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Digital Consultant | Industry Predictions

Getting away from it all can help you find the answers: key takeaways from Venice for how the industry will transform

Discover the key takeaways Digital Consultant Julia Smith gathered at Improve Digital’s <Un/No Conference>. As an experienced moderator she gives a no holds barred insight into the future of the industry.


Just a few weeks ago, I had the honour to host Improve Digital’s Summit <Un/No> Conference on a private island in Venice, Italy. The idea of this kind of conference format is two days of inspirational content powered by the passion and engagement of each participant. It was an open forum that gave attendees from both the supply and demand sides a full remit to select the conference topics. After an inspiring opening keynote from creativity expert Claire Bridges on how to beat boxed-in thinking and bring creativity and interactive thinking into digital marketing, the attendees split into breakout groups to discuss current industry hot topics: GDPR, Future Business Models, Duopoly Threat, Transparency and Header Bidding. And the sessions did not disappoint.


Transparency matters

During the breakout session on transparency led by Adam Hopkinson, Co-Founder of the new programmatic agency Truth, the group agreed that there is definitely a huge need for the industry to see positive headlines on this topic to help renew trust in agencies, media owners and of course, the middlemen. Trust in the people you trade with is as important as trust in the technologies you are using. Participants had concerns that brands were becoming distrustful and management consultancies were on the rise because brands had lost faith in agencies. There are currently two key issues plaguing the industry right now around transparency: on the one hand, transparency on where ad budgets are spent, including the issue of margins, and on the other hand, where and how viewable ads are delivered. Both need to be addressed and solved by the industry.


The GDPR challenge can only be accomplished together

Understandably, GDPR was the most popular session, as the deadline is approaching fast. Marc Roos, COO of Improve Digital, and Bert-Jan ten Kate, CEO of Massarius, were leading discussions on North/South discrepancies in knowledge and development of compliance and on how to avoid having to go back to IO based advertising. What do we need, the actual user consent or is legitimate interest enough to further a thriving digital advertising ecosystem? How can we all achieve compliance when every party is at least partly dependent on other parties in the ecosystem? The big challenge of GDPR will have to be solved together, and the industry is working hard on it.


Header Bidding will be ubiquitous

Andrew Buckman, Managing Director EMEA of Sublime Skinz stated that Header Bidding is an effective way to bring in parallel sources of demand, allowing buy-side more access to all types of inventory and sell-side to see the true value of inventory. The group also discussed the pros and cons of first-price, second-price or modified auctions. Opinions on auction types differed but all could agree on the importance of an open collaboration – the more transparent an auction is and the more all parties communicate about which kind of auction is run, the better the outcome is going to be.


Voice marketing is on the radar

With developments like AI and blockchain, marketers are rethinking the potential value of future business models. The Future Business Models session showed that voice is a trend that is growing quickly and opening new opportunities for monetization. Publishers should consider ways to add voice marketing to their content strategy. Advertisers will have to find new creative ways to build their brand via audio marketing.


Data, AI and Blockchain – the topics of the future

Day 2 of the Summit was organized in two tracks: a business track and a tech track. As the event was all about transparency and connecting supply and demand-side, the attendees had the opportunity to participate in a speed networking session, giving publishers 10-minute-meetings with agencies. This honest exchange offered great insights into the challenges and opportunities for both sides of the advertising business. We rounded off the open conversations with a fireside chat between the very brilliant Lucy Barbor, Director of Brand Media at Dunnhumby, and myself, in which I grilled her with questions on all things from hidden margins to innovation to murky practices. Lucy gave us exclusive insight into agency life and an outlook on the future of agencies with refreshing honesty.


Last year was massive for the growth of technologies leveraging artificial intelligence. At the same time, blockchain has been laying the foundation for a new decentralized internet. We all have heard a lot about it, some can explain what it is, but most of us can’t really estimate what it means to the industry and our daily lives. To keep up with all these innovations, the tech track offered a plethora of experts leading sessions on blockchain, data and AI. Blockchain pioneer Shermin Voshmgir shined a light on how blockchain actually works and what amazing possibilities it holds for the future of many industries. For digital marketing, it gives an outlook to a more democratic and transparent business. Improve Digital’s CPO Aee-Ni Jaskolla and Simon Honc, Global VP of Product and Data Science for mPlatform by GroupM, showcased that data analytics become easier for non-statisticians with augmented analytics tools and how ‘Citizen data scientists’ will become able to do more sophisticated analytics for business intelligence or user insights. And finally, robot designer Jan De Coster demonstrated his latest AI projects, including a real working robot taking centre stage. He gave us an idea on how AI is already involved in our daily lives.


Great concept, inspiring people, perfect setting

The strategy of getting away from it all by traveling to a small island in Italy to find answers to industry challenges definitely pays off. Regular conferences are nice, but at an <Un/No>Conference you can finally benefit from the expertise of everyone in the room, not just speakers on stage. Everybody is invited to engage and contribute. Next to that, real interaction in workshop groups goes beyond the usual networking. This summit concept is the perfect setting for everyone to mix with likeminded, senior industry peers to get inspired, learn from each other and connect sustainably. I am already looking forward to next year’s edition!


Julia Smith is an Independent Digital Consultant specialising in digital ad strategy, ad operations, brand safety, ad fraud prevention, piracy, programmatic trading, PR, sales training, ad trading, attribution modelling and digital marketing. She started her career in digital advertising at Dennis Publishing 20 years ago and has been at the heart of the changing digital media landscape ever since. Julia has held major commercial roles both agency and media side including Associated Newspapers, The Mirror Group Newspapers, Harvest Digital, IAB, Nexus Business Media and UPC Media. Her extensive market insight and understanding of the digital advertising value chain makes her an empathetic advisor across the board. Known as 'The Voice' Julia is a regular media commentator and often invited to speak at major conferences.