An Ad Tech Temperature Check

 

HotInHerre

Ad Technology: It’s hot in herre.

 

Clayton Christensen, the father of “disruptive innovation,” would love the ad technology industry.

With more than 2,500 Lumascape companies across various verticals chasing an exit, venture funding drying up for companies that haven’t made an aggressive SAAS revenue case and the rapid convergence of marketing and ad technology, the next few years will see some dramatic shifts.

The coming tsunami of powerful megatrends is driving ad technology relentlessly forward at a time when data is king and the companies that best package and integrate it into multichannel inventory procurement will be the rulers.

In a world where scale matters most, the big are getter bigger and smaller players are getting forced out, which is not necessarily good for innovation.

Data: Powering The Next Decade Of Ad Tech

Data, especially as it relates to “people data,” is and will be the dominant theme for ad technology going forward.

Monolithic companies with access to a people-based identity graph are leaning in heavily to identity management, trying to own the phone book of the connected device era. Facebook’s connection to Atlas leverages powerful and deeply personal deterministic data, continually volunteered on a daily basis by its users, to drive targeting. Google is attaching its massive PII data set garnered through Gmail, search and other platforms to its execution platforms with its new DMP, DoubleClick Audience Manager.

Both platforms prefer to keep information on audience reach safely within their domains, leaving marketers wondering how smart it really to tie the keys of user identity in a “walled garden” with media execution.

Will large marketers embrace these platforms for their consumer identity management needs, or will they continue to leverage them for media and keep their data eggs in another basket?

While some run into the arms of powerful cloud solutions that combine data management with media execution, many are choosing to take a “church and state” approach to data and media, keeping them separate. Marketers have to decide whether the risk of tying first-party data together with someone’s media business is worth having an all-in-one approach.

Agencies Must Adapt Or Die As Consultancies Edge Into Programmatic

Media agencies have also been challenged to provide more transparency around the way they procure inventory, the various incentive schemes they have with publishers and their overall methodology for finding audiences. With cross-device proliferation, agencies must be able to identify users to achieve one-to-one marketing programs, and they need novel ways to reach those users at scale.

That means a commitment to automation, albeit one that may come at the expense of revenue models derived through percentage of spend and arbitrage. Agencies will need new ways to add value in a world where demand-side players are finding closer connections to the supply side.

As media margins collapse, agencies need to act as data-driven marketing consultants to lift margins and stay relevant. They face increasing competition from large consultancies whose bread and butter has been technology integration. It’s a tough spot but opportunities abound for smart agencies that can differentiate themselves.

Zombie Companies Die Off But Edge-Case Innovation Continues

We’ve been talking about “zombie ad tech” for years now, but we are finally starting to see the end of the road for many point solution companies that have yet to be integrated into larger mar tech “stacks.”

Data-management platforms with native tag-management capabilities are displacing standalone tag-management companies. Retargeting is a tactic, not a standalone business, which is now a status quo part of many execution platforms. Fraud detection systems are slowly being dragged into existing platforms as add-on functionality. Individual data providers are being sucked into distribution platforms and data exchanges that offer customer exposure at scale. The list goes on and on.

This is an incredibly positive thing for marketers and publishers, but it is also a challenge. Cutting-edge technologies that give a competitive advantage are rarely so advantageous after they’ve moved into a larger “cloud.” Smart tech buyers must strike a balance between finding the next shiny objects that confer differentiating value, while building a stable “stack” that can scale as they grow.

That said, the big marketing technology “clouds” offered by Adobe, Oracle and Salesforce continue to grow, as they gobble up interesting pieces of the digital marketing “stack.”

Will marketers go all-in on someone’s cloud, build their own “cloud” or leverage services offerings that bring a unified capability together through outsourcing?

Right now, the jury is out, mostly because licensing your own cloud takes more than just money, but also the right personnel and company resources to make it work. Yet, marketers are starting to understand that the capability to build automated efficiency is no longer just a function of marketing, but a way to leverage people data to drive value across the entire company.

Today’s media targeting will quickly give way to tomorrow’s data-driven enterprise strategy. It’s happening now, and quickly

New Procurement Models Explode Exchanges, Drive Direct Deals

I think the most exciting things happening in ad technology are happening in inventory procurement.

Programmatic direct technologies are evolving, adding real audience enablement. Version 1.0 of programmatic direct was the ability to access a futures marketplace of premium blocks of inventory. Most buyers, used to transacting on audience, not inventory, rejected the idea.

Version 2.0 brings an audience layer to premium, well-lit inventory, while changing the procurement methodology. I think most private marketplaces within ad exchanges are placeholders for a while, as big marketers and publishers start connecting real people data pipes together and start to buy directly. It’s happening now – quickly.

I also can see really innovative companies leaning into creating a whole new API-driven way of media planning and buying across channels that makes sense. In the near future, the future-driven approaches of companies like MassExchange will bring to cross-channel inventory procurement a methodology that is more regulated, transparent and reminiscent of financial markets. It’s a fun space to watch.

Who will begin adding algorithmic, data-science driven automation and proficiency to the planning process, not just execution and optimization in the programmatic space?

Many of those in the ad technology and media game are here for the challenge, the rapid pace of innovation and the opportunity to change the status quo. We are all getting way more than we imagined lately, in a fun, exciting and fast-moving environment that punishes failure harshly, but rewards true market innovation. Stay safe out there.

[This post was originally published in AdExchanger on 6.16.15]

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Epic FAIL

This is why agencies buy direct.

Much has been written about the notorious “logo vomit” map of famed internet banker Terence Kawaja. I reference his handy charts on my blog, and often his “Display LUMAscape” as a reference point for thinking about the digital display business, and what will happen to it. Many have tried to navigate through the various categories and dissect what may be “happening” in the space, which is a favorite pastime of company executives trying to raise money for many of the identified advertising technology outfits referenced within. Nobody ever really tries to explain the whole thing, though. It’s just too complicated, I guess. Allow me to try:

 “A few years ago, people started to figure out that you could use technology to target advertising to people on the Web. Ever since then, 250 companies have placed themselves in the middle of the transaction between the advertiser and the inventory, confusing everyone. Now, most of them are running out of money and will sell cheap, get acquired, or go out of business.”

Perhaps that oversimplifies things slightly, but the reality is that there are many companies in the space that are primed for one of those three scenarios. Unfortunately, most of them will sell for less than their investment, or go out of business. Here are the three big reasons we have gotten here:

It was a Bad Idea

The whole point of most of the companies on the Kawaja map is to help advertisers use data to find exactly the right audience at the right time, serve them the right ad, and maybe find something out about them that helps drive branding or sales. In the past, most advertisers used to do that contextually (putting ads for shoes in Vogue, for example) and it seemed to work pretty well. When that Internet thing came along, publishers could get something nearing their print CPMs for “site sponsorships” and premium banner advertising alongside good content. Sooner or later, however, publishers decided to put banners ads on all of their pages, creating the advertising largest inventory glut known to man. That created a big problem.

All of that banner space needed to be monetized somehow, and publishers were quickly discovering that it was hard to make money on the trillions of monthly advertising impressions they had created. But nobody wanted to buy $10 CPM banner ads on message board pages, and the “contact us” page. So, in order to “solve” this problem, exchanges popped up and allowed publishers to “monetize” this space by having various parties bid on the inventory. Things got even better when data companies came in, and were able to layer some demographic data atop those impressions, making audience buying possible for the first time. The venture money flowed, as smart young technologists created fast-moving software companies to help marketers exploit this trend as they sought a way to help reduce industry average CPMs from $20 to $2.

Mission accomplished! In the last 10 years, average CPMs have been drastically reduced, 100% of a publishers inventory is being “monetized” (often by 10 or more companies), and you can target an ad down to one’s shoe size.  So, what’s the problem? Hasn’t turning advertising from an art into a science worked?

The answer is: Yes, but not for all of the companies on that map. People visit three sites a day, and one of them is Facebook. If you want audience targeting, why not just find exactly what you want from a social network? They are the ones with the real audience data. They are also the ones with the audience scale, having about 5 times as many “profiles” as the next largest data company. The problem with all the companies trying to sell you audience targeting and ad technology is that it only works when you have audience scale (they don’t) and deep audience data (they don’t have that either).

Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn (and the next company that people are willing to share their private information with) are going to win the audience targeting game. When you are talking about audience buying at scale, social media IS digital media.

It’s Still about Art

If you believe that the average web user visits only two sites a day besides Facebook, then you better find them on those sites—and give them a really amazing experience with your banner ad. That thing should play video, games, talk to you, and almost pay you to look at it. Since only three out of every 10,000 people will click on it, you had better make sure the creative really tells a terrific story and gets your brand message across too.

That means standard sized banners that work with exchange-based buying are pretty much irrelevant, since they have a hard time doing any of the above. It also means that context has to accompany placement. It is not enough to reach a “35 year old woman in-market for shoes.” You have to reach her when she is on her favorite fashion site, or otherwise psychologically engaged in shoe consideration. The ad should be in a brand-safe environment that engenders trust—and compliments the creative in question. That sounds suspiciously like premium display advertising…the stuff that was being sold 10 years ago!

In a certain sense, we have almost come back full-circle to guaranteed, premium advertising. And that means an emphasis on the creative itself. If you look at the map, it’s clear that creative isn’t a part of the picture…but it might be the most important thing driving the future of the digital display advertising business.

It’s Confusing

Even if agencies and advertisers wanted to take advantage of a few of the of companies cluttering the “landscape,” they would need to log into and learn multiple systems. As a marketer looking to reach women, am I really going to log into Blue Kai and bid on demographic “stamps” from Nielsen, log into AppNexus and apply those to a real-time exchange buy, constantly log into my DART account to check ad pacing and performance, periodically log into my Aperture account to download audience data, and then log into my Advantage account every month to bill my clients? Maybe—but that’s exactly the reason why digital media agencies are making 3% margins lately. Most of these technologies are really great on their own, but string together too many of them and you start to get lost in the data, and are unable to react to it.

For digital marketing to be effective, a set of standards need to be created that enables systems to work together and share information. Basic B-school dogma teaches you that effectiveness starts to break down when a manager has more than 5 direct reports. If you believe that, then it’s not hard to imagine the effectiveness of a 22-year old media planner managing 5 logins on behalf of his agency.  It’s not just confusing, but impossible.

We have built an industry ripe for aggregation, and the Googles, Adobes, and IBMs of the world will not disappoint us! So, what companies will succeed in this ecosystem?

— Social Scalers: If you agree that all reach advertising targeting audiences will eventually be on social networks, then you should look to work with companies that are making social advertising scale effectively. Doing Facebook advertising is incredibly easy—but doing it right is hard. Doing it properly requires extreme multivariate creative optimization and, more importantly, knowing what to do with the mounds of truly actionable audience data that Facebook and other social networks will hand you. Companies like XA.net that are doing this are EPIC WIN.

 — Creative enablers: Since the conversation is coming back to the creative, how can technology help make great creative even better—and help advertisers understand how that creative is being engaged with?  The click is a dead metric to most seasoned advertisers, who are spending more time with branding measurement tools (Vizu) and creative ad analytics startups (Moat) that are well positioned to “science-ify” the truly important part of advertising: the creative itself. Companies doing that well are also going to be EPIC WIN.

 — Standard Bearers: With all of the logins out there, it is inevitable that one company is going to try and create the technology stack for next generation media buying that puts all the pieces together seamlessly. There are a number of companies trying to do this right now (full disclosure: I work for one of them), and I believe there will be a lot of advertisers and agencies relieved to log into a single platform, and be able to access all of their vendor relationships in one dashboard.  This will take some time, but the companies that enable standardization across technology providers will also WIN big.

[This post originally appeared 7/20/11 on eConsultancy blog]