July 22, 2021

As the cookie crumbles, media quality will drive ROI

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“One of the biggest challenges for the open web going forward is bringing the fragmented ID space under a single, standardized umbrella and convincing the ad tech market to adopt it.”  

The rise of media

The mere mention of cookie deprecation stirs fear in the most resolute of media veterans these days. In me, it stirs hope that we can do better.

The loss of cookie tracking is an opportunity to double down on media quality, which has long been neglected by advertisers who are conditioned to think about KPIs in terms of digital conversions. In reality, many of those conversions don’t deliver incremental value and can’t be tied to ROI.

As the cookie continues to crumble, we need to focus on changing how we express and measure value, and that begins with understanding the flaws in the current system.

Flaws to bringing value in the current system
There are huge holes in how interactions are tracked, defined and measured

Consumers don’t think or act linearly like ‘journeys’ suggest, and an impression on a site today might not have the same effect on the same person next week or even tomorrow.

Access to really granular cookie tracking sometimes leads to “findings” on tiny samples of data, whereas broader, more aggregated looks can stop us from over-focusing on a few conversions that aren’t actually meaningful. Fixating less on small datasets, which are effectively anecdotal evidence, in favor of larger ones will improve the modeling and analytics we use to understand media buying.

Media quality is sidelined by flawed success metrics

Viewability should be table stakes, not success.

This isn’t just a lower-funnel problem; quality has also been sidelined by branding campaigns that chase the lowest cost per reach or video completion. When we focus on low pricing, we invite a multitude of bad actors to siphon dollars out of the ecosystem.

By looking at delivery and performance through the lens of media quality metrics like viewability, ad collision and attention, the volume of attributed conversions or impressions may well drop, but at least we’ll be discussing real, effective ways to drive impact.

Arbitrage leads to decreased value across the supply chain

Publishers have been arbitraged since third-party data collectors discovered the internet, with their audiences sliced and diced for everyone else’s profit. We need to recognize that our publisher partners have unique and intimate relationships with our consumers. They also have powerful first-party data we can tap into—and powerful editorial value that sets the stage for our creative.

In the absence of cookie-based, third-party audiences, we’re going to see a decrease in data costs. These costs should be shifted into the price of our private marketplaces, with publishers getting more value for their data and placements alongside their content. It’s up to us to evaluate how “worthy” that shift is, which is where sentiment and attention come in.

We’re too often the architects of poor user experience

As digital marketing professionals, we help keep the internet free with advertising. On the flip side, ad clutter and poor user experience have contributed to the rise of ad blockers and paywalls.

The good news is we still have a chance to fix the broken pieces of the value exchange with consumers, and it starts with holding ourselves and our partners accountable.

Mapping new signals around media quality

It’s important to benchmark your new KPIs while you can still correlate them to cookie-based success. Here’s a quick-start checklist for building a new a quality-centric measurement architecture:

  1. Analyze and benchmark signals that can survive cookie deprecation such as:
    • Time in view
    • Video player size
    • Video sound on
    • Ad collision
    • Unique reach/frequency
  2. Build correlations between these signals and key cookie-based metrics such as conversions.
  3. Create a Publisher Quality Index.
    • Gather publisher-specific information, such as the typical amount of ad clutter on webpages and overall user experience.
  4. Incorporate attention metrics into your KPIs.
    • Consider working with third-party providers that measure attention through panel-based approaches.
  5. Evaluate your approach to measuring upper-funnel impact.
    • Are you currently relying on video completion rate? Beef this up with additional signals, such as site analytics data or a brand study that correlates video views with business results.
  6. Refine your approach to the mid and lower funnels.
    • How are content and context influencing a consumer to consider your product?
    • Can you correlate sales to panel-based studies to measure brand-affinity-based sentiment?
  7. Clean up your whitelists.
    • Determine which sites are useful for reaching audiences at optimal times but are prime examples of clutter and poor user experience impacting effectiveness by running A/B tests while you can still split cookie pools.

A quality media placement gives creative the opportunity to do its job. And who looks at creative? People, not cookies.

Written by

Sarah Polli
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