Consumer privacy and the deprecation of the third-party cookies continue to be central concerns for all marketers and advertisers. Because of this, it is increasingly important to focus on new methods of addressing the digital-first consumer, so we need to ask ourselves: how will addressability impact the relationship between advertisers, publishers, and the consumer?

To discuss this topic, I recently sat down for a fireside chat with Will Ferguson, dentsu international’s senior vice president and managing director of M1, their proprietary people-based audience platform. Will is at the forefront of bringing addressability to dentsu’s roster of clients, and in our conversation, he provided insight into the agency perspective on a range of subjects, including:

  • Where addressability is taking our industry, as we seek to connect brands with people
  • The importance of leveraging audience insights for successful media campaigns
  • How agencies and adtech providers can successfully partner to drive meaningful client results

Keep reading for the highlights of our fireside chat, as I share some of Will’s illuminating insights. 

When talking with your partners, how do you help them think about balancing short-term addressability and measurement versus longer-term needs and advanced planning? 

We work with clients who have varying degrees of challenges when it comes to addressability. Every one is on a unique path at a different time. And so we talk a lot about momentum and agility with our clients. We’re all looking toward long-term growth, customer lifetime value, and really far-sighted objectives. But at the same time, we all have numbers that need to be hit this quarter, this year; we have stockholders; we have boards that are keen on business outcomes. As we try to balance those two objectives, focusing on what’s right in front of us and keeping our eye on that 50-meter target, it helps to understand that there is going to be some parallel pathing, with things not always in perfect concert. It also helps to lean into your trusted advisors–the agencies and partners you’re on this path with–and ask them, “In addition to immediate plans that need to get out the door today, what should I be doing to make sure that nothing surprises us next quarter or next year, so we are prepared?” 

Speaking of agile, adtech is a very ever-changing space. How do you define long-term when talking to your clients?

That is going to depend on the industry, the vertical, and the client. Anything beyond 3 to 12 months is what I consider long-term. Normally, we’d like to think truly long-term, like 3 to 5 to 10 years, but when you look at the changes that have taken place in our industry in the last 18 months, we need to adjust. If you take a snapshot of something from months ago, it feels almost archaic. That’s where agility comes in as we move towards an ever-evolving and quicker-evolving adtech ecosystem. We have to narrow that window of what we consider to be long-term. And we are constantly looking at what’s next from an addressability, measurement, and investment standpoint. Our agency teams are able to keep one eye on the prize and one eye on what’s happening right under our nose, as we determine how to deliver excellence daily. 

What are the most common topics that your clients grill you on?

Part of the change over the last 12 to 18 months is that the questions we’re fielding from clients are changing drastically. They’ve gone from “what is addressability” to “what kind of data clean room solutions do I need to be looking for in the future?” They ask, “What regulation is coming around the corner and how can I be prepared for federal regulations, if they come down, and if they don’t, how do I navigate 50 state regulations and still not interrupt my media objectives?” We’re also hearing a lot of questions like, “How does this audience strategy connect to dynamic creative solutions? How do I automate some of this to make good decisions without lifting more fingers?” These questions are great because we have a lot of solutions. They help us recognize where the trends are going and what our clients are concerned about. This kind of dialogue is an exciting affirmation that we’re on the right path. It’s a great kind of grade book, too, to determine if we’re answering the questions the right way and if we’re on the same page. Our clients let us know that we are checking that box in relation to some of the industry consolidation and a lot of the innovation that’s come out. We’re here to service and deliver. 

What are some of the trends you’ve seen in the industry recently that most interest you? 

I’m really excited to see more thought given to marrying reach and frequency objectives with audience journey work, because we’re all in the service of building consumer connections for these brands. We’re there to build some sort of proof of product, a provenance story of the brand, something that makes a human connection to have people feel a part of that brand, and so watching that art and science come together from a media tactical standpoint is really exciting. Also, the publisher-specific clean rooms are an opportunity, as the walled gardens start to come down, to get a little more line of sight into them, so our clients can be more informed about what’s happening and what their media is driving.

Conversely, what trends are you happy to see in the rearview mirror? 

I’m excited to never hear ‘cookieless future’ ever again. I’m very excited to be in the cookieless present. 

You have publisher partners and tech partners, and M1 is a central partner for all the different dentsu operating companies. The definition of partnership and the way all the different pieces work has clearly changed and been refined, and will continue to do so. How do you work across that whole ecosystem of partners in service of your clients, especially when it comes to addressability? 

The word “partner” is everything. The idea of vendor relationships is not fruitful. We need everyone locking arms and moving forward towards a common goal. At dentsu, we bring a certain competency and skill set to the table, which matches up really nicely with some partners like yourself, so when we come together into a room to tackle a client challenge, we have the ability to speak that same language with the same kind of ethos behind it, but from a different perspective. We choose partners that we want to go really deep with and invest in to make those dollars work harder for our clients, because we’re at their service and want to build those connections with customers in the most responsible and effective way possible. We want partners who share that passion for good service. 

“The word ‘partner’ is everything. The idea of vendor relationships is not fruitful. We need everyone locking arms and moving forward towards a common goal.”
Will Ferguson
Senior Vice President, Managing Director of M1
dentsu international

Not partnering together and working toward a centralized goal to support a customer, really limits scalability. How do you think about scalability of solutions and partnerships, in service of that customer need?

It’s been helpful to have the industry consolidated a bit. It allows us all to work more closely together by nature. Watching which partners have been thoughtful with foresight into the way the industry is changing, it becomes a self-selecting process. We have the ability to do things in a very deliberate and intentional way but do them at scale. It’s that balance. I made a promise to myself to never say one plus one equals three again, so I won’t say it–but it’s true. Instead of a hand-off, it’s bringing all these different ingredients together. These types of solutions, where we’re bringing data together in a privacy-safe, consumer-centric mindset for our clients with partners, are more successful when we can challenge or validate our assumptions, check back in, and course-correct, learning along the way. Our partnerships are driving a lot of the thought and strategy that goes into the media approach. 

Every customer has different goals and strategies, so how do you lean into those differences?

Client challenges are very unique. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter approach. If we try to take something that works for a tech client and apply it to an automotive or luxury retail client, it doesn’t typically work that way. There’s always going to be uniqueness to the type of data available to the outcomes they’re trying to drive and the digital metrics being used to check in along the way, and so we’ve got to be pretty custom. The biggest advantage is our ability to bring the right people in the room together, to think critically and apply some sort of collaborative solution, and then have those same people recognize, “This is the type of thinking I need to bring about, taking an architecture and applying it somewhere else.” By learning from our partners, we can drive those personalized solutions. A deck of the shelf doesn’t solve anyone’s problems. Clients want to know: where’s my business today, where is it supposed to be tomorrow, and how are you, as my agent, going to take us there in a responsible way? 

How important is it to use different types of data (customer data, your data, a partner’s data like ours) and leverage that in a unique, different way?

The data should be the red thread throughout, driving all our decisions. It should be an affirmation or challenge point. At dentsu, we get to be data-agnostic since we’re looking at what  the best solution is for our clients and how we can work with partners in creative ways. It makes it easy for us to make the right decision versus having any sort of conflicting interests when we start architecting solutions together. It is about operating in a trusting way between the consumers, the agents, and the brands. In addition, our ability to gain line of sight and work in a much more integrated way with some of the walled gardens is a huge advantage. It’s going to allow us to be smarter about our decision-making. 

There are all kinds of differences in media markets around the world. How do you handle different approaches, regional and government-based regulations, and publisher landscapes in building strategies? 

We’re challenged with it every day. We have a ton of global clients in the network. And so they’re constantly looking for some level of continuity. They want to know that there’s an umbrella solution coming, but it’s all about taking that north star strategy and focusing on: what are the brand values that we’re bringing forward and how do we make that come to life in each market? In some markets like the US, we have the advantage of more powerful data and more opportunities to use that data to inform. We do a really good job of leaning into the markets where we have more line of sight and use that to inform the strategy elsewhere. It’s not going to be one-to-one or a perfect translation from one market to another. But there are some truths that can be extracted. And when you add in the human element–the cultural experts, the strategists, the audience insights specialists–they are able to make these data points come to life and tell a story; they can represent each market and explain how it translates. It gives a feeling of continuity without sacrificing by lowering everything for the common denominator. 

How do you illustrate what you are capable of doing with addressability–with audiences and with an understanding of people– for new customers? 

It presents different challenges since we have less background on a new client. But when you’re pulling the best of the best together, getting people who have diverse backgrounds and have worked on diverse client sets with different data challenges, they tend to come up with some pretty awesome stories and ideas. That innovation gets bled back into the rest of the agency. There’s a buy-in from the top down at dentsu in the belief that diversity brings better solutions for our business, for our clients, and for the world. 

Learn more

You can watch this fireside chat here. To learn more about successful adtech partnerships, find out the benefits of partnering with Quantcast from m/SIX and PMG and Havas and Kia. You can also find out what questions you should ask to find the right adtech partner.