DSPs, or demand-side platforms, are hot. The online trade press is full of articles and commentary, but the definition of a DSP is still amorphous. Is it an agency exchange buying business unit like Cadreon or VivaKi? Or is it a technology platform that enables exchange buying?
For now, DSP is used interchangeably to mean both of these things. This will change as we begin to realize that the agency units are, in fact, specialized media buying units no different than the specialized buying units that have existed in agencies for outdoor, local market TV, newspapers, etc. They use DSPs to do their job - whether that DSP is owned technology or outsourced.
But this current framework of specialized display buying powered by a technology to aggregate display inventory is too narrow. It may deliver more efficient display buying, based on better audience composition, but this is a relatively minor advancement from the client's perspective.
More and more, clients are thinking about marketing as an investment in prospects and attracting customers that will yield a measurable return. More and more, clients want to engage these prospects and customers - not throw ads at them. More and more, clients are pursuing engagement through their Web sites, social media, custom content and mobile apps.
But how do you tie these things together to create real customer engagement rather than a series of fleeting, disconnected interactions? Effective digital engagement strategies will require three things: targeting at the individual level; recognition of the individual across client touch points; and relevant messaging, content and service at each point.
Enter the multitouch-point DSP.
Imagine a DSP that was not relegated only to display buying, but instead was a means to manage all of a client's demand-side touch points? Imagine a digital marketing prospect and customer database that was connected to display, search landing pages, the client's Web site, email, digital video and mobile. And imagine if that same platform was connected to offline channels as well, such as direct mail, call centers and in-store. Now imagine that this platform has the intelligence to digest customer data on the fly and make the right decision to be most relevant to the customer at every touch point?
The multitouch-point DSP is the next logical step for our industry. We need a DSP that connects all the points of digital demand creation - not just display ads. Digital agencies need such a platform if they are to ascend to preeminence in the overall marketing process. Clients need this platform to make their marketing and customer service more effective and efficient in order to create a competitive advantage.
What would this new capability be worth to marketers? We've seen anywhere from a 10 percent to 50 percent gain in marketing productivity on the "multiplier effect" of the multitouch-point DSP. Imagine what you could do with a 10 percent productivity return!
So what is holding us up? The technology is here. The desire is here. The only thing missing is organizational alignment to use the technology. Most clients are still structured by marketing silos rather than by customer segment, and agencies follow this structure to the extreme. So multitouch-point engagement strategies are very hard to execute even with the technology in place. Yet clients want to realize this vision, so there is money to be made for the agency that can get out of their silos and make it happen. The opportunity for leadership is here. So what steps need to be taken?
First, agencies need to step up, embrace the vision and present a migration plan to clients. Second, clients need to fund multitouch-point DSPs. Now, both clients and agencies are probably saying, Hey, we are barely operationalizing the display-media DSP, why should we think - and fund - beyond that?
Because that's what winning companies do. They think ahead. They invest ahead of the curve.