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Embracing the Era of Micro-Buys for Out of Home

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Surviving the shift from traditional placements to micro-buys

By Frank O’Brien – Founder and CEO, Five Tier

When I entered the advertising industry in the early-2000’s I worked in Account Management at a large – one that did $2.2 billion dollars in billings annually – Interpublic Group firm.

There were three main types of broadcast media discussed with clients: print, TV, and radio.  There was this thing called direct and out of home. “Online” was an afterthought, and nobody really knew what online was.

Those were the days.  Big budgets for everything, a new rich media ad unit being introduced everyday, and homepage takeover roadblocks that turned the front page of popular websites into virtual interactive spots.  It was a frontier. Then a new frontier came – social media. Then another – mobile.

Fast forward fifteen years, relatively speaking: things have settled down.  We now have defined channels for mass reach – broadcast – and one-to-one communication, something I like to call narrowcast.  If you want to reach a large audience you still use the mainstays, albeit they have changed some. Print has become “content”, TV has become “video”, and radio has become “streaming audio.”  Direct is pretty much anything at this point given the ability to target anyone, online became digital and pretty much encompasses everything these days (including social and mobile). Out of home is becoming – well – more digital.

Out of home is becoming – well – more digital.

So what does this mean for the out of home buying process?

Remember the big budgets of yesteryear?  Well, they still exist. But with advertisers moving more towards attribution and data, and with questionable economies worldwide, every penny needs to be accounted for. This is why the selling process needs to be equipped for buyers to purchase what they want, when they want it, allowing them to use it when they need it.

the selling process needs to be equipped for buyers to purchase what they want, when they want it,

The basics of supply and demand are begging for the era of micro-buys for out of home which are more aligned with digital and social media ad buys than the “traditional” spends.  If the supply exists in any increment why not sell it if the technology used allows for it? Better yet, why not let people bid on it? This is something the “online” ad networks have figured out given where they have grown up.

Inherent challenges have existed for out of home companies to embrace micro-buys: the technology used for the industry is relatively new, the infrastructure used to support sales and delivery is mature , and there is a cost perception around out of home that has yet to shift.

Furthermore, the measurement mechanisms for the out of home industry are always in question and the ability to target has be nascent.

Until now.

Through companies like Broadsign, Adomni, and Five Tier solutions are being brought to the table to facilitate a new world of buying, selling, targeting, delivering, and attributing out of home media.  These companies are actively working – sometimes from two sides, but two sides that are quickly approaching a middle ground – to bring out of home into the new age.

The future of out of home is most aligned with digital than any other channel.  Print, or content, will always be content. TV, or video, will always be video. A screen that displays an ad in out of home is more like a screen on a laptop or a mobile device than any other form of media.

So how do networks address this shift from a selling perspective?

First, get everybody on the same page.  A micro-buy does not threaten traditional buys.  Much like if I bought $5 worth of ads through a website or mobile ad network and hoped for the best, I could guarantee the best by going directly to a website or application and gave them $50,000 for a guaranteed buy.  The old doesn’t need to compete with the new. In fact, the new is an opportunity for the old to sell more. For clients who are hesitant with out of home – run tests at a lower cost which is enabled by direct placement access through technology.  Or, give the client a login to place ads themselves – something that they’re used to doing on websites, mobile, and even social through sites like Google Adwords or directly on social networks.

Now, to allow for this you have to have a delivery system that includes a direct placement mechanism out of the box or partner with a company like Five Tier, Adomni, or Broadsign to update or augment these solutions.  The good news is almost all parties are on board including the IAB which has even released a set of standards around digital out of home placements. What used to be a leap is now closer to just a single step to make this transition into the new world.

Next, once infrastructure is in place and existing sales channels are on board, tell the world.  Put a link on your website to the buying platform, partner with other networks. WAIT, “partner with other networks?”  Yes. This is what the online advertising publishers did – and it worked. Follow suit. Companies like the ones mentioned above have already aggregated networks (publishers) and interest (advertisers.)  All it takes is allowing for available inventory to be put into a Supply Side Platform (SSP) that connects to a Demand Side Platform (DSP) to sell without you lifting a finger. Imagine going to the mailbox (or inbox) everyday and picking up a check or seeing a payment?  This is what sites like Google Adsense (SSP) has enabled for the web and mobile publishers for close to a decade by connecting them with advertisers through Google Adwords (DSP.) “A rising tide raises all boats” or as Jonathan Gudai, CEO of Adomni says, “it’s ‘coopetition.'”

Beyond streamlining processes to open up sales, which is a big first step, look towards measurement and targeting technologies to stay ahead of the curve.  But do the first two steps first – implement and optimize – so that you can begin selling open inventory more easily now. The next steps are what will allow you to increase revenue and provide the holy grail of data to advertisers: attribution.

In coming weeks we will get into this advanced technology at which point you will already be off to the races with increased revenue streams as a result of this article.  If you have any questions, need assistance, or would like introductions don’t hesitate to reach out to me through email via frank.obrien@fivetier.com

Thank you for the out of home industry embracing Five Tier over the last 18 months and to OOH Today for helping to champion our position.  We look forward to much more fun together ahead!




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  1. Andrea says

    I agree with this article- We should also be looking outward not inward for answers. –
    Brands and businesses are bringing media buys in house, micro buys are intuitive to digital media, digital buys are more immediate and DOOH can be a large part of those buys. SMB’s (small to midsize businesses) should also be a target for new business opportunities. If we are not reaching out to the 12,000 + digital agency’s in the Nation we are missing out. Traditional media buys, is only one source of revenue in this digital age. There are only two ways to make money get more customers or get more from each. By adapting and embracing to the way digital buys ( micro buys)are placed and purchased will ensure both, more revenue and new customers. The sooner that happens the better it will be for the entire industry!

  2. Casey Hoban says

    Outstanding insight. All Leading Edge and Intelligent Strategies bundled in a clear and concise manner.
    This is a powerful vision for increased effectiveness and efficiency in the new business marketing landscape. You have made me smarter and helped my business greatly.

  3. Bill Board says

    Nailed it again Ms Messimer-Henley. Thank you for your insightful comments!

  4. Bill Board says

    We appreciate insights from the advertiser’s perspective!
    Thank you for your comments Casey Hoban, Founder, TRIMINO PROTEIN Water

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