some do but I am worried as, lately, I have seen some of the main platform protagonists begin to pull up the drawbridge, restricting that API and reducing the features and value customers could get from plugging in extra tools. If this trend continues, we could just end up with a new host of walled gardens, under another name.

What brands need is to see the utopia of full integration, alongside the ability to reduce their tech stack load in order to drive down tech fees and maximize their ROI. To achieve this, the industry needs to adopt standards aimed at securing a truly-open ecosystem in which platforms can freely connect with one another while protecting consumers’ data and their proprietary edge.

In tech terms, we need to push the industry to adopt an API standard to make it very easy to plug platforms together, servicing the whole of the campaign journey, from set-up to reporting to measurement to attribution, allowing brands to focus on performance and transparency.

Other industries have been here for a long time. In the financial sector, for instance, we already have standards like SWIFT that have smoothed out the previous mess of methods of foreign-currency payments, which had seen banks often unable to talk to each other to receive money.

More widespread platform integration would not just improve access to measurement information that depicts campaign performance, it would also help to solve the transparency problem.

Today, the number-one reason buyers are not getting the information they need is complexity. Opacity of spending decisions and outcomes is not just a product of corporate conspiracy or vendor self-interest, it is also a consequence of the lack of connectivity forcing people to pull data together using spreadsheet surgery, not in real-time and not in a standardized fashion.

So, an “open platform” may not be so different from a “walled garden” in some cases if you look closely enough, and we need to remedy that.

We need the ad ecosystem to look more like a free-market economy, like the European Union, a marketplace with complete unfettered access across boundaries. Advertisers and brands must demand complete and open access to their vendors’ platforms through rich and comprehensive APIs to achieve more transparent, sustainable and profitable return on their media and marketing investments.

Originally appeared in MediaPost, August 30, 2017. The article can be found HERE

Today DMP, Tomorrow DAP


The recent Krux acquisition by Salesforce marks the latest consolidation in a crowded marketing technology landscape. As companies continue to try to build end-to-end marketing tech stacks that bring data together from across media channels and from every corner of the business, they have the opportunity to go from merely identifying potential consumers to turning them into loyal customers.

Data Management Platforms (DMPs) can play a central role in this shift. Instead of just serving as an information warehouse, the DMP of the future can become a learning platform that drives marketing and business decisions. Doing this requires a change in mindset and capabilities: from “Data Management Platform” to “DataActivation Platform,” a complete media activation engine that unifies three primary marketing inputs – Audience, Attribution and Ad data – to optimize marketing channels and outcomes.

The robust DAP of the future will be characterized by the following:

Moving from identity to action in real-time.

Right now, there’s too much data inefficiency and time lag between seeing relevant data and activating it. Post-campaign analysis can yield insights that might have improved campaign performance, but you often don’t see the information until it’s too late – or the analysis sits in a different system from where your campaigns are actually running, making it far from seamless to implement insights. To eliminate waste and improve ROI, the DAP needs to do the heavy lifting of integration and interoperability across planning, activation, measurement and analytics platforms. 

Cross-channel, dynamic optimization.

The typical use-case for a DMP is a one-way push from the DMP to partners. A DAP use-case would be dynamic and cyclical. In one direction, you still would have audience data pushed out to partners. Completing the cycle in the other direction, critical attribution—or action—data would return back to the DAP to inform effectiveness, automate optimization and lift performance.

This can in turn be dynamically analyzed to incorporate other inbound data streams (like site data, purchase data, creative results and other third-party data) to inform attribution and improve audience segmentation – insights that can be used across the organization.  

From ad targeting to business decisioning

Today’s DMP is used primarily for first-party data storage to inform ad targeting and delivery. The future DAP becomes an active “brain” driving marketing performance. Think of a DAP as a marketing hub that unifies and enables data, workflow and analytics to ensure marketing decisions are made correctly and swiftly.

The DAP represents the convergence of ad technology with marketing technology. Properly executed, a single DAP strategy will apply to both paid and owned activation channels.

The promise of a DAP is evident.  Here are some key steps to help brands make the shift from a Data Management Platform mindset to a Data Activation Platform approach to marketing:

Choose a DMP.   It’s impossible to be DAP-enabled without getting your data ready for syndication and targeting. Focus on addressable marketing channels first (e.g., digital, TV, email, etc.), then move to future data-driven opportunities.

Pick an Identity Management Provider.  In order to properly target and measure, you must be able to recognize the same consumer across multiple devices. Combine deterministic and probabilistic methodologies to maximize scale and accuracy.  The key is to reliably bridge Device ID and Cookie ID to enable multiple use cases – online and offline.

Centralize Your Data Providers.  Onboard and manage all first- and third-party data providers in a single DMP.  Here is where audience modeling should take place to engage likely customer prospects.  This is far less effective without first getting your Identity Management framework complete.

Select an Attribution Provider of Record. Now that you can identify and target audiences, let’s make sure you can properly attribute success by platform, screen or format. Your attribution provider of record can be your ad server, site analytics tool or specialized measurement partner, but the key is to standardize methodology and primary KPI to compare performance across channels.

Customize your DAP. Make sure your technology partners (DMP, DSP, Ad Server, Attribution Provider) embrace interoperability and can “talk” to your DAP; do an audit of partners and assess their API capabilities that enable read/write communication.  Here’s where you unify audience, activation and attribution, no matter how your ecosystem of partners change (which they will). If you don’t have in-house expertise or have not yet centralized your data, consider a programmatic or marketing technology consultant to help design the right DAP for your organization.

As consumer behavior becomes more complex, and access to audiences evolve, enterprises must embrace technology to gain control, transparency and accountability of their marketing investment. Following these key steps will put you on the path to having a DAP that activates all available data for optimal results.