Ad tech has a reputation for being a forward-thinking industry, where the future comes at you fast. This image of the industry was put front and center in April of this year when Apple rolled out its new ATT framework, and mobile advertisers were forced to determine how they would respond to Apple’s new policy. But those companies that had kept their finger on the pulse of industry trends were able to invest in and provide their customers with innovative solutions well before this change.
Predicting market trends gives tech companies an opportunity to take a risk and stand out from their competitors, and it is often the independent players that are best suited to react quickly and easily to market changes.
At LifeStreet, we have a history of anticipating and responding to changes in the ad tech space. A key example of this is in 2015, when we shifted our focus exclusively towards mobile – despite operating a highly profitable web based ad network for Facebook app developers. We believed programmatic buying would allow game devs to increase ROAS more than buying through traditional ad networks, which at the time held the majority of the programmatic buying market share.
Mobile app developers had a unique set of challenges that were not being addressed by traditional programmatic platforms. While programmatic marketplaces did already exist, despite obvious advantages, they had a reputation for being a source of ‘remnant traffic’ and often contained technical complexities that prevented mobile user acquisition campaigns from finding their app-specific audiences, publishers and formats.
We entered the mobile programmatic space offering a greater level of transparency and an ease of use that gave our partners the insights they needed to connect with their app-specific audiences, publishers and formats in ways that hadn’t previously been possible. Fast forward to today, and most of the world’s media is bought and sold programmatically.
Another example is our early identification of the future importance of LAT traffic. Clear market signs that big tech platforms were giving off around the curtailing of targeting options, like the IDFA, motivated us to invest in unlocking the value of LAT traffic for our partners. At the same time, we were aware that many clients were hesitant to invest in LAT traffic because of the perceived increased risk of fraud when your data has no ID. To allay these concerns, we made sure to do our homework in the sector and only buy LAT traffic from trusted partners.
We were also able to train our custom modeling platform to deliver the best performance without the IDFA, enhancing our platform to deliver optimal bids based on the plethora of contextual signals still available for users without a persistent device ID.
Our ability to read these signs and recognise advertisers’ need for alternative targeting signals that were both privacy compliant and would survive loss of ID allowed us to and get ahead of industry changes and the competition. For the last couple of years, in anticipation of tighter privacy regulations, we’ve been carefully thinking about what signals would be unique to the advertiser that would give our predictive bidding strategies and partners a competitive edge.
One example of this is an ‘App Index’ Feature that allows us to score applications based on what’s most valuable to a unique advertiser, be they installs, user retention, or even in-app payments. These scores can then be added into our predictive models so that when we receive a bid request from a specific app, depending on the score assigned, our model knows to bid more or less – before having to waste media dollars along the way.
The decision of where to invest time and resources weren’t based on a hunch, but on an in-depth understanding of the market and the future needs of our clients. And because we are an independent firm, we were able to rapidly react to market developments with both speed and innovation. We are not beholden to the executives driving tech giants or to shareholders with little industry knowledge, but are instead only responsible for protecting the needs and interests of our partners. This single minded purpose allows us to stay on top of industry developments and react with timeliness whenever changes need to be made.
So, What Next for LifeStreet?
Wherever you look, it is impossible to ignore the issue of transparency with mobile in-app advertising. An alarming pattern we have started to see comes in the form of tech giants trying to jump ahead and take control of their own buying. While it’s often very convenient for an advertiser, this poses a huge conflict of interest. If these huge platforms are able to control both content distribution and content monetization, how can they be held accountable for their use of advertisers’ data and money?
In our opinion, transparency in ad tech has always lagged five or six years behind the rest of the advertising world. It is often hard to know where your ad will end up, where exactly you are buying inventory from, and how many 3rd parties took a piece of your advertising dollar along the way. If we compare this to the real-world, it’s a lot like wanting to buy a nice pair of jeans and asking the staff what brand they are, or about the supply chain, only to receive a blank stare in return.
LifeStreet’s mission is to provide advertisers with an intelligent, transparent, and accessible programmatic platform. Simply put, we aim to use our technology to streamline the entire bidding process and make it completely transparent – without sacrificing performance. We believe that, in offering this level of transparency, it is our responsibility as an industry player to elevate best practice and standards for all and lead by example.
Being able to get under the hood of our models also allows our partners to understand the mechanics that inform our bidding formulas, and to trust in the methodology behind our campaign performance optimization. All of this – as well as our long term practice of sharing information on which creatives and models were performing best, and the CPMs paid by advertisers – allows us to show our partners that their campaign is running on high-quality inventory with optimal bids.
Market indicators are confirming what we’ve always believed: what advertisers want is greater transparency and control, but aren’t willing to give up performance along the way. Of course, we understand the difficulties in bringing in-app advertising in-house. Given just how labour intensive this process is, we can attest to how trying to acquire – or even build – your own DSP is historically not financially (or practically) viable.
A far more sensible decision is to find a partner who understands the space and has the tools and reporting in place to show you all the elements of your campaign. By working collaboratively with app developers, platforms can be built to create innovative new campaigns and models that we envision partners will eventually be able to take control of completely.
Teamwork Really Does Make the Dream Work
The ability to innovate and foster lasting relationships with partners has long been the factor that sets independent ad tech providers apart from the likes of Facebook and Google.
Thanks to their small size, independent ad tech firms have the flexibility to create custom solutions for their clients. In recent years, they are also motivated to provide greater transparency, control, and autonomy compared to the walled gardens. In real terms, this means that advertisers will know where every ad dollar is going because independent companies are willing to share every aspect of a campaign with their partners through reports and dashboards.
Notably, the giant platforms do have the ability to share more data, but choose not to. The reality is that it doesn’t serve their interests or those of their stakeholders, and ultimately choose not to put the interest of their partners first. They see it as a competitive advantage to control as much of the value chain as possible, weighing in on each part of the advertising process, from payments, to ads, and critically – the data generated from this activity.
Of course, they would argue that this strategy of control is a necessary precaution to stop data leakage. Independent ad tech companies who operate transparently, and still have strong security, prove that this level of control is not mandatory to protect user data.
By partnering with independent ad tech firms, advertisers have access to more data, and more control over that data than would be the case by only partnering with the tech giants. This is the case because the giants of the tech world – like Facebook and Amazon – have such huge revenue streams that they have very little incentive to actively share data with the advertisers on their platforms.
Our commitment to transparency has always been at the core of our ethos. A lack of transparency ultimately leads to less effective marketing and our role as tech partners is to equip marketing teams with as much insight as possible for them to succeed.