Real-time data is essential for optimizing a campaign, but is it overused? And what defines performance? Yesterday, executives from Time Inc., MSN Global Marketing at Microsoft, Mediahub and more tackled these questions in a panel discussion hosted by publishing company Purch as part of the networking marathon known as Advertising Week in New York City.

“Is there too much speed to figure out what’s working and what’s not?” asked David Kaplan, managing editor at news site GeoMarketing. “Is there too much pressure to fix things?” Optimizing campaigns based on real-time information offers significant benefits, but the pitfall is a temptation to tinker too much with the campaign before it can yield results, the panelists noted.

“Once a campaign starts, everyone ideally should stick to a plan,” said Adam Solomon, vice president of digital ad products at Time, Inc. “As we’re working through challenges and figuring out which are the important signals, we need to stick to a program and see it through.”

Mike Kisseberth, chief revenue officer of Purch, agreed. “You can still monitor for stinkers–and you should have some since otherwise you’re not experimenting–but in general you have to have the courage to drive it through,” he said. Marketers and their agency partners also need some flexibility to fail, commented Jade Watts, vice president and group digital media director at Mediahub, a subsidiary of the digital ad agency Mullen. “It’s ok to fail as long as you fail fast and course-correct even faster,” Watts said.

It is also important to define the campaign’s objectives and KPIs at the beginning of the project. Marketers and vendors often use retroactive performance data as a success indicator, but this approach is ineffective without a clear goal or benchmarks, noted Amanda McAllister, head of MSN global marketing at Microsoft. “If we don’t know what we’re trying to achieve then we can’t be successful,” she commented.

Marketers, McAllister added, are often guilty of “jumping to the tactic” before establishing an objective. Native ads are the latest example of a tactic that companies have embraced before understanding its value. Just as companies rushed to create an app just for the sake of having one, numerous campaigns have been launched around native ads with murky results.

“Native is a tactic, not a strategy,” Solomon said. To measure the ROI of a native ad, or any tactic, he continued, companies need to “look at the signal coming from it and…do A/B or multivariate testing to measure the campaign’s impact.”

In addition, marketers cannot afford to lose sight of the consumer, the panelists agreed. “Measuring CPAs and CPMs is important, but ultimately, the ad needs to drive value and relevancy for the consumer,” Kisseberth said. The challenge, he added is monetizing a site with ads and sponsored content that also provides value to the consumer. “That’s the balance we need to strike,” he said.

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