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Being a representative of an independent digital media strategy and execution company, I get excited attending industry events such as the ANA Media Conference in Orlando, which took place April 10th-12th. There are two reasons for this: 1) I get to see, meet and network with current customers and/or fellow practitioners in digital marketing, and 2) I get to learn something new.

The second reason is the most exciting for me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy chewing the fat and sipping a few tasty cocktails with fellow slingers of all things digital media (agencies, ad tech, publishers) and our marketer brethren. But it’s the learnings from those on the front-lines, the marketers themselves, that are much more valuable. To that end, I put together four (4) brief observations from the recent ANA Media Summit in Orlando.

1. The current in-Housing trend is dominated by creative, not programmatic media buying- The trend of in-housing duties normally reserved for ad agency partners continues. However, that momentum is driven mostly by creative services. The ANA confirms this, reporting that strategic services handled by in-house agencies are led by creative with a 75% penetration rate vs. 24% for programmatic.

This data aligns with a recent article published by MarTech Series, which explores why programmatic media buying is not being adopted as quickly by in-house agencies. In a survey conducted by Advertiser Perceptions and Origami Logic, of 156 U.S.-based advertising decision-makers, they found the following:

      • 58 percent of in-house programmatic buyers report difficulty understanding which media channels are most effective
      • 54 percent report difficulty measuring cross-channel reach and frequency
      • 51 percent report difficulty determining which creative executions are most effective
      • Advertisers with programmatic budgets of $20MM+ feel that 37 percent of their ad spend is wasted or inefficient

Programmatic media buying is hard and takes time and skill to master. It seems one retailer brand has it figured out; Wayfair,

2. Wayfair takes in-housing to a whole new level- By far the most interesting and detail-heavy presentation was given by Courtney Lawrie, Director of Brand Marketing at home-focused e-commerce company Wayfair.

Mrs. Lawrie preached about how her company takes an omni-channel, data-driven approach to marketing, and it all starts with the customer and ensuring the customer experience is improved upon. Mrs. Lawrie proclaimed that “95% of our ad tech stack was built in-house”, which is impressive and somewhat questionable (It was not made clear if they built their own DSP bidder or just built custom algos to insert into an established DSP partner’s bidders). What was more impressive was that she also mentioned their total marketing team included over 200 people, which includes multiple data scientists. Wow! This is a very impressive marketing system Wayfair has in place that is successfully delivering their business outcomes. I do wonder how many brands have the resources and sheer will to replicate this in-house system for their own brand.

3. Gary Vee continues to inspire marketers and rile up hold-co agencies with colorful language- I’ll be honest; I haven’t been much of a Gary Vaynerchuk fan. While sales people are known for being terrible shoppers, we can spot one of our own a mile away. Mr. Vaynerchuk is a fantastic sales person. He sells everything all at once and sometimes with a potty mouth. He has built an amazing business and impressive client roster with this talent and process and I give him a ton of respect for that. If you spend any time on LinkedIn and you are connected to this space, you will most likely see one of the thousands of pieces of content created by Mr. Vaynerchuk and his team that covers a wide range of topics including but not limited to marketing, agencies, employees, leadership and life.

The recent ANA Media event was the first time I have seen Gary live and on stage and I have to say…I liked and agreed with many of the things he said. He came across as authentic and logical, even if I may have disagreed with some of his points. A few choice comments he shared while on stage include the following:

      • “Every brand should in-house everything.”
      • “Agencies will always be involved because once the economy drops, Wall Street will put pressure on expenditures and growth and in-housed brands will come back to agencies for help and guidance.”
      • “It’s about your brand being relevant, not about awareness. This is the great issue of today.”
      • “Brands should be putting out two to three thousand pieces of content every 6 months.”
      • “Most DTC (direct to consumer) brands will fail because they don’t know how to build a brand.”
      • “Contextual targeting is meaningful to everyone…except Madison Avenue.”
      • “Holding companies need to stop holding their clients hostage if their (the agency’s) performance sucks.”

4. Downroster brand challenges are real and an issue for multi-brand marketers- I have this term “downroster”, which refers to the idea of lesser-known/less successful brands from larger multi-brand corporations (think “5th Avenue” candy bar from Hershey or “Fruit Gushers” from General Mills) being serviced by “downroster” teams at larger holding company agencies. My contention is these brands do not experience the same attention, service level and thought leadership as the more popular brands (e.g. “Reese’s” at Hershey and “Yoplait” at General Mills). These smaller brands are getting “downrostered” vs their more successful sister products. This concept also applies to any brand that is one of over a dozen at one particular holding company in one city, and includes a few very large brands that make up a majority of the agency’s time and talent. Being in ad tech sales a long time, you get to know which agency brand teams are inexperienced, punching the clock and taking advantage of vendor perks and which are truly pushing the brand or product forward. More times than not, the “downroster” brand suffers from the former.
Charlie Chappell, Head of Integrated Media and Communications Planning at The Hershey Company acknowledged the “downroster” concept stating that they try to mitigate this potential occurrence for Hershey’s brands by aligning agencies with one priority brand and one or two of the smaller brands. Mr. Chappell feels this arrangement has been successful for The Hershey Company, creating the opportunity for the secondary brands to receive premiere brand treatment by the agency, giving them the attention they need to grow.

Did you attend a brand-focused marketing conference recently? If so I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations. Leave a comment below.

Author: Sean Sweeney, Vice President of Client Development