B2B Publishers: The Market Will Come to You If You Have Plan for Native, Omnichannel and Programmatic

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At the Connectiv Executive Summit in May, John Ebbert, publisher and CEO of AdExchanger, drew a burst of applause when he said that as a mid-sized publisher, he wouldn’t sell advertising programmatically (Ebbert himself noted the irony, given that AdExchanger’s entire focus is covering the emergence of data-driven advertising).

Programmatic, ad blocking, verified audience—these are conversations dominating the consumer digital advertising marketplace and starting to trickle into B2B. Data-driven advertising is coming to the forefront and here Ebbert shares his thoughts about what B2B publishers need to understand about the opportunities (and threats) ahead. Despite the challenges in digital advertising, Ebbert says B2B publishers should take heart because the emerging model favors a B2B-type approach.

Connectiv:  At the Connectiv Executive Summit you said that although programmatic was a key topic for your business, you would never sell programmatically as a publisher. Why not? Would you avoid programmatic across the board or is there something to be said for a private exchange or other type of programmatic approach?

John Ebbert: Let's state first that programmatic is one of the important "futures" for advertisers and publishers to consider. The use of technology, data and digital is inevitable. But currently for AdExchanger, as a publisher which addresses a unique, hard-to-find audience (200,000+ monthly uniques), attribution models today do not provide sufficient accuracy in showing the value AdExchanger provides in addressing this audience through programmatic advertising.

I'd argue this is the case for almost any B2B audience in that scale is limited and unique. Tracking the effect on the B2B purchase cycle and decision is very difficult for the programmatic advertiser to track - which is core to understanding campaign success that would ultimately drive CPMs higher for the publisher.

That said, as the audience scales - as it does in the B2C publishing realm - attribution models can improve. But your B2C programmatic advertisers may be selling a book or a plane trip, which has a more trackable conversion, versus the ad platform that a typical advertiser on AdExchanger might be offering. 

Maximizing yield today still tilts toward direct in B2B publishing.  Private exchanges or the like may make sense, but you have to measure it against what you're losing. You don't want to be cherry-picked unless you're getting paid for it appropriately. 

Connectiv:  For B2B publishers starting to hear whispers about programmatic from their advertisers, how do they take control of that conversation? What should they emphasize if protecting existing inventory or sales models is the key?

Ebbert: I'd say that publishers need to measure whether programmatic makes sense or not considering the scale and ubiquity of their audience.  If it's hard to find audience, programmatic will likely not make sense from a sell-side perspective for reasons already mentioned. 

Ironically, the opportunity for B2B publishers is on the buy-side. Using the publisher's dataset to address their unique audience by buying programmatically through open or private exchanges is a huge opportunity.  The trick is having the skill level to buy it whether in-house or through an outside agency or contractor.  Programmatic isn't easy. For example, you need to understand whitelists and blacklists. You don't want to be retargeting your audience with an ad from your advertiser and have it show up on a porn site which, for some reason, your advertiser has found.

Connectiv:  Ad blocking was a dominant theme at the recent AdExchanger event in New York and seems to have become the digital advertising conversation in consumer media. It doesn’t seem to have caught on yet with b2b, even though I’ve seen studies say that the heaviest users of ad blocking are men in the tech space, a key b2b vertical. Why is this conversation lagging in b2b? What’s the best advice you would give b2b publishers about ad blocking at this point?

Ebbert: Good question - I'm not sure if it's really a B2B media issue. But I may be wrong and our site is in a unique position in that it's all about advertising. From my perspective, if you're working within a supply chain and visiting a relevant publisher, you want to see what's happening and that includes seeing who is advertising. Of course, B2B publishers still use the same ad servers that B2C publishers do, so it could be an issue.

Connectiv:  Recognizing that digital sophistication varies wildly market to market, what other two or three trends would you consider most critical to b2b publishers at this point? Viewability? “Real traffic versus bots?”

Ebbert: I'm a glass half full kind of guy so I'd say to B2B publishers that the market is coming to you. Your first-party data may not be huge, but it is unique and the data's value in the years to come will increase. As technology commoditizes, it's going to be about the data. Keep building your unique dataset.

Connectiv: What two or three steps would you advise every b2b publisher take to prepare for changes in the way b2b advertising is sold in the next 2-3 years?  

Ebbert: Programmatic, Native and Omnichannel. Have an answer for all.  

 Programmatic is the future (or whatever the name that will come next) and you'll need to address and evolve appropriately. You hold all the cards for advertisers if you have a unique audience.

Regarding "Native," I'm generalizing but creating more opportunities within the editorial to allow advertisers to "sell" while still providing value to the reader and not cross an editorial boundary which damages the brand.

 Finally, Omnichannel is a hot concept in retail today but I see it stretching as far as B2B publishing. It's about creating that single conversation with your community member whether online or off.   It can be as simply stated as the website strategy (and its data) linking to the onsite engagement strategy at an event and vice versa.  How do I add value for my community members, keep them engaged, and then find the next champion for my publishing brand.

Matt Matt Kinsman is vice president of content + programming at Connectiv, the only association focused on the integrated b-to-b model—including publications, events, digital media, marketing services and business information. Prior to joining Connectiv's predecessor American Business Media in 2011, Kinsman was executive editor of Folio:, the leading information provider for the magazine industry.