Making Digital Marketing Easy, Part 2

In my last column, specific “areas of pain” in the process of planning, buying, and tracking digital media/marketing investments were identified. The hope is after identifying these areas, we can make specific recommendations to make the digital media business simpler (and more profitable). In part two, we’ll look at creative barriers (from the perspective of a media guy), tracking, analysis and optimization, and — our favorite — billing and reconciliation.

Barrier: Publisher-Media-Creative Harmony

I recently participated on a panel at the iMedia Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. The focus was creative excellence. It highlighted the challenges we face orchestrating innovative digital media programs with impact. The recurring theme was the tug of war between innovation and standardization. Most of the programs highlighted on the panel were custom solutions (not ads, per se) that are not easily scalable.

Though there’s no simple fix, a few things could be done to assist in the creation of customized programs across multiple publishers. Creating and posting a detailed style guide on an extranet for publishers is one solution. This guide would include all necessary digital assets as well as treatment parameters and brand voice. It allows publishers to do some of the “heavy lifting,” or coding, on customized programs and leaves the creative agency to provide art direction and strategic stewardship for the overall campaign.

Another efficiency builder is on the horizon from our friends at Macromedia (the creators of Flash technology) and DoubleClick. About six months ago, they issued a joint press release detailing a strategic partnership to “help publishers and agencies both reduce the cost and time required to create and deploy rich media ads.” The realization of that alignment will be apparent in the short term when DoubleClick releases its rich media solution. From what we’ve seen, the new release will feature drag-and-drop efficiency that will streamline the creation and deployment of online rich media advertising.

Barrier: Tracking/Analysis/Optimization

The traditional media professional’s job typically slows (or ends) when a campaign is released into the marketplace. Digital media practitioners spend the majority of their time tracking, analyzing, and optimizing the plan. As this phase of the process is such a large part of what we do, opportunities for improving overall efficiency are significant. There are two immediate aids for those mired in the tracking abyss: light third-party ad serving and auto-optimization applications.

Using a third-party ad server is a tremendous efficiency builder in terms of aggregating and reporting on campaign performance. Unfortunately, there are many instances (permanent placements, buttons, hard-coded ads) when using a third-party ad server is cost prohibitive, due to the high volume of impressions.

Although it’s technically feasible for all ad servers to do this, DoubleClick is packaging and selling a light ad-serving solution to complement its standard serving platform. Tracking Ads will allow a publisher to actually serve the ad image. Meanwhile, DoubleClick serves only a 1 x 1 clear pixel. This dramatically reduces DoubleClick’s bandwidth needs and slashes ad-serving costs. This will allow us to serve more (and more holistic) campaigns through a single source and will free people from chasing after publisher tracking and performance data. Now that’s a good thing!

Another time-saving solution is auto-optimization applications. Poindexter Systems specializes in this. Other major ad-serving companies have rolled out good optimization tools but arguably not as sophisticated as Poindexter’s. An entire column could be devoted to this area, but the gist is optimizing media and creative placements on the fly against a series of established parameters (cost per click, lead, sale, etc.). Using these solutions allows us to free “people time” from the tedious chore of optimization and lets us concentrate on analysis and insight to inform future campaigns.

Barrier: Billing and Reconciliation

Possibly the greatest frustration in this business is the labor and expense that goes into the billing and reconciliation process. Whether it’s publisher billing discrepancies on ordered versus delivered impressions or differences between publisher and third-party counts, the process is awful.

Solutions? We’re only beginning to scratch the surface. You can certainly demand publishers bill on delivery rather than purchased impressions. You can also demand publishers accept the counts reported by your third-party ad server (another thesis could be written on acceptable terms and conditions). The optimal situation would permit a third-party ad server to interface with our billing system (Donovan and AdWare) and pass through the proper delivery and billing parameters.

I know as I write a lot of work needs doing in this area. Hopefully, as an industry we can continue to pressure ad-serving companies to make this a priority as they roll out new features in the weeks and months ahead.

These problems have made digital marketing difficult. We need to keep things simple. Remove the barriers, and we’ll reap the rewards of digital marketing.

I’d love to hear what you think.

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