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An Era When a Mutual Value Exchange is Standard: Q&A with Janette Higginson, Postr

It’s official. The world is mobile. So, are we getting to a stage where mobile isn’t classed as a separate conversation from digital advertising in general? Mobile programmatic is still in maturity phase; but it’s developing at speed and topics around transparency, GDPR, ad blocking, and viewability apply as much to the mobile space as they do to desktop environments. ExchangeWire speaks with Janette Higginson (pictured below), head of ad strategy and platform, Postr about how programmatic mobile is maturing and how the buzzwords of this year, and next, will apply to the ecosystem.  

ExchangeWire: What would you say are the biggest issues facing mobile programmatic at the moment?

Janette Higginson: There are many different discussions on where programmatic technology is failing the mobile landscape, and on where we need to focus our energy as tech leaders. Naturally, I toe the party line and believe the largest discussions remain around the areas of fraud, targeting, as well as pricing and placement transparency. As our devices are incredibly personal and essential in facilitating modern human connections, I believe that the user experience – whether within browser, in-app, or somewhere in between – needs to be one that reflects users’ needs and provides relevant and personalised information in its digital messaging. We need to get this right; and mobile programmatic still needs to mature to better facilitate this connection. It’s essential that we engage the right user, through the right placement ‘algorithmically’, in a relevant and meaningful way.

From a publisher perspective, server-side integrations should, and will, be considered more robustly across various platforms. More recently, the benefits of auction speeds and demand diversification have been greatly influenced by changes in server-side technology. Identity matching and yield management also continue to dominate mobile programmatic discourse.

Do you think there is currently enough being done to tackle these challenges? What more could be done?

The move towards transparency on the tech side has been a game changer. This has been primarily through building trust between buyers and sellers in the programmatic space, particularly for mobile, where ‘fraud’ and ‘appropriate valuation’ based on ‘health scores’ are buzzwords in every meeting I attend.

Programmatic facilitation has certainly made the delivery of advertising more efficient, but it has also threatened the communication between brands and publishers, resulting in a loss of trust. The creative innovations within the mobile space, which are continually being introduced to help tackle performance and engagement issues, are often a side-conversation for buyers. Subsequently, these new inventory types remain ‘unclassified’ and almost inaccessible programmatically. We need to support these mobile innovations and take them seriously – they are necessary for us to evolve.

Flatter and fairer programmatic header-bidding technologies have made a very welcome appearance and have transformed the way we sell. However, newer, leading, transparent supply tech players need to raise their voice in less mature programmatic markets to address the fancy commercial models which are still over-inflating digital economies. They also need to be speaking to brands directly, not just to their direct partners. Personally, I hear more conversations around buyers wanting more transparency from publishers, but I’d like the buy-side tech to also have some more airtime. Buyers and agencies need clearer lines of direct communication with (or at least have access to) publishers and vice versa, and middle-technology should better facilitate this. It’s not about ‘cutting’ any player out. I truly believe that all parties would benefit from healthy, open conversations across the ecosystem. Brands are increasingly prioritising fully transparent supply chains above performance.

The GDPR is only a few months away – how do you think the regulation will change the relationship between the consumer and the brand? 

Janette Higginson, Head of Ad Strategy & Platform, Postr

I’m deeply interested in what shifts we will see through the changes regulators are introducing. We have never been so involved with data conversations; and the policies are rapidly moving to provide the consumer with choice. The impact (and the reality check for brands and all media players) that the GDPR will have is a positive one. The organisation that I’m part of also shares this view – that an individual is entitled to understand how their personal data is used, stored and, potentially, shared. Consumers should be able to have an opinion on whether they feel comfortable with these processes when it comes to individual brand experiences. I think the GDPR will restore some balance, creating a fairer, two-sided conversation between owners (or utilisers) of consumer data and the individual consumers themselves.

A key benefit of the GDPR is that the increase in data transparency and, more importantly, intention will empower consumers to alter their choices of how and with whom they share their data. Hopefully, they will understand what value-exchange their data enables, and they can then base their decisions based on that knowledge. From the publisher or brand perspective, we may see some phenomenal changes on how digital assets are used and how campaigns are managed based on the shifts in consumer behaviour, as they may not be able to utilise or collect data in the same way anymore.

What effects will the changing consumer-brand relationship, which forms after the GDPR, have on issues such as mobile ad blocking?

I hope that an improved opt-in process, created through the GDPR, will allow consumers to make more informed decisions around ad blocking through constant education and prioritisation in each and every digital brand experience with which they engage. Given the complex digital advertising environment we are all exposed to, with all its forms of retargeting, cross-device lifestyle, and a rapid development in personalisation, I believe that the industry will need some time to adequately address issues like ad blocking.

Generally I believe that opt-in is the key to a healthy consumer-brand relationship and, therefore, the changes prompted by the GDPR may even have a positive impact on ad-blocking for consumers and brands alike. For example, a consumer may be more willing to allow ads if it is made clearer that their favourite sites can only survive through advertising, and that they will use their browsing behaviour to show ads that have relevance. On the other hand, the consumer can maintain the control to change this, which will also provide reassurance around personal data privacy. We need to allow users the option to change their minds.

What does the future hold for mobile advertising? Are there any areas you are particularly excited to see develop?

Holding a device in the palm of your hand and interacting with brands when you expect to is the most empowering moment for the digital consumer. I welcome the user-led, user-selected opportunities mobile advertising offers. Many players are already moving into this space. However, being able to respect the user’s preferences will soon become the perfect and preferred conduit to strengthen relationships between brands and their audiences. Show your users that you know their worth and respect their considerations. We have entered an era when a mutual value exchange is becoming the standard.

Publishers have the ability to let their audiences know that they care about their user experience, and that they want the individual user to own their unique and personalised digital interactions with brands. The path that current technology is presenting, through targeting and through opt-in profiling, enables publishers to create healthier digital landscapes. In these new landscapes, the audience doesn’t feel threatened by the commercial messaging but feels in control of their digital journey. This is a beautifully complex period of relationship building between media owners, communication providers, and their audiences. We are able to get to know our audiences deeply, so why not listen to their individual needs and provide an experience that reflects a mutual understanding? That’s what I’m excited to be a part of.