The Key To Transparency Is Technology, Not Simply Terms And Conditions

VIA MEDIAPOST

Marketers have been clamoring for more transparency and accountability, a movement underscored by the ANA’s recent transparency recommendations and earlier K2/ANA report. While these reports may seem to take aim at agencies and vendors, they actually present a unique opportunity to transform the dynamic among agencies, vendors and clients to be more open and, ultimately, more productive. To get the most out of a closer, more strategic partnership with agencies and vendors, however, marketers must first take the following steps:

Take control of—and unify—your data. This is important for all forms of data, but especially when it comes to a marketer’s first-party data. The good news is that the shift is already underway: Between CRM and DMP oversight, the proliferating volume of online data, and the establishment of data science and analytics roles within many marketing teams, the marketing department is fast becoming the “data czar” within many major brands.

But although data may be centralized, it must also be unified across vendors and services to be truly useful. Unifying your data is the foundational step to establishing a more productive relationship with your agency and media partners. Without unified data, it’s impossible to measure success, compare performance accurately, and keep everyone involved in supporting your business accountable.

Be a more active participant in technology choices. As data ownership centralizes under marketing, so does technology ownership. A Gartner survey predicted that by 2017, CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs will. Marketers need not be expert in all technologies, but they must know enough (e.g., what each offering provides and what alternatives exist) to be an active participant in the decision-making process. A seat at the table for media technology decisions is a prerequisite for having a strategic and cooperative relationship with your partners.

Do an everyday audit. Typically, campaign performance and delivery are measured and reported after the fact. To ensure transparency and accountability, marketers must move to a cadence where performance can be monitored daily or even intra day. Only by looking at campaign performance in real time can marketers assign scores to various partners—and ensure changes are made to improve performance while they can still have an impact.

Adopting this “everyday audit” mindset also lets marketers benefit from the increased attention paid by agency and vendor partners to your campaigns. We saw this firsthand at Collective: if a campaign is underperforming, as seen in the daily reports we send to clients or in our 24/7 dashboard, we can quickly work together with the client to assess what is impacting performance and modify strategy, increasing accountability and improving performance.

Make sure you’re looking at the same data. As the old saying goes, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Part of the industry’s push for transparency is to make sure everyone is looking at the same data. Simply put, it’s impossible to optimize performance if you’re comparing apples and oranges.

For years, we have seen double-digit percentage discrepancies between figures that ad servers, exchanges and attribution partners report. We’ve also seen marketers have varying levels of visibility into the cost structures involved when working with technology and service providers. Pulling back the curtain on hidden “ad taxes” helps marketers and their partners make the most informed choices about where to spend their dollars.

Rethink your relationship. The agency model has long been under attack. As inventory and access have become commoditized, the industry has been forced to squeeze value out of existing resources, cut media costs and do more with less. Negotiations are increasingly about cutting costs from the bottom line, rather than creating increased value.

With more transparency, however, agencies and vendors can be freed up to focus on strategy. And though every marketer of course wants a better price, most would pay a premium for better service and superior campaign performance. In other words, transparency creates a sustainable path to growth for agencies and vendors, while delivering better results for clients.

At the heart of each step above is the unification of data and a team-oriented approach to campaign management and optimization. These may sound like daunting tasks, but with new technologies—including unified workflow and execution, partner agnostic campaign management, marketing analytics, and attribution modeling—it’s possible for brands of all sizes to achieve these results.

By unifying your data and ensuring it is analyzed through a common lens with your partners, brands can gain control of their business, while the agencies and vendors they work with can assume the mantle of strategic partners, leveraging shared insights from this data to drive stronger results for everyone.

The Marketing Pinata: A Quick Look At Multi-Touch Attribution

Three children are at a party, waiting to swing at a piñata. The first child takes a swing, causing significant structural damage, but failing to break the shell. A second child takes an equally impressive swing and creates a few cracks in the piñata’s surface, but still no candy. Finally, a third child steps up and swings. Candy spills all over the floor, and he proclaims sole credit for all the treats.

It wouldn’t be right to give all of the candy to the third child in this scenario, right? But marketers have been complacent doing this for marketing attribution, frequently applying the last touch attribution (LTA) model to campaigns.

Marketers are now beginning to realize the implications of the LTA model—fragmented insights, wasted dollars, and in some cases, illegitimate approaches to ‘stealing’ last touch credit—and applying multi-touch attribution (MTA) instead.

MTA assigns credit to any deserving channel in a campaign. It’s as simple as appending a third party tag to the creative, which tracks and records each individual impression and its resulting actions. The MTA partner ingests impression-level data and assigns partial credit to all channels that “touched” a consumer. Clients can adjust the percentages to meet individual campaign needs.

However, MTA lacks standard modeling methodologies. Attribution vendors rely on proprietary processes; there is no standard by which to adhere or an objective third party to hold vendors accountable for accuracy.Fragmented reporting among platforms can result in making optimizations that seem to be in favor of performance from an LTA standpoint, not MTA.

Collective understands that MTA is the future for our industry and therefore has worked to overcome these challenges. We accept MTA tags from any platform our clients use. Clients who manage their entire media buy through our VISTO™ platform benefit from the ability to quickly shift budget between managed platforms as we receive results of MTA reporting and actively optimize their campaigns.

Viewability, Ad Fraud, Privacy — OH MY!

At the ANA Masters of Marketing in October, Collective had the opportunity to poll attendees as part of our “Audience Insight of the Day” sponsorship. We asked marketers to address their greatest concerns in the digital space. Their answers sent a clear message of where our industry needs to focus attention.

With programmatic ad serving, viewability, ad fraud, and privacy are obvious concerns. Therefore, Collective continues to tackle each one head-on. Our strategy is twofold—we only source inventory (programmatic and direct) from reliable sources and employ comprehensive verification practices to promote brand credibility. In addition to Collective’s IAB Quality Assurance Guideline (QAG) 2.0 certification and partnerships with Integral Ad Science and Telemetry, Collective takes the following measures to assure brand safety. Viewability: In addition to partnering with verification providers Integral Ad Science and Telemetry, Collective employs an entire quality team whose sole focus is to monitor viewability using multiple measurement techniques. Our platform agnostic approach also means we can work with any other third party verification partner. Ad Fraud: To combat bots and other fraudulent activity, our team hand selects inventory sources and applies proprietary quality-control technology to all inventory to ensure that ads are placed in brand-safe environments viewed by actual humans. Privacy: Individual privacy is critically important to Collective, which is why we take safeguards to ensure we don’t receive any personally identifiable information from our clients or partners.

The Dream Of A Well Curated RTB World

Transparency.  Viewability.  Verification.   Our lexicon of the hottest terms in the ad tech space all revolve around a central theme: lack of trust. Looking back to the beginning of real-time ad exchanges, the incredible reach, scale, and targeting abilities of RTB platforms were so transformative for marketers that they didn’t worry as much about fuzzier metrics. However, as the honeymoon phase wore off, the corrupt elements of the RTB universe presented themselves via the results of advertising campaigns and marketers began to demand more from their demand-side platforms (DSPs).

Show Me What’s Happening

Marketers stopped giving the benefit of the doubt to ad impressions bought on exchanges or DSPs, and began to require that platforms prove the value of the media being bought.  This brought about a push for domain-level transparency, the rise of 3rd-party verification companies, and re-energized industry efforts around battling fraud. The burden of proof had shifted onto the media providers, and in the absence of evidence, the new presumption was that the ad impression was unacceptable. Some prominent agency holding companies even began to require 100% viewability from partners.

Best of Both Worlds

For well over a decade, media networks were able to retain the veil of obscurity over their inventory and run successful businesses. However, it would be naïve to claim that verification will be displaced by trust at this point. But what if we could bring together the best of the old, premium inventory media sources with the benefits of the new RTB universe? If traditional marketing benefits (brand-safety, good performance results, desirable audience demographics) could be combined with the benefits of real-time bidding (individual user targeting, massive reach and scale, elastic prices), marketers would realize the high performance of new RTB metrics and see the desired reach of their advertising, all while delivering cost-effective performance objectives. This is the dream of real-time bidding, and one that Collective is turning into a reality. By taking the inventory curation from our premium network, and applying them to the data science-driven optimization of our proprietary real-time bidder, we have removed the fear and doubt from media buying with high performing, highly scaled, brand-safe media.

The True Cost Of Programmatic

Advertising Age recently published an article about the “Hidden Costs of Programmatic,” addressing an issue that has become common in the industry. The advent of programmatic advertising was revolutionary for marketers. The data-driven, automated approach enabled them to accurately target audiences at scale and serve ads across screens and formats in mere milliseconds. Programmatic inventory was also cheaper than going directly to publishers. Intelligent automation at a lower price – in theory it was a marketer’s dream come true.

However, though programmatic has made cross-screen audience engagement more sophisticated and easier to scale, it has also fragmented campaign execution, leaving workflow disjointed and more complicated. Marketers must now employ an army of ad tech vendors – DSPs, ad servers, data management platforms, verification partners, etc. – to help them achieve their goals. In fact, according to a November 2013 study by iAB/Winterbury Group, it’s not uncommon for a marketer to use over 12 (!) tools to successfully run a campaign.

And as Advertising Age states, these tools aren’t cheap. Behind them are teams of highly paid engineers and campaign experts that drive costs to a premium. What’s more, with so many cooks in the kitchen, marketers rarely have insight into what works and what doesn’t, and are frequently the victims of duplicative pricing. Arbitrage CPM business models have ensured marketers aren’t exposed to what they actually pay for.

Collective believes that as the digital ad landscape continues to crowd, marketers will desperately need a simplified and fully transparent platform with the flexibility to integrate with all campaign tools and the ability to seamlessly orchestrate workflow among them. It should manage all data, embrace both programmatic and publisher direct inventory, and provide full disclosure into the costs and performance of their campaigns. Only then will marketers be equipped with the knowledge needed to make smart business decisions moving forward.

Are Vendors Driving Your Campaigns? How To Keep Control

Today’s digital marketers must invest in the best tools available to manage their campaigns and drive measureable results. However, marketing technology tools require significant investment, not just in dollars, but also in data and labor. Marketers spend hours and thousands of dollars setting up campaigns in technology stacks that they’ve either purchased whole or cobbled together. They “strategically invest” in point solutions that don’t always turn out to be advantageous.

Marketers get stuck using these platforms because they’ve simply invested too much time, money, and data. They become entrenched in the solution they’ve implemented, effectively trapped by the technology partners. Post implementation, it’s not cheap or easy to switch, even when it’s clear that better options are available – or when campaign goals and workflow requirements change dramatically and unexpectedly.

What happens, then, if the provider of the technology stack suddenly decides to change policies about inventory access, data ownership or privacy, or suddenly raises prices or fail to disclose the hidden costs? Marketers are in too deep to just switch solutions. In effect, they’ve lost control of their campaigns.

This scenario has probably happened to most marketers. For instance, Google’s decision to remove YouTube inventory from outside ad exchanges impacted thousands of marketers – many of whom may have chosen a specific network because it offered YouTube pre-roll.  The elimination of DMP tags from Google was also an unexpected blow. Changes in algorithms, tagging regulations, or ad specs may seem minor to a platform provider, but to marketers the impact is stressful, time-consuming and often expensive. Yet as our industry matures and consolidates, experiences like this seem to be a common occurrence for marketers.

How are marketers meant to handle these challenges? What do they do next when they’ve suddenly lost access to ad inventory, but are still beholden to the partner they’ve chosen? For marketers with their budgets invested in one type of video solution and thousands of iterations of data-driven advertising creatives, simply “moving” the ads to another platform isn’t as easy as it sounds. More often than not, marketers won’t even have the technical expertise to make such a move.

What marketers need is an unbiased, knowledgeable partner who can help guide the way. The ideal partner understands the ecosystem, has experience with the technology, and is unbiased in their choice of point solutions. This partner isn’t a person on the marketing team or an agency, and it’s not some technological ninja or matchmaker.

It’s a marketing system integrator.

That’s what marketing technology needs: system integrators with complete platforms. They need solutions that bridge the walled gardens with a focus on building successful campaigns. These integrators aren’t typical agencies that solve problems through services and expertise. They build systems that are more flexible and that integrate with multiple technology partners, making it easier for marketers to adapt. Typical agencies may also work directly with these marketing system integrators to expand their own options.

If a system integrator isn’t a person or an agency, what is it? The best system integrators build platforms that are open to diverse, quality partnerships. Salesforce is a good example. They don’t prevent marketers from working with Marketo or Hubspot, despite the fact that they own Pardot. Salesforce will integrate neatly with Constant Contact or MailChimp, and allow you to bring in any solution you like. There are other CRMs, MAPs and CMSs that are good system integrators as well. Marketers aren’t forced to change partners to work with the solutions these integrators build. They are unbiased, foundational platforms, open to integration with any quality partner.

The walled gardens are the fly in the ointment, since they tend not to play nicely with systems they don’t own. That’s indicative of the problem the whole industry faces, though. Those big platform players, the keepers of the gardens, are so focused on their own interests that they have driven the industry to become platform-centric. The advertising/marketing technology industry is looking out for itself, not focused on marketers and target customers.

As a result, marketers are forced to make sacrifices every single day. They have to choose a specific partner because that’s the partner that integrates better. They lose visibility into campaign results because dominant players change the rules, or they have to set up a second (or third) reporting interface because some partners won’t play nicely with the marketer’s existing solution. This cuts into a marketing team’s time and productivity, and ultimately impacts their results and the end-user experience. If we’re here to serve marketers, this needs to be fixed.

It’s time for marketers to take center stage. When we start to focus on building successful campaign systems for marketers, the industry will thrive, grow, and evolve in a way that’s good for everyone in the ecosystem. Until then, marketers will continue to struggle as they fight to keep control.

PMP’n Made Easy

Media buying continues to evolve year after year. From the timeless direct-deal down to automated programmatic buying, our industry has exploded with ways to purchase inventory. One relatively new inventory source quickly gaining traction is the Private Marketplaces, also known as a PMP.  Recently, an E-Marketer study projected that in 2016, roughly 28% of digital spend (over $3 billion) will be allocated to PMPs, making them a thing to keep your eye on.

So what is a PMP? A Private Marketplace is a customized publisher inventory source run on an invite only basis. Publishers are able to make inventory available to advertisers, similar to how a direct buy has always been executed. The difference however, is the deal is executed via programmatic media buying, allowing for access to most of the targeting and tools used in the open RTB world, but with a much higher level of inventory control, predictability, and quality.

While there are a few different types of Private Marketplaces, they all function similarly. A publisher will reach an agreement with an advertiser on specific inventory within their network. Publishers will often offer higher quality guarantees, predictable CPMs, and even publisher audiences to advertisers to entice them to commit to certain budgets. Once a deal is reached, the publisher will share a Deal ID, which contains all the agreed upon terms of the deal, with the advertiser. An advertiser will share the Deal ID with a partner to execute. Partners then have access to that inventory and apply programmatic controls and targeting as if they were buying from an exchange.

Through the VISTO™ marketing platform and managed service, Collective is able to accept negotiated PMP Deal IDs on behalf of our clients, and run them through our partnerships with SSPs. This will allow clients to have further insight into the PMP and enjoy the benefits of a truly open and transparent view of their media buy.

Ad Tech Fragmentation: A Marketer’s Worst Nightmare

One look at the infamous LUMA slide tells an epic story of a fragmented ad tech industry. There are hundreds of logos crammed onto a single 8.5 x 11-inch sheet. It’s downright intimidating, and I can’t blame anyone who feels ambivalent about investing in digital media.

Media fragmentation caused the advertising industry to splinter in response. The landscape is brimming with players offering a single solution for every minute challenge along the customers’ path to purchase. Holistic solutions are nowhere to be found – unless a marketer is willing to hand the keys over to Adobe, IBM or the like.

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Programmatic And Direct Relationships: A Beneficial Balance

Everyone is well aware at this point in 2015 that there are infinite benefits to being a programmatic buyer – cost-efficacy, time management, scalable audience insights, real-time optimization, etc. However, with all of the large real-time transactions that come with high volumes of programmatic trading, one thing that seems to get very lost in the shuffle is the direct relationship between the actual buyer and seller of inventory. Sure, there are ways to connect directly through programmatic pipes, though I’d still bet that the majority of exchange connections today are indirect intermediaries of inventory.

But this begs the question – with an ever-growing list of programmatic efficiencies, do we even need direct publisher relationships anymore?

The answer is easy – YES. And it all boils down to quality. Direct relationships allow both buyers and sellers to have a clear understanding of what’s important to each party and how to evaluate accordingly. Whether a campaign is actioned via programmatic pipes or managed by a direct publisher, a buyer can communicate the value of KPI’s like viewability, interactions, brand exposure – essentially any quality or performance-based metrics to the seller – for a much more efficiently executed transaction. Conversely, if a publisher values a certain type of advertiser, creative type, or execution, they could sell programmatically in the open market, though they’d likely have more success with a direct relationship intact.

That isn’t to say that direct relationships are better than programmatic. The point is that despite the heavy shift to programmatic, advertisers should not discount the power of building direct publisher relationships. Both methods benefit buyers and sellers, just in different ways. The key is to have a beneficial balance between the two to drive value and performance.

So even in a world of programmatic, there’s no reason not to be direct as well.

Moneyball 2.0

Welcome to a world of multiple exchanges, complex algorithms, confusing jargon, aggressive middlemen, and tuned-out clients. Sound familiar? Well, it’s not ad tech. It’s Wall Street.

The eerie parallels between today’s Wall Street and the increasingly automated world of advertising are unmistakable in Michael Lewis’ new book, “Flash Boys.”  (Lewis has shed indirect light on our industry before with his 2003 book “Moneyball,” which became the the hero narrative for quants.)

In “Flash Boys”  a group of entrepreneurs take on the big banks and high-frequency trading firms, because those players are using opaque private stock exchanges to rip off unsuspecting clients.

This contemporary high-tech Wall Street is, on the surface, very similar to programmatic ad tech. Clients entrust professionals with their money; the professionals make trades in a complicated system of bidding alorithms and exchanges; and a host of middlemen and technology people manage the handoffs between buyer and seller. Sounds a lot like marketers putting ads on digital publishers through a programmatic system.

Given the parallels, players and would-be players in programmatic should sit up and pay attention to “Flash Boys” — if for no other reason than to avoid Wall Street’s mistakes.

Here are the similarities between “flash boys” and programmatic advertising:

Math Men. Like advertising, Lewis’ Wall Street, on the surface, is dominated by client guys with expense accounts. Underneath is a class of mathematicians, software programmers and IT guys, who are building the plumbing and the logic that makes the whole financial system work.

Murk. However, a market built by Math Men has major clarity issues. Just as in programmatic technology, the plumbing of the new Wall Street is complex and hard to understand. And according to Lewis’ descriptions of clueless salesmen and clients, Wall Streeters would rather live in a world they don’t fully understand than look stupid by asking questions.

Agency problems. Murk breeds a disease that’s best described by microeconomics: agency problems. The textbook definition of an agency problem is when a “principal” hires an “agent” to act in the principal’s best interests; but the agent’s interest may conflict with the principal’s. Agency problems thrive in murk. When the principal can’t understand what the hell the agent is talking about, the principal is going to have trouble applying his or her judgment.

The tragedy of murk and agency problems is that they slow down the adoption of a system that can actually benefit everybody. Don’t trust your agent? Now a principal will become mistrustful, and simply avoid the new system.

What Programmatic Advertising Can Learn from “Flash Boys”

Many of Michael Lewis’ books view exotic worlds through the eyes of a naive hero figure. In “Moneyball” it’s Oakland Athletics baseball coach Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt in the movie). In “Flash Boys” it’s Brad Fukuyama, a trader for Royal Bank of Canada. In their small ways, both heroes took on an established system and won.

I would argue that any of us entering the deep dark woods of programmatic should emulate this Michael Lewis hero archetype in order to be the best champions of our businesses in a complex world of advertising technology.

Heroes are ordinary. Fukuyama and Beane didn’t know a damn thing about the exotic worlds of high-frequency trading or statistics (respectively) when their narratives begin. They are not powerful people in their industry. They do not even have especially distinguished careers. Yet they change the system. Translation to advertising: Advanced degrees are not required to take command of your programmatic strategy.

Heroes ask stupid questions that are actually smart. “Flash Boys”’ most compelling passages show how Fukuyama and his companions chip away at the secrets of high-frequency traders. They do it by asking questions, and by demanding answers they can understand. One is shocked by how many people they have to ask, how many times they have to ask, and how much balderdash they have to tolerate, to get real answers. Translation to advertising: Gird your loins for condescending answers to your common-sense questions, but stay strong.

Heroes are not afraid to demand change. Once the heroes of “Flash Boys” truly understand the system, they are able to create a solution that works for them. (Fukuyama has started an alternative exchange called IEX in response to the experiences covered by “Flash Boys.”) Translation to advertising: The programmatic ecosystem is in its early days; the way it works can be shaped by clients with clear ideas and demands.

I am in no way suggesting that the world of programmatic is a treacherous place in need of reform. Quite the contrary; I believe that programmatic advertising offers astonishing efficiencies for marketers, and those efficiencies can be used to benefit those marketers’ products and customers, employees and shareholders.

What I am suggesting is that the ecosystem of programmatic advertising will benefit from a plain-English approach. Businesspeople — marketers and media folk alike — can, and should, still speak Business even after they cross the border into Technology. Math-man dazzle and murky terms should not be tolerated. Agency costs can be avoided; efficiencies can be gained; and, as we build the ecosystem we deserve, we can all be heroes.