A Call For Brands: Time To Get into The Weeds On Media

Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer’s point of view.

Today’s column is written by Belinda J. Smith, global director of media activation at Electronic Arts. Belinda will present “EA’s Programmatic Arts” at AdExchanger’s upcoming PROGRAMMATIC I/O New York conference on October 25-26.   

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to brands that are considering “going in-house.”

Some want to know what the best first step is. Others want to understand how deeply they need to invest in time, money and organizational change. And some want advice on the best “programmatic consultancies” that can come in and set up shop for them.

To each question my answer is the same: Irrespective of the setup, if you don’t build deep digital media-buying expertise into the core of your business, you are about to waste a lot of time, energy and money.

Many brands rely on a champion/consultant/agency/media geek to “figure it out” while everyone else’s day-to-day is largely unchanged. This can be caustic because digital media buying touches every part of the organization and has widespread implications for how your business operates.

Let me pose a few questions to demonstrate the far-reaching impact of how you buy media:

Should your buying be consolidated onto one demand-side platform or do you need multiple? What percentage of your buying should be direct or guaranteed vs. using real-time bidding? How does that change from country to country?

And are you going to use first-, second- or third-party data? Where will you source the data from? Where will the data be stored and how will it be governed? What KPIs will you use to evaluate media success? How is this tied to your business objectives? Will you use third-party verification partners?

These questions impact product development, product strategy, legal, operations, engineering, financial planning, marketing, procurement, customer insights and segmentation and almost every part of your organization. Stakeholders from these groups must understand why these considerations are important and the long-term implications for themselves. An organizational media center of excellence (COE), which is established early on to lead these discussions at the executive level, can achieve support and alignment across stakeholders while educating on the importance of the media-buying function.

Another thing about that list: You must have a very detailed understanding of media buying to guide your organization through those considerations. Thus, it is key for the COE to have strong technical expertise and analytical acumen. This can be challenging for brands that are turned off by the “difficulty” of digital media buying – specifically programmatic buying. But digital and programmatic are only hard for those in search of the easy button.

There are immediate, tangible steps you can take to dig into the details of digital, and I promise your entire organization will be better for it. It can be as simple as engaging with industry trade associations, reading white papers and technical specifications, meeting with vendors and industry peers and asking detailed questions of all your partners. Don’t accept “mobile is difficult” or “our algorithm handles that” as an answer. Arm your team with the very specific knowledge needed to cut through the sea of ad tech offerings and get to what’s important for your brand.

Ask a verification vendor to come in and walk your team through how JavaScript tags work, their limitations and how their product road map will address those limitations. Ask your publishers if they source paid traffic for their site. Ask, or even mandate, that your suppliers are MRC-audited and -accredited and TAG-certified. It’s the responsibility of your partners to be transparent – and hopefully they want to work collaboratively to solve your challenges.

We hold the money. Simplifying a murky and needlessly complex industry starts with marketers getting into the weeds and demanding information. If we all stopped spending money with people who could not be transparent, those companies would no longer exist.

Performing due diligence in order to make the best decisions, work with the best partners and feel assured about how you’re buying media will also reinforce the importance of the media COE at the highest levels of your organization.

Would it be acceptable for your finance team to say they are outsourcing their work to an agency or consultant because of all the complexities involved with tax codes and accounting standards, especially those related to subsidiaries, joint ventures, cross-market regulations and exchange rates?

Then why would you take your media discipline any less seriously?

If advertising is core to the success of your business, it’s time to dig in.

Follow Belinda J. Smith (@BJStech), Electronic Arts (@EA) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Raquel Merchant

    Well said! My team is feeling this on the agency-side as well. There’s only so much we can rely on vendor-partners for education/training needs as we bring operations in-house, but internal teams need to more proactive in understanding WHY we’re structuring our operations as such – and be prepared to challenge those operations if we see opportunity to make them more effective.

    The agencies and brands that will have the best in-house programmatic operations will be the ones that are the most deliberate and thorough in pursuing building foundational knowledge of programmatic capabilities at every level (from campaign managers to management), AND use that foundational knowledge to best discern/be flexible with which partners allow them to operate the most effectively and efficient for each programmatic buy.