Is BT Just a Sales Tool? (Redux)

This post is a continuation of my article in last Monday’s AdExchanger about some serious challenges with BT for Brand marketers.  Interested readers should start there and then continue reading below, as I make some of my points here in the context of the example presented in that original article.

As I mentioned, BT does not outperform other approaches in driving offline sales.  Specifically, Brand.net’s studies with Nielsen have proven that our campaigns deliver impressive offline sales impact.  These results were achieved without BT;  instead Brand.net uses high-quality media with contextual, demographic and geographic targeting managed to high composition, with controlled frequency and cost.

The average ROI of 141% on these Brand.net campaigns is roughly comparable to the average ROI generated by Nielsen’s largest offline measurement partners over hundreds of studies using the purchase-based / look-alike targeting approach I described in my original article, refined over nearly a decade.  The Nielsen-powered BT those others use is state of the art; BT doesn’t get any better for branding.  If it fails to deliver substantial ROI upside to other approaches in driving offline sales – we as brand marketers really need to question the utility of BT in general.

In addition to this fundamental problem, BT poses a variety of other important problems that brand marketers should consider carefully.

First, there are no standard definitions within the industry for behavioral categories so there’s a huge degree of subjectivity in defining which users are a close-enough match to the core users to qualify as “look-alikes.”  This is a big deal because, as I outlined, 99.9% of the users in a typical BT campaign are based on look-alike modeling.   In the context of the specific example I used, how similar does a user need to be to an actual CPB Baker to qualify for inclusion the behavioral category?  What’s to keep the network doing the modeling from stretching that definition to create more inventory, particularly if there’s no direct measurement on the campaign?

Another related issue is lack of portability.  Since there’s no consistent definition for any behavioral target, if an advertiser does find something that works with a particular vendor, the advertiser is stuck with that vendor.  They can’t say, “CPB Bakers work great.  Let’s figure out the best way to buy them.” because the CPB Bakers from one source could be completely different from the CPB Bakers from another source due to different look-alike definitions.  Furthermore, if the vendor whose CPB Bakers “worked” changes look-alike definitions, loses access to data or goes out of business, the advertiser must start from scratch.  BT can’t be used as a basis for a scalable, repeatable, progressively improved strategy driven by the advertiser/agency unless the advertiser is the one building the profiles from scratch – something that is far beyond what most advertisers today are willing to do.

Due to cookie churn and simple inventory volatility, impression delivery is extremely hard to predict for any reasonably focused BT target (and forget about reach or pricing).  This makes forward delivery guarantees almost impossible – another barrier for scalable use by large brands that typically plan a significant portion of their spend in advance.

BT can also be used by networks or publishers as a way to mask inventory quality issues.  Would an advertiser/agency want the media included in a BT buy if they actually knew what they were purchasing?  Would they be willing to pay the same rate?  I doubt it, but the glossy BT story effectively launders this sketchy inventory into a desirable commodity.

Finally, there are obviously high-profile privacy issues swirling around BT, and it’s anyone’s guess where those will settle out.  I would hate to have a platform or media strategy built around BT if (when?) our friends in Washington decide that “opt-in” will become the law of the land.

Marketers considering significant or sustained investments in BT would be advised to think carefully about all of these issues and ask tough questions of their partners before proceeding.

About Andy Atherton
I am currently an SVP at AppNexus. I previously spent four years as COO and cofounder of Brand.net, a pioneer in programmatic reserve technology and leading digital media buying solution for top brands. Prior to Brand.net, I was Vice President of Pricing and Yield Management for Yahoo!, responsible for maximizing monetization of a global portfolio of display inventory worth $2B annually. Beginning in 2002, I created, developed and globalized Yahoo’s PYM function over a period of five years. Prior to Yahoo!, I was president and cofounder of Optivo, a venture-backed start-up that developed price optimization software for e-commerce retailers. More on LinkedIn...

One Response to Is BT Just a Sales Tool? (Redux)

  1. Pingback: Creativity *and* scale is the objective « Brand.net

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