Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Right-Housing replaces in-housing as we enter the fourth era of digital marketing

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

Business response to the pandemic and recession

I think it’s fair to say that the pandemic took everyone by surprise and changed everything. Identity and regulation were arguably the main areas of interest in the industry in the first couple of months of the year. However, whilst still important, these subjects have taken a back seat to the clear and present danger of responding to the pandemic and recession and business is preparing to be fighting fit for the new world order.

The first stage of the pandemic response lasted a couple of weeks and was all about getting used to working from home and surviving to Easter. The second phase was about furlough, who to furlough and how to operate with (likely) less demand and less staff.

This next phase is all about adapting business for the medium to long term – ultimately in these constrained times doing more with less. With that in mind I believe as many do that marketing contracts will be heavily renegotiated in the next twelve months and we can expect another period of mediapalooza (reviews of media contracts).

As an aside, it is a sobering reminder for marketing and digital advertising in particular that concerns like the loss of third party cookies melt in comparison with the wider themes of how to operate a business with the socially distanced restrictions the world now faces. Advertising and adtech particularly would do well to remember that we are there to support good business and not expect to be the main consideration.

Right-Housing is the solution for businesses looking to adapt to the new world order.  

The big trend in how marketing is run over the last two years has been in-housing. Even only a year ago, many still liked to pretend that this was not a trend at all and that the previous dynamic of handing over the keys to a marketing agency was still the model of the future.

I don’t know if you have noticed but no one is saying that now, and all brands need to take more responsibility for their marketing strategy, measurement and speed of execution. The benefits of in-housing in terms of faster activation (vital in the modern economy), data control (vital both strategically and legislatively), cost savings (always good) and ultimately better results are impossible for any advertiser to ignore.

However in a world where demand is at least harder to forecast and in many cases restricted, advertisers have a need to do more with less. Certainly not many, if any, brands will be looking to take on an army of expensive marketing staff in such a time, even if they could ultimately save money and help grow the business.

This opens up the concept of right-housing, where advertisers will simultaneously look to in-house core areas of responsibility (strategy, measurement, technology contracts), whilst the more complicated and resource-intensive areas remain with partners at least for the time being – albeit on heavily modified/restricted terms. The power of agencies to run multi-channel multi-market campaigns should not be underestimated and in times of resource constraints activity such as this may be best left with specialists.

We can define Right Housing as – The process of in housing core aspects of marketing whilst simultaneously negotiating out sourced options for others to gain marketing efficiencies. For example, in housing strategy, measurement, email, paid social and paid search but renegotiating outsourced options for Display, Video, Creative Design and SEO. 

In-Housing and Right-Housing need omnichannel experience.

Like everything else, this process can be done well or it can be done badly. Advertisers need the key skills to be able to conduct such an advertising transformation and many should look to outside help.

Crucially experience needs to cover all aspects of online marketing. Simply looking at in-housing programmatic display for example is pointless when not considering the wider view of data, ad tech, attribution, strategy and indeed at least the paid digital channels of paid search, paid social, email, video and mobile. Offline marketing can be in housed also but is generally handled separately with areas such as connected TV and digital out of home the first to fall into combined in house teams. 

A crucial area for experienced people to assist advertisers is in training. Training programs are vital, to do more with less in-house staff need to have more knowledge than they do today, knowledge that at this time may not be hired in. Process and logistics is another key area to ensure that in-house teams work seamlessly with any external resource. F2F meetings will be in short supply so it’s absolutely vital that new process flows and logistics are implemented for any kind of marketing transformation to be successful.

To do more with less requires automation

Whilst the process above of in-housing some areas (the core) and resetting others with different partners and contracts will yield large efficiencies for advertisers. The only way they will be able to truly do more with less, and become more operationally efficient in marketing is through automation.

This is where brands should look to hire, or more likely contract, experienced media engineers. Media engineers are set to be one of the trendy new jobs of this generation, following on from data scientists before them. Trendy or not they are vital to the success of in-housing as they have the coding ability and media knowledge to automate vital processes. This process starts with automated reports and moves into automated cross platform setup and optimisation techniques.

APIs into the various platforms, custom algorithms, scripts (particularly ad words scripts) are the tools media engineers will use to automate marketing tasks and ensure brands can achieve media efficiencies and do more with less.

What next for publishers

As if they have not been hit enough, this new dynamic has a big challenge for publishers to stay relevant in the minds of advertisers. In a time of restricted budgets it’s very easy for advertisers to simply double down on Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and other large media platforms. Indeed the evidence of the recession and the share price of some of these platforms is that is exactly what is happening.

Advertisers may conclude (and many are) that the relatively more complex and smaller independent sector can be ignored until better times return and businesses can focus on growth again. This would be both a mistake and a catastrophe for the industry and indeed in the shape of lost journalism to society.

To prevent this, the independent sector must take advantage of the issues the likes of Facebook are having right now and present a viable and important alternative. Crucially they must make it easy for advertisers to operate and see the value. This is in itself part of a much wider debate, but one the independent sector must lead and lead well if it wants to come out of the crisis healthily. 

A brave new world

Some of these changes have been widely discussed from in-housing to the impending mediapalooza of contract reviews. However, what has not been widely discussed is quite how different this decade will be from the last. Dominant media owners are changing and there is a big movement of demand power from the big agencies to advertisers. This is before any big changes emerge from the identity shake up. An inkling of the difference is to consider how different Sir Martin Sorrell’s new company S4C looks compared to a traditional agency holding company. 

After the third downturn in digital media history, the 4th era of digital marketing is nearly upon us. It is now we will find who will be the key players in this brave new world. .