“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Chris O’Hara, co-founder and chief revenue officer of Bionic Advertising Systems.
Well, at least it’s not “The Year of Mobile” again.
Or, maybe it is. After several days of media investment banking conferences – Gridley and JEGI – I can reliably report that 2014 will be “The Year of …” many uber-trends, some of which will enrich the merger and acquisition (M&A) bankers who have a focus on the increasingly frothy ad-technology and marketing space.
Every one of these memes will produce a ton of innovation, lots of M&A, a good deal of mid- to senior- level hiring, and plenty of bankers’ fees, so don’t worry. It looks like 2014 will be a great year for ad technology.
1. Mobile First
If you were to believe every ad-tech panelist, you might be inclined to throw your laptop into the East River. Apparently, nobody is developing ad-tech solutions for the desktop anymore, despite desktop only slightly starting to lose overall time-spent share to mobile on a year-over-year basis. Everyone is “mobile-first,” meaning that they are writing code for tablet and mobile phone browsers and apps before developing solutions for the poor laptop or desktop computer.
Of course, mobile devices are showing explosive growth, and clearly that is where the majority of consumers’ time will be spent, as evidenced by the eight of 10 people at my conference table multitasking during the presentation laying out the mobile data. This might be only a slight exaggeration when it comes to mobile ecommerce, which is beginning to dominate the vast majority of online sales transactions in just a short time. Also, in case you missed this, it is now passé to call mobile “mobile.” Companies are so hip to the growth in portable digital devices that they just talk about “reach” rather than distinguishing between “tablets” and “smartphones.”
2. No Cookie, No Problem
Guess what? Nobody is worried that cookies are going away. Again, if you spend all of your time in conference ballrooms listening to panelists, you naturally understand that cookies are a thing of the ancient past, rather than the data currency without which 80% of Lumascape companies could not credibly operate. In fact, if the cookie disappeared tomorrow, ad-tech players would simply go with a statistical ID or another cool-sounding identification technology that is being invented somewhere. I am really glad that no one is particularly worried but — hearing this meme several times over the past week — I would be interested in learning how many platforms and ad networks have developed and deployed data technologies that enable them to do audience targeting at scale without cookies. What I think the reality of the situation might be is that cookie technology is replaceable, but if legislation changes suddenly or Google Chrome decides to switch things up, there could be huge trouble in Luma land.
The idea of the technology stack is not new for 2014, but what has changed is that tons of point solutions that were funded in 2008 are still unprofitable, their VCs are at the end of their funding lifespans, and it’s time to find an exit. That means some unprofitable point solution can either become a part of another’s stack or everyone can take their toys and go home.
The problem with everyone wanting you to have a stack is that they are expensive to build and also expensive to license via Service-as-a-Software. Small players cannot afford a stack and the big players already have them. That dynamic is going to create a ton of M&A activity in 2014, as vulnerable point-solution providers, some with excellent technology, succumb to larger integrators. As repeatedly pointed out, the biggest players in the marketing space – IBM, Adobe and Salesforce, to name a few – represent the vast majority of M&A dollar volume, all of which has gone towards augmenting stacks, and it doesn’t look like they are going to be done anytime soon. There are a lot of good engineers that aren’t going to exit big at their point solution company, and may be ready for a comparatively cushy work life in the bosom of corporate behemoths that offer unlimited Mountain Dew and Skittles in the company snack room. Look for lots more M&A, and much of it “acqui-hire” focused.
4. The ‘Funnel’ Is Dead. It’s Now The ‘Customer Journey.’
Everyone now has to have an “omnichannel-capable programmatic offering.” That’s the one parked right next to my unicorn. Not that the instinct is incorrect — the proliferation of screens means that marketers have to reach people along their “consumer journey.” It’s no longer a trip down the sales funnel, but a twisting landscape where the consumer pushes information toward you through various social interactions. The smart marketer has to be ready at the drop of a hat to deliver perfect, personalized messages to the consumer’s smartphone at the “moment of truth” before a purchase —and, at the very least, be prepared for various “Oreo” social media moments that can create “earned” media at scale. Sounds like marketers may actually start to miss the old “AIDA” funnel.
5. “Sutton Pivot”
One of 2013’s memes was the notion of the “Sutton Pivot,” or running where the display money is (namely, the 70% of digital dollars that get transacted through the RFP channel). That’s where we get to complain endlessly about funding the “23-year-old media planner” with “sneaker parties.” David Moore remarked at the recent JEGI conference that 50% of the cost of a campaign went into the complexity of planning and delivering it. That sounds like a lot, but might be only a slight exaggeration. Everyone wants everything more programmatically, but the problem is that publishers haven’t quite given up yet. They are still keeping the premium inventory to themselves and out of the exchanges. “Programmatic everywhere” may become a reality in five or six years. But old habits and buying methodologies die hard. In the meantime, everyone with a “platform” is going to try and figure out how to automate the inefficient buying process and try and get some of that 70% flowing through a system that creates a nice “percentage of spend” platform fee. We will see this trend accelerate in 2014.