Beyond audience data: The critical need for better business intelligence in digital media

Columnist Rob Rasko believes publishers need to move beyond audience data in order to get a complete picture of their business and learn how to efficiently structure it.

ss-analytics-dataRecently, I was in a lengthy discussion of the actions needed to drive corporate change in the media business, specifically around workflow. During the exchange, I was asked to “please provide me the data to help drive this decisioning.”

In the case I’m referring to, the data simply didn’t exist — or if they did, they were in so many places that it was almost impossible to drive a data-related model. I left the conversation asking myself: “Is this the case everywhere in the media industry? And if so, what can we do to fix it?”

Media industry professionals are asking themselves a myriad of questions, including “At what price should I sell or buy my media inventory?” or “Is implementing header bidding the right solution for my business?”

These are all critical and relevant questions, but the impact of these decisions on the sales process industry-wide is much less discussed, making truly informed decision-making difficult when you don’t have the answers to questions such as:

  • On average, what volume of campaigns can an ad trafficker manage before I need to add more head count, and how can I quantify this?
  • How many of my competitors are outsourcing their ad operations?
  • How many of my competitors are using different ad servers for desktop and mobile, and why?
  • How many programmatic partners do my competitors use in mobile advertising?

Creating insightful data points

These concerns are all critical to a publisher’s success and growth, and aggregating the answers to these questions would create insightful data points that the sell-side could use to make better decisions around workflow and pricing.

One can’t pick up an industry trade these days without hearing about real-time this or header bidding that. But real time, and its effect on the actual sales process of that media, is something less discussed.

A major sales organization with representatives throughout the country, and even throughout the world, will certainly need to have pricing and inventory data in near real time too, but figuring out how to get the correct pieces in place to sustain a real-time business model seems to be on the bottom rung of people’s priority list.

Specifically, there are two points to consider. They are:

  • What does a future operational workflow look like in the media business?
  • How do we take advantage of real-time business intelligence data to help us sell better and at higher prices?

It amazes me that when I speak about data in media, most people assume that I’m talking about audience data, and I need to explain that this conversation is about business intelligence.

As an industry, we get so caught up in the existential threats of ad blocking or fraud that we don’t focus on what is right in front of us — the opportunities to increase revenue through better information about how to efficiently structure our businesses for success.

Building business intelligence

Business intelligence can go beyond audience data by providing historical, current and predictive views of business operations that can tap into internal data from operations and financial data and externally from broader market data to derive a more complete picture of a publisher’s business. The challenge is in finding and integrating this data.

We see high-level benchmarks all the time, but not ones that are in the weeds enough to guide more specialized areas of the publishing operation. Seeing this need, my team and I are currently surveying publishers to gain insight into these more granular topics.

Our research will answer questions including some of the ones we mentioned above, along with questions like, “How many people on your team understand HTML5?” and “What percentage of mobile creative is rich media?”

The goal of our research is to help the publishing community build a better operation by giving them the data and benchmarks necessary to make educated decisions around these critical issues. Stay tuned to Marketing Land as we publish the results this summer.

In the end, I can’t stress enough the need to prioritize business intelligence and subsequent investments. Real-time or any of this data will pay dividends well beyond their costs.

Having benchmarks to compare your internal results to will pave the way to a more efficient business and the strategic pricing discussions we all yearn for.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from


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