Great work from MarketShare Partners

A quick post this AM to point readers to a great piece of work from MarketShare Partners and the IAB that was released last week.

The case studies presented are interesting and present exactly the type of rigorous analysis that should go into optimizing the marketing mix.  We in online advertising spend most of our time thinking about the downstream decisions – i.e., how to get more of the budget that’s available to our channel.  It’s great to see some smart thinking from a smart company focused on the upstream decisions as well.

Some highlights:

  • A relatively small reallocation of media spend can have a significant impact on marketers’ revenue. For example, one media optimization scenario examined in this study demonstrated a 6% increase in revenue—even after a 13% decrease in total marketing spend—when dollars were shifted to interactive.
  • In all three of the scenarios presented, huge increases in online display spend were recommended (average of 107%).  These recommended increases were due to a combination of relative effectiveness, relative saturation effects and cross-media synergies.
  • The average recommended increase in online display spend was nearly twice the average recommended increase in Search spend (61%)
  • In 2 of the 3 scenarios presented, MSPs analysis explicitly recommended significant shifts in spend away from bottom of the funnel strategies (promotions/incentives) to upper funnel strategies (media)

I would recommend everyone take a few minutes to read this white paper, and stay on the lookout for more great stuff from MSP.

What is the definition of “Online Display”?

I recently explained why the IAB’s new video ad serving standard (“VAST” for short) will have a huge impact on the online video ad market by breaking down format barriers.  Online video advertising competition is increasing rapidly as the most sophisticated display ad networks ramp up video efforts aggressively.  That article generated energetic discussion, with virtually everyone, even incumbent video ad networks, agreeing with the fundamental thesis of convergence.

As it happens, I wrote that piece on the way to CES.  Right after my co-founder, Elizabeth’s panel discussion we were approached by the CEO of a Digital Out Of Home (DOOH) network.  His question:  is Brand.net buying DOOH inventory?  Our answer to him:  it’s lack of standards, not lack of business potential, which prevents us from seriously considering it.   Our next thought:  it’s time to write about a topic we discuss frequently with our investors and industry analysts:  accelerating online media format standardization and accelerating media convergence (the ever-blurring line between what is “online” and what is “offline”) are working together to create a financial opportunity in the online display market that is even bigger and growing even faster than they think.

While online media advances rapidly, hardware, telecom and content providers are moving just as aggressively in “IP enabling” TVs and other consumer electronics devices to take advantage of new technical possibilities and to accommodate quickly evolving user habits.  This isn’t just the usual future-state pronouncements from technology titans like Microsoft.  For example, mass-market consumer retailers are changing up their offerings quickly too.  Consider Best Buy’s recent announcement that all web-connected TVs it sells will come with a subscription to a Best Buy library of content.

So when you’re sitting on your couch, looking at your 50” flat screen TV on the wall, watching a show that is streaming from Best Buy through your internet connection and you see an ad, does the “offline advertising” cash register ring somewhere or the “online advertising” one?

The (literally) 11-figure question is: will the bigger catalyst for “driving TV budgets online” be (a) online ad technology / format innovation or (b) consumer device evolution and usage blurring to the point where “online content” becomes impossible to distinguish from “offline content”.  You guessed it – we vote (b).

Of course it doesn’t stop at just TV and Online Video.  All digital media comes together.

I started this piece with a DOOH executive asking us about partnership opportunities.  Many DOOH devices are already IP-enabled and that percentage is growing rapidly. Network owners should follow the IAB’s lead, standardize DOOH ad units and serving protocols and watch the money flow!

And how long will mobile remain a hodgepodge of complex and proprietary advertising standards?  Not long.  Apple (true to form) blazes the trail to the future here:   when you’re browsing the web on your iPhone, where do you think the display ads you see are being served from?  Answer:  in most cases, the exact same systems that serve them when you’re browsing on your PC.   Sure there are some issues with Flash compatibility, but the direction is clear; format barriers are falling.

Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  Mobile offers powerful capabilities for hyper-local, hyper-timely offers, but geographic and temporal targeting are not new concepts in online advertising (or in “offline” advertising for that matter).  Why should we need a whole separate “stack” just to deliver an ad to a different device?    The new iPad makes the distinction between “mobile device” and “computer” melt away even further.   The Apple example will evolve rapidly from exception to rule, particularly as more encouraging performance data emerges.

So as with video serving standards, the question of the digital marketplace coming together isn’t “if” but “when”.    More and more devices will become IP-enabled with increasing degrees of standardization to take advantage of the financial opportunity.  Online advertising will grow bigger and faster as advertisers can more seamlessly trade off serving offers against the right consumer on the right device, managing cross-channel campaigns in an ever more integrated way.    The definition of “Online Display” will broaden dramatically, essentially encompassing all graphical advertising regardless of format, size or screen/device.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on which capabilities will be most valuable in this fast-approaching merged media world, and who in the current crop of advertising players possesses them.  I look forward to sharing your thoughts, and my own, in an upcoming piece.

As I have mentioned previously, the next 12-36 months will be exciting indeed.

Online Video: Our Opportunity is VAST

In my guest article today in Ad Age, I state that the IAB’s new video ad serving standard (“VAST” for short) has serious implications for video-only ad networks (e.g., Tremor, Brightroll, etc.) for two reasons:

1. A significant portion of the engineering work in which the incumbents have invested enormous time and money will effectively be marked to zero by the market

2. Existing, technically sophisticated display ad networks will enter the video market quickly and effectively.

To be clear, when i say “video”, I’m not talking about in-banner video or overlays, “bugs” etc.  I am talking about :15 and :30 second pre-, mid- and post-roll video.  This is the video advertising format where the environment is most similar to TV and the creative is directly transferrable from TV.  As such, it represents >90% of advertiser demand for online video and will continue to be the lynchpin in moving TV budgets online.  VAST effectively hits the “reset” button on this market in 2010 and while many current players will face serious trouble, for some companies this is an enormous opportunity.

Brand.net is one of those companies.  Melissa, Elizabeth and I have been astonished how often and emphatically during the past year the top agencies, as well as Top 100 advertisers directly, have asked us to extend our market leading brand display platform capabilities (SafeScreen, SmartScale, etc.) to video.  So our sales force is out taking orders for a platform extension that does just that.

Top 100 advertisers want online video to explode as an advertising medium.  It’s the obvious, and (to stay in front of their target audiences) necessary, successor to the $60B they spend on sight, sound and motion brand-focused TV buys each year.   But today’s video ad networks simply don’t provide the brand-focused capabilities Top 100 advertisers require.   What have they told us for the past year they want from online video?  The ability to guarantee Quality, Scale and Value.

Music to our ears.  Stay tuned.

IAB’s Rothenberg down under

Some interesting thoughts in this conversation between IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg and Ben Shepherd of Australia’s Business Spectator.  While the whole discussion is interesting, I’d like to call out in particular Rothenberg’s assessment of the top 3 challenges facing IAB and the industry at large.

I think he has them right.

The swirling privacy issues don’t impact Brand.net (we don’t do BT for a variety of reasons – more about that on this page soon), but as BT becomes ubiquitous privacy issues represent a significant overhang to many other players and the industry overall.

The other two issues he mentions, though – measurement standards and branding – are near and dear to us at Brand.net.  It may not be immediately obvious, but these two issues are intimately related.  Online DR is easier and bigger than branding online today.  This is partially because investment in technology has disproportionately focused on DR, but measurement standards are a major factor as well.

The standard for DR is easy: CPA.  Attribution models are a topic of constant discussion (especially given some of Atlas Institute’s work), but for DR at least the goal metric is very clear.  For brand advertisers, who may not have near-term direct sales objectives and/or who are generating 95+% of their revenue with offline sales, it’s not so simple.  These advertisers need a variety of measurement approaches to understand the impact of their online campaigns on attitudes, online activities and offline sales.

Brand.net offers a complete portfolio of brand measurement capabilities and our platform is designed to deliver media that drives results, however they are measured.

Thoughts on the latest OPA report

A blockbuster report from the OPA late last week, at least if one were to judge by how it lit up the blogosphere (as AdExchanger humorously put it, “Is the OPA the greatest link baiting organization in advertising, or what?”).  I reviewed some of the coverage and the report itself over the weekend and I have to say, with all due respect to the OPA and its members, this report doesn’t measure up to their previous efforts.

Here’s my take:

1) Most networks are focused on DR metrics and not the upper-funnel branding metrics that are the focus of the OPA study.  So even if we stop right there, it’s not shocking that that the study shows weaker results for networks.  This difference in focus is fundamental to Brand.net’s business by the way.  Unlike other networks, the Brand.net platform offers a  full suite of capabilities designed from the ground up to help brand marketers leverage the web to reach their audience efficiently and effectively drive these upper-funnel metrics.

2) The OPA report didn’t include or consider cost data.  If you believe the >10:1 spread between publishers’ direct and network deals cited in last year’s IAB research, this is a critical omission.  OPA pubs performing 50% better than networks doesn’t look so good in the context of a >10:1 price ratio.  Obviously the devil’s in the details here – the IAB research isn’t perfect either for reasons I have discussed previously on this page – but it’s clearly perilous to draw the sweeping conclusions OPA is going for without considering costs.

3) I don’t wish to cast aspersions on the study or methodology overall, but a couple of the data points just seemed counterintuitive to me.  For example, slide 19 of the OPA results deck states that ad networks deliver insignificant improvements in purchase intent for the financial services category.  This particular point caught my eye, because I know that well over $1B has moved through ad networks from hundreds of financial services companies over the past 5 years, the vast majority of which has been measured on a CPA – as in actual purchases, not just purchase intent.  It’s extremely hard for me to believe this money would have continued to flow in such volume over such a long time period if it wasn’t actually driving purchases.  If you agree, then we’re left with only 2 possible explanations: a) the data referenced to make this point is somehow not representative or b) purchase intent as measured by DL was not correlated with actual purchases.  Neither is particularly comforting.

4) In addition to the metrics OPA focuses on in this report, I would have liked to see an analysis of actual sales lift – i.e., the ultimate result that improvement in the attitudinal metrics discussed in the report is intended to drive over the long term.  This certainly isn’t easy for every client on every campaign, but it’s a powerful capability that proves real business results for many.  For the next study I would be interested in seeing similar data from OPA.

Some of these thoughts have already been expressed by others, including some who commented directly on WSJ’s coverage of the report, but I thought there was enough new here that it was worth joining the discussion.

Let me know what you think.

Notes From This Morning’s IAB Webinar

I sat in on the “IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Year End 2008” briefing this AM. It was a good high-level check-in on the state of the market and I particularly enjoyed the commentary by Professor Peter Fader of Wharton. To paraphrase some of his comments:

Because you can see immediate payoffs from performance-based advertising, it gives you comfort. But that doesn’t mean you’re not getting good payoffs on brand-building or other less direct forms of marketing. Companies should not overly focus on the short-term. The impact of advertising is slow and cumulative, with brand effects show up over the long term. Even attaching electrodes to peoples brains isn’t going to change this, so marketers need to be patient and incorporate longer-term thinking.

Similar to my comments in this byline and good advice for sure.

Digital Marketing: Is it Time to Forget Measurement?

The following is a re-post from my guest blog column published today in AdAge. It ties in very nicely with coverage on measurement coming out of the IAB Annual Meeting, including my previous boss, Wenda Harris Millard’s keynote and this piece by AdAge’s Abbey Klaassen

Digital Marketing: Is it Time to Forget Measurement?

Why Online Advertising is Hindered by its Biggest Strength

In several recent pieces I have written about the opportunities and limitations of measurement in online media, particularly for branding. If you read those articles, the title of this byline might seem strange. For the rest of you, this title might seem like downright heresy. Please, read on before you call the exorcist.

The internet wasn’t always the multibillion dollar industry that it is today. Less than 15 years ago, most websites we know today didn’t exist. The relatively few that did were searching for business models. Some went with a subscription model, at least for a while (most notably AOL), while most content-focused sites honed in on advertising as the main source of revenue. As they did, they faced a huge challenge: how could they sell advertising against more established media with what then was an extremely short list of assets.

Recall the internet circa 1996, the year one of the biggest and best known content sites, Yahoo, went public: bandwidth was narrow, content was thin, audiences were small, creative was primitive. However, the internet did excel in one area: it was awash with data. Page views, time spent, clicks, conversions — a treasure trove of new metrics, along with some “old” ones that hadn’t been as readily available with other media.

I was recently talking this over with my former boss from Yahoo, Wenda Harris Millard, and she added that the measurability of this new medium also tapped into a broader theme in the advertising business at the time — growing dissatisfaction with measurement of traditional media. So, quite rationally, the internet advertising value proposition focused on measurement.

As the industry grew — faster than any media in history — more sophisticated targeting (behavioral, retargeting, “hyper-targeting”) and measurement (“engagement,” “search lift”) capabilities were developed. The focus on measurement evolved and became more ingrained, almost to the point of being the unquestioned orthodoxy. It was as if the core benefit of the internet vs. other media was measurement. Period.

Therefore, to sell more ads you need more measurement. (Two secondary factors, customization and short lead-times, also received significant emphasis—but those are topics for another day.)

The reason for my provocative headline is this: if today, in February 2009, we started with a blank PowerPoint slide and asked the same question that was asked some 15 years ago — how do we sell ads against more established media — would we select the same strategy? I think the answer is no.

Consider the “balance sheet” of the Internet now compared to then. Assets have grown tremendously: bandwidth is broad, content is deep and compelling; audiences are huge; sight sound and motion have entered the creative mix, through rich media and video. And the balance sheets of the other major consumer media have accumulated significant liabilities: print is facing declining circulation and, especially in newspapers, a rapidly aging demographic; radio ad sales are off sharply, while at the same time the once-promising satellite radio subscription model has proved endlessly unprofitable; TV, after getting past the “fragmentation” issue that was the obsession of the 1990s, has been covered by the huge black storm cloud that is DVR penetration. In 2008, 29% of all US households used DVRs, according to Barclay’s Capital — and that number is forecast to double by 2012 and reach nearly 80% by 2016. Those of us with DVRs watch dramatically fewer commercials. It’s just a fact.

So, if we were starting fresh in today’s environment, I would simply argue that we wouldn’t (and thus shouldn’t) lead with measurement. The measurement pitch has obviously worked extremely well for direct response; about 30% of DR-focused measured media spend is now online. But 95% of brand spending, or more than $100 billion, is still offline. For those budgets, I think our collective pitch should be more like “Your audience moved. Your marketing needs to follow them. Let us show you how the internet can deliver the same quality, scalability and value as TV.” Measurement should still be an important part of the story — we’d be foolish to ignore all the opportunities there — but I submit that it should be the sizzle not the steak.

That’s one of my missions at Brand.net: as stakeholders in the biggest, most powerful consumer media today, how do we provide the world’s leading brand advertisers the quality, scale and value of TV, the prior generation’s No. 1 consumer mass media? By making the critical, powerful, yet fragmented content environment of the internet more consistent and more buyable. And more measurable, of course — but measurable by the criteria and metrics brands have developed over decades to evaluate efficacy of 100s of billions of dollars of spend.

When we as an industry can do this, we can finally move large brand budgets online, following the audiences that are already there. This shift will in turn provide financial support for publishers to develop yet deeper, richer, more engaging online content experiences.

Some of you may still want to call the exorcist, but for the rest of you, let’s get to work.

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