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How to simplify the display landscape

David A Yovanno
How to simplify the display landscape David A Yovanno

It's hard to understand what we can't see

According to eMarketer, spending on display is set to outpace paid search by 2015 -- that's just three years from now. That's exciting, but it's also concerning. Right now, the display media industry is experiencing a tremendous consolidation, happening through both acquisition and organic evolution of established companies. But the reality is that the display media industry remains complex and fractured. That complexity may mean that display won't reach such predicted heights. As long as marketers must wade through a quagmire of point-solution startups, incomprehensible jargon, and one-size-fits-all strategies to execute their unique business goals, the hope for growth rates may not be a reality.

How to simplify the display landscape

There is a frustration common throughout the space: No sufficient tools exist to help marketers truly understand the display ecosystem.

We all glommed on to the "LUMAscapes," Terry Kawaja's ever-expanding map of the established players, startups, and acquisitions in the digital media space. For VCs and M and A teams, there's no better tool for instantly understanding what all these companies do. However, Kawaja and The LUMA Partners' goal was clearly to guide strategic acquisitions and investment, not address digital marketing execution from a brand's perspective. Marketers can try to reference the LUMAscape to figure out what companies do and the functions they may provide, but more often than not, they end up more confused than before.

That led our team to build a vendor-neutral model which focuses on needs of marketers to understand the flow and relationships between the various technologies and companies in the display ecosystem. The result is what we call the "Dish on Display," a reference tool for marketers to categorize their efforts as well as understand opportunities that are be available to them in the display ecosystem.

The "Dish on Display" identifies the services and solutions marketers need to fully capitalize on display. Everything gets categorized into easy-to-understand categories:

  • Media planning and buying -- How will your branddecide which content, audiences, or people to target with display ads?

  • Media vendors --Where will your agency or in-house team choose to purchase display inventory from

  • Execution technologies -- What technology will you use to target, bid on, and serve your display ads?

  • Media enhancements -- What enhancements will you leverage to improve your targeting, tracking, bidding, and creative to generate better results and higher quality placement?

  • Business intelligence -- How effective is your display marketing?

Let's take a more in-depth look at each of these categories.

The brand

The brand and business objectives are at the core of a marketing strategy. What are the business goals? How can these goals be best achieved through advertising? How much control is desired in developing the media strategy? These are all questions marketers need to answer, and there are a range of services and solution providers to help.

Media planning and buying

In the media planning and buying function, brands can choose to handle their display strategy and tactics with an in-house marketing team, an outsourced agency or vendor, or a combination of both. In any scenario, a range of media management tools are typically used to assist in this process -- for example, with site selection or billing. Once a media plan is decided, marketers purchase the media from a media vendor, either through executing an insertion order, or programmatically through real-time bidding.

Media vendors

A media vendor is the channel through which a marketer gains access to display ad inventory. To execute a media plan, media vendors are selected by who can best provide inventory to reach a brand's goals. The types of media vendors include publishers, ad networks, exchanges, full-service demand-side platforms (DSPs), and agency trading desks (ATDs). For example, if the marketer chooses to work with an ad network, even though an ad network is an intermediary between a marketer and publisher, the media vendor in this scenario is the ad network. Alternatively, if the marketer chooses to work directly with a publisher, then the publisher in this scenario is the media vendor.

Execution technologies

Execution technologiesare involved in actually serving the ordered display impression -- and in the case of programmatic buying, the technologies involved in bidding on a display impression. A marketer could choose to let a publisher, ad network or full-service DSP serve their creative directly for example. And to deliver ads in amore centralized, controlled, optimized, and targeted fashion across many media vendors including DSPs, marketers may leverage a third-party ad server. To execute real-time bidding placements, marketers and their agencies or vendors may also choose to use a self-serve DSP technology.

Media enhancements

Media enhancement solutions make display advertising campaigns more effective. Traditional examples of enhancements include creative optimization (such as dynamic creative) and rich media. Over the last several years, a number of point solutions have entered the display landscape to provide campaign enhancements, while more traditional technologies have been slowly adding enhancements to their stack. These include the tools and solutions needed to help marketers build and leverage a more complete view of a brand's customer and prospective customers. Tag management solutions make it easier to gather on-site marketing data, data management platforms (DMPs) store this data for targeting, and data suppliershelp marketers augment a brand's first-party data.Verification services give marketers more transparency into where their ads are serving in order to improve the quality of their placements. And privacy services give consumers more transparency and control regarding how brands target them. None of these enhancements are requirements for display marketing, but they can help build and maintain a more engaging, higher quality, and personalized approach to display advertising.

Business intelligence

Finally, marketers need business intelligence tools for analyzing data across their marketing efforts. Marketing reporting andanalytics solutions provide critical information about how ads and digital marketing are performing. Site measurement and analytics solutions track and analyze visitor behavior once they've reached a brand's site. Attribution analytics determine how cross-channel marketing efforts played a role in driving conversions.

Example 1: Newbie digital marketer

To see how this might work, here's an example of Brand X's approach. It might start with display advertising, running on Google's ad network, and include basic web analytics to track conversions. This is often how many companies start out.

Example 2: Established digital marketer

Now, let's look at a more established advertiser. Brand Y is more sophisticated. This brand works with both its in-house marketing team and with an agency who handles its media buying. Its inventory is a mix of direct-to-publisher, ad networks, and exchanges. Because of the level of complexity involved in including many media vendors on a media plan, its agency uses a third-party ad server and a self-serve DSP vendor for execution technologies. Brand Y also engages in retargeting and utilizing dynamic creative to drive responses up. The brand also feeds its conversion and sales data through its DMP. And of course, it has a wealth of site and ad performance data through its tag deployments.

The evolving dish

It's important to note that every business is unique, and each brand should shape its display strategy for itself. But adding greater clarity to the types of services available, and what it can achieve, is the core idea behind the dish. Brands, agencies, and vendors can use the dish to engage in an open dialog about display strategy.

Of course, every abstraction has drawbacks. Food pyramids, infographics, flowcharts -- any simplification of a complex process won't be 100 percent complete. But the tool is about providing a foundation -- a way of telegraphically understanding the space. It codifies the basics and lets people naturally carry their own needs and research to a deeper place.

David A. Yovanno is President of Mediaplex.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Business person standing near a blank billboard" image via Shutterstock.


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