The Changing “Who, What, Where and When” of Media

unnamed-25 Every week brings a new set of headlines as digital media ad sales continue to go through remarkable change – and not all of it positive for publishers.

In the past few weeks and months, we’ve seen CROs and heads of sales be asked to move on or be ousted, complete direct sales teams eliminated, and publishers moving to programmatic sales.

What’s happening here in a very large upside market? The IAB just said that 2013 Internet ad revenues soared to $42.8 billion, up 17% over 2012 and for the first time surpassing broadcast television.

The balance of power continues to shift rapidly to the buy side as advertisers are increasingly calling the shots relative to the “who” and “why” and “when” around the inventory they want to buy, with less emphasis on “where” (which is where the publishers come in).

Today’s marketer is far more data-driven, which only amplifies as they begin to better understand cross-platform analytics and now have access to almost infinite inventory through exchanges. No, this is not perfect science yet, but quickly evolving and improving.

Just yesterday it seems the first-party data of publishers, such as audience demographic indexing, was driving all ad targeting across all media. Publishers and their sales teams were in-market doing deals, taking clients to lunch and ball games, and delivering (maybe!) on advertiser goals, generally to the benefit of both sides within the limits of the technology they had.

Today, it is not the publisher’s data that is increasingly being used to make the buying decision. Media value is quickly slipping away from the publishers.

Retargeters seem to have taken over the Web. Yes, it’s probably worth the $2.00 a hotel chain pays to retarget me with 1,000 impressions to win a 2-night hotel stay, especially if I’m a loyalty member of the hotel and was planning to stay there anyway and they will get credit by dropping their cookie – but that’s an article for another time. Ad-side tools are deciding When it’s right to buy and ad – or not. Who and Why also dominate the decision, with little focus on Where. Apply cross-platform analytics that the advertiser controls and more publisher control slips away as the insights stay with the marketer.

The brutal efficiencies of search – in the best way for marketers – are starting to be applied to all media because it works, and it’s very clear this will be led by machine-based decisioning. If you’re a publisher, you can’t take an algorithm or machine out to dinner or a concert, so what do you do now?

You can still sell on the basis of a relationship, but it needs to be supported by a real effort to double-down and build new first-party data insights about your audience. Understanding the Who and Why creates  real differentiation. Then, you can make your Where and When important to more advertisers and charge them higher CPMs.

This is not an easy task but there is a tremendous amount of user behavior that can be mined by the publisher, interpreted into powerful targeting data, such as real-time audience Intent or social media referrers, and then brought to market to build new channels of ad revenue.

There is an intersection of machine-based decisioning and interpersonal relationships that can be used to win more advertisers, sell more to existing customers and increase CPMs over time.

But if you don’t know your own who, what, when and where, what where and when are you going to sell?

Jonathan Mendez is currently the CEO of Yieldbot, a company that captures and organizes the realtime intent existing in web publishers. Mendez has years of experience with real-time systems and optimization technology. He also spearheaded the rise of Dyanmic Landing Page Optimization. He is a noted blogger, has been a speaker at over 50 industry events and is often quoted on digital marketing technology in publications including New York Times, Business Week, USA Today and Advertising Age.