Solving Digital Media’s Complexity Issues

The PulsePoint survey released yesterday revealed that the digital marketing industry is united in its push toward better transparency, collaboration and a broad view of fragmented audience and media landscape. It also showed that in an industry riddled with complexity, signals are easily crossed. As part of our survey, we asked respondents to offer recommendations to their digital partners for improving their digital marketing capabilities.

Today, PulsePoint outlines advice from every quarter of the industry to better help partners work together.

The qualitative advice these groups offered each other fell into the following categories:

  • Data/Insights/Scale: Need for data and insights, especially audience-focused data with scale
  • Transparency/Collaboration: Information on strategy and KPIs – Team and share results
  • Creative/Customize/Experiment: Listen. Be open to “fitting” creative, custom solutions and experiment
  • Integration/Unify: Multi-channel concepts-content-experiences, along with seamless execution
  • Accountability/Action/Optimize: Robust measurement and attribution, plus timely actionable reports
  • Commitment: Invest in the talent, content, programs and partners to elevate performance

Below, you’ll find feedback from publishers, advertisers and agencies intended to help industry partners work together toward common goals.

Marketers advice to publishers
Marketers, understandably, want publishers to be better able to “address and define audiences on your site, not just categories of content.” One said, “Give me more data that I can use on customer actions.” Another: “Provide good demographic and psychographic profile information of the audiences that can be accessed.”

One suggested, “Include small polls to add to the value of the standard digital info.” But in general, the skill most in demand from publishers is that they “learn how to best target ad campaigns for niche markets.”

The best pathway to collaborating with marketers directly, one marketer advised, is, “Come with value-based recommendations.” Others just asked for more transparency – especially in yield and pricing – along with real-time reporting and optimization. One barrier to greater collaboration appears to be the sales process itself; “make it super easy for me to buy – give me a non-one-sided IO contract and good reporting.”

Being open, in the mind of the brand buyer/planner, entails getting beyond pure salesmanship and determining if the proposed buy really serves the brand. “If it doesn’t, it’s not a good buy.”

Marketers show strong interest in content integration, more effective ad units – perhaps that resemble content, such as slide shows and articles – and in content repurposing. One commented that publishers generally should “rethink standard banners. They are literally peripheral to what’s important and are ignored.” More “liquid” and linked content, more flexibility, and fewer hurdles to new ideas are encouraged – in short, thinking outside of the box for more effective programs – would be greatly appreciated.

Marketers look to publishers to manage content integration across platforms. One marketer said publishers should work to “amass large impression inventory under one roof and allow for discrete targeting on several vectors.” Another said that they should “bring global capabilities.”

Holding publishers to account appears as difficult a task for brands as for the publishers themselves. More than one pleaded for better and more accurate analytics, proof-tests and outcome measures. But some revealed that digital metrics are hard for them to understand. One requested that publishers “explain/teach more about ROI.” Another recommended that they provide easy-to-digest dashboards complete with suggestions for follow-on campaigns.

One seemed to throw in the towel and just ask that publishers “work towards a performance metric of some kind.”

Develop “more content. Write more, talk more, share more, guide more, tell people how to do the things that are really difficult,” said one brand respondent. Another said, “Stop staring at your metaphorical belly buttons, embrace the difficult leaps marketers are trying to make.”

Publishers’ advice to advertisers
Digital publishers have among the most detailed data on online audiences, but to make the most of that data, advertisers must do their part. The data-driven advertiser can better define and segment their audience, helping publishers accomplish the advertisers’ goals, respondents said.

“Have defined targets without excessive, vague descriptors,” suggested one publisher. “Don’t rely on aggregated third-party data; leverage first-party data and help define the definition of the data segments,” said another. Publishers pleaded, “Be vocal about your priorities,” “Disclose strategic direction,” and “Let publishers work with you to achieve your goals directly. The more we understand what they are, the better we can help.”

If advertisers better understand cross-platform sales, publishers argue, they can better find their “optimal mix” of category and brand.

Secondly, while publishers welcome accountability they would rather be held to a single standard. One requested, “Better accountability for offline and common buying metrics across all platforms. The world is still way too siloed.” Another said, “I think it’s crucial that marketers change their KPIs from a marketing/ performance-based focus to a holistic focus where engagement and attribution take center stage.”

Publishers to advice to agencies
Publishers had much more to say to agencies. On the data front, they counseled agencies to think in terms of “audience, not platforms.” Targeted reach is important, but agencies need to “think beyond the click; there are so many ways to engage the consumer with marketing, yet everything always seems to come back to ‘How many clicks did my ad achieve?’”

Publishers listed the best ways for agencies to move to a consumer-focused strategy:

  • “Experiment and collect data to measure against and to improve in future campaigns.
  • “Understand the audience, and the reasons of their engagement with the brand.” “Understand the entire purchase funnel (not just the bottom where the actual response/transaction occurs).”
  • “Understand the brand’s marketplace.”

Agencies that demand publishers to be more transparent and collaborative should be willing to offer the same. They requested “a clear explanation of [agencies’] goals and targets,” more detail on their objectives and overall strategy and “feedback on campaign performance that we cannot get.” Moreover, competitive analysis would allow the publisher knows what needs improving.

“Collaborate,” insisted one. “Communicate,” said another. Publishers want to be accountable, but the digital agency needs to “continue to be transparent with their ROI measurements so that publishing partners can optimize campaigns based on metrics that matter.” Agencies should “be more upfront about what metrics and ROI they need so that publishers can best tailor strategy and offer more customized products and data for campaigns.”

If a “black box is what the agency wants,” one said, “I would recommend that digital agency provide an infrastructure that we can incorporate.” But another just wants agencies to see the big picture: “Pull up from your spreadsheets and look at the broader impact of ROI messaging how that can conflict with brand. And please start talking to your TV counterparts!”

In sum, “Work more closely with publishers directly,” because “the more you share the more we can help give you what you need, not what you want.”

Publishers had plenty of stinging critiques about agencies’ expertise and capabilities, but all appealed to agencies to become better educated or open-minded. Said one, “Be better informed about new publisher and content categories; digital agency people are surprisingly not leading edge digital natives.” It would help for agencies to understand publishers’ properties well enough to know that “one size does not fit all,” when it comes to campaign creative.

Partners are essential. One said, “Think more about your client needs rather than building up your own capabilities.” Another said, “Increase vendor categories to include more content providers, host technology mixers among platforms for cross-pollination, understand that it is about the core idea – and that technology should support that idea, not lead it.”

Clearly, what publishers most need from agencies is “inspiration.” One respondent advised his agency counterparts:“Stop following, and lead. It’s frustrating to meet agencies with no opinions of their own and lacking guts to have recommendations that may challenge our CMO and exec team. Not simply “spending someone else’s money, but going beyond to show domain leadership and marketing savvy across social/mobile/geo/ behavioral – without asking us to spend zillions of dollars and a year to get there.” Have a vision, and employ “many small experiments along a continuum” would be this publisher’s bottom line. Another colleague agreed, saying, “Try everything.”

To become more integrated, agencies should “be more active in helping educate clients about the benefits of cross-platform campaigns,” and “get a holistic viewpoint” for how to provide a “clear vision on how to implement a good cross-channel program.”

It’s not as easy as it looks; for example, agencies need to “differentiate TV buying and video buying” and “video platforms vs. video ad networks.” Another advised agencies to diversify their digital ad mediums right from the start when budgeting and planning. Buying one line item at a time can be frustrating to publishers who can provide a more streamlined, multi-channel approach.

Dealing with more multi-faceted publishers also calls for greater collaboration on the part of the digital agency liaison. One publisher asked agencies to provide “contacts with access to budgets for a cross-platform integration (broadcast, online, mobile, iPad, etc.),” or as one put it: “Truly partner with us in helping educate clients on how to weave various digital channels into marketing plans.”

Here’s how agencies could help publishers be more accountable:

  • “Develop more robust performance measurement metrics and attribution methods. Traditional metrics such as CTR and last-view conversion attribution are ineffective when assessing campaign performance.”
  • “Have implementation plans and vendors/technology before approaching publishers”
  • “Look beyond CTR”
  • Put “more focus on appropriate attribution,” and
  • “Simplify the expected benefits we will get from their activities.”

Agencies’ commitment to digital will be best measured by their focus on hiring and keeping experienced talent. One publisher said that agencies should “improve hiring practices at the lower levels. It’s a complex industry and your buyers need to truly understand the differences between all the various offerings.” Advised another, “Learn media math and that not all impressions are created equal. Good media exposure is expensive.”

Agencies’ advice to publishers
Agencies would like to see publishers agree to pay for more research. On the data front more generally, they want access to e-retailer sales data, “better targeting capabilities across all platforms, and a better understanding of their audiences generally.” Proving the prevalence of mixed market signals, one agency exec advised that publishers should “own your first party data and stop giving it away,” and another said, “understand the real value of your audience,” while another urged them to, “share data with legitimate partners.” A third counseled, “fully leverage your audience data and make it available.”

Pleaded one agency exec, “Help us to better understand the contribution your platform/ media property makes to overall ROI by giving us more / deeper access to your audience profile and performance data (ie from website analytics).” For another respondent, this translated to: “Don’t resist tracking pixels.” For another, transparency could actually translate into more dollars for the publisher. “I will pay a premium for a media product that is differentiated from what anyone else in my segment can purchase — customization is key.”

It’s here that a more customized product that demonstrates knowledge of the “difference between my clients and the competitors to bring solutions specific to my client rather than the ‘retail category,’” seems to be at odds with a move toward automated buying.

Self-evaluation and honesty likely will make both sides happy.

Publishers striving for integrated thinking should consider what benefits they offer clients that go beyond those offered by ad networks. Observed one agency hand, “Better branded integration outside of the IAB standards is the only reason to shift from networks.” Publishers “need to get educated about managing a complex, multi-channel sale of their product. Get away from thinking about ‘direct sold’ vs. remnant. Remnant can be a myriad of channels and publishers need to get educated about them,” advised another.

Clearly, it’s up to the publisher to “provide cross-channel solutions,” and “seamless integration” across their own networks, but they should also “recognize that they compete with all other media for budgets. A bad deal for the agency often benefits no one in the long run.” If it’s to succeed in the long-run, cross-platform access and reporting should be simplified, but collaboration helps. “Think creatively and partner with the client/agency to help them [deliver] multi-channel and cross-channel brand” solutions, one advised.

“Insights to improve creative,” and mobile measurement, would also be appreciated, respondents said.

Listening generally was a hot point. One respondent advised, “Listen and understand objectives. It’s no longer about only being the right contextual fit, but there are myriad of considerations that go into a plan. So many publishers waste their time trying to convince us to buy their inventory and that they are ‘the right fit,’ when they should be listening to our objectives and challenges trying to mold and adapt themselves to offer us a means to accomplish our client’s objectives.”

“Make sure it’s the right partnership for the campaign objective and brand. Often media partners don’t take the time to understand campaign objectives.”

Like brand advertisers, agencies advised publishers to stick to their knitting. “Content is the main driver” to productive agency/publisher relationships, and publishers should work hard to filter out services best left to others.

Agencies to other providers
The most lengthy advice from agencies was reserved for other specialty shops, technology and service providers.

On the data front, they want their support system to have “a better grasp of database marketing.” They should provide data and solutions across multiple digital media types and “create open API’s that facilitate the transfer of data and automated communication.”

Data should be sales focused; in fact, if technology providers thought less about making media buying better and thought more about connecting the marketing message to actual sales, everyone would benefit.

One reason why agencies outsource is to access expertise, and several suggestions dealt with the idea of staffing people who can better understand and act on data. One agency exec asked, “Help us to join up the disparate digital marketing datasets into a unified view so that we can better measure and evaluate cross-channel marketing efforts – and better optimize in as-near-as-possible real-time.” Increased data transparency would help further this aim, as would “the ability to self-interpret performance results.”

Data would also help agency partners “know your consumer path and how to appropriately market to each consumer throughout their brand experience,” and “inform better creative production.” Partners should provide more access to outside sales data and “More analytics outside of Comscore or Nielsen.” White papers are beneficial.

Another theme that emerged in the context of data-driven advertising is that “a customer’s experience and emotional interaction with digital is just as important as optimizing for data.” Keeping the focus on the customer himself will help partners differentiate between channel-centricity and customer-centricity. “It’s not the same,” said another.

Obviously, collaboration is key to a successful partnership, but it’s still interesting how many focused their advice on the need for such partners to be transparent and really work together with their agency client. Picking the right partner for agencies depends on partners providing clarity on their features and benefits, and on how they can be “additive” to a relationship, not just do something better than someone else. More particularly, one remarked that partners should “come to the table with transparency and quick action without requirement of meeting a lot of criteria hurdles or budget approvals up front. We should all be in this together and if we are, we will all get the reward at the end.”

Ease of implementation and clarity of strategy help, as does the ability to identify other synergistic partnerships that might address client needs; in short: collaborate, keep it simple, and network more.

Many of the “innovation-oriented” comments will sound redundant at this point, but one respondent was explicit: “Don’t be afraid to take chances and test something that has never been done before.”

Integration issues were top of mind for some respondents. One advised partners to “help us to join up the disparate digital marketing datasets into a unified view so that we can better measure and evaluate cross-channel marketing efforts, and better optimize in as-near-as-possible real-time.” Sometimes better integration could be construed as just asking for some sense of the “big picture.” One said,

“Digital or specialty agencies brought in to assist the main agency of record need to remember that what they are doing is helping with a segment of the marketing plan. The need to have perspective and learn about the holistic plan, not be greedy and try to grab more share of the budget for selfish reasons. If success comes, they will be rewarded. Think long-term success in favor of short-term gain.”

“Move beyond digital marketing as your only service,” said one agency respondent. Partners should offer data and solutions across multiple digital media types, including social advertising, commented others.

“Don’t plan or measure digital in a silo,” advised one agency exec. “Look at it as a key element within your overarching strategy.” Agencies engaged in cross-media planning and coordination need “seamless, cross-functional execution and attribution” and “seamless integration of branded content.”

Integration without branding is a losing proposition, however. One wanted to “stress the importance of incorporating branding into any campaigns utilizing user generated content,” while another observed, “Too many agencies and clients are rushing to use digital channels on a tactical level and are forgetting the need to build a sustainable brand narrative, not just short-term metrics.”

On the subject of metrics, agencies reiterated many of their comments to publishers about accurate, consistent and translatable metrics, but emphasized attribution and improved branding metrics at bit more. They want to be able to measure at a placement level, and several suggested client-facing, real-time dashboards that would help “Bring the client on the journey with you,” while avoiding “smoke and mirrors secrecy.”

Others advised their partners to keep testing, and run scientific experiments to determine the ultimate worth of their solutions, defined by one as helping to determine the ROI per dollar spent. Local search and social measurement seem to be a particular problem, as is mobile spending measurement. Generally speaking, no partners will survive without being able to demonstrate their worth to the agency in this competitive environment.

Committed partners should be willing to help agencies train their marketers so digital isn’t, “the intimidating elephant in the room.” Agencies need partners who can translate digital complexities into laymen’s terms – from the most basic to the most advanced concepts, several respondents said.

Agencies to clients
Share your data – that’s the key critique from agencies to their clients. Taking it one step further, one agency exec advised clients to “take the time to understand the power of database/customer relationship marketing and invest in the technologies as well as the people to realize the full potential they offer.” Another emphasized the need to understand consumer behavior in the context of the evolving media landscape and to focus more on how marketing drives sales.

Agencies would also like to see quicker turnaround, more information about their client base and details on their own cross-channel strategies.

“Take a risk,” say agency execs, while others urge more testing and trial. Keeping the “long term brand benefit” in mind may help advertisers be more flexible. On the practical side, targeted creative, particularly web-specific digital video, would be appreciated.

High-level buy-in for cross-media marketing is essential to success, agencies tell their clients. One agency exec said, “Prioritize cross platform marketing at the top levels of your company.” Another said, “Reconsider how you approach your media mix.” Sharing their cross-channel strategy, including their attribution modeling, would help agencies move into the channels that best match the brand’s own long-term aims.

Agencies can help brands evolve without being subject to marketplace fads. One agency exec advised brand marketers to “understand the big picture and what is available out there to help you and your agency achieve your objectives. Clients so often focus on CPM efficiencies and the major publishers (i.e., Hulu, Facebook, etc.) and ignore the data and facts that might lead them to better partners. It’s less important to buy “cool placements cheaply that reach the most people,’”and more important to “reach the right audience at the right time with the message that drives the most successful results.”

Like their technology partners, agencies are aware that they’re being measured against their last success. From their clients, agencies want clearer objectives with specific KPIs and clearly stated success metrics across multiple channels. They’d also appreciate more flexible budgets that accommodate more testing for course corrections, and stronger media briefs.

Readers can download the survey whitepaper and slides here. And feel free to add your own comments below.

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