Jacobs, who contributes a weekly column to MediaVillage, spent most of his career in agencies, starting in media research in a UK agency before moving into media planning and global media management. He had stints at advertising agencies including Leo Burnett, Carat and Universal McCann. Jacobs eventually formed a consultancy practice helping start-up and young businesses where one of his clients was a Finnish analytics company called Xtract.

Kiviluoto was one of the founders of Xtract and is an analytics serial entrepreneur whose passion is to improve digital customer experiences and interactions between consumers and brands, supported with mathematical expertise and machine learning technologies.

I asked Jacobs the following questions:

Charlene Weisler: What is your definition of programmatic?

Brian Jacobs: Very good question! Put 10 people in a room and you’ll finish up with 12 definitions.

In our opinion programmatic is all about using large amounts of data to improve media planning and buying (by precision targeting, as one example) and automating the process as much as possible.

We absolutely do not believe that it is possible to remove the skills of the media planner and buyer from the process; rather, we see programmatic technology as a way of improving efficiencies both in message creation and placement and in removing much of the drudgery from what is still often a largely manual process.

Charlene: How does your business differ by country?

Brian: To be honest it doesn’t much. Our core product offering is consistent, and we still work with premium publishers. What is different is the maturity of the various media markets and thus the dynamics within the planning, buying and selling of digital space. This means that the speed of take up of some elements of what we offer varies.

Charlene: How are you removing the middleman and who is the middleman?

Brian: The whole digital planning, buying and selling space is cluttered and yet the basics are pretty straightforward: The publisher creates premium content that attracts an audience and the advertiser wants to reach that audience with relevant and effective messages. It seems to us that there are too many people in that chain from advertiser to publisher, most of whom supply a technical link that can be automated. The consequence is the so-called technology tax which most objective sources would agree leads to something like 60% of the advertiser’s budget vanishing before it gets to the publisher, the creator of content and audiences. Our vision is to simplify that chain and to ensure that a higher percentage of the advertiser’s budget ends up where it can have the greatest effect -- with the publisher. In our vision, the middleman has to add value to the process. We are not sure that operations like SSPs and DSPs in themselves add much value, although they undoubtedly add complexity.

Charlene: Are you removing agencies from the mix?

Brian:  No, absolutely not. In fact when we first came up with the Enreach idea way back when, we saw it in large part as a media planning tool. But agencies by and large don’t own data (although of course they use it), publishers do, and advertisers do. Hence our current model, focused on the publisher.

We imagine that our new product, Audiences Guaranteed, will be of value to the media agency community in that it streamlines the planning and buying process and puts the planner center stage. Audiences Guaranteed lets the planner plan, and then the rest of the process, including the incorporation of deals done by the buyer, the placing of orders, the tracking and reporting of campaigns and the rest are handled automatically within the system. We are very happy to talk to agencies as we believe they should play a major role in the future of Audiences Guaranteed. We have already started those conversations.

Charlene: Do you have a problem with attribution?

Brian: We think the industry has a problem with the broad topic of attribution, which we would define as being all about understanding what drives results. We have started working with a North American marketing science business to start to build attribution models that move the business along from the current focus on media outputs (like reach) to business outcomes. We are excited by the possibilities thrown up by the first stage work on a prototype and hope to have a product that both companies can bring to market in 2016.

Charlene: Do you grapple with viewability? How do you handle that?

Brian: We don’t see this as a big-deal measurement problem. We do certainly see it as an issue the industry needs to get to grips with, but we think the issue is largely a commercial one as opposed to a “how-do-we-measure-this” issue.  So, a publisher can certainly offer high levels of viewability, but then the gross audience numbers go down. That may well not matter in some circumstances, and it may be significant in others depending on the advertiser, the messaging and indeed the objectives. Our solution is to offer our publishers a choice. We can adopt the IAB standard or we can dial-up the viewability criteria.  We can imagine our customers being in a position to adjust the viewability scores depending on the communication objectives of the campaigns they’re carrying.

Charlene: How do you think your part of the business will look five years from now?

Brian: Another good question! I think it will be far less cluttered. The market is due a period of consolidation. Indeed, I would say that this has already started. I also think the adtech world (on all sides) will mature and work through what seem to me to be several polarizing points-of-view. So I don’t think it’s correct to assume that the media planning, selling and buying process will ever be 100-percent automated, but I do think a degree of automation is inevitable (and desirable).  I don’t think real-time-bidding systems will rule the industry; nor do I think they will disappear and direct insertion order techniques will take over. I don’t think publishers will only sell direct to advertisers and that media agencies will disappear; but I do think direct selling will grow and that planning will enjoy a revival in a world currently obsessed with buying tools, techniques and indeed controversies.

For Enreach in particular I see three key challenges. 1. Remain focused on serving our clients as best we can so that they succeed. 2. Remain open to ideas and major innovations both in the industry and from elsewhere. 3. Keep our eyes on the road. We must not get distracted by the latest passing fad and fashion. We are always open to new developments, we always evaluate and consider but if it’s not helpful to our clients then we will not be distracted by the latest shiny thing.

Be sure to read Brian’s weekly columns in The Cog Blog right here at MediaVillage.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers.