During the week of March 8, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) held its first virtual annual leadership meeting (ALM). Leaders in marketing, media, technology and government took a deep dive into the big issues facing our industry right now—from the end of cookies to the beginning of the post-COVID world. We’re excited to share some of the key insights we heard at the event.

1. The state of data and addressability—identifying the challenges and opportunities. The end of cookies represents an opportunity for brands to form more authentic and meaningful relationships with their customers.

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2. The impact of COVID, today and tomorrow—what does “normal” look like for marketers and the next generation? While we may be looking at a return to normal later this year, many of the solutions companies implemented to survive the pandemic will continue to be a part of the customer experience.

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3. Trends and predictions for streaming, SVOD and AVOD. It’s no longer just about advertising on the highest-rated shows. Brands now need to find ways to become part of the story.

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Data and addressability

Addressability + Identity: Where to from Here?
With Scott Howe, CEO, LiveRamp
Melissa Grady Dias, Global CMO, Cadillac
Benjamin Dick, Sr. Director of Product – Identity and Data, IAB Tech Lab
Alex Cone, Senior Director, Product Management, IAB Tech Lab

The impending loss of traditional identifiers requires the creation of a new digital infrastructure with alternative, consumer-first, privacy-centric solutions that support demand for personalized, relevant content. This segment explored where the industry stands today, and what’s required to move us forward. Key insights:

The end of cookies is not necessarily bad news for our industry. According to Scott Howe, authenticated website traffic delivers both better results for advertisers and more revenue for publishers.

Melissa Grady Dias believes that the role of the CMO has changed drastically, as data and technology have been placed at the center of what we do as marketers. Although frequency capping will be a large issue as we move away from cookies, Dias is confident there is the technology, motivation and momentum in the industry to solve the problem. She believes the death of the cookie is a short-term problem, and that the time is ripe for innovation because of the high stakes for both consumers and advertisers. She also feels consumers will become more conscious of the decision to share their data in exchange for the opportunity to enjoy quality content.

Panelists emphasized that now is the time to test and learn. Advertisers should have new solutions solidified before the holidays to achieve the most success, which means marketers should be moving faster to figure out how to connect the first-party data through their company’s entire ecosystem.

Panelists provided four calls to action as the end of the cookie comes closer:

1. Restore consumer trust and reject fingerprinting.

2. Maximize your first-party data.

3. Build consumer relationships. The center of your business’s ecosystem is human. Consumers value the emotional benefits of your brand more than anything.

4. Test now and remain calm. The end of the cookie is a short-term issue that can be resolved.

Advertising Beyond Reach: What’s the Right Approach to Measurement & Attribution in Today’s Market?
With Glenn Bean, Senior Director, Product Management, Oracle
Yan Liu, Co-Founder and CEO, TVision
Paolo Provinciali, VP Media & Data, US at Anheuser-Busch InBev
Ally Schnitzer, Manager, Real Time Optimization, North America Media and Data, PepsiCo

Our measurement tools and methods must evolve as quickly as the media landscape while also delivering timely insights on important KPIs that are not easy to measure. In this conversation, cross-industry experts explored the industry gaps impacting the ad businesses and shared new best practices. Key insights:

Ideally, in the multitouch ecosystem, multiple models would be used to measure a variety of delivery metrics. Brands usually rely on tangible in-flight metrics like viewability to drive channel selections. But tangible metrics based on behavior change are currently the industry’s most difficult, unsolved obstacle. Measuring true incentive and attribution, and then connecting the digital work to real-world results, is key for marketers to achieve success.

 55% of media consumption in the U.S. is through CTV. It’s usually viewed by households with multiple people watching the screen. CTV is also a more passive method of absorbing content—there are no buttons to click like on a mobile device or tablet. This makes CTV attention much more difficult to measure. Some solutions to this include measuring computer vision to identify individual viewership and engagement, audio fingerprinting to identify programming and network monitoring to validate device and application in use. The CTV metric solutions that are more commonly used now are timestamps, household identifiers and creative metadata.

Consumers First, Contextual Next: What Works & What’s Next for Digital Advertising?
With Phil Schraeder, CEO GumGum
Allison Schulte, SVP Product, Dentsu Aegis Network
Stephanie Layser, VP Advertising Technology News Corp

Connecting with consumers is the ultimate goal for digital advertisers. So why do we so often forget about what they actually want? Key industry leaders and partners discussed how they view audience targeting versus contextual targeting. Key insights:

Content can be a proxy for intent. What you’re viewing is a strong indicator of what kinds of ads you’re going to be most receptive to. When served messages relevant to the content, the advertising feels less invasive. Moreover, consumers feel less like they’re being “followed” when there is a clear reason they are receiving certain information/ads. 

We can use the new ad tech infrastructure we’ve created and apply it to the traditional idea of serving customers messages related to what they’re viewing. This goes beyond simple keyword targeting, which may not directly relate to the content on a webpage or in a video. AI-based solutions can better understand the true nature of the content and help deliver more relevant messages.

As brands move to OTT, we need to prioritize a way to get deeper contextual insights beyond keyword tagging. Let’s avoid recreating the limitations of linear TV with this new technology.

The Demise of Third-Party Cookies and Identifiers: What It Means for Digital Advertising in the U.S.
With Chris Bruderle, Senior Director, Research & Analytics, IAB
Craig Macdonald, Partner, Media & Advertising, McKinsey & Company

Presenters offered insights into a qualitative report by McKinsey that draws from interviews with executive leadership across the audience data space in order to illuminate the challenges, strategies and reasons that are driving the trends shaping our data-driven future. Key insights:

The advertising industry’s strong sense of preparedness for the death of the cookie is in stark contrast to their concerns and the actual challenges. Publishers and agencies are hoping ad tech figures out this issue for them. Brands currently feel the least prepared, with 48% of the surveyed brands admitting they are not ready for the transition to first-party data. Understandably, ad tech/data intermediaries feel the most prepared, with 86% of the surveyed companies feeling ready for the transition to first-party data. This makes sense because data is at the core of their business.

Most data leaders (76%) think their company’s finances will not be impacted by the loss of third-party cookies and identifiers, but presenters say this demonstrates a lack of foresight to the investments needed to operate efficiently. When the cookie is done and first-party data becomes the most valuable, the inability of companies who did not transition fast enough to reach customers will impact publishers and move media strategy to walled gardens and private exchanges. Private exchanges will have increased demand but limited inventory. This problem can be avoided if companies begin to bring data management in-house and increase spending on first-party data.

There continues to be too much reliance on third-party data, while the full potential of first-party data is not being realized. In 2020, there was a $20 billion investment in third-party data, which is a dying system, and 53% of first-party data was not being used for advertising purposes. This is due to a lack of collaboration. Only 40% of brands are working directly with publishers to guide data decisions.

It’s time to prepare for unplanned financial impacts from cookie-driven revenue decreases and investments into new data operations. Leverage first-party data that can be also mapped to other data sets for cross-industry interoperability. Collaborate with industry partners to implement privacy-centered addressability solutions for targeting and measurement.

Advertisers should recraft the consumer experience to bolster value proposition and exchange. Create new data partnerships with emerging or established players, and launch clean-room exchanges to facilitate first-party, second-party and third-party data exchanges. Advertisers should also optimize media allocation and targeting through a full-funnel approach with supporting attribution and measurement.

Publishers should redefine value exchange around content authentications. They should work on creating new data partnerships with emerging or established players and optimizing augmented contextual targeting capabilities. Align first-party data maps to work in conjunction with the data platforms themselves.

Intermediaries should pivot to first-party data use across the DSP landscape. Embrace the rise of data resolution and ID mapping technology, and extend data mapping to new channels: CTV, connected audio, retail media networks, etc. 

COVID today and tomorrow

Science and Truth in an Age of Polarized Opinion
With Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Dr. Fauci joined the event to share current information on the pandemic. He projects that if people continue to get vaccinated at a high rate, if we’re able to manage variations, and if people continue to follow masking and social distancing, life could begin to return to normal by early fall. But we can’t claim victory too soon and stop being vigilant; things could slide back.

What Sticks? New Constants for a New Normal
With Marisa Thalberg, EVP, Chief Brand & Marketing Officer of Lowes
Rich Fulop, Founder & CEO of Brooklinen

COVID upended every element of daily life, disrupting how we work, play, discover, consume and transact. This forced marketers to innovate at light speed. As we begin to emerge to whatever new version of normal will in fact be the norm—what will endure? CMOs shared insight on things they did during this tumultuous time, and what they expect to persist in the future. Key insights:

The panel discussed how progressive companies will operate in the coming months. They believe we’ll likely not return to traditional five-day work weeks with everyone being in the same office at the same time, because employees will not want to give up the flexibility they now have in their workday. But the pandemic has brought home the importance of people being able to collaborate together in the same room.

Working together in person is key to maintaining company culture, as Zoom calls tend to be more about the task at hand than visions and values. Marisa and Rich predict that we’ll have some kind of hybrid physical-digital working arrangement as a solution.

Smart managers should focus on brand fundamentals, invest in their people, follow their instincts and make sure the company vision is strong. They should also remain determined to bridge the digital and geographical divide of their team. Building a sense of shared purpose, comradery and trust is key to building a team that will rally behind your decisions in full force.

Solutions that helped brands survive the pandemic will continue if they add value to the lives of their customers. For example: buy online/pick up in store, curbside pickup. Companies should continue to think holistically as omni-channel brands, even as people start returning to in-store experiences, so that they can connect to consumers on a deeper basis. They should also focus on connecting with customers who share their values.

Innovation Spotlight: Breaking the Cycle with AI
With Angelina Eng, VP, Measurement & Attribution, IAB
Randi Stipes, CMO, IBM Watson Media and Weather
Lisa Sherman, President & CEO, the Ad Council
Robert Redmond, Design Principal, Head of AI Ad Product Design, IBM Watson Advertising

While we’ve come a long way since the onset of the pandemic, there are still many challenges ahead, and AI will be the driving force for impacting change. IBM’s Randi Stipes and the Ad Council’s Lisa Sherman explained the role advanced technology has played at the start of the pandemic, the differences it’s making today and the many ways it will propel both our industry and the world forward tomorrow. Key insights:

Only 25% of companies are using AI to its full potential—it can do much more than automation. We have the opportunity to use a technology that helps combat the pandemic and solve some of the biggest issues in our industry.

The Ad Council is launching a vaccine-confidence campaign at a time when cookies and device IDs are going away. The ability to make sense of the massive amount of data in real time and optimize creativity is making AI an important tool in the initiative. AI has the power to move beyond look-alike audiences to create act-alike audiences. Using thousands of signals and data points, AI can create a more realistic look at audiences’ preferences.

AI is more powerful when it works in harmony with human ideas and insight. Rather than AI operating alone in a black box, the most effective campaigns of the future will be about humans and machines collaborating. The human touch will not only help prevent bias but also help AI build more realistic models of customer preferences.

Innovation at the Speed of Gen Z
With Evan Spiegel, CEO, Snap Inc.
Jeremi Gorman, Chief Business Officer, Snap Inc.

What does the key communications platform for an entire generation do when that generation is grappling with the worst pandemic in a century? Leaders from Snap shared what they’re doing to keep its users connected with the platform, with advertisers and with each other. Key insights:

Gen Z will be affected by the pandemic in the long term, like previous generations were transformed by the Great Depression. There will be an enduring emphasis on friends and family. Gen Z will gravitate toward media tools that make connections with people they care about easier.

Gen Z is much more engaged with diversity and anti-racism issues, partially because of some of the shocking content they’ve seen on social platforms in 2020. They feel empowered to take action and will gravitate toward media platforms and brands addressing these issues in the fundamental missions of their companies.

Companies can tackle DEI by inspiring intrinsic motivation in employees. 2020 inspired people to seek out knowledge and begin conversations centered around equality, and these steps came from a personal willingness to learn about new perspectives. Companies should focus on the deeper values of their employees when creating DEI initiatives to successfully create a diverse and inclusive culture.

Augmented reality (AR) is no longer just a one-time PR stunt. It has become a powerful tool to drive business transformation. For example, during the pandemic, consumers enjoyed the ability to create a showroom in their living rooms to safely try on clothes and makeup. Gen Z will want to continue to have this power even as we return to in-person shopping.

Gen Z sees visual communication as a staple because photo and video storytelling deliver content faster and with more detail. Gen Z would rather communicate through these means than through text alone. For example, Gen Z prefers exchanging Snapchat handles rather than phone numbers. For some, the platform is their primary form of communication.

Streaming, SVOD, AVOD

What You Must Know About Today’s Video Landscape
With Neal Mohan, Chief Product Officer, YouTube
Catherine Sullivan, CEO, PHD USA

As the decline of linear TV accelerates, the streaming wars are heating up. From desktop to mobile and now to connected TV, the nature of digital video consumption is changing in ways that only few predicted a few years ago. Presenters discussed the trends that are redefining digital video today and what it means for users, creators and advertisers. Key insights:

Consumers are increasingly watching streaming platforms on their connected TVs with family and friends, versus alone on a computer or mobile device. There are more 18–49-year-olds watching YouTube than all linear TV channels combined. 120 million people have streamed YouTube on their living room TV screens since the pandemic—up from 100 million at the start of pandemic. Live streaming also grew substantially during the pandemic as people were stuck at home with less to do.

It is important for advertisers to consider that streaming essentially has five platforms that represent the bulk of consumption, with two of these platforms allowing ads. The current limited advertising capabilities of streaming presents a variety of challenges for advertisers trying to reach the right consumer through the right channel. Brands are having difficulty evaluating the efficacy of the media dollars they are spending on streaming.

Short-form content will become increasingly popular with viewers and is easier for creators to produce with the development of mobile technology. 

There are three big considerations for today’s video landscape:

1. Content: How can brands become part of the content story? Before thinking about media campaigns and connecting with creators, brands should take a look at their own story and what content they’re putting out on their profiles. How can you convey your beliefs and values through storytelling? What medium will help you best illustrate your story?

2. Commerce: Where are the opportunities to reach consumers searching for product information on platforms like YouTube? There’s a drive for seamless connectivity between watching and shopping.

3. Culture: How can brands understand and connect with cultures around the world? What brands show up for and stand for needs to be authentic.

Overcoming Streaming’s Fragmentation: Getting Scale & Reach Right, Right Now
With Marion Taormina Hargett, Senior Vice President, Agency Strategy and Advanced TV Sales, Ampersand
Christine Grammier, Head of Buy Side TV, LiveRamp
Carrie Drinkwater, Executive Director, Investment Activation, Mediahub
Shenan Reed, SVP, Head of Media, L’Oréal USA

The new streaming landscape has created opportunities for brands previously priced out of leveraging the storytelling power of sight, sound and motion. At the same time, the proliferation of channels, platforms and services has resulted in immense fragmentation. This session discussed what will it take to ensure programmatic TV doesn’t repeat the sins of the past. Key insights:

The amount of interpretable data used by advertisers has largely increased, which allows for better-informed, confident investment decisions that lead to more successful business outcomes. The main challenge is connectivity on the back end. Advertisers must work with all teams to develop KPIs, define audiences and designate mediums. Many advertisers make the mistake of focusing on perfection. Incremental wins and progress are more valuable.

For example, streaming has proven to be so useful due to its granularity and the data behind it. There are more opportunities to achieve smaller wins by creating unique ad units for specific consumers. Panelists suggest building your brand’s initial reach with larger platforms, then narrowing your audience through engaging with smaller mediums. Reach is only useful if it is delivering ROI.

Advertisers must also consider that streaming and connected TV mostly serve the household, rather than the individual consumer. How do you deliver useful messages to a group who may all want different things? Shortcuts like IP addresses are slowly disappearing and will be out of the picture very soon. But premium video is already available in authenticated environments. Collaboration between the publisher, consumer and brand will lead to faster adaptation of true authentication.

Lastly, advertisers must remember that the story of your business is still the core. It is still better to be discovered than delivered. Finding the balance between performance-based initiatives and brand storytelling is key. Many digital brands who built their businesses online through performance means are now turning to TV to tell their stories. For example, Chewy began online, and after achieving success they’re now building the brand story to increase discovery.

Let’s Not Screw This Up! Getting it Right with Viewers in the (New) Golden Age of TV
With Tom Fochetta, Senior Vice President, Samsung Ads
Jo Kinsella, President, TVSquared
Cara Lewis, EVP US Video Investment, Amplifi USA

Key players in the convergence of TV and digital discussed what the cross-device experience should look like, and how factors like content discovery, audience insight, measurement and attribution inform solutions that exist (or are in development) to make the marriage of advertising and content a little less painful and a lot more fun for omni-screen audiences. Key insights:

Big OTT news in 2021:

1. There has been a great increase in demand for consumer video across all devices, not just connected TVs.

2. More video is being consumed through AVOD than SVOD.

3. Recent technology improvements have allowed more consumers to enjoy a premium experience through OTT.

Consumers are seeking content versus tuning into a channel. Advertisers who are most successful are taking an audience-first approach, thinking about where they can reach their consumers versus focusing on specific shows, channels or dayparts. Right now, the gap to brands achieving their goals is in the measurement. Consistent, real-time, always-on measurement will be the key to optimizing cross-platform advertising as scale.

What’s needed most right now: a unified identifier across all devices—giving brands reach and frequency across an incredibly diverse range of content. Good news: all the technology to do this already exists. The solution is transparent collaboration between advertisers and platforms.

Unpacking the Omni-Channel Opportunity
With Mark Mitchell, VP, Business Development, Xandr
Steve Silvestri, VP, Advanced Advertising, Discovery Communications
Mike Law, President, Amplifi US
Erin Madorsky, Managing Director of the Northeast, MiQ

Over the last year, there has been seismic shifts and accelerations in all media consumption, particularly in the streaming video space. Consumers are watching what they want, when they want and where they want. In this new paradigm, advertisers are left thinking about age-old questions like how to reach their target audience with the right message at the right time, but they also have to contend with new considerations like device and context. In order to navigate this evolving landscape and answer these questions, industry experts discussed how marketers can adopt an agile, omni-channel mindset. Key insights:

Steve Silvestri explained that the video industry is still in the middle of the omni-channel journey because the front- and back-end have yet to connect. The biggest challenge facing publishers, agencies and brands today is the unification of currency across linear and digital. How do you package and measure linear and digital as one? Measurement methods need to be more consistent and cross-platform, and thankfully, there are a variety of metrics to choose from. Now is the time to test and learn. Omni-channel success can potentially be measured through attention, engagement or business outcome.

Mike Law said that to execute omni-channel solutions, we should give buyers the flexibility to spend their dollars through different channels. This industry has always been about the consumers. They have more control than ever before, so we should strategize through the lens of the consumer. Publishers, agencies and brands should identify consumers at different levels of the marketing funnel, see what they need, and measure the impact of video. Investment is now also an input rather than an output, and should be strategized before execution. The speed at which consumers consume media has made it so brand partners must be part of strategy from the start. 

Mark Mitchell believes omni-channel technology should be data agnostic, and currencies of another data set should be able to be utilized for multiple technologies. We should be building workflows that support that type of flexibility and keep consistency in approach across partners.

Erin Madorsky explained that linear TV change is very challenging and that more marketers are interested in evaluating how to use omni-channel TV to drive performance and sales. She believes that channels should drive incrementality to achieve success in this difficult transition. To maximize reach, she also advises targeting unique audience segments so you’re not sending the same messaging to the same people over and over again. It is critical to link online to offline, measuring real-world outcomes to digital advertising work.

All four panelists see many benefits to this time of exploration. With many people looking at the same problem at the same time, we will collectively land on great progress. At this point, an aggregated approach makes the most sense, as it is impossible to get access to the whole pie without working with all the players. Panelists also agreed that now is the time to move to the omni-channel strategy. Streaming is here in full force so marketers must accelerate away from legacy traditions and use the better technology for activation. The scale is real, so take advantage of this omni-channel momentum and, more importantly, the data it provides.

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