Tom Chavez: July 2011 Archives


Insights from the IAB Ad Operations Community on Meaningful Choice

The consumer Internet is reshaping how businesses—not just consumer Internet or digital media businesses—understand and meet consumer expectations. Consumers expect control over their web experiences, as well as the data that sits behind the decisions companies make in shaping those experiences. They want to define the location and timing. When they show up, they would like to be recognized. Even harder, they expect their needs to be anticipated before they arrive. Finally, they expect hyper-efficient, machine-driven experiences that still feel human, personal, and catered to their needs.

In that spirit, our collective goal in digital media should be pretty simple: To make sure consumer web experiences are always meaningful, never creepy, and safer in the sense that they respect the end user’s wishes. Some consumers will opt-out of targeting entirely because they’re worried about privacy. But as a recent Krux poll clearly shows, 86% of US consumers want to actively control their online personas because they seek more meaningful, more relevant web experiences. Their principal concern is less about privacy, more about choice. For them a safer web experience isn’t about opting out; it’s about gaining control of their data signature. Many of us are investing time, capital, and sweat to make this happen, particularly on behalf of the publishers and marketers where most first-party consumer relationships reside.

Media begets data. Data begets more valuable media. They exist together in a virtuous circle that savvy operators use to deepen consumer relationships and improve business results.

Data is both media’s exhaust and its precondition: As users engage with media, they leave behind valuable data signatures via gestures, mouse-overs, clicks, conversions, and search, all of which hold the possibility of energizing more relevant, and thus more valuable, consumer experiences. Media is the mechanism by which a website transmits and creates value for its audience. Content (user-generated, curated, or publisher-produced), ad slots, commercial offers, communication services (text, social posts, or email) are the raw grist for the web operator’s revenue mill. Media begets data. Data begets more valuable media. You can no more weed out data from media, or media from data, than you can decouple heat from sunlight.

The opportunities to enrich advertising, content, and commerce experiences using consumer data are limitless. Amazon is a terrific example of a firm that seized on the potential early and practically wrote the book on how to manage consumer experiences to the benefit of both the user and the bottom line. The average user feels like Amazon knows them because it does. Amazon’s customers seldom worry about Amazon invading their privacy. To the contrary, they’re delighted by Amazon’s intelligent, personal touch. Soon, intelligent and personal connectivity will become part of everyday life (such as user-defined location aware alerts), and users will start to insist upon some measure of tracking and targeting so long as there is a fair exchange of value in doing so. As a result, I believe we’ll also see the often-frothy consumer privacy dialogue slowly shift to a more thoughtful discussion of what really matters: Consumer experience and consumer choice.

Despite how revolutionary the last decade of digital media may seem, we’ve really only scratched the surface. Our industry is the proving ground for technology and techniques that will soon power consumer interactions across enterprises, organizations, and institutions of every stripe and color. And while this digital future may be instantaneous and machine-driven, it will still be premised in human connections and a basic understanding of individuals’ needs and desires. It will be powered by intelligent, always-on services that continually make sense of the flood of data flowing across IP-enabled devices to inform decision-making and to anticipate and respond to peoples’ needs. At Krux, we see companies understanding and embracing this reality every day. Through the adoption of our Consumer Internet Data Management (CIDM) platform, many publishers and website operators are developing new ways to communicate and deepen relationships with the consumers they serve.

I worry, however, that if we don’t nail the choice questions early, we could see lots of smoke but no ignition from the Consumer Internet Data Management (CIDM) rocket as it sits on the launch pad. Our industry’s self-regulatory push—and delivering on meaningful choice—needs to go well beyond opt-outs and ad unit icons. It must be counterbalanced by choice and control, not as abstract policies or rules, but as infrastructure that give consumers enhanced web experiences and hews to their wishes one ad call, one cookie, and one page view at a time. Average consumers know very little—and care even less—about the vagaries of OBA, RTB, and DMPs. But those same consumers absolutely recognize a meaningful experience when it happens and can see plain as day whether or not their choices are being respected. Ultimately, delivering on meaningful choice is about leading with the value and clearly demonstrating to consumers the benefits they can reap from more relevant, personal web experiences. Only when that value proposition is cemented will the notion of choice become meaningful as we invite consumers to the table to have their say.

Since this blog series is intended to catalyze discussion, I’ll close with a few questions for the reader. Let’s take off our digital media hats for a moment and just be people. Far too often, the question is posed as how “we” can help consumers. Let’s dispose of that dividing wall. After all, we are the consumers we’re trying to help. Take a long look at what you did on the Internet today…reading the news, paying a bill, buying a sofa, whatever. Did you see your data signature at play in shaping your experience? Where did we get it right? How did we get it wrong? And when you put your digital media hat back on, what steps can we take to make experiences for all consumers, yourself included, cooler, safer, smarter?


Tom Chavez is the co-founder and CEO of Krux Digital. You can connect with him via Twitter @tommychavez.

Continue the discussion on this IAB Ad Ops blog series on Twitter by adding #MeaningfulChoice to your tweets.