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Transparency and the bottom line: marketers should consider supply path optimisation

According to marketing leaders, as digital carves out a greater slice of ad spend, the greater the impact of transparency on the bottom line of a business. The Drum and Integral Ad Science brought together marketers from Microsoft, Citi, NTUC Income, Intel, Xandr and Grab to understand how new strategies and technologies are helping brands keep digital media transparent.

The pressure on a marketer to deliver value on every dollar spent has never been greater, but the complexity of digital has always made the understanding of this tough to unpick. The causes of a murky supply path range from intentional bad actors to unintentional byproducts thanks to the layers of complexity in the industry. But can strategies and technology, such as supply path optimization (SPO) help?

​​Anupam Dikhit, digital, social and experiential marketing, APAC at Microsoft, says that, in simple terms, untransparent media always requires additional spending.

“If you really look from the perspective of the bottom line, I would say every dollar that goes into an ad spend that we don't have full transparency upon is equal to another additional dollar that needs to be invested to get the task done. While this is of course a very simplified version of what's happening, but since we don't have full visibility on the audience, the quality, and the intent and we don't clearly know where that dollar is going, it probably doesn't help our goals and we might have to spend more to meet our marketing objectives,” he explains.

The ambition of many players in the digital industry is to reach a completely transparent supply path but there are questions around whether total transparency is actually achievable.

James Keady, director of digital engagement, APAC and EMEA, Citi, explains that this is hindered by grey areas around the accountability of transparency in programmatic but also the lack of financial incentives to stamp out bad actors.

“There's always going to be an incentive for people to try and trick the system,” he says, “The buck does stop with a marketing person but we need the support from our tech and agency partners, and they will be more interested if there's a financial incentive for them to be transparent.”

An important part of a marketer's responsibility in the quest for transparency is the internal selling that needs to happen to adopt new ways of working, such as SPO. Kartikha Rajoo, senior country digital manager, Grab, says, “As a digital leader, the day-to-day job is also to educate the product marketing team and my internal stakeholders on why it's important to invest in fixing transparency. For those of us in this conversation, we get it. But as to why my general marketing team would want to invest time, effort or man-hours towards it, that is an ongoing conversation and internal education initiative that we need to keep doing.”

Auditing, tracking, understanding, and then optimizing around a more transparent strategy has been quite manual, meaning marketers are often leaning on agency and tech partners to support. The future is showing improvements from a technology point of view, with solutions such as supply path curation and marketplaces coming into play.

Eimear O’Rourke, account director, Xandr, adds, “If you were trying to trace the path of one impression a couple of years ago, you would have to trace it through literally hundreds of combinations of different partners, different levels of media transparency, different auction types, etc just to gather one set of data that then you're trying to match for the buy-side or the sell-side. And In the past, because of that complexity, supply chain management was really just not able to be delivered in real-time. However, technical architecture has progressed and so a number of platform partners in the industry support supply chain management features through things like fee-transparent curated marketplaces.”

Working together with partners and taking a more curated approach were the two fastest ways to have a more transparent supply of media, according to the marketers.

Anny Huang, head of digital business, NTUC Income, says that, while curating media from some tried and tested strategies from digital marketing’s past, it meant a brighter future for digital spending.

“If there's a chance for brands, tech partners, and even our agencies to come together to establish data sharing principles or standards to assist in the SPO journey, I think that will really help to enable transparency for the industry. It is interesting that we have to be going back to the good old days by curating our own brand trusted network to ensure that your current efficiency is able to be maintained,” she says.

Rohan Kamra, regional digital marketing, and sales enablement manager, APAC and Japan, Intel, said that greater automation was needed but standards from audits also needed to be shared.

“It is obviously time to explore new solutions that help brands to do auditing better, faster, and in a more automated manner. As a result, standards from auditing are something that will be more common. It might not completely solve the problem, which might still be there, but at least give us better visibility on what is being spent and what we getting in return for our media,” he says.

If the marketers want greater transparency and the technology is driving faster analysis, then there’s a role within the industry for someone to set the standard, according to Laura Quigley, senior vice president, APAC, IAS, particularly in South East Asia.

“There is an opportunity in South East Asia, whether it be an industry body or a new company to come in, to put in and mandate do's and don'ts around this, building industry standards. There’s a need to really help agencies and brands and the wider ad tech industry to build some direction and put in place things that will continue to drive transparency and efficiency for digital,” she says.

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