Category Archives: advertisers

The Encima Group Donates Tag Management Referrals, Maintains Neutrality

The latest from Encima but a long-time in the making….hopefully more digital analysts and marketers will consider Piwik as an open source alternative to sharing their precious customer data with G. And of course, the DAA is doing some great things for the industry and we want to be a part of that. Special thanks to David Clunes for his vision and support on this initiative.

Encima Group LogoNewark, DE – August 18, 2014 – Analytics consultancy The Encima Group, is pleased to announce the donation of several thousand dollars in referral fees earned through the recent recommendation and subsequent implementation of Signal’s technology platform. Signal’s Tag Management system (formerly BrightTag) was chosen by two of Encima’s major pharmaceutical clients as the best-in-class tag management solution. For one Encima client, their prior tag management system took too much time to use and was expensive. It was replaced with Signal and the client is already seeing ongoing tag maintenance now taking less than 10% of the time that it did before. For another client, Signal was deployed together with an enterprise site analytics solution across several high-profile Web sites making ongoing tag maintenance a snap.

David Clunes, CEO and Founder of The Encima Group explains, “With technology vendors often jockeying on new capabilities, we prefer let them do what they do best without getting caught up. We purposefully do not recommend the technology platforms that make us the most money, instead we recommend what is best for our client’s long-term analytics success. Donations like this help us continue to maintain our neutrality – all while doing some good for the industry.”

The Encima Group, known best for its independent analytics and digital operations services often finds itself recommending platforms for clients. Sometimes viewed as another value-added reseller, The Encima Group sees itself as an extension of their clients’ organizations and vigorously maintains its “Switzerland” status. That sensibility extends from the firm’s analytics practice which uniquely eschews agency media buying and creative services to focus on providing clients with both objective performance reporting and unbiased campaign optimization recommendation.

Clunes continues, “When it comes to analytics, more objectivity is always a good thing. We feel that this is a great way of paying it forward and that hopefully other firms get the idea.” By sharing the referral fees that it earned, Encima is simultaneously investing in two worthy causes known to analytics professionals worldwide: The Digital Analytics Association, a global organization for digital analytics professionals and Piwik, the globally popular open source Web analytics platform.

“The Digital Analytics Association is thrilled by the Encima Group’s donation,” said DAA Board Chair, Jim Sterne. “The funds will be added to our general fund to benefit all members of the DAA. We hope that others in the space will follow Encima’s leadership in this area.” For Piwik, the funds will be used to facilitate continued development of this open-source platform. Available as an alternative to sharing with 3rd parties, Piwik allows digital marketers to control their Web site behavioral data. Maciej Zawadziński, of the Piwik Core Development Team says, “This is great and will help us to further develop an alternative free Web analytics platform.”

About The Encima Group

The Encima Group is an independent analytics consultancy that was recently recognized for its successful growth in the Inc. 5000 (ranking in top 25%). The Encima Group’s mission really is about actionable analytics and flawless execution. Offering an integrated suite of services around multi-channel measurement, tag management, dashboards, technology strategy consulting and marketing operational support, The Encima Group pioneered the notion of Data Stewardship. The Encima Group is based in Newark, DE with offices in Princeton, NJ and Chicago, IL. Its client roster includes leading pharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Shire Pharmaceuticals, Otsuka, AstraZeneca and Novo Nordisk.

For more information about The Encima Group, visit www.encimagroup.com. For more information about Signal visit www.signal.co, for Piwki visit www.piwik.org and for the Digital Analytics Association visit www.digitalanalyticsassociation.com.

Media Contact(s)

Jason Mo, Director of Business Development (jmo AT encimagroup DOT com); phone (919) 308-5309; Domenico Tassone, VP Digital Capabilities (dtassone AT encimagroup DOT com); Phone (312) 492-4652.

 

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Digital Media Lesson II – Saying No to Free-riders


In the last post, Shooting One’s Foot, the perfect storm of looming regulation, technology change and  growing acceptance of tech-savvy freeloading in the US was considered. We also saw how kowtowing to mindless traffic growth has all too often warped common sense business management.

The focus of this post is on what leading digital media companies can do about it before it’s too late. Considering that browser cookies today are used for most measurement and targeting technologies, any drastic changes from the government could mean an effective collapse of today’s digital ad ecosystem as we now know it. For digital marketers, the cookiepocalypse would be the end of cookie-based ad targeting and site measurement as we know it today.


Regulatory Threat Looms Large

With 2012 elections rapidly approaching, new regulatory threats are appearing almost daily. It seems that
US Web site users are essentially preparing to make a Coasean entitlement bargain similar to what Professor Steven A. Hetcher described in Norm Proselytizers Create a Privacy Entitlement in Cyberspace. Published by UC-Berkeley in 2001, it is a seminal but prescient study that provides remarkable clarity on digital media’s current predicament.

In short, years of social entrepreneurs moralizing data collection have made self-regulation attempts by Chief Privacy Officers (although always good for PR) and industry trade groups (IAB, OPA, NAI, WAA) vulnerable against a paternalist federal administration, power-seeking bureaucrats and high-minded lawmakers in need of a quick win. Industry group strategies break down as follows:

1.   Education. Teach consumers about the benefits of more relevant advertising while explaining just how cookie-based ad targeting works; ultimately to empower consumers with tangible options to manage their online data trail.

Comment: Most people just don’t care all that much about it.

2.   Choice. Require advertisers (interestingly, not site publishers though) insert the cute ad icon via an overlay within their ad units. Clicking on it brings users to a Web page that then allows them to opt-out from any or all of dozens of participating ad networks. Another albeit special, opt-out cookie is being placed in the user’s browser; it instructs the associated network/ad server to not target advertising to that particular browser.

      Comment: Aside from being a complex technical concept, the critical assumption is that consumers won’t later deliberately or inadvertently delete the NAI opt-out cookie itself thus defeating the purpose. Also this does not effect users with multiple computing devices. Also, cluttering advertisers’ very limited on-screen real estate while publishers have no skin in the game is very telling.

3.   Politicking. Unfortunately but realistically, playing obeisant to politicians and bureaucrats probably has the best chance of action. For many industries, the ROI on lobbying is better than R&D.

      Comment: Hiring a squad of well-connected Washington lawyers to wine and dine politicians is not cheap. Worse, lobbying will have the usual perverse and unintended consequences due to the requisite back-room horse-trading/crony capitalism side-effects. Any deals will be near impossible to later undo as the government tends to have a heavy hand that ignores the signals from an ever-changing economy. As Hizzoner Richard J. Daley, was known to say, “to the victors, go the spoils.”

Altogether, the above strategies just might not be enough for privacy activists or digital advertisers. It’s too little, too late. Arguably, the biggest digital media industry fail is that the digital media industry trade groups have failed to properly frame the privacy battle. They have been mostly reactive and not proactive about this; nor have they put the honus on their digital media membership to change the way they do business in any meaningful way.

Clearly, the prevailing ostrich technique has not worked out for digital media although the usual suspects are doing well. While fear may have boosted trade group membership, it has not helped advertisers at all. Quite the contrary, it seems like Web site publishers are ducking yet again, clearly passing the buck to ad networks and advertisers, e.g. ad icon. Yet, targeted ads are delivered to their users by their ad servers because of the tags on their sites generating them ad revenue. Let’s not forget: people visits Web sites not ad networks

Although the time for digital media to take responsibility is long overdue, most digital media companies still appear to be hoping that somebody else fixes this mess for them. Pinning hopes on premium iPad content and/or labyrinthine pay walls are indirect solutions with limited potential. Unless something drastic changes, digital media are going to continue to be held-up by loud activists, populist politicians, opportunistic trial lawyers and government bureaucrats. 

Meanwhile, digital marketers and their agencies expect digital media partners to aggregate and deliver audiences as billed. It is painfully clear to advertisers that they are left to fend for themselves – caveat emptor applies.

Just Say No

Ironically, it is the digital media themselves that are actually in the best position to fix this issue for once and for all. Professor Hetcher explained this as the “filling the privacy norm gap” – a job that apparently nobody wants except the government. To heal this self-inflicted wound, digital media must first learn to just say no to traffic at all costs and the rampant user free-riding that it requires.

Such a strategy requires an analytical approach to audience measurement and ongoing inventory yield management. The fact is that users that block 3rd party ad server/targeting cookies or routinely delete their cookies effectively rob digital media companies. Content and services provided to the consumer by them are done so with the implicit expectation of a particular financial benefit (advertising revenue) to the digital media company.

A Simple Plan
While fair-minded consumers might not like being tracked, most will acknowledge that they personally and directly benefit from the vast free digital media that is subsidized by ad targeting. At the same time, digital media companies know full well that most users didn’t read their respective terms of service agreements that legally allow them to track for advertising purposes.

As such, there are some simple steps that digital media can take in a matter of days or weeks to take active control of their businesses and tenuous audience relationships, i.e. fill the Hetcherian privacy norm gap. It is based on the simple premise of re-establishing the intrinsic quid-pro-quo about user data-sharing in exchange for free media. Some though-starters:

  1. Block free-riders. Yes, that’s right. This means severely limiting or altogether blocking the ad targeting cookie rejectors, likely cookie-deleters and those using ad-blockers. While this may anger the fringe activists and total traffic may even suffer, the real question digital media need to ask themselves is so what?
  2. Require registration or paid access. Surprisingly, this is still an anomaly today. Instead of hoping people read the TOS, greet users pleasantly and offer them a clear choice, to either:
    1. Share anonymous information about their interests and/or behavior with advertisers and get free unfettered access; provide a plain English explanation of what is tracked and how (use a colorful diagram) with clear acceptance of the Terms of Service. Thank them for their continued support and find ways to make it worth their while
    2. OR, ask for them to pay a nominal subscription instead and receive no/un-targeted ads
  3. Monitor the results and adjust
Overall, this strategy has several major benefits to both digital media companies and consumers, including:

  • Digital Media Benefits
    • Yield management. In the emerging audience-driven media buying model, free-riders are worth less revenue than users that are known or at least better defined. While free-riders consume digital media content as artificially “new” users (from the ad server standpoint) either through 3rd party cookie blockers or regular cookie deletion they are enjoying the same resources. At the same time, their value is much less and possibly negative. In the aggregate, this obscured but often effectively undifferentiated audience represents zero or very low CPM ad inventory. Common sense yield management suggests optimizing away this audience and perhaps creating some scarcity in the process.
    • Subscription revenue for those that prefer no advertising/targeting and opt-out of ad targeting or advertising altogether. According to the McKinsey study, digital media can potentially generate incremental revenue from subscriptions. Again, removing this inventory has the effect of making total ad impressions more scarce likely raising average CPM yield. 
    • Competitive advantage. With so few digital media doing this now, early-movers may have the potential to make this into a competitive advantage with advertisers.
  • Consumer Benefits
    • Sustainable transparency. With the implicit value exchange made more explicit and easier to understand than ever, most users probably wouldn’t like all the tracking involved but most probably won’t really care enough to pay for the content either. Consumers better understanding that supporting free-riders is financially unsustainable might also gain digital media some much-needed respect. Without the strong arm of the government, a rising tide could lift all ships.
    • Better privacy. With more buy-in from users, most privacy policies will probably be improved along the way; consumers will take more responsibility for what they are actively agreeing to share with a digital media business. Again, this could become a competitive advantage.
    • More relevant advertising. That is the ultimate purpose of targeted advertising which,  provides consumers with a better site experience. Think how Amazon’s recommendations can be trained or how some sites already let the user select ad preferences.
Taking A Stand
The good news is that some of the above are already being done – in places. Pulling it all together will require getting multiple stakeholders aligned and executing: legal, ad sales, engineering, marketing, technology, finance and certainly ad ops. The stakes are high and there is no guarantee of success. However, the days of traffic at all cost are coming to an end. All traffic is not created equal.

Savvy marketers are watching closely and aren’t waiting around while Rome burns. Data-driven media buying trends and improvements in measurement technologies are arming astute digital marketers and media companies with more options than ever.

Yet, until they muster the intestinal fortitude to just say no to free-riders, the vocal and technical activist minority will continue frame the debate and eventually prod the government into regulation and with it the end to digital advertising as we know it today.

Digital Media Lesson in Shooting One’s Foot (Part I)

Ah tax season…with the greedy hand reaching for more tax money around the country (especially in Illinois), digital media today is arguably one of the few areas of Internet commerce that is unmolested by government regulation. It is amazing that so many consumers have benefited from the abundance of free information and innovative services provided by private industry. Management consulting firm, McKinsey recently estimated that consumers enjoy about $145MM  per year worth of free content across the US and Europe alone.


Like most major media today – this free content is subsidized by advertising. Going forward, McKinsey expects this to nearly double in just 4 years due to broadband adoption. An interesting implication of McKinsey’s study for digital media companies in particular, is that it suggests that consumers may be willing to tolerate both advertising and more pay services.

Good news! For digital media companies they have a great opportunity if they can find the right balance for them and their audience – but are they up for it? With the hoopla about privacy, threats of “Do Not Track” regulation and developments in browser cookie blocking, it has become painfully apparent that individual digital media companies may not only have shot themselves in the foot but need to take action.

Well, How Did We Get Here?
It wasn’t always this way, during the 90s Internet boom, times were great for digital media – they were the darlings of Wall Street. Hockey stick ad revenues came with leveraging offline brands. Astronomical valuations thanks to investor’s fervor made it all seem so easy. Attempt to pay wall digital media continued to fail. Why charge for access when the advertising model realized growth from more users and from increased interest from advertisers?

Then, the 2001 crash came and money got tight. Scarce capital and advertising sales forced a more prudent, often direct-response approach to digital advertising. Paid search with its manufactured precision boomed while display media floundered. At the same time, little-noticed improvements in display ad targeting technologies continued to get more powerful…and more complex. Ad networks blossomed to help make markets, bundle sites, audiences and do much of the heavy-lifting of ad targeting.

Meanwhile, the recovering ad business models demanded more traffic: keep hitting the milestones, sales quotas and Internet rankings essentially at all costs. At the same time these promising new targeting technologies were being implemented, digital media legal teams dutifully but quietly continued to revise their Terms of Service agreements to reflect the changing methods. The trouble is that almost nobody read them (except class action lawyer Web bots). More importantly, risking the potential competitive hit in traffic would be a non-starter. The herd mentality that all traffic is sacrosanct created an atmosphere where burying the TOS became the norm.

Fast forward to today and think Terrence Kawakja’s Display Ecosystem, with it’s dynamic players and shifting definitions. It is safe to say that the advances in behavioral, dynamic creative, site retargeting, data-sharing and use of purchased data represent a major part of the industry today. Many of these systems rely entirely, if not in part on their ability to target cookies and identify specific machines. Sure, there are differences between 1st and 3rd party cookies but this is a nuance likely to be lost in the heavy-hand of government regulators. Deleting all your cookies is not practical and can be annoyingly inconvenient for users. One promising alternative, machine fingerprinting methodology raises other privacy issues.

Consumers: Something for Nothing?
Not much is free in life – except it seemed online media it seemed. All-you-can-eat digital media business models made it easy for users to consume content with abandon – seemingly with no strings attached. And by effectively putting the honus on the average user to locate, read and understand the TOS, digital media companies routinely obscured the intrinsic trade-off. This was no accident, but turned out to be colossally short-sighted. Reading the fine print was certainly not encouraged.

 

At the same time, users probably didn’t care because sites encouraged instant gratification offered by delivering consuming professionally produced branded content and innovative online services for free. With bragging rights added at stake, users became active participants in being there first.

Unfortunately, the proliferation of the above strategy by created a wider phenomenon:

  •  It just about completely obscured the implicit (if not explicit) value exchange across many sites; this resulted in digital media individually and in the aggregate devaluing their own content
  • By not being more transparent about the tracking techniques that are used to subsidize user’s consumption. Despite TOS being there and detailing everything, the perception is that digital media and their corporate advertisers have something nefarious to hide.
  •  Together, both have allowed fringe elements to reframe a private business arrangement

Who’s Content Is It Anyway?
Over the last few years, loud online activists with collectivist agendas have hi-jacked the private relationship between consumers and digital media. The small but vocal and technically sophisticated minority rages on about privacy. Some even take it a step further to prevent ad targeting and ad delivery.
Perhaps to equivocate their latent content theft, these activists routinely delude consumers to believe that information wants to be free are that all are entitled to consume from private hands without paying or giving up anything for it. In essence, the act of consuming commercial content is being positioned as about “privacy” when it is really about something for nothing.


Like anything people have gotten for free for a long-time, its value is now perceived to be effectively zero; a variation on game theory’s tragedy of the commons. Not surprisingly, they have gotten very spoiled and a growing number now feel entitled to an inviolate surfing session.

We’re From the Government, We’re Here to Help You
More disturbing, is that these same fringe activist types are also clamoring for the federal government to step in and regulate tracking and data collection in a way that other media and businesses have never been. Big government now even purports to help citizens manage their data trail better than the private sector; their National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace program is right out of George Orwell. Some are calling this cookiepocalypse, i.e. the end of cookie-based ad targeting and site measurement.

Even within the industry ranks, there are some paradoxically misguided and/or very frustrated people that have been bullied into submission. They actually think regulation by the federal government is a good idea to end the uncertainty of it all. Think Stanford prison experiment.

Have we not seen this movie before? Junk mail, Do Not Call List, Terrorist database, pedophiles registries, FEMA and the list goes on. Rest assured that with high-minded politicians looking for a populist cause to latch onto the likelihood of unintended consequences for the digital media industry is alarmingly high. Trusting the federal government to be the potential monitor and arbiter online activity should be chilling to any liberty-minded citizen.

And yet user’s expectation of total privacy and entitlement remains in the wake of digital media’s self-mortgaged future. Armed with new Web browsers (thanks to Microsoft and Mozilla) and nascent black lists, recently emboldened users demand to have their cake and can eat it too. Certainly, over time these targeted ad defeating technologies will become easier to use and more widespread

And that limits the efficacy of a digital media industry that as we’ve seen is largely based on cookies today. If digital media has a plan, advertisers would like to know about it…any day now.

Next Post, Digital Media Lesson Part II – Saying No to Freeloaders