My Digital Advertising Orchestra

We gathered customers in a room and asked them what they wanted from our products in the future. Strategy was discussed but not revealed here. Sorry. It was, however, an interesting insight into the dynamics of a group of industry competitors who really shared a common view on the way forward.

Yesterday, we tried something new (well, new to us, anyway). The kind of thing that could have gone horribly wrong had we not got it quite right. We gathered a small group of our customers and, more-or-less, locked them in a room with some of our product and development people to discuss what’s next in online advertising (we did feed them, it wasn’t cruel!). Truthfully, there was no key (although I sat blocking the door for some of the day, but that was to do with the shape of the room) and customers could leave if they wanted to, although if they tried I, in turn, tried to lure them back with coffee (the Dutch said I made it too bitter by plunging too quickly, but that’s another story). It was an interesting experiment and one, I hope, we’ll repeat again.

The first lesson is that managing a group of competing interests like this is akin to conducting an orchestra in that there are many sections who all need to play their part to get the best out of the day. There will be the large string, brass and woodwind sections who have clear ideas what they want from your product and each want to make sure they are heard. Then, of course, there’s the percussion section who seem to fill in the gaps with novel little additions or ideas that hold the other parts together. Fortunately, we had a great conductor in the shape of one of our key product managers from our US office. I guess the rest of us turned the pages on the musical score for the others. Here, my metaphor breaks down and I’ll move on.

I’m not breaking any confidences by suggesting that the key themes are universal to the digital ad-serving business: the industry is maturing and major organisations have moved from wondering what their web presence is all about to how they can make the most money from it and how it integrates into the rest of their business portfolio. I took away a consensus that suggests that the top three things important to the industry are:

  • video advertising is only going to get bigger but measurement metrics are still being figured out
  • ad units are going to get bigger to ensure they make a splash; but we may see fewer units per page
  • understanding inventory availability is a major concern for publishers of all sizes who can sell

and, as all great customers should do, they would like these issues resolved in the next release cycle. Of course, we were given a much deeper insight into what our business needs to do to meet these – and the other less obvious – requirements and industry challenges (do you think I’m going to tell you now?). It was fascinating to see how players in our orchestra interacted, many having never met before. It’s great to see competitors sharing information and, if any of them read this, I’d like to say thanks for your input. I’m sure we’ll do it again. We kept the group small(ish) – more chamber orchestra than philharmonic – so that we could get the best out of the day but if you’d like to be considered for the next one then you’d better be a customer in about 12 months from now!

Now, I’m starting the weekend by heading off to see a solo musician. Tori Amos is playing Hammersmith Apollo in a few hours. I believe she can play the piano rather well. I guess she’ll conduct herself.