Transparency is a term that has different meanings for different people. For many marketers, when it comes to advertising, transparency remains a top concern. With data-driven marketing, transparency is something that should be inherent if the right tools are in place, but it’s a term that continues to headline the trade press. Those that thought that the consolidation of the ad tech industry could improve the situation may be in for a surprise. To understand the challenges fully, it helps to look at where we’ve come from and where we are now.

The evolution of marketing

Over the past 15 years, we have seen the creation of a new world immersed in technology. Consumers rely on technology now more than ever to organise their lives and stay connected. The ‘always on’ consumer creates more data trails than ever, but for brands, making effective connections throughout the consumer journey across devices can be fraught with difficulty. As a result, the advertising industry has a renewed desire to achieve one view of the user across all devices and many companies are battling to create the ultimate solution to the problem. On top of ad tech consolidation, we now see slumbering Telco’s waking up to the opportunity of cross-device tracking and buying ad tracking companies to connect user bases together. 

Similar to the boom, consolidation is happening quickly. As market leaders battle for supremacy, a different kind of fragmentation is emerging. Ad serving technology company, Atlas is now owned by Facebook; DoubleClick and Adometry are both now owned by Google; Flurry and BrightRoll were acquired by Yahoo; Converto was bought by AOL and AOL most recently was bought by Verizon.  Competition is fierce and companies can become protective of their data. What we will likely see as a result of this is the creation of walled ecosystems and more barriers to comparing disparate data sets. Ultimately, this will have an impact on attribution and measurement.

Attribution through aggregation

The ‘normalising’ of data through aggregation has always been a challenge for the advertising industry. Traditionally digital advertising has been underpinned by Excel, and to a large extent it still is.  The advertising industry faces unique challenges when it comes to transparency including how to create a unified view by connecting disparate data pools. ‘Big data’ is at the core of many companies’ infrastructures and the need to organise, attribute and learn from consumer behaviour is deeply rooted.

The goal of attribution is to understand and apply value to different marketing touch points and assess the value in each of these events. Attribution is seen by many as the holy grail of marketing, but getting it right in a multi-device world is not easy. For attribution to work, a unified view is needed to allow real value to be assigned and comparisons made.

However, attribution isn’t just about assigning value; it is also the ability to achieve unified viewability. As ad tech giants continue to expand, we need to ensure brands maintain visibility of their campaigns. Walled ecosystems and removal of third-party evaluation tagging can leave a void when it comes to wider attribution. For many brands, the desire for greater understanding and complete measurement is so strong that they are moving programmatic operations in-house. This will only continue if insights and knowledge are not shared.

Achieving a unified view of the marketplace

I come from a financial trading background, so the need for transparency when trading is not alien to me. From a trader’s perspective, with so much market information to compute, there needed to be a clear, unified view of the marketplace to ensure the best decisions were made for the client. Programmatic marketing is no different. Transparency is not just about costs, but also about having the choice to decide what channels work best for your campaign. Traders need to have the right tools in place to get a clear vision of how the market is responding, moving brand dollars accordingly. Only this way can a fair assessment for the campaign be attained.

There’s no doubt that data-driven marketing has increased accountability and reporting capabilities. Insights and understanding are key to future optimisation and are the only way that marketers can continue to grow. Whether conducting programmatic marketing in-house or through a managed service, it is the duty of service providers to share campaign knowledge and insights. The brands that demand transparency and the technology partners who make it a priority will be the leaders in programmatic and, as a result of the insights gained, will have the greatest knowledge of their customers.