Programmatic, branding, and what companies are missing: An interview with IAB’s Patrick Dolan

Patrick Dolan, President & COO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), remembers the first IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in 2008. There was a lot of discussion about a new technology called programmatic advertising. The industry was just emerging and there were a lot of concerns about advertising creative, inventory, supply, and the science behind ad exchanges.

Wenda Harris Millard, IAB chairwoman at the time, had an apt simile for these concerns. “We must… not trade our advertising inventory like pork bellies,” she told the audience in her opening remarks at the 2008 “Ecosystem 2.0” IAB Annual Leadership Meeting.

“When we had the first IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, the iPhone had just come out,” says Dolan, who was EVP and COO of the IAB at the time.

Patrick Dolan, President and COO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau

Things have changed.

In this column, largely based on a discussion I had with Dolan, we’ll take a look at where we are now.

In 2008, no one was really thinking about mobile. Or even social media, which Dolan recalls used to be lumped in with “user-generated content.”

Brands were cautious about straying from tried-and-true tactics. Would programmatic mean less creative ad campaigns? Would advertising on Facebook ever really demonstrate its ROI? Did you really want your ads being served on a site that could be controversial?

Then again, maybe things haven’t changed that much after all. They’ve just gotten more complex.

From social media to communicating directly with the consumer

This year’s IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, with the theme of “How to Build a 21st Century Brand,” marks 10 years since that original event. And technology and tactics have evolved stunningly rapidly over this time.

Now, programmatic advertising is taken for granted as a necessary element of any campaign. Social media is a booming industry. Mobile is displacing desktop as the primary environment for ads and customer relationships.

We constantly look to focus our priorities on what’s happening in the market, so we can help reduce the friction for our members and help them navigate these changes,” Dolan says.

The big question now — and a big topic of this year’s conference — is how companies can become direct-to-consumer. While new brands like Warby Parker, Harry’s, and Away conquer narrow slices of the market, more established brands must rethink how to connect with shoppers at every stage in the shopper journey, even if their products are eventually sold through retailers.

“Every brand can’t be an Away,” Dolan says. “It’s more about finding out what your audience wants. Do they want to be part of that brand experience? Or are they more interested in a practical, convenient purchase?”

Brands need to transform from relying on supply chain dominance to creating a two-way relationship with customers, Dolan explains.

“Things move so quickly in an always-on environment,” he says. “You have to create a brand experience that’s attractive for your customers. That will build loyalty that lasts beyond any latest trend.”

But how do you create an organization that’s agile, adaptable, and offers two-way conversations for customers?

Dolan says that it all comes down to data. And that’s the hardest part.

“The Media-Buying Industrial Complex”

Dolan believes that the tools and strategies for brands to transform already exist.

“The tech is there, which means the solutions have to be internal,” he says. “The motivation to transform isn’t always aligned. And that’s because of what I call ‘the media-buying industrial complex.’ Teams can’t agree on the ultimate goal of campaigns. Is it reach? User experience? Storytelling? Impression? Conversions? Until everyone is on the same page, things are going to be fragmented and it’s hard to keep up.”

He points to a recent IAB report on building a data-centric organization. “The biggest advantage a company like Warby Parker has is that they started without any back-end baggage,” Dolan says.

Sophisticated data practices and systems were already in place when Warby Parker came onto the scene. Meanwhile, older brands operate on legacy systems which can be difficult to update and efforts to do so can cause fundamental data governance problems.

“Data is what builds customer interactions and brand experience,” Dolan says. This could mean a sequenced marketing campaign based on personas. Personalized emails. Targeted social ads. Anything that shows that you understand your customer as an individual.

To that end, businesses will have to stop worrying about the competition and take a hard look at what’s happening in their own offices. Ironically, transforming to a direct-to-consumer model first means looking at what’s happening inside the business, not outside it.

Dolan believes this is a long overdue audit for most bigger brands. To become data-centric, an organization has to rethink priorities and objectives. And, consequently, how business is done in the first place.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech Today. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Blaise Lucey is Senior Manager, Content Marketing at Criteo. Having worked both on the agency and brand side, he has built content programs from the ground up for Fortune 500 companies and start-ups alike and is passionate about bringing great content to life.

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