Get smart about buying display inventory

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Buying display ads can be overwhelming. Marketers and agencies are faced with hundreds of ad networks, publishers and exchanges from which to buy inventory. Four online experts provide smart buying tips

Pete Vlastelica
CEO, Yardbarker

While behavioral targeting technology may not be appropriate for every campaign, I'm surprised that the underlying idea is not used more commonly to design media plans. That idea is simple: that a user's interests — not necessarily a publisher's brand or traffic — is the right foundation upon which to build an impactful online marketing program. 

I've heard a number of media planners describe their default media mix as a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid are a handful of premium publishers. At the top are small sites that trickle in through exchanges and blind networks. In the middle are the hybrids: vertical networks that offer a degree of focus and service that exchanges and networks historically do not possess.

The pyramid metaphor illustrates campaigns in terms of traffic. Accordingly, large sites tend to be called upon to do the heavily lifting in most campaigns. But increasingly, people aren't launching onto the Web from a large site that they've bookmarked; they're doing a search or following a link from another site, an e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. They follow links to other sites without any concern for that publisher's brand. This process is contributing to the ever-expanding fragmentation of the Web. For example, Yahoo has 70% reach but only 7% of total minutes online, yet planners still pay a premium to run on large sites. 

Instead, planners should design their media mix to resemble the natural networks that users navigate within any content category. Marketers should ask publishers to prove that their site gets linked to, e-mailed, and Tweeted about more than its competitors. The most influential sites within a target content channel — not the largest ones — should become the foundation of online marketing campaigns.

If marketers start using influence, not traffic, as their primary measure of consideration, the largest sites would still generally make the cut. You don't get big by not being influential. But rather than favor large sites by default, the process would force those sites to prove their relevance, campaign by campaign. Plenty of their smaller competitors are willing to take that challenge.

The Takeaway
Marketers should buy display based on audience and not just on premium sites


Allen Stern

Media director, Agency.com

The rapid expansion of the supply of online media impressions creates a problem for agencies and marketers as they look to get the best exposure in this fragmented marketplace. In the very recent past, we did all we could to lower the cost of the media we bought. Agencies would brag about our buying clout. It was important to get media costs lower, since it was rare that a premium paid for targeting ever paid out on ROI. Reaching the most eyeballs for the lowest possible cost was generally the best approach.

The problem was that even when impressions were targeted, there were still too many wasted impressions in an online media buy. Now, with the advancement of display side platform (DSP) technology that combines cookie data with the billions of impressions available in exchanges every day, we can evaluate an impression and return a bid within 150 milliseconds. We can bid up the impressions that we think will have the highest likelihood to convert and vice versa. Through this process, the agencies have an unprecedented level of transparency into the source and cost of their media buys.

The emergence of this buying process is putting the squeeze on the ad networks and many have responded by positioning themselves as DSPs.

If marketers are going to continue to work with the networks, they need to ask the right questions. What is the source of the inventory? Is it incremental to the exchanges? Are they bidding in real time? How many exchanges are they bidding on? What is their win rate? How do they handle multiple clients bidding for the same impression? How often do they get timed out in their bid response? But most important, are they willing to adjust their pricing on each impression? Certainly we want the networks to make a profit, but we would rather pay a higher CPM for a better impression that will convert rather than avoid it because it won't be covered by their profit margin.

The Takeaway
With new technologies, marketers should define more specific goals


Alan Feldenkris

CEO, Brand New World

Interactive marketing technology is great, but it also requires a great deal of work and rigor to make it work for you and your clients. Take the hyper-fragmentation of the online display space and the myriad choices facing today's online buyers. Not only do they have to deal with countless online publishers, but also horizontal networks, vertical networks, ad exchanges, data exchanges and now, real time bidding.

To make things even more complicated, the online publishing industry has gone to war with itself, with some branded publishers conveniently overlooking the non-premium inventory within, and ad networks forgetting to make that same distinction when representing coverage on these branded sites. What's a media buyer to do, and how is a client to make sense of any of this?

The truth is, more technology means better tools and more options, but also more commitment, rigor and creativity. A strong interactive media buyer has to be expertly adept at not only recognizing all of these different, yet overlapping platforms, but at making recommendations which will combine the best of all of these.

Clients deserve to know which online publishers, and which content and context, represent the best path to engagement and activation for their brands. They deserve agency partners who will be able to tell them the difference between the excellent, good and fair placements on a publisher's Web site, even if is purchased from three different sources.

To start, I recommend a pyramid-type approach to building the most effective plan possible given the fragmentation and mayhem that exists. Start with your base of critical publishers at the bottom, then layer on the vertical networks, and then the broader networks. As you broaden reach, you're actually narrowing your focus.

Once that is done, the real fun can begin. By knowing enough about the landscape, technology and choices available to you as the planner, you can begin to move the key bricks in and out of your pyramid tiers in order to truly customize the plan for your client.

The Takeaway
Media buyers should create a pyramid approach to buying display ads


Lauren Boyer

Partner and CEO, Underscore Marketing

Ad networks, exchanges, premium publishers and behavioral targeting all offer advertisers the ability to build a digital media campaign, and can all add complexity toward crafting exactly the right plan for a given marketing objective. That's why smart planners balance their exposure, targeting options and creative needs with costs and scale to design the best plan.Each of the following steps can help narrow your consideration set.

First, set a primary action objective. With such an abundance of options, it's crucial to determine which consumer actions are going to provide confidence that the media budgets are well spent. Consider number of unique ad exposures within a certain demographic, context, or period; level of ad interactions; time spent on a site; specific actions on a Web site; consumer responses to surveys; and other measurable actions that correlate to business objectives.

Then, define your digital target audience. Third-party data from trusted sources, including MRI, ComScore and Nielsen, can highlight areas of focus for reach, content alignment and penetration.

Next, determine creative type required to communicate the message or elicit the action. Sight, sound and motion through video or engaging rich media ads can be highly impactful for the right audience in the right context. However, simple Flash ads or text links may be best. Collaborate with the creative team to balance communication needs with technical options.

After that, consider budgets. Determine allowable costs per key action and multiply by action goals if appropriate. Otherwise, consider the audience size compared with the potential share of voice in digital and set budgets based upon desired share of voice or allocate funds based on past history for similar programs.

Lastly, test and learn. Well-constructed tests drive optimization for long-term success. If possible, weave in testing for targeting tactics, buying approaches and contextual alignments into each campaign.

The Takeaway
Buy inventory that aligns with your objectives, audience, budgets and metrics goals

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