Peek-a-Boo Networks

Robin Neifiield Behavioral Marketing 7-25 Peek-a-Boo Networks Tease: Transparency in behaviorally targeted network campaigns.

Transparency in behaviorally targeted network campaigns can happen at a number of points in the process — and in many ways. Most networks are still resistant (probably unnecessarily so) to revealing their publisher partners, while some marketers get fixated on this one vector in a larger decision process — again, probably without need. Frankly, there is much ado about not very much when you dig a little deeper into the issue.

There’s wide discrepancy in policy regarding what different networks reveal or share. interCLICK came to our attention recently as a smaller network that offers true transparency in site lists, but more importantly and uniquely they display site-by-site results in real time. They offer advertisers the ability to watch exactly where campaigns are delivering and performing. They offer retargeting on a small scale but have some work to do to catch up to the other networks’ behavioral capabilities.

Transparency in the Planning Process

At the front end of the planning process, it’s critical marketers and agencies understand the audience opportunities a network offers by understanding their publisher partners. Knowing the content and sites included in a network list of options helps marketers gauge whether or not that network has aggregated the audience they seek. Available site lists and sub networks are critical information, but they don’t tell the whole story. Pricing, reputation, past performance, customer service, technical serving capabilities, and optimization engines are as important (if not more important) factors in choosing the right networks. Possible (in fact, probable) overlap with other networks under consideration elevates the importance of site list disclosure. Tools such as ComScore do offer “cross visiting” measurements that help define the degree of overlap if the networks themselves won’t divulge sufficient information.

There are some instances when the site list becomes critical. If the advertiser’s brand requires they be associated only with premium or specific types of placements, then the site list is obviously key. Some networks do proudly offer exclusive site lists that aggregate top sites only. Some have created sub-networks to meet specific needs. All the networks will work with marketers to exclude objectionable or questionable placements, but definitions can be slippery and are clearly subjective. In fact, that advertiser might be better steered to the more controlled environment of single site, portal buys, or even sponsorship opportunities.

Transparency in the Optimization Process

Another type of transparency involves the sharing of optimization results. Some networks will anecdotally describe the sectors that are performing for a given campaign, and some will tease with a short list of representative winning sites.

Clearly, marketers can benefit from any insights into what’s working within a campaign in order to fine-tune that campaign, other concurrent campaigns, even other tactical channels. This insight could be further translated into intelligence of value to offline campaigns. More and more, lines are blurring between the on- and offline intelligence, and where it’s used. In fact, it’s one of the most prevailing reasons new online marketers take the leap.

The Real Fear

Networks are concerned marketers or their agencies will take learnings from their optimization engines and efforts and buy directly from those sites that seem to be best performing. But how rational is that fear? Certainly, some marketers may take that route. If they did, my guess is their results would suffer overall for a variety of reasons.

First, what works today isn’t necessarily what will work tomorrow. Online marketing operates in a fluid environment. One key benefit of working with a sophisticated provider is their ability to shift in almost real time to the most efficacious placements. Shift dollars to static mode and you lose that benefit. A second and important benefit networks provide is a cost efficiency born of their broad relationships and ability to monetize less desirable ad inventory for many publishers. Buy directly from publishers and you’ll pay more for those impressions. And then there’s the sheer work of managing and optimizing numerous placements. That has a hard cost of labor and an opportunity cost that may reflect a lesser ability to truly optimize.

Get It Together

Networks need confidence that marketers won’t use the intelligence they gather against them in future dealings by going straight to the source. Of course, since this behavior isn’t rewarded with any long-term performance benefits if people are paying attention, it’s likely to stop soon anyway. Then marketers can get the information they need to make rationale decisions — and can leave the networks to perform for them.

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