iProspect chief: Don't get blinded by the science of programmatic

Global chief of digital media agencies discusses the rise of programmatic advertising and wider data-driven marketing trends, and how the consumer experience remains paramount

Not only is programmatic advertising unsophisticated today, consumer experiences of what the industry considers sophisticated are mostly terrible.

That’s the view of global president of digital media agency iProspect, Ben Wood, who was in Australia last week and caught up with CMO to discuss the arrival of automation-and data-driven advertising, how that’s impacting the concept of creativity, and what role agencies must play in order to remain relevant to brand owners.

While he’s a big believer in the power of data, Wood says a structural shift in the way content experiences are considered and delivered also has to be addressed for brands to realise the value of programmatic as a wider customer engagement mechanism.

Ben Wood
Ben Wood


“The big danger as an industry is we’ve become so blinded by the science, and become so sure that following the data and logic from the data is the right thing to do, that we have dislocated ourselves from the consumer experience of what we do,” he claims.

“Just think about programmatic: Quite often the frequency is out of control, the creative is terrible, some of the environments people put ads in are either fraudulent or poor, and we know as much as 50 per cent of the ads is never seen by consumers. There are a whole heap of reasons that programmatic is not nearly as sophisticated as we like to suggest it is, not is the consumer experience particularly good.”

According to Wood, the industry has a huge journey to go on in order to harness programmatic’s true worth. And this responsibility is something he puts squarely on agency shoulders.

“We are guardians of the quality of communication programs that brands build to engage with consumers,” he says. “Whether you’re a creative, digital or media agency, that has to be your value proposition.

“You can’t blame it on technology, the sophistication of the tracking or the brands, it’s the job of the agency to connect brands with the most sophisticated technology, tools and implementation techniques to do this right.”

Transitioning to programmatic advertising also requires a shake-up of how digital media is tracked. Wood notes today’s standards for rating the effectiveness of digital advertising, such as post impressions and click conversions, are sorely limited given the cross-device nature of customer interactions and purchase cycles.

“Very few brands for example, employ attribution modelling – many follow a last-click model, which we know is the wrong way to go,” Wood says. “There needs to be an evolution in the way we track and attribute marketing effectiveness in digital media. If we see that, it will help improve the quality of work being done.”

Programmatic advertising as the precursor to industrialised CRM

For Wood, just looking at programmatic as a tactical way of buying and displaying advertising completely misses the point.

“What it is, is the very early iteration of much more automated and data-driven way of ensuring all communications between a brand and its consumers are delivered in really personalised way and ultimately add more value to that consumer,” he explains.

“Where we need to move towards is using this technology as a 360-degree, industrialised CRM, where every touchpoint between a brand and consumer is driven by insight and data so those touchpoints can be increasingly personalised and increasingly valuable.”

To do that, brands and agencies must adopt a completely different way of creating and positioning content and creative assets. For Wood, data can in fact sharpen the creative experience.

“If you can use data and programmatic technology to deliver content in such a way that it’s personalised, clearly that content is going to be more valuable,” he continues. “The coming together of content and programmatic in the native advertising space is genuinely very interesting and one of the big growth areas. You’ll start to see content specialist systems that deliver content into third-party environments in such a way that the content is personalised consumer viewing it.”

The challenge is this isn’t the way creative agencies have worked. Historically, Wood points out agencies would use consumer insights to build a 30-second TV or cinema commercial.

“Agencies have to think about creating more agile assets to deliver a more personalised experience for consumers,” he says. “But they’re not set up to produce 250 TV ads, instead of two or three. It’s a different way of working. There is the potential for data to unleash creativity, but requires structural change in the way the industry works.”

IProspect is looking to sharpen its own content capabilities and recently acquired global custom publishing business, John Brown.

“We are geeky at heart, so attracting more creative types requires some evolution of our culture and org structure,” Wood says. “Increasingly, we’re realising that if we want to be outcome focused, just delivering the science and media optimisation isn’t enough. We have to optimise creative experiences. Because if the content experience isn’t good enough, it’ll hinder your ability to convert and achieve those business outcomes.”

The changing agency role

The rise of data-driven marketing, automation platforms and programmatic advertising is also changing the very nature of the agency landscape. As brands realise data is the most valuable thing in the ecosystem in terms of driving customer targeting and campaign management, Wood agrees they’ll increasingly look to manage that, along with ad trading, themselves.

“The reality of a data-driven, technology enabled ecosystem is that clients are empowered to do more of this themselves,” he says. “Creating pools of premium inventory is a reflection of agencies striving to work out how to create a point of difference so the client still works with them.”

The other reality of clients investing in their own data management platforms is that it opens up the field of players agencies compete with. Wood notes the rise of strategic consulting firms, such as Accenture and Deloitte, in building the marketing infrastructure clients need to do this themselves, along with traditional IT integration firms and technology vendors.

“Suddenly, rather than just competing with five or six major holding groups, we’re competing with global consulting groups enabling clients to increasingly empower themselves and bring things in-house,” Wood says. “It’s an interesting dynamic in terms of the competitive context of agencies in the next couple of years.”

To ward off such competition, iProspect has launched its own consulting practice globally to assist clients take things in-house, and Wood expects to see other agencies and consulting groups to adjust their business models, too.

“Whether it’s data management platforms, search or display management platforms, this is a consulting offering that is 100 per cent intended to help clients make these decisions. That’s how we’re looking to stay relevant,” Wood says.

“Clients will increasingly fit into two sets – some will want to buy services, others will want to empower themselves. This way we serve both camps.”

Wood admits it’s been an interesting cultural challenge for iProspect to shift the dial from its implementation-based heritage to helping clients build capabilities internally. But for now, he welcomes the challenge.

“Historically, we’ve employed teams that implement digital marketing campaigns who have skills in data management, optimising and using tech to manage media. But these are not necessarily the same people who can offer upstream consulting services,” he says.

“Through the combination of recruiting different people, and potentially acquisitions, we are looking to build into our organisation a much deeper layer of consulting and strategic capability.”

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