Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Dora Michail-Clendinnen: progress is impossible without change

Dora Michail-Clendinnen is Chief Strategy Officer at The Ozone Project and NDA’s monthly columnist.

It seems that the only constant in digital advertising at the moment is change. Whether that’s driven by advertisers, regulators, browsers or publishers, the overarching theme – once we look past the panic and scramble for meaning – is one of positive progress. This is certainly the angle we’re taking at The Ozone Project with the launch of the ‘Better Future Series’ – a programme of regular events with industry experts sharing ideas on topics that impact us.

For the first event of the series, Sarah Treliving – Digital, Data and Technology Director at Goodstuff – joined me and Ozone CTO Scott Switzer to focus on identity in digital advertising. We discussed the design principles that can support the seismic changes that are heading our way and why we’re excited about what is to come. For this column I wanted to share three key themes that really resonated during this session.

Reimagine measurement

Pretty soon we won’t be able to measure campaign performance, ecommerce activity and user behaviour the way we do it today. Now is the time to think about success in ways other than pure direct response or end of customer journey metrics. A focus on long term value rather than short term sales will become not only necessary, but also more effective for advertisers. For as long as we rely on the third party cookie for online measurement we will continue to prioritise performance metrics over brand-building. This encourages attribution models that are easy to game and don’t drive long-term value for brands. 

In the spirit of “necessity is the mother of invention,” we discussed the type of innovation that will emerge in measuring campaign performance using groups, context and device data rather than user-level data, as well as panel-based contributions. With already significant growth in digital display brand measurement and an emphasis on attention-based metrics which do not require user-level data, there will be a shift from clicks and conversion based metrics and a focus on brand fame and influence.

Historically digital wasn’t the first place you would go to build brands, this was reserved for offline channels, but the last few years have seen huge success for what started as digital direct-to-consumer brands like Harry’s, AllBirds, Birchbox and more, proving what you can do in digital with an effective creative and media strategy. 

Respect the people behind the data

Respect – alongside fairness, accountability and transparency – was a core principle of the WFA data ethics paper that was published last year. It is very easy to talk about “user data” and metrics and forget that there are actually people sitting behind the statistics, who have entrusted their personal data to publishers and brands. This is surely the most important relationship for the supply and demand side of our business; and whilst the way we are operating today satisfies the regulators and gives advertising practitioners legal consent to broadcast user data across the ad ecosystem, in the context of all of the privacy debates today and those to come in the future, if we’re honest with ourselves, we haven’t designed a truly privacy-first solution just yet. 

If it’s good for the user, it’s good for business

Creating value in advertising starts and ends with the user. A better user experience means more attentive users, leading to better advertising engagement and a more valuable exchange between consumers, advertisers and publishers. We have seen this play out with many global publishers over recent years as their business models have evolved from advertiser-first to reader-first strategies. Open RTB – alongside misaligned measurement models – was principally designed for high volumes of impressions and low CPMs.

In the past this created the wrong incentives for premium publishers and for some this meant that ad revenue was prioritised over the user experience. The publishers who recognised this and prioritised the user above all else have seen great success with reader-first strategies – enjoying higher ad yields, increased ad revenues – and fewer ads.

The discussion ended with us considering what should come next for advertisers and publishers. There was agreement on a few things. Firstly publishers and advertisers are the custodians of user data and revisiting what consent they have as a matter of priority will go a long way in defining the privacy-by-design marketing of the future. Secondly, one of the things this industry does best is to innovate and we’re excited by the opportunities in measurement that will continue to emerge.

Thirdly, whilst we understand the reaction of some who might look at rationalising and consolidating their digital media spend into siloed channels as a way of simplifying the complexity, we’re keen on diverse solutions that drive true incrementality for advertisers and provide great experiences for consumers.