Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Rob Webster: 2020 review sees digital industry in good shape for 2021

Rob Webster is Founder of  Canton Marketing Solutions. He’s worked in the adtech industry since 2001 and is NDA’s monthly adtech columnist.

As we approach the end of the year, with the presidential elections behind us and the announcement of a COVID 19 vaccine, it feels as though we are at a tipping point and therefore, it is a good time to reflect on 2020. It is also a great opportunity to see how my predictions that I set at the start of the year, have turned out (marked by our Editor Justin Pearse).

Stay tuned for my future 2021 predictions that will be out at the start of December.

Working in reverse order, let’s see how I did last time.

Adtech (and Martech) are fashionable again

Just a year ago adtech was perhaps the most unfashionable category, after a slew of former financial darlings had disappointing exits; yet two trends have driven adtech back to being hugely in demand.

Firstly, the increased importance of online activity, as people have been kept off the high street and out of the cinema due to the pandemic. Secondly, the huge push towards privacy by design as a response to regulation and changes in browser technology.

The Trade Desk was doing well even a year ago, but is now worth 2.5 times as much and DoubleVerify is rumoured to be preparing a $5 billion valuation. Closer to home InfoSum, Permutive and mediarithmics have all had impressive investment rounds and valuations. If you are a business that has proven it can benefit from the growth in digital within a new privacy environment, the future is incredibly bright as the world seeks to emerge from COVID 19.

Justin’s Score – Slam Dunk. 1 Point.

Media Services has become fairer, flatter and more innovative

The big agency holding companies came to dominate the programmatic era. Now as we look to enter a new era, this no longer seems to be the case, which as can be seen by the massive decline in share price of the big groups.

S4C has become the big success story along with Jellyfish and a slew of others focussing on Google Marketing Platform (Accenture, Merkle). You can argue about the flat nature and innovation of Google centric businesses, however it still shows a marked change to the previous order.

Where innovation has occurred is in the raft of new companies and models across the industry. From Expose vs Control through The Programmatic Advisory, Silver Bullet, Oliver and many more including my own Canton, there are many new companies that have a much more collaborative and consultative model of providing value for advertisers. Furthermore, it has also been a more flexible time for individuals to work and add real value to the ecosystem as individual consultants.

As for innovation, online training programs, privacy by design, cloud-based marketing data strategies, built in transparency, new forms of attribution and combining in-housing with work from home, have all been led by these (and other independent shops) in conjunction with many of the biggest brands in the land.

Justin’s Score – Home Run 1 Point.

The Birth of the Authenticated Data Driven Ecosystem

In the past 12 months, particularly in Connected TV, we have seen a big growth in new media options powered by logged in users. Channel 4, ITV, The Telegraph and Reach have worked in collaboration with a variety of powerful technology players showing us a future of data-driven media without cookies.

There is still much work to be done, but 2020 (along with COVID) will likely go down as the time when the industry could imagine a world without cookies with optimism and not fear.

Justin’s score. Its great but it’s still not widespread…..Yet. ½ Point.

More Walls less Trouble

It’s hard to imagine but a year ago many were actively talking about the demise of the walled gardens. Yet as I have long said the future of media is one where walls keep out some of the bad players, protect the data of individuals and are best placed to drive value for media owners.

In 2020 this vision really started to come to fruition. Not only did the behemoths of Google, Facebook and Amazon increase their hold on the market but they were joined by big growth for Twitter, Snap and particularly TikTok.

Not only that but the aforementioned authenticated ecosystems are also effectively walled gardens – add to that the likes of Spotify, Dax and the Ozone project. Some of these platforms have connections to open ecosystems and yet also work to protect their data and media from bad actors. It’s also the time when the giants took big steps to protect their ecosystems from the malign impacts of fake news particularly within politics and the election, something that with growth should hopefully protect media and society.

Justin’s score. Touchdown 1 Point.

Digital marketing becomes more important than ever

Considering the time that we have been through, a review of the year wouldn’t be right without mentioning the pandemic, and the tough times that the industry (and world) has consequently been through and it has been these months that have taught us the importance of digital marketing.
A year ago, many were predicting a bad year for online marketing, with the growth of the sector slowing down and moving back to traditional media. I felt this was unlikely and, should the pandemic not have occurred, I was confident digital would grow faster than ever. With the impact of the pandemic, it’s clear that online marketing has become vital to a company’s survival.

Digital transformation has long been in demand, but now digital marketing transformation has become vital, as companies recognise that to succeed, they must become experts in this medium. The best businesses are the ones that have the capacity to move to online selling, communication via zoom and remote working.

Whilst the hardship many companies have felt as the wider economy suffered and the PWC report showed an industry with challenges, it has never been a better time to join our industry.

Justin’s Score – Back of the net. 1 point

Final Score – 4.5 out of 5

It’s been a tough year for the world, but one that I think digital media can generally be proud of. With a vaccine on the horizon and a new president in the white house, we can hope for greener pastures ahead.

Digital media has never been more important, and I think we can all look forward to good times in a new privacy-first era ahead.

Please tune in next time to see what 2021 has in store!