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Facebook’s latest moves with Atlas ad serving highlight a hard trend that is emerging in digital marketing and will accelerate in coming years. The industry is beginning to obsess over the right vendors for the right reason. Facebook’s latest ad technology illustrates a shift in marketer focus towards players who have cemented direct relationships with end consumers.

Over the last few years we’ve seen a proliferation of ad networks, exchanges and data solutions. Said another way, the marketplace is inundated with middlemen. Some are innocent. Others are more insidious. Technologies including device stitching and data exchanges, where we buy and sell user data, are being implemented completely unbeknownst to consumers. And browser “cookie” technology, as a means to targeting audiences, are not an accurate enough proxy for real people.

To be clear, there are many companies that are “middlemen” that play a critical role in the digital ecosystem. The industry couldn’t advance without services like ad verification, programmatic transactions and proper measurement. But, for a brand to begin to tackle their marketing objectives by starting with these middle players is a backwards philosophy.

Atlas, introduced by Facebook in September, is a step in the right direction insofar as advertising players who have cemented direct relationships with consumers, says one media expert.

Atlas, introduced by Facebook in September, is a step in the right direction insofar as advertising players who have cemented direct relationships with consumers, says one media expert.

I harken back to my early days selling print advertising. Some of the middlemen in print are services from paper suppliers and ink manufacturers. Well-printed, glossy pages and the size of tabloids can determine a print campaign’s success or failure. As such, these services are absolutely crucial. But as a starting point, marketers build their print strategies by aligning with trusted content and working closely with magazines who hold the relationships with their coveted consumers. While card stock and discussions over four color printing costs are an important part of the sales transaction, they are rarely the foundation of a media plan.

Over the last few years, the services that are critical to the tactical execution of a digital campaign have become the starting point for brands and marketers. But the true starting point for digital strategy should begin with the real people we are trying to engage.

Consumers openly leverage services like social networks, live gaming, web mail, video chatting and online storage. User level agreements with companies like Facebook, DropBox, LinkedIn and Microsoft are signed in exchange for discounted or free services. The entities that capture user information must be respectful in how they share this data, by giving consumers the ability to opt-out, or they risk jeopardizing their trusted relationship with their consumer and will be quickly abandoned.

My hopes are simple. First, I don’t want to attend another industry conference where the middlemen are the feature story onstage. Vendors with no relationship with end consumers are essential plumbing to facilitate consumer engagement. But they are hardly ever the headline story.

Second, I’d like to see brands pay even more attention to those who hold a trusted, contractual relationship with consumers. In doing this, the solutions we build will address real people more personally and more effectively. Brands can target audiences on an individual level, in a way that protects and leverages identities.

Understanding the future of advertising requires the use of digital middlemen, but the starting point for any consumer engagement should be people first.

jay-seidman.jpgJay Seideman currently serves as the General Manager for Microsoft Advertising for the Central Region, where he leads all sales & service efforts in the Midwest and over sees offices in Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis. Jay develops and presents key company initiatives, capabilities and differentiators. He is responsible for delivering strategy, execution plan and profitability across MSN, Skype, Xbox, Exchange, Targeting, Outlook, Mobile, Video, Xbox & Windows 8. In his previous role as Senior Director of US Targeting & Exchange teams at Microsoft, Jay led both the Audience Targeting specialist teams and Microsoft’s programmatic sales efforts. Jay has been a frequent speaker at OMMA, Digital Hollywood, Ad Club of New York and the IAB, and has recently been published in AdExchanger and Digiday. Prior to Microsoft, Jay served as a Regional VP at Vibrant Media, where Jay managed sales operations and evangelized the contextual space. Prior to joining Vibrant, Jay worked at IDG, a premium trade publisher, to sell branded advertising to leading technology agencies and marketers.

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by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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