Transparency and the New Age Marketer: Why it’s time to say goodbye to black box marketing

In recent years, marketers have been digging deeper to understand the “why” as well as the “how” of their digital marketing efforts. Measurement methods are maturing and becoming increasingly results-driven as investment into the space increases. With digital ad spend in Asia Pacific expected to hit double digit growth in 2017 according to a recent IAB report, transparency – or the lack thereof – becomes an increasingly critical issue to navigate.

In the digital marketing sense, “transparency” means visibility into key aspects of the media buying process, for which both sellers and buyers are responsible. Without this mutually beneficial relationship and ecosystem that breeds trust, sellers and buyers alike are at risk of putting themselves in a position of vulnerability – especially at a time where transparency is set to increase.

There are five key trends leading the charge for transparency in the region, which are also setting the course for the next stage of digital marketing in Asia Pacific:

Rise of the New Age CMO

In the past, CMOs were faced with a knowledge deficit, and as a result, were content arbitraging on price – results just weren’t part of the equation. Thankfully, this black box marketing is finally in decline. New Age CMOs understand that they can’t arbitrage lifetime customer value, brand uplift, brand recall or a rise in sales. They’re utilising management and tracking technologies, not just to report to the CEO, but to make smarter, more informed decisions about continuing with what works – and putting a stop to what doesn’t. This newfound emphasis on accountability ensures that CMOs can no longer shrug their shoulders at management when asked to link their efforts to a return on investment. The upshot? More sophisticated CMOs and less dumb procurement.

Digital Marketing, AKA: Marketing

Digital ad spend this year is projected to surpass TV. This marks the first time in 40 years that new media displaces the incumbent. As a result “marketing”, by definition, will mean digital. With this shift from “digital marketing” to “marketing”, digital measurements preferences are also changing. Click-based metrics such as click-throughs and likes have often been marred with margin-stealing, as they lend themselves easily to price-led arbitrage. As measurement advances to track more meaningful brand value and engagement-led metrics, so too does transparency.  One of the things that has held back digital transformation is partners generating large rebates from offline to prop up a digital media business that makes no sense as a stand-alone. The sooner this practice stops the faster we will create completely transparent digital media businesses.

Channel agnostics

When CMOs utilise a suite of specialist partners for each channel, each partner has to stick within their own channel. As a result, specialists are incentivised to scale results on their own platform. Advertisers are now increasingly looking to partner with channel specialists on transparent percentage of spend payment models and focus on ROI metrics rather than media cost metrics. This allows the allocation of a fixed budget to a specific platform, and optimises targeting and creatives to maximise results – rather than fudging results by throwing budgets at the platform that gives the highest rebate. Put simply, the New Age CMO is not putting all of his or her budget in the same metaphorical basket.

Our clients are increasingly telling us how they’ve grown their leads or generated more sales that they are able to track it down to the specific channels or moments in a customer journey. As digital specialist agencies are more commonly remunerated on business goals such as these, the less likely it will become for transparency to be an issue.

Google and Facebook taking the lead on transparency

Google and Facebook are digital behemoths that have grown exponentially over the course of the last ten years. Ad spend on the platforms has become a ubiquitous part of a brand’s digital marketing strategy, and while this has garnered some skepticism from those wary of the sheer scale of their operations, their commitment to transparency is second to none. True forces of good in the digital space, their comprehensive dashboards detail statistics from impressions to conversions that had never previously been so accessible. Clients can simply open their dashboard and see where their budget was spent. Admissions of inaccuracy come straight from the horse’s mouth – and then they get right on to fix it.

This is a marked departure from the opaque model of partnerships, kickbacks and rebates between agency and publisher, which has propagated a lack of transparency. Ad spend on the platforms ensures brands are part of a transparent ecosystem, and are paving the way for other channels to be held to the same level of accountability.

Growth of education and consultancy

In previous years, the lack of understanding – and therefore, confidence – in the space has been problematic. Education is, of course, an ongoing process, particularly as digital platforms are endlessly evolving, and exciting yet daunting new capabilities and developments continually introduced. As they continue to grow ever more comprehensive, education has become increasingly important to maximise understanding, which leads to greater visibility and awareness. Certifications, such as Facebook Blueprint and Google AdWords Certification, are frequently updated to ensure digital marketers’ skillsets are up-to-date. This also lends credibility to consultants providing advice and training. Outside of Singapore, consultancy is growing as mobile adoption soars, particularly in markets such as the Philippines and Indonesia.

Three golden rules of transparency

While the digital advertising ecosystem as a whole is becoming more transparent, there is still some way to go. The process could, however, be accelerated if interactions between buyers and sellers encompass three key principles:

  • Both sides must be capable of adding equal value to the relationship, and comfortable with being completely transparent.
  • Both sides need to be motivated to make the partnership a win-win situation, rather than defining winning by getting the upper hand or the best monetary deal from the partnership
  • Both sides need to focus on lifetime customer value rather than the mere cost of a click

As with any relationship, trust, value and honesty facilitates sustainability and long-term growth. A healthy digital advertising ecosystem is a transparent one, and 2017 is set to be the best measure of this yet.

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