Mi9’s Jonathan Devereux on offering programmatic results for all clients

New Zealand’s programmatic space is becoming more widely understood. Here, programmatic manager at Mi9, Jonathan Devereux, talks about why programmatic is only going to continuing maturing and the challenges that’ll bring.

  1. What does Mi9 NZ have to offer its clients and the market?

Mi9 NZ is the third-largest network of high-quality inventory in New Zealand, after Google and Facebook.  We combine inventory from our key partners Microsoft (MSN NZ and Outlook.com), Viacom (MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central) and Dailymotion, and we predominantly offer Display, Native and Video ad space, either programmatically or through direct buys.

Jon Devereux
  • What makes your proposition unique in the market?

When we look at ourselves versus the market, it definitely has to be the combination of our premium sites and incredibly high viewability scores. Viewability of nearly 80 percent means we consistently drive strong ROI for our clients and agencies. We are not a company that toots our own horn, however, we are proud of being able to deliver this and clearly the market is liking what we offer, with programmatic revenue up significantly year-on-year. We also have on-the-ground support and expertise and this real-time face-to-face contact has allowed us to build strong relationships which always remains our first priority.

  • Why should marketers be incorporating programmatic into their media mix?

There’s a plethora of reasons. There are often quoted obvious ones such as the ability to be more selective in who you are targeting with data overlays;  the benefits of 24/7 algorithmic optimisation towards predefined KPIs and; benefits of global scale and the ability to target publishers previously off-limits from traditional Insertion Order (IO) buying.

But we should not discount the less obvious benefits, such as how the slow shift towards data-driven decision systems reduces our cognitive biases. Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman wrote a great book, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ which goes into detail on just how often we are wrong in our decisions when left to our own intuitions, an issue I think is more evident than ever in advertising. Put simply, NASA wasn’t eyeballing the distance and going on gut feel when they put men on the moon.

  • With audience quality, safety and transparency being key concerns, how does Mi9 approach these underlying factors as a business?

I’d like to think that the industry has gotten a lot better in recent years in this regard. A few years back there were all sorts of hacks such as spoofing URLs, layering ads, and various forms of arbitrage to eek more money out of unsuspecting buyers.  Fortunately, as we integrate as direct partners with our publishers, we pass the full URL transparently in the bid request, meaning brand safety and ad quality verification tools such as IAS and DoubleVerify can independently audit the quality of our inventory and traffic.

We are particularly confident in Mi9’s role in being able to provide enhanced reporting and business intelligence (BI) tools for our partners and agencies. The work currently being done on the backend allows for agencies to access their spend across our network as it appears to us. This not only enables agencies to access the tools to buy media and optimise more competitively but also sets a new precedent when it comes to transparency.

  • How do you deliver sustainable results for your clients?

The beauty of programmatic is that it is mutable. If we as Mi9 don’t deliver results it doesn’t take long for the spend to shift to somewhere that does! To achieve this, we do a lot of work on the backend adding in new tech such as; server-side header bidding which significantly lowers latency and increases Demand-Side Platform (DSP) response rates, alongside building new product capabilities such as custom-built Rich Media offerings, Programmatic Roadblock/Homepage Takeover style buys and sophisticated, scaled data-targeting capabilities to help drive performance at scale.

There is a lot of pressure on this industry to be innovative and create products that will increase efficiency and value and, with Mi9 being agile and nimble, we are able to do so quicker than others.

  • With the fall of KPEX, the New Zealand programmatic space has seen a rapid change to a more fragmented ecosystem. You were one of the founding employees at KPEX – how is Mi9 different, and how is it placed to weather current New Zealand programmatic challenges?

Mi9 operates slightly differently from KPEX, in its first instance KPEX was a masked exchange, conceived as a clearing house of sorts allowing the ability to scale inventory and consolidate data. With its success it became much more than that and both the revenue expectations from the publishers and product expectations from the agencies grew – one of the biggest challenges was unmasking the URLs.

Through the first few years, brand safety concerns with programmatic exploded and third-party brand safety platforms such as IAS and DoubleVerify needed to see the full URL to be able to classify the page. This created a number of challenges with balancing the original vision of KPEX with making the tech work effectively. There were several other challenges unique to the consortium model that were surprisingly tricky to resolve effectively. KPEX was a leader in that space amongst other global consortiums and many had asked for guidance on things like architecture and product. Case in point, KPEX wrote proprietary code to reconcile financial payments for a dynamic mix of data and inventory providers as keeping track of who provided what data at what price and where that data was monetised and at what price became a complex matrix; an issue non-consortiums didn’t need to worry about. 

At Mi9 simplicity is key therefore we have always been unmasked;  all our data is Microsoft data and we manage both the guaranteed direct spend as well as the programmatic spend so there is never any conflict between revenue streams. Taking my Mi9 hat off for a second, I would say the demise of KPEX is a loss for New Zealand as a country, it strengthens the duopoly and weakens New Zealand’s media proposition versus international competitors with more scale and resource. KPEX was the product of a lot of very smart people working very hard but everyone was swimming upstream, both in terms of resolving technology that was not designed for consortiums, as well as publisher commitments which never felt determined enough. Putting my Mi9 hat back on I’d say fortunately we don’t have a lot of those issues.

  • What are your current challenges and/or opportunities?

I would say that our challenges are in-line with most NZ publishers, essentially, how does a New Zealand business compete with the duopoly. Fortunately the biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity, I think NZ agencies and buyers are liking what we’re doing – we are able to be a lot more agile and bespoke in ways international publishers and the duopoly giants cannot. This has been working well for us thus far. More often than not we are able to bend some rules in one way or another to execute some exciting first-in-market strategy that delivers results for a client, and agencies really appreciate that.  There’s even been a few times recently where agencies have reached out to us to help debug or give some context to a technical error they are having in other platforms, which I see as testament to the strong relationships we have built with our key agency partners, their confidence in our knowledge and the thought leadership we provide when answering tech or planning questions, even if it’s not related to our own platforms!

  • Where do you see this space going in the future? How is Mi9 leading the way?

As programmatic becomes more mature I would say that the expectations of clients to agencies, and agencies to publishers are going to continue to move past setting up basic private marketplace (PMP) deals and top-level reporting.  The onus is on programmatic businesses to provide a level of expertise that exceeds that of the menial day-to-day buying requirements such as reporting and PMP management and offer incremental value to clients in an increasingly sophisticated space. 

At Mi9 our focus remains how can we help our key agencies outperform the Open Market, if we poach the term Alpha from the investment world, we can view this as how we can generate Alpha for our agencies. 

No publisher is going to win the scale game versus the Open Market but we can offer bespoke and tailored solutions in ways the Open Market cannot. For example, a lot of work is currently being done on our backend to consolidate our data into actionable insights. This can then be presented to buyers through our BI tools to give agencies an edge in performance when deciding what audiences and sections on our sites work best for their specific campaigns.  These insights can be particularly useful for agencies and marketers especially as sell-side data remains opaque to most agencies. 

We also see a lot of agencies buying against audiences hosted inside their DSP. As a lot of agencies buy the same audience, they unknowingly end up in a scenario where they are all buying the same 1% of the available audience, paying twice the price they need to, and are still only winning a fraction of the auctions.  At Mi9 we believe in providing agencies with more data and insights to allow them to make better decisions when buying on our inventory and combining that ability with more custom and tailored products. By doing so we will drive value and ultimately spend. For now, we are confident it’s a good strategy as our relationships have never been better, and this is a priority for us, and our programmatic revenue has never been higher!

To find out more about Mi9, click here.

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