By Tom Barbaro

Last year might go down as the year when brands finally had their “Network” moment for digital marketing. From Mark Pritchard’s epic takedown in January to a series of eMarketer podcasts in the fall, documenting digital marketing’s many ills — and, more importantly, discussing ways to correct them — was 2017’s dominant theme.

I’d like to follow up with some thoughts on eMarketer’s podcast regarding brand safety and where I believe PebblePost’s Programmatic Direct Mail® fits into the picture. (Full disclosure: Criteo, my former employer, was a podcast sponsor.)

Good fences make good adjacencies

In the podcast, host Ezra Palmer and eMarketer Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer Geoff Ramsey reference an Adobe Advertising Report that lists media quality as the chief concern of media buyers. Primarily, buyers worry about what Ramsey referred to as “inappropriate adjacencies” such as when a brand’s ad appears on a site promoting hate speech.

While acknowledging that there’s plenty publishers can do to improve this deplorable situation, Ramsey also asserted that brands “cannot control the environment entirely — not in the digital world, not in the physical world.” He cited magazine ads that appear next to controversial editorial content as an example. Then he stretched his argument almost to the breaking point when he mentioned an instance in which a car crash happened in front of a billboard displaying a car ad.

While I agree that “inappropriate adjacencies” have become a huge problem for brands, I disagree that you can’t fix the problem entirely. You can. At PebblePost, we do it for every one of our customers with our invention, Programmatic Direct Mail®. We do it by analyzing online intent data then following up by delivering a dynamically rendered piece of Programmatic Direct Mail® directly to each customer’s or prospect’s home. So, the only adjacencies are of the recipient’s own choosing. It could be the stuff stacked next to our Programmatic Catalog™ on the dining room table or it could be the reminders hanging next to our Programmatic Postcard™ on the fridge.

Trust but verify

As for the other main issues afflicting digital — viewability and fraud — PebblePost invented Programmatic Direct Mail® to solve for these very problems. Not that we’re the only solution. Some larger brands have taken programmatic media buying in-house. They have the resources to leverage their own DMP-type solution and cherry-pick where they want their ads to run. Or they can build custom solutions. Or they’re “buying premium.” (And yes, I mean that in the quote/unquote sense.)

And that’s all great. I’m in favor of anything that helps clean up the industry. Still, you need stockpiles of resources — people and cash in the bank — to make those solutions work. There aren’t a lot of options for mid-market buyers. They’re still at the mercy of publishers, for the most part.

One thing the mid-market can do, however, is to show a little more skepticism. Demand accountability. Just because the digital bar has been set so low that doesn’t mean you have to accept mediocre results or deceptive claims. If you’re getting a 10:1 return on ad spend, you might be thrilled. But how do you know it couldn’t be 15:1? How do you know that 50% of your budget isn’t being misspent or completed wasted on ineffective media?

On the other hand, if you’re getting 100x return on ad spend — well, common sense ought to tell you that’s too good to be true. We know of one mid-market brand that was told they were getting that return, and yet strangely enough their sales were flat. So, how much of that “return” was actually regular customers who would have continued to buy from that brand even if they’d never spent a dime on digital?

At PebblePost, we don’t shy away from transparency. In fact, we encourage it. We know Programmatic Direct Mail® works, so leading with incrementality and lift only helps us. The bottom line for any piece of marketing vehicle you choose — whether it’s Programmatic Direct Mail® or a banner ad or an email — is this: Is it moving the needle? Is it actually driving incrementality for your business or not? Are your vendors providing those reports and, if not, why not? That should be the way that marketers evaluate all their campaigns.

We’ve seen evidence of a shift in that direction. Recently, we provided a brand so much insight into a pilot campaign they ran with us that they immediately re-upped for a second campaign. Not only that but their head of analytics also said she was going to encourage her team to demand that all the other vendors they work with provide the same level of insight.

That’s the ultimate high for us. PebblePost Programmatic Direct Mail® isn’t only delivering results for our brands, but we’re also raising the bar for the entire industry.

Tom Barbaro is VP, East Coast Sales for PebblePost. Sometimes he can’t believe how excited he gets over the endless possibilities of data-driven decisioning.

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