Digital Innovators Summit – Innovate or Die

Innovate or Die. That was the message from the recent Digital Innovators Summit...

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Innovate or Die

That was the message from the recent Digital Innovators Summit #DISummit in Berlin, attended by Business Development Manager Rebecca. Forge ahead or be left behind is the name of the game, but here’s some context behind that message and Rebecca’s thoughts on how the ideas raised can be applied at publisher level.

The key areas of innovation and execution that publishers and ad tech companies need to focus on in 2015-16 will be:

  • Programmatic
  • Mobile
  • Video
  • Data
  • Native


One thing made very clear at the summit was that programmatic does not lower the value of inventory. Regardless of how content is traded, if you’re able to give advertisers what they want, CPMs will remain high. Programmatic enables buyers to reach their audience, at the right time and place. Publishers can expect higher CPMs for validated inventory (at Coull we class validated inventory as video that is viewable, human, and brand safe) and as the industry pushes for this, quality will be rewarded over quantity.

Providing advertisers with a brand safe environment with transparency on domains means confidence will only continue to grow in the programmatic space. Being able to deliver this at scale is the key to more advertiser budgets being spent programmatically. AMEX is leading the way here and has moved 100% of their digital ad spend to programmatic.

Two mediums that are really at the forefront of the programmatic revolution are mobile and video.


Publishers need to start seeing mobile as a medium in and of itself not just an extension of online.

The Innovation in Media Magazine, World Report[1], predicts that a US $64 Billion of ad spend will be spent on mobile in 2015, that’s 60% of global ad spend and, that’s this year! On average people check their smartphones 221 times a day, so advertisers have the potential to reach their users 221 times in a day, in an engaged and personalised environment. Publishers that aren’t equipped for mobile will quickly find themselves unable to compete, it’s no longer about switching to mobile; it’s about doing mobile content better.

The key factors when building a mobile site according to the report; you need good content, it needs to be quick, constant, concise and responsive.


79% of all web traffic is video. We know that the majority of this is YouTube, but I think what it indicates is that people want to consume information in this way more than ever before. Publishers cannot rely on strong editorial if that is not the medium in which people want to consume content. Publishers must adopt a video first approach to content.

It’s not just about keeping your audience engaged, it’s also about providing premium spaces for advertisers to invest. The problem is not with demand, it’s getting the supply and persuading publishers that this is where they need to invest in terms of content.

Some economic areas are experiencing down turn and though they desperately want to invest in video, they lack the required resources. They know where they want to be but they can’t get there in time and are therefore restricted. It shows that regardless of intentions, strategy and infrastructure need to be in place for successful campaigns to be possible.

Advertisers see over 800% more conversions with video ads than any other online ad. This means that average CPMs should continue to increase across premium inventory. However, a video strategy is also needed to ensure, relevant, quality content for audiences.

Value from Video

Part of any video strategy should consider how they might re-purpose that video, making yield per video an important metric for publishers. Hearst’s Gary Ellis demonstrated how they are using video across multiple properties and markets, eliminating duplication of work in creating video and giving more time to niche editorial for that property/market.

The message to subscription-based publishers was not to paywall video content. Video is a ubiquitous form of media and is all too easily accessed for free by users, so paywalling it won’t increase subscriptions. What it might do however is to lose you your audience.

DATA should inform – it’s no good if you’re not asking the right questions

Part of the problem media companies are having with big data is that it isn’t being used correctly to inform decisions and strategies. From the outset companies are not always asking the right questions, and can sometimes be measuring the wrong thing. Metrics can be flawed and ad fraud is also muddying the water when it comes to validation.

We need to ask the right questions, measure the right data to answer those questions and, most importantly, take action.

Lutz Finger, Author of Getting the best out of Big Data elucidated the problem of asking the right questions with an Alta Vista and Google example. Alta Vista is an example of a company that was asking the wrong question. In the mid-90s, Alta Vista was able to search more of the World Wide Web than any of their competitors, indeed more than was even thought to exist at the time, due to a fast, multi-threaded crawler.

However, this wasn’t the function that people needed in a search engine. What people wanted wasn’t more search engine results, what they wanted were more relevant results. This is where Google gained ground, it didn’t matter that back then they didn’t have the same resource or capabilities as Alta Vista, they had the right question in the beginning.

Once we have framed the question, we need to measure the right metrics.

Once the question is framed, it needs to be measured with the right metrics. So, if we want to know whether an ad is effective or not, we need to define what metrics are suitable to analyse that performance.

Engagement rates as we all know are flawed, issues with bots and ad fraud mean clicks are unreliable and VTR and viewability all have inherent problems. All these different metrics need to be applied together and used to build a model that we can make inferences from.

Once the data that informs has been gathered, there needs to be action. Implementing a strategy based on the data seems obvious but advertisers and publishers are failing to do this. Crack this seemingly simple set of principles and you’re on the road to success.


So far in 2015 25% of publishers used native advertising on their sites. Advertisers report a 55% uplift in brand affinity and 70% of users say they prefer native advertising to banner ads.

Good native advertising can be just as good as editorial so long as there is no ambiguity over the fact that it’s sponsored content. No one likes being deceived, and not making a clear differentiation between sponsored content and editorial, is evasive, it’s uncomfortable. Native has been used in print for a very long time in the form of advertorials and Hearst has been particularly good at adopting this for brands such as Elle and Cosmopolitan. A partnership between Estee Lauder and Hearst, saw them launching Cosmopolitan Nigeria, a market that Estee Lauder were keen to enter. Through the use of native ads they have secured a great brand partnership but have kept their editorial integrity through clearly signposting that this content was sponsored.

Native, like mobile, video and programmatic is here to stay and there are huge branding budgets to be had if the publisher can get it right.

Go forth and make it work

The elements covered in the Digital Innovators Summit were not new, but that’s okay because it was focused on how to make these things work better, to be more effective and more compelling. There were some great discussion points and I think everyone came away thinking a lot deeper about what it is we’re trying to achieve when we innovate. It’s nice having new, shiny things -but it’s even nicer when they work.

[1] In association with Forrester Research

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Posted by simonholliday