iProspect’s Global President: If You Can’t Deliver Art, Your Science Doesn’t Matter

iproiProspect is best known for its heritage in search marketing. But the Dentsu Aegis-owned digital performance agency, which first opened its doors in 1996, is changing with the times.

Today, content is where it’s at.

“There’s a tendency in the industry at the moment to split down two different paths,” said iProspect global President Ben Wood. “One path is the scientific, ad tech space and the other path is creativity.”

But the “agency of the future” is one that can bring those two diverging paths together, Wood said, “where data is driving creative and content strategy as much as it is driving programmatic outcomes and trading solutions.”

iProspect used its search DNA to build a series of products and services that include display advertising, analytics, conversion rate optimization and affiliate marketing. The firm works with clients like GM, Adidas, Burberry, Hilton and Neiman Marcus from 75 offices around the globe.

In May, iProspect acquired content marketing firm John Brown to chase the dream of mastering both the art and science of digital advertising.

Wood spoke to AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What was the impetus behind the John Brown acquisition?

BEN WOOD: Our clients have benefited from the effectiveness of data-driven, programmatically oriented solutions when it comes to driving traffic to mobile sites, websites or applications. But if the content experience within those destinations wasn’t up to scratch, and more importantly wasn’t completely relevant, they were finding it hard to convert.

If we’re not also able to deliver a bit of the art, then what we’re doing is a bit blunt. For the past 18 months, we’ve been grappling as an organization with how to do that. Ultimately, it led to our acquisition of a content marketing business that specializes in the creation of content.

What does content marketing mean to iProspect?

It’s about brands adopting an owned-first mindset. If brands really want to interact, engage and transact with consumers, they have to start with the assets they own. And they have to make sure those assets are well-optimized and rewarding for consumers before they start driving traffic to them.

For many brands that means they’re on a journey to becoming a publisher, because they’re trying to create experiences for consumers that will then convert and drive transactions.

How is an agency like iProspect better positioned to create and distribute content than a publisher?

I’m not sure publishers can really distribute content in a neutral and universal way.

If you’re a publisher talking to brands about the creation and distribution of content, that content will be confined to the channels that you control. You’re not going to be able to offer clients universal content distribution or content distribution strategies.

And if you’re a scaled publisher and have teams of editorial staff – and those staff members have the option to work on world-famous websites and magazines or do a bit of down and dirty work for a brand – your best people won’t be compelled to work on the branded content.

The content we’re looking to generate for our clients through our relationship with John Brown is going to be predicated on performance strategy. I’m not sure traditional publishers are set up to produce that kind of content because it’s more real-time, it’s high-volume and you need to be very agile in how you create it. It’s different than the traditional way of publishing.

How do you differentiate between content marketing and sponsored content?

I would argue that what people call native advertising is simply a strategy for distributing content so that it sits in environments looking native. An interesting space is emerging as native advertising becomes more programmatic, but ultimately native advertising is more about the distribution of content than it is about the creation of content.

You can have all the native advertising or programmatic native skills in the world, but they’re scientific skills. You can be brilliant at that to the detriment of being brilliant at actually creating content. Both are equally important, but the skillsets are almost diametrically opposite. The challenge for agencies is to create structures to bring together the artistic capability and the scientific capability.

How does iProspect apply technology and insights to content creation?

When we talk about content, the insight that has generated the need for that content comes from performance strategy.

It could be a SEO person saying, “We need this content to drive rankings,” a paid search person saying, “We’re bidding on these keywords but they’re not linking through to relevant experiences,” a conversion rate optimization person saying, “If this website had slightly different content it would work better” – or, it might be a person on our programmatic team saying, “Actually we need amazing ads that are personalized in real time because of the data we have.’”

How does iProspect work with Amnet and other Dentsu organizations?

Amnet [Dentsu’s trading desk] is powered by Amnet Audience Center, which is a DMP. Within the Amnet Audience Center we’re very strict about siloing client data, but that’s been appended with second- and third-party data to create audience segments we can leverage for smarter trading.

As much as possible, we will work with Amnet to deliver performance display solutions to our clients. If Amnet is leveraging data for display or data targeting, that’s rich data that can help us build content strategies. It helps us understand what content people are consuming, what kinds of ads they’re responding to, what kinds of propositions are attractive and what kind of content they’re browsing.

What’s iProspect’s main focus for the next 12 months?

John Brown is an asset that exists in the US, the UK, South Africa and Dubai. We see a massive opportunity to scale the brand globally, and, in doing so, to deepen our capability across all of the markets in which iProspect operates. The aim for the next 12 months is to significantly scale that asset, and also to continue to improve the data capabilities that drive the insights behind content strategies.

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