How to achieve meaningful transparency in 2019
The past few years have created a spotlight on transparency that is here to stay.
The past few years have created a spotlight on transparency that is here to stay. However, as transparency has gone from curiosity to cause to crusade, some important details and intelligence have been lost that prevent brands from achieving the most direct path to transparency and improved results in the process. Here are some ways marketers can increase transparency and display returned value for brands.
Plan for transparency and do your research
When we discuss transparency in the advertising ecosystem, we often think of financial transparency first. But there is so much more under that term. There are "ingredients" within an impression (context, user data, technographic data and more) and supply chain attributes, just to name a few.
A good benchmark for dealing with fraud and brand safety comes from the retail industry. Retail companies know they'll never completely eliminate shrinkage. The key is balancing an acceptable level of loss for the cost of the reduction.
It's impossible to provide real-time transparency into where a brand's ads appear digitally in a digestible and actionable fashion. Marketers should set up controls and also, perhaps more importantly, tolerance thresholds. For example, few brands specifically want to appear next to off-color content, but few brands would truly be tarnished if this did happen. Simple cost-benefit and risk tolerance planning, similar to what we do with a personal financial advisor, can prevent hundreds of headaches for brands by knowing what is and is not acceptable.
Additionally, marketers tend to know little about the ingredients that make up third-party data. Some are so frustrated they suggest stopping its use altogether. However, marketers have conducted many statistical studies proving the value of third-party behavioral data when used correctly. Nearly one in five CMOs cite not having enough third-party data as one of their top data challenges.
So, should we let the lack of insight into the ingredients that make up this product mean we eschew it entirely? No. We should empirically measure the value of data in a controlled rather than exposed environment to understand if the cost of the data is worth what we're paying. From there, financially sound decisions are easy regardless of whether or not we have perfect transparency into the ingredients of the data.
Focus on results
Traditionally, we've had little knowledge of whether advertising has returned value for a brand. "We bought TV ads and sales went up!" didn't inspire confidence in anyone with some basic deductive reasoning skills. Not only did we not know if, or to what extent, an entire campaign worked, but we surely didn't know from network to network or show to show where we derived value.
We're at a point now where this is possible -- sufficiently enough that marketers should be laser-focused on figuring out exactly what is driving results and how much those results are worth paying for -- and as a result, transparency should be a secondary objective. How many marketers have gone in-house or performed extensive audits, achieved what they believe to be full transparency, but are celebrating results that are improperly measured and not even true? From my conversations with hundreds of marketers, the answer is "a lot."
Trust your agency
Transparency as a secondary objective doesn't mean it's unimportant. Marketers should require it from their agencies but also make sure the sum of their own behaviors incentivizes the agency to actually want to partner with the brand transparently rather than resisting it.
When a brand drives the agency fee to as close to zero as possible but then pays a consultant $400-plus/hour to audit the agency for transparency, the brand has created a partnership of distrust and a partner who will likely resist transparency. When brands conduct global agency reviews solely in the name of reducing fees rather than delivering value to their brand, they're likely to get a partner who shows them what they want to see but not what's really needed.
The skills, knowledge and expertise required to consult and strategize with a brand in today's landscape are significant, and agencies should be paid in a way that reflects that. As agencies, we want nothing more than to be transparent. The first marketer who says to me, "Please provide your fairest price for your services so that you can proudly be 100% transparent with us, and we'll pay it," will indeed get a fair price from my agency, a willing partner in transparency and will start a successful and trusting relationship.
Overall, trust is still a top concern among brands and their agencies. If marketers begin factoring transparency into the equation and planning ahead, as well as focusing on results and trusting their agencies, we can begin increasing transparency in this climate.