Is Your Technology Helping You Win or Lose in the Digital Media Landscape?
Media buying desks are so 2009. I mean, who doesn't have access to 800-plus exchange inventory sources and 30 different third-party data providers? In a world where well-heeled demand-side customers have all of the tools to buy audience efficiently, how do internet marketers effectively communicate?
Today's digital display advertisers love the idea of audience buying because it seems unique. The concept of buying an audience rather than the site it's on is truly revolutionary and will be a continuing part of the digital media conversation for a long time to come. However, many technology companies are being funded, started and run on the misconception that audience buying versus site-specific buying is a binary choice. It's not.
Large holding company shops are trying to migrate client budgets over to their media buying desks; demand-side platforms are trying to displace ad networks; and ad "platforms" are attempting to skim the media cream on all real-time transactions by promising better performance via centralization. All of these tactics are doomed to fail.
Unless you're going cheap and deep by buying remnant inventory at under 50 cents cost per thousand (CPM) or going data-heavy and spending upwards of $5.00 CPM using segmentation to find a highly specific premium audience, you're going to need context. In the former case (running wild with sub-50 cent bids across exchanges), you face the issue of low clickthrough rates and the accompanying issue of low brand safety. Your ad is getting out there, but God knows where it's serving. Then again, at 50 cents CPM, why not "spray and pray"? With machine learning, you can easily optimize against a conversion pixel and let your bidding technology find all the performance that a cheap CPM can yield.
On the other end of the spectrum (using expensive V12 or Bizo segments, for example), you have a highly targeted audience but a problem achieving scale against such specific targeting goals. Also, while you may be hitting your desired segment, you may be hitting them at the wrong time. As a frequent traveler, I've often been targeted with exactly the right ad (a cheap JetBlue flight to San Francisco) at exactly the wrong time (during my fantasy baseball draft).
Context does matter. Reaching premium surfers when they're engaged in consuming premium content is still relevant. That's why people pay what they do for full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal, and that's why WebMD will never accept third-party advertising. Context matters, intent matters and a user's mind-set matters.
When I'm reading an article about Carmelo Anthony on ESPN.com and I'm in the market for basketball sneakers, I'm more likely to buy them because I'm in a basketball mind-set. Catch me with the same sneaker ad when I'm replying to my friend on Hotmail and it's highly unlikely that I'll break task and respond.
Almost as important as context is the way an ad is served. The majority of online audiences visit about three sites a day — and one of them is Facebook. It's tough to get into the media mix for the average site. There are two approaches modern digital publishers can take to deal with this reality. The first is to search engine optimize the hell out of your site. Drop enough tags to ensure an automatic, steady flow of exchange and network advertising.
The second approach is to firewall your exclusive content and only serve guaranteed advertising. Hybrid models are the norm, but publishers must manage the inevitable channel conflict and data leakage that come from opening up premium ad slots to networks and exchanges. Getting this blend right for websites is step one.
Modern publishers also have to go beyond the website. Today's publishers aren't only offering a blended approach to solving these marketing needs in modern request for proposals (RFPs), they're going beyond the typical RFP response to craft unique digital offerings that reach users who are engaged with digital content on multiple screens. You can't effectively target pure audience yet on iPads, iPhones or Android devices, but that's where a lot of content consumption is rapidly shifting. Companies like Phluant are at the forefront of adapting display advertising to the new mobile environment where it will be seen.
If your development plans don't include interoperability with the multiscreen media world in which we currently live, then you're already becoming irrelevant. In the near future there will be no such thing as "mobile networks" and "in-app" advertising. There will be platform solutions which enable cross-platform messaging (and accompanying analytics) in real time.
A lot of the biggest mistakes modern media buyers make can be attributed to pricing. Todays' digital media options don't lend themselves to a single RFP with a static pricing range. The typical marketer looking to find high-income, middle-age men who are "auto-intenders" may top out at $12 CPM. This is ridiculous. Marketers (especially old-school direct mail marketers) know the value of finding their exact audience could be in the $100 CPM range (if they know they're reaching that exact qualified customer) or it could be in the $1.00 CPM range (if they simply want to blanket their message to "men" in a certain geo-targeted area).
Audiences are variable but buying methodologies are not. In the near future, media buying will become programmatic, enabling marketers to populate a more robust RFP template with data and receive systematic buying templates that span both buying methodologies (guaranteed and real-time) and pricing methodologies (CPM, cost per click, cost per action).
Today's world is about choice. The modern digital marketer doesn't have to face the straw man argument between choosing guaranteed versus real-time audience buying; neither should he make the false choice of deciding between rich media and standard banners when both can be deployed seamlessly across a single campaign. Moreover, it's now simple to leverage broadcast creative digitally and run video advertising units on television, the web and mobile devices simultaneously. As technology rapidly enables interplatform operability, marketers will be able to focus more upon the creative than the delivery methodology itself.
As digital delivery systems evolve, marketers will live or die by the power of their creative to captivate. When technology companies finally enable marketers to broadcast their advertising across multiple digital channels at once (e.g., online display, video, mobile, digital-out-of-home and cable set-top), the challenge will once again turn to creativity. In a technology-driven media world that enables marketers to produce and stream advertising messages seamlessly into the ether, it's all about the ad, not where it's seen.
Up until now, the conversation in the space has been about delivering ads. As digital advertising delivery systems evolve and every marketer has near ubiquitous access to platforms that enable scale and cross-platform delivery, the conversation is going to shift back to who's producing the best creative.
That's a conversation I'm looking forward to.
Chris O'Hara is the senior vice president of sales and marketing for TRAFFIQ, a provider of web-based media management software. Chris writes frequently on the digital advertising display ecosystem. Reach Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.