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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How to make it easy for brands to buy your advertising (like Google & Facebook)

January 9, 2018 | By Tim Bourgeois — Digital Media Auditor and Consultant @ChiefDigOfficer

We all know the story only too well by now: depending on whose estimates are cited, Google and Facebook the oft-referred to “duopoly” together account for 60%-80% or more of all digital advertising revenues. eMarketer succinctly captures the repercussions by stating “With the duopoly taking in about two-thirds of US digital ad revenues, that leaves around a third of the market for every other firm to compete for.”

These “other firms” include deep-pocketed companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Verizon all of which pose a threat to both eat into the duopoly’s market share as well as capture the lion’s share of the remaining $30 billion or so in US digital ad revenues. But this is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Microsoft has been stumbling around this category for years without finding its groove; Amazon doesn’t understand the ad business; and Verizon doesn’t know how to compete in unregulated categories (yet). Among the duopoly itself, Facebook will have the Department of Justice on its back for at least a couple of years due to its complicity in the election mess, and Google is just waiting for the other shoe in the saga to be dropped on its doorstep. Meanwhile, the braintrust at Googleplex in Mountain View is focused on figuring out how to diversity revenues into non-advertising channels, with mixed results so far.

For companies seeking to successfully capture or grow their share of the roughly $100 billion US digital advertising marketplace, the following tactics will help ingratiate you among digital marketers and media buyers.

Make It Easy To Buy From You

The path of least resistance here is joining the exchanges and allowing media buyers to access your inventory via programmatic platforms like AppNexus, MediaMath and OpenX. And this should certainly be part of a multifaceted strategy.

But there’s also old-fashioned tactics like providing media buyers with case studies that resonate, transparent pricing, low minimum buys, creative support, accepting credit cards, and trafficking campaigns quickly.

Without question, most advertising is done by the largest 100 or so brands, so from one vantage point, it makes the most sense to allocate inordinate resources to this area of the marketplace. But this is also a crowded and fiercely competitive part of the market. The upside of the emergence of Google and Facebook is that small and medium sized businesses now understand the power of targeted advertising as never before, and are more receptive to advertising pitches as a result.

Emphasize Your Strengths

Brands still matter arguably now more than ever. And seminal publishing brands have brand power in spades. Longevity, relationship with readers, and unique value propositions can help, over time, combat against the duopoly dominance.

By contrast, problems associated with digital advertising have entered the public consciousness via Russia election meddling, with Facebook serving as the poster child. While challenges associated with ad fraud aren’t easily avoided by any organization with robust digital properties, they are certainly more manageable relative to Facebook trying to monitor billions of users or Google’s ad network, which supposedly reaches 90% of the internet. Buyers need to understand these risks, and the pros and cons of going in one direction versus another.

To be sure, it’s easy to buy ads from Facebook and Google today. But these avenues can be expensive, and are rife with potential problems fraud and transparency among them, but dozens of others as well related to campaign configuration and tuning. The media buying community writ large still requires a good deal of education on these issues, and traditional publishers have an opportunity to carefully deliver these messages. (In my experience, there is a subtle and mostly silent shift underway in the marketplace, as experienced media buyers aren’t happy about being overly reliant on two outlets for more than half of their media buys.)

Help Marketers Help Themselves

Perhaps Google’s greatest genius —not including search marketing (which was a happy accident, like Pfizer’s *discovery* of Viagra) — has been in helping marketers reorient their fundamental value proposition in the organization. By emphasizing business-based metrics such as “conversions” and “dollar value per conversion” in their ad buying (AdWords) and measurement (Google Analytics) tools, which can be easily linked to revenues and profits, they’ve helped marketers do their jobs more easily and effectively. At the same time, Google’s tools provide marketers with myriad ways to shape performance data in order demonstrate a campaign’s effectiveness.  

Publishers can steal a page from this playbook by providing prospects with similar support (recognizing that some manual labor will be required in this effort) to monitor performance and ROI after the campaign has been completed (or even mid-flight). Like the Google and Facebook systems do, it’s not so much the absolute data that matters most, but their organization, meaning, and presentation. And most marketers need help separating the wheat from chaff. This kind of pre- and post-sale support will go a long way towards generating industry goodwill (unless you’re a top 100 buyer, Google and Facebook support is awful) and, of course, repeat buyers and loyal customers.

While both the advertising and publishing sectors have experienced seismic changes over the past decade, we could be on the precipice of another shift, albeit a far more subtle one. The volatile political environment has created an uptick in demand for quality journalism, and venerable properties such as The New York Times are growing subscriber bases and figuring out how to make the transition to digital work. Fallout from politics has also ensured that one of the biggest players in digital advertising will have a neon bullseye on its back for the foreseeable future, at least limiting any unusually aggressive behavior. For storied media organizations looking to make a move and carve out their territory in the digital advertising ecosystem, conditions may not get better than this.

Tim Bourgeois (@ChiefDigOfficer) is a management consultant at East Coast Catalyst, a Boston-based advisory firm specializing in digital strategy assessments and media audit projects.

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