AI’s Real Moment On The Advertising Stage Is Tomorrow

One of the hottest storylines in ad tech this year has been artificial intelligence (AI). Proffered as potential panacea for effectiveness, brand safety and transparency, AI has grown from niche discussion to industry obsession, a promised key to smarter digital ad targeting and trading. I’m sure you’ve seen the pronouncements: it can determine the bids most likely to succeed, it can use historical performance data to tailor campaigns and it can even swap out creative based on audience data in real-time.

There’s one issue: a lot of what’s being hyped isn’t actually AI. It’s just tools and technologies being marketed as AI in order to differentiate within a complex and competitive arena. With true AI, a machine imitates intelligent, and maybe even sentient, human behavior. And while much of what we see today looks like the computer is thinking for itself, it’s really just following very specific, pre-programmed paths using simple rule-based actions, and/or predictive analytics or machine learning. While all subsets of AI, even together they don’t add up to real AI. They’re more like “artificial AI.”

It may seem like semantics, but there are important differences. With predictive analytics, patterns in existing data are used to predict probable results and trends in the future, typically using statistical models and methods. Then, there’s machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence where machines learn and adapt through experience, without the need for predetermined rules and human intervention. With machine learning, models and techniques will change themselves over time as more classifiers enter the system and improve the description of the data to be learned. Examples of machine learning classifiers are K Means Clustering, Linear Regression, Logistic Regression and Decision Trees. These techniques are being used in technologies today for things like facial, voice, music and handwriting recognition.

While not using true AI, the market-available technologies for programmatic advertising that we have today are still sophisticated. They effectively use machine learning and data science-based systems to predict the likelihood of desirable outcomes. They’re certainly valuable for advertisers looking to optimize their media budgets. Further, the automation they allow creates huge efficiencies. They do not, however, fulfill the promise of a set-it-and-forget-it system that gets better or more accurate without any human intervention.

When real AI is finally applied to advertising, it will be transformational. It will intelligently enable desired outcomes to be produced by calling on not one, but a collection of interrelated sciences, techniques and data processing. One day, a truly intelligent AI-based advertising system will enable buyers to seamlessly construct their entire campaign, complete with optimized buys and evolving tactics, just by specifying their goal(s) and budget. Once the algorithms take over, the system will leverage historical data about similar campaigns to make predictions and changes on the fly.

This is all achievable. But supporting it requires highly complex systems to come together, and we still have a long way to go based on today’s fragmented, disconnected assortment of pseudo-systems that look fantastic in isolation, but, in aggregate, don’t add up to the holistic system that buyers need.

Eventually, AI will evolve to where it can improve programmatic media and create a better user experience. And we will eventually get to the point where technology can drive ad campaigns that, without human interaction, achieve campaign KPIs through a virtuous circle of measuring, analyzing and acting on campaign spend, allocation and outcome variables.

In the meantime, platform vendors intent on presenting today’s “artificial AI” will accomplish more by being open about the realistic expectations of their products and the fact that their capabilities are that of early-stage, partial expressions of AI. At the same time, we as an industry should raise our level of thinking and education, so we gain an accurate understanding of AI — not just what it is, but what it can do for us. It is with that knowledge that we can begin to see the true potential of real AI.

Originally in MediaPost – MarketingDaily.

Today DMP, Tomorrow DAP

VIA MEDIAPOST

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.

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.

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 Flaw Of Averages & Risks Of Non-Transparency

AdExchanger recently published an article discussing the risks of averages and non-transparency within our space. The article uncovers the flaws of complacency within campaign results, where the average KPI of all tactics falls within goal, and yet individual tactics are outside the desired range of performance. The article also lends great advice for Media Planners on how to proactively structure campaigns to ensure transparency into the strategies they propose. While this advice is sound, digital marketing is still in need of a tool to help marketers easily determine where their dollars are being utilized correctly, and where they may be able to trim the fat.

In an industry where testing is common, it is reasonable to assume that at any point, a media plan could include tactics which bring down performance. This is accepted within our space, so long as the end result is a smarter, more efficient campaign. The risk however, is when a partner on a plan isn’t specific – to a delivery level – with the tactics they are running. In these cases, while the average performance of the partner could fall within the KPI goal for a campaign, complacency can lead to less than optimal tactics remaining on the plan for longer periods of time, and thus wasted media dollars.

VISTO™ holds a significant advantage for performance marketers, giving them a clear view into every piece of their campaign, not just an attractive top line stat.

Take for instance the following example:
sibgle
The KPI goal for this campaign is a .3% CTR. In aggregate, all tactics under this campaign strategy have hit the KPI, and the client is happy. More often than not, however, there are multiple tactics that a partner will run in order to test new strategies, segments, or utilize incremental budget. Below is the same media plan report, except with full tactic transparency provided by the VISTO™ platform.

Targeting Tactics

sibgle2
Of the four tactics running, only two are hitting the client KPI goals. With this extra level of insight, it becomes clear why advertisers need a deeper, more transparent view into their media plan. Further, when offering managed services in running a campaign, we provide transparency into all changes made by the optimization team. See below example:

Campaign Optimizations

sibgle3
The transparency level of VISTO™ makes monitoring of the “flaw of averages” a less tedious task. Allowing marketers to be more proactive across their plan holistically is invaluable, and can only lead to more efficiently spent marketing dollars.

To quote the article:

“Just like averages can hide the true picture, failing to have a full view of investment can damage the effectiveness of performance media.”

Read the full article here

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.

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.

Read More

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.