"Self-serve," "self-provisioning," "our advertiser-facing app launches next month." Phrases such as these are increasingly familiar to media executives. With buyers more frequently interfacing electronically with sellers, the transaction tactic itself is becoming as much a critical factor in media decision-making as the quality and efficiency of the inventory. While excelling in the client-facing parts of the business means having a capable and experienced sales team, a4, Altice's advertising sales organization is upping the ante by also having the technology they believe will improve the buying experience overall.
The man behind the better mousetraps is Wael Sabra, a4's senior vice president, product. For Sabra and his 100-person team, the tools and inventory his organization offers advertisers, agencies and partners are at the heart of his company's household-focused approach. In our recent conversation, he explained that "Product" is at the center of everything a4 does from an innovation perspective, including marketing, customer rollout and sales training. Sabra and his colleagues view the world from an audience, media and analytics perspective — and the product team is geared around those key focus areas.
"Audience" is, for Sabra, strongly influenced by the identity graph his team built to allow the company to excel at reaching every device within a household. a4, born from a cable and broadband company, has unique access to household identities, including street address, and to the devices associated with each household — and has secured that information beyond the borders of their original footprint via partnerships. For Sabra's team, that translates into accurate targeting unconstrained by any footprint and informed by his company's experience in linear addressable television, to allow targeting based on a third-party segment or even a customer list.
"Media" is inventory — including OTT, traditional television, advanced television (such as linear addressable), and mobile and digital media — and how it's secured, priced and packaged. For Sabra and team, that means not just the inventory that they control, such as the local avails on cable networks within their footprint, but also inventory secured via exchanges and partnerships.
And lastly, "analytics," which, says Sabra, "becomes relatively easy if you create audiences properly," crediting an analytics product team responsible for all campaign and advanced analytics reporting. He says that some clients ask for high-fidelity, highly accurate audiences on any screen, some come looking just for analytics capabilities, and many advertisers need both.
While a4's product team "productizes" with a focus on SMBs and larger enterprise-level businesses, as well as on national advertisers and agencies, Sabra hasn't lost sight of a4's existing human sales organization and sales partners. That vision has been well received internally and externally, with one longtime a4 local sales manager saying, "It's been a pleasure to represent the products that Wael's team has created. Clients love being able to target so precisely and with so much power."
Sabra points out that while the way companies interface with a4 may differ based on their size or type, and that though the challenges of working with each type of business are different, "the DNA" — the products and how they get assembled — is the same for clients across the board. Athena, a4's cross-screen planning and activation platform, is where all of those capabilities come together and work in sync. And since those capabilities are grounded in the real world of household data, he says, the experience becomes simpler and more human, even fun to use.
He wants a4's products — whether advertisers, his organization or the media organizations they partner with are using them — to be intuitive and easy for users, comparing the user experience to that of a child exploring an iPad. "We make sure that any feature that we introduce in our product, anybody can operate and get to an end result that is actionable and visually appealing and doesn't feel like a chore to create their own media plans. The way to do that is to support the user with a lot of data, information and analytics that are available and presented quickly to the user to make a decision"
What Sabra and a4 promise is products grounded in the household-level view, reaching any screen or individual within that household, and presented to advertisers in a format that makes it as easy as possible for people across the industry and across the country to effectively transact.
It's an approach that should prove refreshing to buyers — who Sabra says are facing an increasingly complex media ecosystem. "You had buyers who were experts in traditional TV. Then we added desktops, so they had to know about DSPs. Then we added mobile. And on the TV and OTT side, it's separate platforms for users or even different self-serve tools. Now buyers need to be concerned with measurement across walled gardens and fraud…. We are using the power of our company to provide value and ease to our customers."
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