programmatic

Nothing Sells Itself.


Next month I’ll be speaking at Programmatic I/O in New York about selling programmatic technology and audiences.  No, selling programmatic isn’t a typo, nor is it a contradiction in terms like jumbo shrimp or amicable divorce.  I believe the seller has an active role in an automated marketplace.  That the role hasn’t been fully realized yet doesn’t make this any less true.

The person who first said this technology (or algorithm or data set) sells itself was clearly not tasked with selling it.  We must believe in our solution, the logic says, and if it’s good all we should need to do is get it plugged in…get the tags up, get the master services agreement signed. The market will respond appropriately and it will provide, we tell ourselves.  But then, too often, it doesn’t.

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This is where the seller makes a difference.  As I’ve previously said in this space, there’s a big difference between selling and simply describing stuff.  So how, then, do technology sellers earn their keep and drive the business forward?

Draw Sharp Contrasts.  Only by understanding the deeper business and audience needs of the client accounts can the seller draw sharp contrasts between the quality and depth of their solution and the rest of the market.  Broad banalities like brand safe and premium don’t get it done.  There’s a lot of crap out there:  if your offering has real value to the advertiser’s business, you have to own that narrative.

Be Radically Curious. Far too many sellers are just happy to be included. They settle for just being in the game, which explains all those non-producing PMP deals and under-producing programmatic streams.  Until something happens, nothing happens. Strong sellers have hard conversations about how things work.  Who do we need additional support from?  How will planning and investment teams express demand?  Any rep who has just one or two points of programmatic contact is vulnerable.  And if you find yourself frequently waiting for stuff to happen, you’re in trouble.

Catalyze Activation. Once a programmatic buyer says yes to a PMP or other automated relationship, their attention and enthusiasm wane noticeably.  Strong sellers push back on what happens next – How do we get set up? Exactly how the money will begin to flow? Who will make the downstream decisions that will affect revenue? – and puts appropriate pressure on the buyer organization to get things going.  Many a promising business relationship ends up stillborn simply because the integration was never prioritized.

Merchandise Your Offering.  Someone once told me that you have to merchandise programmatic inventory and tech.  Indeed.  Just like the person in the supermarket who makes sure their product is at eye-level and supported by in-store signage and coupons, you have to constantly make sure your inventory or solutions are constantly in view of planning and investment teams.  We can’t just be supply sellers…we must also be demand generators.

Nothing sells itself.  And when we count on the technology to do the selling, that’s exactly what we end up with:  Nothing.

Look for me on Monday October 15th at Programmatic I/O in New York.  If you haven’t yet made plans, you can find out more here.


Living in the Light.


Indulge me.  I’ve been at this since the very beginning of web advertising (1994) and I’m seeing patterns.

Each massive, tectonic shift in our business has been preceded by an equally massive economic or cultural upheaval.  The dotcom bust of 2000-2001 ended the era of site-by-site buying and ushered in a period of extreme targeting and data enhancement.  The housing crash and recession of 2008-2009 effectively kicked off the programmatic era that we’ve been living for the past 9+ years.  Now we’re living through the third major upheaval…and it, too, is setting us up for a very different world.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Consider this:  in the past two years we’ve seen (1) the ANA’s release of the K2 Report on Media Transparency in June 2016; (2) P&G’s top marketer Marc Pritchard call out the industry’s dirty supply chain in January 2017; (3) The New York Times and the Guardian break the Cambridge Analytica scandal; and (4) the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR – by the European Union.  Oh, yeah, we had a little Brexit, a US election and more than a little foreign hacking.  Don’t look at these as singular events, but rather as a pattern.  A big one.

So what, then, is the new look of our industry?  What will it be like to do business in the next era?   What rules might we follow?

Welcome to our time in the sun.

As I told an audience of programmatic and automation leaders in Nashville earlier today, I believe we’re already starting to live into an age of radical transparency.  Over the next several years, you won’t find anyone wearing a grey hat: there will only be heroes and villains.  It may feel selective, it may feel unfair, but it is very definitely here.  So how does one build an automated media or marketing business at a time like this?

  • Stop aiming at compliance. That bar is too low.  Focus instead on making clarity and fairness into core values for your organization.
  • Celebrate your newfound commitment. I’m looking forward to seeing a sign on someone’s office wall that says “485 days of being squeaky clean.”
  • More is no longer better. Better is better.  Get used to the idea of a smaller, better internet, one filed with real people, real attention and real connections.  When you eliminate the fraud and the stuff nobody really wants, this is what we’ll have.  It will be a great place to work.
  • Don’t benchmark around the scoundrels. What someone else may get away with is not the point.  Don’t pander to the least among us.  Instead aspire to be the best among us.
  • Work through the pain. Quickly.  Yes, there is economic pain to be endured.  But it won’t be more endurable in 12 or 18 months.  And in that time, you might find your world collapsing around you.  Time to rip off the band-aid and do the right things.

Like it or not, we all live in the light today.  All can be seen and everything will be made clear. And it will be a time of reinvention, of leaders, of new ideas.

I can’t wait.


The RFP: Back from the Dead?


According to Digiday’s Lucia Moses, “media buyers are ditching the much hated RFP.”   Clearly this was meant to be a crowd-pleasing idea:  both agencies and clients reportedly can’t stand them anymore, and to sellers they’ve been the nasty habit they just can’t seem to kick.  I think it all sounds a little too good to be true.

The RFP is the Freddy Krueger of the digital buying-selling process.  It’s the friend from college who crashed on your couch “for a night or two” but ends up staying for 10 months.  It’s the annoying song that’s stuck in our collective heads.  In theory, we all want to be rid of it.  In spirit and practice it’s still very much with us.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Yes it’s true that there are fewer digital RFPs being sent out (a look at Seller Crowd will back this up) and fewer winners in the process.  Programmatic buying has rightly taken a big chunk of those transactional dollars out of the system, and consolidation into the hands of Facebook and Google has taken more.  But the RFP is still very much with us: it’s just migrated.

Now that avails and standard ad units are off the table, buyers are using the RFP process to ask for things like custom videos, content marketing ideas, influencer campaigns and social posts.  If anything, this is worse.  Now a buyer can ask an unlimited number of questionably qualified publishers for things that are really difficult and expensive to bid on.  And sellers are taking the bait.  The arrival of every RFP – never mind how speculative – becomes like a crash cart rolling through the trauma unit of an ER.  Creatives, account management, pricing, events and talent are all dragged in to save the patient – who still expires 80-90 percent of the time.

The RFP was a weak idea when we were trading standard ad units for dollars.  In the content marketing era it’s a full-on dumpster fire.  Any seller who’s not connecting – proactively and directly — with clients and agency leadership is part of the problem.  Any publisher who’s ignoring the P&L of the weekly creative RFP lottery is mortgaging their future and tossing their most valuable resources – their ideas and the creativity of their people – into the wind.  Agencies won’t stop using the RFP.  Sales organizations can only control if, when and how they respond.

Qualify.  Qualify.  Qualify.


Saving Programmatic.


Last week in this space I suggested that one unintended outcome of our decade-long dance with programmatic buying was the dark, dangerous alternative world we’d brought into being.  Borrowing an analogy from the Netflix series Stranger Things, call it “The Programmatic Upside Down,” rife with fraud, bots, hate speech, fake news and every other means of foul beastie.

In a speech last week in Los Angeles, I suggested that while an uncritical devotion to “tech for the sake of tech” had opened the breach to this world, it was people who would help close it.  Here, then, are the four types of people we should endeavor to find, groom, hire and deploy in the programmatic world of the next five years.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

The Activator.  Ironically, those who plan and build programmatic stacks and strategies can be too closed in their thinking and too slow to act on new insights and improvements.  The Activator is the executive who can not only explain why, but why now.  He or she can create urgency around meaningful change and development from the outside – who can lay waste to the kind of group think and inertia that assure many a programmatic strategy will bear poisoned fruit.

The Fixer.  The role of The Fixer is also to disrupt the destructively myopic processes and decision making of the group.  Except he or she works from the inside out.  The Fixer is willing to call out the bad outcome the group might not be considering…to ask the hard question.  Blessed with a good strategic mind and highly-evolved pattern recognition, The Fixer can help the group abandon the path that leads into The Programmatic Upside Down.

The White Hat.   A few years ago, Chief Privacy Officers were all the rage.  Perhaps the next five years we’ll see the emergence of the Chief Hygienist….The White Hat.  An unwavering advocate of transparency and quality, The White Hat invites scrutiny from meaningful third parties and holds the organization to the highest standards.

The Integrator.  For most of its existence, programmatic has run along its own parallel track alongside creative solutions and direct sales.  Clearly those tracks are starting to cross now, which leads us to the need for The Integrator.  He or she will be the one who plans and sells programmatic solutions as part of a larger marketing, creative and business mix.  The question will no longer be “how much should we spend programmatically?” but rather “how will programmatic solutions help us scale and deliver all of our unique benefits to marketers?”

Your organizations – publisher, agency, marketer, tech provider – will call these archetypes by scores of different titles.  But know that you need them…now and for the rest of your existence.  They are what stand between you and technology run amok.

Read my original article on 212NYC’s new thought leadership newsletter, The Scryer.


The Programmatic Upside Down.


There are no serious spoilers in this post, so if you’re not yet finished with season two of “Stranger Things” – or if you’ve not seen the Netflix show at all – you’re safe.  I’m giving nothing critical away by telling you that the core of the story revolves around a dark, frightening dimension that’s a reverse-mirror image of our world; a place that’s slimy, cold and gray and full of dark corners and scary things.  It’s called “The Upside Down.”

Over the past decade we’ve all been part of the invention and growth of programmatic advertising.  While there’s no question that data-fueled automation and process reform are hard trends that will continue to grow and develop, it’s also true that – just like the scientists on “Stranger Things” – our blind devotion to technology may have blown open a passage to a dark version of the internet.  Let’s call it “The Programmatic Upside Down.”

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

The internet we describe and sell to advertisers is filled with great articles and creative videos, all being eagerly consumed by attentive customers.  It’s a well-lit world with laws and crosswalks and predictable ROI.  But along with the rest of us, marketers are now seeing that our sometimes-myopic devotion to technology for its own sake has meant that their brands and messages sometimes end up in The Programmatic Upside Down.

The Programmatic Upside Down is a cold gray place of fraud and bots, of risque content, hate speech and fake news mills.  It mimics the shape and structure of the internet we describe, but it’s in no way the one that marketers would willingly buy into.

The good news?  It’s that 2017 brought its existence into focus with unmistakable clarity. We can see it and we can understand why it’s happening and what’s feeding it.  Collectively we all now have a mission:  we must now devote our business models, our technology and – most importantly – our people to shutting off access to The Programmatic Upside Down.  Devotion to purity of supply and quality of data are a good start.  Embracing the oversight of qualified third-parties to police us is also critical.

And perhaps most important is that we fully realize that there is no longer a convenient, situational middle ground:  you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.  There’s no time to waste:  The Demo-Dogs are already on the run.