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Media agencies: Own your audience, own your power

Standfirst: What does the future hold for media agencies? Starcom MediaVest Group’s Rajesh Mahtani gives his thoughts.

Media agencies have always made various investments to differentiate themselves, stand out and gain competitive advantage. They have invested in research to gain unique access to knowledge. They have invested in tools that drive productivity and create proprietary approaches for tactical planning. And they have invested in creating planning techniques which help planners formulate cracking ideas and drive innovation.

Just recently, Publicis Groupe announced the acquisition of RUN, a real-time data management and multi-channel programmatic buying platform with unique mobile capabilities, enabling marketers to execute data-driven campaigns.

We have in our arsenal unique approaches, techniques and knowledge, but lack ownership of something tangible. Something which clients would want to purchase and be willing to pay top dollar for. So what is it exactly?

I believe tomorrow will be about media agencies owning audiences. Audiences that clients want. Audiences that we can sell to clients.

A competitive edge would naturally come with greater ownership of audiences – ready cross-screen audience pools that can be packaged with products and ultimately, drive better business results for clients.

I believe all media agencies will move in this direction – to own audience pools and we will, over the next few years, see three trends take shape.

1. Tech acquisitions

Agencies are getting into a lot of partnerships these days. Common ones would be content and distribution partnerships, as well as data and technology partnerships that provide access to unique data and services.

All that agencies have dabbled in so far are driven by research which enables the development of unique planning frameworks and approaches that help planners think, organise and ideate – therefore, delivering innovation and breakthrough campaigns. This is complemented by proprietary tools developed by agencies that boost productivity, optimisation and decision-making capabilities to develop unique perspectives in client deliverables.

All in the name of gaining a competitive advantage in this dynamic landscape. We all want (to be the only one) to provide the best to our clients – unique and proprietary knowledge, insights and solutions.

Partnerships are great. But we might need to start buying to have greater freedom and control over the development and packaging of products as well as the audience. Just as how we’ve seen media companies or networks acquire other agencies and research firms, it may soon apply to tech companies and vice versa.

2. ‘True’ product development

With such acquisitions in place, greater ownership enables the generation of unique solutions to provide clients with off-the-shelf products that are sold consistently and marketed in different ways. Admittedly, agencies have never exactly been in the data and technology business, in the sense that we do not own high-end technology.

Often at times, what is referred to as a product is a service or solution bespoke to a specific client. The definition of a product is something that is produced in a standardised fashion for all customers and marketed at large, while configured to the individual segments as necessary.

3. Ownership of audience pools across multi-screens

Owned audience pools are generated from agencies’ practice of programmatic buying. Agencies’ access to unique data points through programmatic buying bolsters inventory from ad exchanges with a layer of audience filter that results in a unique pool of audiences that can be sold to clients.

These audiences are now primarily found attached in the banner space. However, as media becomes increasingly digitised – from television to print and radio – audiences will pool across media as everything will eventually be served in the digital space and connected to IP addresses. And more importantly, all media inventory will be sold in ad exchanges as they become digitised.

Digitisation has also increased addressability and complements even the offline space. For example, consumers who read e-copies of newspapers will enable marketers to study their responses to ads. Through the inventory of collected data, we can then better understand behaviours with the various audience identifiers in place.

In the near future, I have confidence we’ll eventually be able to accurately identify whether it is the same person across different mediums, even with different cookies. This is where partnerships and perhaps, acquisitions, would come into play in expediting the process.

Facebook Atlas is one of the new ad-serving technologies that is a step in the right direction, starting with the basic Facebook Login.

Ultimately, agencies are in the business of connecting people and selling products.

Imagine owning unique pools of audiences and packaging them with technology that enables us to distribute agile, real-time content and connect with these audiences, thereby creating proprietary products that can be sold en masse to clients.

That, to me, is the greatest power.

The writer is Rajesh Mahtani, head of strategy and growth for Southeast Asia, Starcom MediaVest Group

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