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4 keys to boosting transparency in digital marketing

4 keys to boosting transparency in digital marketing Sean Cotton

Transparency is one of the hottest topics in the marketing world today. Countless digital media companies are currently touting this attribute as a key benefit clients will see if they choose to work with them, subtly implying that their competitors are not transparent.

This is crazy to me. In marketing, transparency shouldn't be seen as a nice-to-have feature offered by a marketing partner; it should be table stakes for any two parties doing business together. No sane investor would ever do business with a stockbroker who refused to communicate about things like management fees, stock performance (good and bad), rebates, or any other significant factors affecting the marketplace.

Similarly, a trusted relationship between clients, agents, media buyers, and media sellers needs to be based on a clear understanding of media costs and fees, meaningful metrics, ROI, and how challenges such as viewability, fraud, and brand safety are being addressed. Transparency fosters trust, which is an extremely valuable commodity in the digital marketing world. Advertisers deserve to know exactly what they are paying for and the return they're getting on their investments.

Why is transparency so elusive?

For the most part, transparency isn't elusive because companies are intentionally hiding things from their clients. Rather, the source could likely be traced back to matters of expediency and convenience. Time is money, and the pressure falls onto the agency's shoulders to keep billable hours within profit margins. As reported by the recent ANA report on transparency, this has resulted in some agencies looking for creative ways to compensate themselves for the labor-intensive resources often needed for digital advertising.

It also takes time and undivided attention to fully discuss the details of a digital marketing campaign --- and because most advertisers find themselves in a time crunch while juggling multiple projects, they end up only consuming surface-level performance metrics instead of pressing their marketing partners for in-depth analysis and insights that are readily available with digital marketing campaigns.

Further, the ad tech world is constantly evolving. There are always new metrics to explore and complexities to decipher, and it's a major challenge to communicate these topics to clients -- who may not be fluent in ad tech language -- in a way that helps them easily see the overall value of their digital campaigns. The quickest and most productive conversations typically revolve around metrics like CPM, click-through rate, and last-click CPA -- however, the focus should dive much deeper into granular details regarding reach, engagement, and the overall impact the campaign is having on the purchase funnel. These complexities involve far more involved conversations, so they often fall by the wayside in an effort to present campaign performance in the most efficient fashion.

How to embrace transparency

Staying transparent with clients isn't always easy, but it's doable. And really, it's vital to maintaining great client relationships.

Here are four transparency-boosting strategies any brand, agency or marketing company can use:

Avoid vanity metrics
Vanity metrics like click-through rate and CPM are easy to talk about, but they can be misleading, and they don't give clients the full picture. A better strategy is to firmly establish meaningful KPIs for each campaign and steer your conversations toward metrics that pertain to these goals. Then, you can really start conducting transparent reviews of important performance metrics such as viewable CPM, on-target percentage, NHT percentage, and site placement.

At Coegi, we like to begin each media campaign with a kickoff call to review the client's objectives, establish clear KPIs, and then identify the best way to go about measuring them. This prepares everyone to discuss all relevant metrics -- not just surface-level ones.

Implement real-time dashboards
When all media performance metrics are made available for all parties to access at any time, there is a single source of truth that serves as the basis for review. This ensures campaigns stay on track, and it also helps clients better understand exactly what's going on with their campaigns. Thus, transparency is boosted.

Referring to this information is far more valuable than sending weekly or monthly PowerPoint reports to clients. Real-time dashboards boost alignment and ensure everyone remains in the loop throughout the campaign.

Always boast ongoing communication
Ongoing communication that analyzes media performance -- both good and bad -- fosters partnership. When challenges arise in the marketing plan, everyone is inclined to tackle them together instead of assign blame.

The more communication between the agent and the client, the more aware both sides will be about goals, placements, and performance. There will never be any surprises when all parties are empowered to openly and honestly communicate.

Conduct regular internal interviews
Every quarter, take some time to evaluate the current trends and issues sweeping across the marketing industry and how they may impact your service offerings. Doing this on a regular basis will enable your agency to be proactive in remaining on the cutting edge -- rather than reactive to the latest hot article in a trade publication you happen to come across.

Also, use these quarterly reviews as an opportunity to identify areas of poor performance. Don't just sweep these issues under the rug; discuss them openly. Brainstorm with your team on how to address them, and pivot where necessary.

When agencies and media partners don't go above and beyond to be transparent with clients, they're simply not creating healthy partnerships. Key details are being overlooked, and clients will ultimately end up feeling under-informed and unhappy in the long run.

However, when transparency becomes a top priority, productive collaboration ensues because everyone deeply understands the campaign's goals and is able to work toward them in tandem. The value of digital services is also more clearly seen and the parties involved can have productive and transparent negotiations on the cost of those services.

The more open, meaningful conversations agencies have with clients, the better the end result.

Sean is an experienced media strategist who has worked extensively with agencies, Fortune 100 corporations, startup companies and regional small businesses. During this time he has partnered with leading digital technology companies in the marketing...

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