The Culture Question In RTB

When I joined Sociomantic Labs in late 2012, I was intrigued by the prospect of bringing a European ad-tech company into the North American market. Having been involved with a number of U.S.-based ad tech companies, I was attracted to the opportunity to pursue a global mission from a different starting point. In addition to navigating the daily realities of managing a globally distributed team -- local laws and regulations, identifying and recruiting talent, managing staffing, providing training, cross-border operations, localization -- it has been interesting to experience the cultural differences between the ad tech markets outside of North America.

Among U.S.-based marketers, discussions about RTB and advanced data-driven targeting have become almost ubiquitous; and while there still remains a huge market opportunity in the space, adoption of RTB has become fairly widespread. That is not the case in most European markets.

In many ways the U.K. is closest to the United States. It is a mature market that is busy, complex, challenging and full of familiar acronyms and controversies: DSPs challenging DMPs; SSPs turning into DSPs; CPC vs. CPA; arbitrage vs. transparency; a whole host of third-party and white-label vendors offering "bespoke solutions"; agencies acting as gatekeepers and container tag companies tagging pages all over the ecosystem. As in the U.S., this market is crowded and cutthroat, to say the least.



Within this noisy market, brands’ expectations for e-commerce are high and growing higher. Marketers are increasingly focused on intelligent attribution modeling with new customer acquisition as the number-one priority. Some of the key issues for ad-tech vendors are service quality and the ability to deliver an exceptionally strong platform to build upon, engage with key buyers and develop ongoing relationships.

On the other end of the spectrum, Russia is a market where RTB technology remains quite new and relatively untested. Many marketers have heard the term, but only a few have a deep understanding of the mechanics and strategies involved. Within the Russian market, RTB is still frequently confused with retargeting. Most often, RTB is perceived as a way to buy cheap remnant impressions.

The majority of European nations fall somewhere between the U.K. and Russian markets in terms of understanding and adoption of RTB technology.

In Germany, all major e-commerce players run RTB campaigns that are largely performance-based. Advertisers rely on efficient technology partners to run these campaigns, measured by defined KPIs and sophisticated attribution models. Reliability and flexibility are critical for vendors as speed and response rates -- translating into gains through volume and ROI -- are highly important to customers.

In the Benelux region (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), many marketers are investigating the possibilities of connecting CRM data with online display campaigns to deliver true customer value with more effective campaigns and budget spends. A growing area of focus is attributing sales to the correct conversion channel. As marketers increasingly employ a mix of channels to deliver their messages, weighting channels to find the optimal sales attribution configuration is becoming more and more important. Another interesting trend in the Benelux region is that more and more premium inventory and high-traffic channels such as Facebook and Skype are moving towards RTB. As we’ve seen in the U.S., this will result in an enormous increase in coverage and a boost in conversions for typical “brand” environments.

The RTB market in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region remains largely in an education phase. Marketers are aware that they cannot afford to miss the “RTB train” that is fast approaching their local display advertising station. The RTB model is no longer seen as an unreachable Holy Grail of advertising in this market, but rather as an intelligent, accessible ecosystem. Advertisers and publishers already demand a high degree of insight to create better online advertising, and the buzz around the RTB model is continuing to grow rapidly, especially among online retailers. The issues in the CEE region are more focused on implementation and best practices.

In all these markets -- and those beyond the European continent -- we are seeing data-driven display become a much larger percentage of the total display advertising pie, especially among e-commerce- and performance-oriented advertisers. All of the European markets will eventually deploy RTB for display. It will simply be a matter of time and local interpretation and implementation.

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