I think the rise of platform-based buying spooks a lot of media people because at first glance it seems to devalue their skills and contributions.
The truth is more nuanced, and also more hopeful: it devalues a certain set of skills that were heavily used in the past, but also provides a very clear path to becoming more indispensable than ever before.
Let’s start with the core challenge. I’ve made the point before that platform-based media fundamentally changes the buyer’s job.
The focus of the job used to be about planning. In other words, about making the best possible choices in advance, before a campaign goes to market. With platform-based media the job is really about responding to what happens after a campaign launches.
And I think that bums some people out. Because they see their value as being the best picker of potential options, a skill that isn’t terribly relevant in this new context. If you play the fear out to its conclusion, it feels like the algorithms are taking over and we should all just pack it in. The only thing we need to do is make sure the computers are turned on.
I actually think that this new body of work has the potential to be phenomenally interesting and important, and that media people can not only distinguish themselves as star players, but actually prove themselves to be much more valuable than in the past.
When I talk about the focus of the job moving to the post-launch phase, that doesn’t mean just babysitting data and making rote optimizations. There’s a huge opportunity to identify non-obvious data-driven insights that impact not just the immediate display campaign, but have the potential to be applied broadly to other channels, disciplines, and initiatives. To become the person known for identifying leading indicators that the rest of your team can rally around.
The fact is that most companies really don’t know who their best customers are. And even those companies that have a good sense of who some of their customers are almost never have the full picture.
I’ve never seen a better, faster way to solve this critical issue than through the use of exchange-traded media. Let me share a few examples:
I recently worked on a campaign targeting environmentally-friendly consumers. The existing target profile was what you’d expect: lefties living in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. And it’s true that this is where the greatest concentration of their target lived, and if you had to place bets in advance it would make intuitive sense to focus there.
The campaign we ran (on the DataXu platform) of course found that the top-responding DMA was Baton Rouge, LA, far from the coasts and where two-thirds of the voters had just voted Republican. In other words, the best response came from people who were exactly the opposite of those described in the profile.
As we tried to make sense of the finding, it quickly dawned on us that after the oil spill, it made sense that people in Louisiana probably would be receptive to environmental messaging. It’s a finding that has big implications, and would have gone unnoticed without the exchange campaign.
I asked around among the leaders in the industry and got lots of great anecdotes that make the same point.
Bill Demas, CEO at Turn, told me about a case where the company’s pre-identified target was IT decision makers in seven specific U.S. markets. Turn was able to identify several related targets that significantly lifted delivery and lowered costs, including “seniors that are the male head of household,” “senior republicans,” and “audiences that have shown an interest in insurance ads.”
Mike Brunick, VP strategic partnerships at Cadreon, told me about an airline campaign where the stated target was wealthy executives who travel for business – a very small identifiable audience. The Cadreon team learned that the actual audience was executive assistants booking the travel, so they shifted the budget and widened the audience.
Zach Coelius, CEO of Triggit, talked about a case where his client had identified their perfect customer as a young married mom with two kids, and while that was a receptive target, Triggit was able to identify dozens of other customer types that responded equally well. As Zach put it, “Market research is significantly lagging behind the innovations in our media buying capabilities.”
As we were kicking off a platform-based campaign recently, I told our client that we couldn’t guarantee great performance, but could absolutely guarantee that we’d be able to tell her meaningful details about her customers that she never knew before.
The insights are all there waiting to be shared and acted upon. It’s not the same way media people delivered value in the past, but it might just be a better way.