July 13, 2011 Gavin Dunaway ADOTAS – Though he can’t put his finger on an exact moment or a cataclysmic event, Turn’s Philip Smolin, vice president of product and marketing, knows there was a big shift on the behavioral advertising front in the last six months. On the buy side, brands stopped being nervous about using their customer relationship management data, both offline and online, for audience buying and realized they needed a central depository for the heavy loads. On the supply side, publishers suddenly began embracing audience buying, opening up their inventory to real-time bidding through supply-side platforms and private exchange, thus easing the ability of media buyers pick and choose inventory. “Publishers have realized that allowing audience buying doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of control,” Smolin says. At the center of this shift is the burgeoning data management platform segment, a growing field that Turn recently joined with its Turn Audience Platform. After a limited launch with partners Experian and Accuen last month, the platform is opening its doors to all interested parties. The current recognition of the power of DMPs reminds Smolin of the adoption of demand-side platforms two years prior. Instead of heading to one potential client after another and painfully trying to describe just what DSPs do, all of a sudden brands and agencies would ask, “We get what a DSP does — what does yours do differently?” At the time, Smolin thought, “Well, I guess we need a whole new deck.” The practicality of DMPs has similarly dawned on the demand side. Far more than data repositories, the platforms offer media buyers a depot filled with tools for segmenting first-party data (those internal goodies like CRM data) as well as augmenting it with audience data from third-party data vendors. The rise of the supply-side platform and private exchanges, enabling RTB functionality for a plethora of premium publisher inventory, has been a boon for audience buying, with DMPs like Turn’s integrating with the publisher players. “Buying audience is always a better predictor of performance,” Smolin says. “It works for all types of marketing, whether it’s engagement or direct response. And it’s simply more efficient.” If the implementation of real-time bidding was the first step, then the proliferation of DMPs is the next one in cementing a seamless pipeline between media buyers and suppliers for purchasing inventory — unified platforms for standardized sales of remnant, premium and even super-premium inventory. And not all of the inventory would be purchased through real-time bidding (though Smolin says RTB is racking up 225,000 queries per second and 14 billion impressions a day) — eventually a percentage of forward market inventory could be purchased via digital interfaces. Imagine buying Black Friday inventory on a premium etailer well in advance and installing custom ad formats through your digital platform. Although the two are independent products that can be used together or separately, Turn’s DMP has the advantage of sitting on top of its DSP’s infrastraucture, and thus can give a gander into the RTB stream to offer in-depth forecasting of audience buying via the DSP’s predictive algorithms. Recommendations are also based on first party historical data, represented visually on the DMP’s clean and intuitive dashboard. In addition, Turn offers real-time synchronization of CRM data with the DMP — if a potential new target makes an in-store purchase, his or her is near-instantly added to the appropriate campaign. All the major third-party data hounds are integrated, and Turn’s algorithm adjusts to optimize third-party data prices. In addition, one of the reasons Turn calls the DMP an open ecosystem is that there’s haggle room — big league clients with sway over pricing can negotiate with data vendors over cost. Smolin notes that media planners can get carried away in building audiences, creating way-too-narrow segments when they need scale — and scale is something that Turn boasts in spades. Working mainly with the big kids (Fortune 500 brands, playa!), DMP launch partners like Experian testify to the value of Turn’s high-volume data-processing abilities — prior to the launch, Turn was processing 500 billion data events a month. Experian in particular has enough offline data ready to be processed that it would grind smaller systems to a halt. Truly cross-channel, the Turn’s DMP can facilitate planning across all impression-based inventory (display, video, mobile display, etc.) sources as well as buying styles — e.g., exchanges vs. vertical networks. A drag’n'drop interface allows for customized reporting of campaign data fed directly into the DMP — much of it in real-time, updated daily at the slowest. Eventually Smolin sees both the data delivery and the budget reallocation as a continuous, uninterrupted process. As for the near future, the barriers to entry for the audience-buying space have grown high as the technology gets frighteningly complex. Building a data management platform that can deliver high volumes at the high speeds media buyers are increasingly demanding is not something you can build in the cloud. “I wouldn’t want to build a DSP again,” Smolin says, shaking his head. “Or a DMP, for that matter.” Consolidation is inevitable, but how quickly it arrives is unclear. Of course, Google’s recent acquisition of Admeld comes to mind, following its annexing of Invite Media last year — however, Smolin questions whether Google actually wanted/needed AdMeld’s technology or if it was simply knocking out its chief competitor on the publisher side. I’m reminded of a rumor I heard a year before that Google was intent on destroying meddling publisher-side platforms. Whether the Google-Admeld merger is approved or not, Smolin notes that competition drives innovation — it’s a good thing the space is so crowded, as a lot more advancement is required to reach Smolin’s vision of an uninterrupted conduit between buyers and sellers.