With the world of media changing at an unprecedented rate, digital technologies have splintered media into numerous niches, channels and segments today. “The world has moved from channels to sites to apps,” observes Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer, GroupM Global. But the consequence of ownership of those apps and the common distribution of relatively small number of those apps in itself, in his view, reverses fragmentation.
The GroupM strategy, Norman explains, is to build proprietary data assets and interfaces between their bidding and planning systems. “We have been working extensively around the world to create private market places with trusted sources as the inventory. Our goal at those advertising places is to protect the advertisers against fraud and maximise their ability to deliver in those market places in the most efficient and data reformed way possible, which of course is to do programmatically,” he said.
When it comes to programmatic buying, there is a need for a fully developed ad serving infrastructure where technology is not out proportioned to the underlying costs of media inventory. And Norman feels that India is still in the development stage in that area.
“Our goal is to create a world where we have all of the data to apply to the inventory, all the time and in real time. What that means practically is to have the right data and to apply it to the right inventory at the right time,” he added.
In an exclusive chat, (at Cannes) Norman talks about GroupM’s approach to programmatic buying, how IoT is impacting brands and technological innovations at GroupM.
How is GroupM encouraging programmatic buying?
There are certain pre-conditions that need to exist in programmatic buying. You need to have a fully developed ad serving infrastructure, a market where the cost of technology - whether it is the programmatic technology itself or the ad-serving technology, the verification technology and so forth – is not overwhelmingly out proportioned with the underlying costs of the media inventory. India is still in the development stage in that area. Broadly, we have built it successfully in the markets of India in a very short time.
The data mine of information, not personally identifiable information, about consumer behaviour to transaction behaviour to browsing behaviour to device usage, and so forth, allows us to make portraits of consumers and deliver those portraits in real time. Our goal, is to create a world where we have all of the data to apply to the inventory, all the time and in real time. What that means practically is to have the right data and to apply it to the right inventory at the right time. You can’t use one piece of technology to access all the Google inventories, all the Facebook inventories, and it goes on because many of them demand specific tools.
Our strategy is to build what we refer to, may be a little clumsy, as a meta-DSP. We own a business called the Exchange Lab, which has built a platform called Proteus. This platform has allowed us to interface with multiple beta technologies, whether the technology is owned by us or by other people.
So, the GroupM strategy, on one hand, is to build proprietary data assets, and on the other hand, to build interfaces between our bidding and planning systems. We believe that is the best way of getting at widely distributed programmatic. We have been working extensively around the world to create private market places with trusted sources as the inventory. Our goal at those advertising places is to protect the advertisers against fraud and maximise their ability to deliver in those market places in the most efficient and data reformed way possible, which of course is to do programmatically. So, our goal is to be in the market we want using technology, whichever is appropriate with the data we have and do it that way.
Generally, you are much less likely to come to harm if you walk in the well lit night on the right side of the street; we see the private market places as the well lit streets. We will work as hard, with people as they would like to, and look at the quality and safety of their inventory, and we will work with anyone.
How do you see IoT impacting brands? What are the possibilities and challenges?
What happens when non-human objects become connected? When I say non human in this context, I am talking about automobiles, products and services. There is a constellation of connectivity that exists now which allows the brand to be discovered, in the ways that weren’t before, and also allows the use of location based data for delivering messages to people. It also opens opportunities for promotions in retail among other things. And you see brands deliver things to consumers that they themselves can take at the point of sale.
The other thing is that every brand has its own data narratives, there is information behind the brand that can influence people’s view of the brand, and hopefully, that sense of integrity of the brand, its relevance and preference has positives, although at the moment, it’s largely unclear from an execution point of view. I don’t think it has changed the world yet, but as everything gets connected, the world will change a little more.
What, in your opinion, is the optimum metric for digital advertisers to gauge the efficacy of campaigns?
There was never a standard, say within the television and out-of-home or print. And there is an argument which suggests that digital video on television, television itself and social feeds aren’t different from one another; just as television was from print and print was from out-of-home. And, as soon as any platform or any consumption becomes significant enough, you have to think about metrics that are specific to that platform. We need to start on picking this puzzle and say: what is the best way to measure everything from brand effect to sales effect and all of the actions that come in between.
How do we think about that from the Snapchat or the Facebook universe and how do we think about a number of universes and beyond that? The role of the media service companies like GroupM and its agencies would be to look at each channel and performance within each channel and look at the alternate allocations across those platforms to achieve an overall effect. So, anyone who thinks those are going to be a ‘one size fits all’ measure is wrong. The only thing that we will pursue as an absolute ‘one size fits all’ is the concept of verification. Knowing that an ad has been seen by a human will be the universal truth that we will pursue.
What are the recent technological innovations by GroupM?
Any agency that has the narrative that says it is going build tools and going to compete with Facebook and Google will find it hard to retain credibility. So, our job is to plan across all those channels and to optimise those channels and be the most effective planner and buyer within those channels. Therefore, we are building tools that integrate with all the tools that ingest data from multiple sources and tools that exhale data into multiple sources, both from a planning and trading point of view.
There’s a thin layer that covers the new ecosystem in the same way that optimises for television and for print. So, our focus remains the same, the difference is that the focus requires more engineering than before. It requires a different dialogue between us and our partners at Google and Facebook, because when we want to do something that integrates them; you have to have a philosophical business discussion about whether it is worthwhile. And then in order to execute, you need to have an engineered discussion to actually get it done. I think in terms of competitive advantage, if we go out and count the engineers that work in the media space in WPP and GroupM, we have a bigger number than anybody else does.
Is the increase in the use of apps going to lessen or lead to further media fragmentation?
I wrote an article last year and made a number of statements on this subject. I feel there are two persistent narratives. The first persistent narrative is that fragmentation is continuous and the second is that the world has gone from broadcast to mobile. And my argument is that the world has gone from channels to sites to apps. The consequence of ownership of those apps and the common distribution of relatively small number of those apps in itself reverses fragmentation. So, the owners of the major ecosystem are the dominant apps of Facebook, Google and their equivalents around the world, and it means that there is a huge concentration of ownership in that area and that is the inverse of fragmentation.
People shouldn’t confuse fragmentation of ownerships with the atomisation of audiences. Now we are moving into a world where there are very few owners in the ecosystem, and those owners are able to deliver targeting at the most atomised or individual levels. So, consolidation and atomisation has a very different narrative from fragmentation.