Media Productization: Realizing the True Value of Your Online Assets

At the back of every publisher’s mind is a question: “Does my revenue reflect the true value of my inventory?” In far too many cases the answer is either “no” or “I wish I knew!” So how can publishers feel confident that they’re selling the right inventory to the right buyer at the right price?

The answer: productization. To learn more, Amy Inlow, Operative blog editor, asked product manager Andrew Sullivan to explain what productization is all about. (This article was cross-published at the Operative blog.)

AI: Let’s start with the basics. What is productization, and why is it important for publishers?

AS: Simply put, productization is deciding exactly what you plan to sell and being consistent about it. Consistency is helpful for your sales teams, your buyers, your inventory managers, your pricing team and your traffickers. If everyone is working with a commonly accepted product catalog with predictable pricing rules then it takes the guesswork out of everyday tasks.

In the end a good productization practice will result in a toolset that the entire organization refers to constantly. It should be a searchable catalog that the sales team uses to build proposals for buyers, the foundation for a comprehensive rate card, an implementation guide for campaign managers and a reference for analytics teams.

The goal is to strike a balance that gives buyers access to the audience they’re looking for on safe, well-defined content, while maintaining a level of structure and control for operations teams to traffic and manage campaigns. But most important, I think, productization lets publishers confidently break out of the constraints imposed on them by their ad servers so they can create products and packages that really reflect buyer demand.

AI: How does productization actually occur?

AS: There are a few fundamental aspects to the process. The first is simply segmenting all of the ad slots a publisher has access to so that they can actually be sold. In practice this means starting with ad server tags to make sure they’re following a consistent structure, and documenting clearly how to target any given site, channel, section, page, etc.

On top of that the publisher should take stock of all demo, geo, behavioral and other targeting that is feasible based on their technology stack, and make decisions about which they’re ready to expose to buyers. Are you unable to DMA target in some areas because your mobile ad server doesn’t support it? Does it really pay to allow age targeting on the home page, or is it better to limit that inventory to exclusive sponsorships? Determine the combinations of targeting that make sense for your business on each of your properties, and document those as well.

With those things in place, ongoing productization means maintaining an internally published list of buyer friendly products with documented controls around pricing, targeting, creative specs, buyer limitations – and then as much META information as possible to help sell the inventory.

AI: What are some of the business issues productization helps publishers address?

AS: A big issue is simply knowing all of the ad slots publishers have available to sell. After all, you can’t sell ad slots that you don’t know about. This may seem easy but it can be challenging when new tags are being generated every day, or if the inventory was acquired through partnerships with other publishers or networks, for example.

Another issue is delivering on customer expectations. Sales teams are often too quick to sell products that are driven by the unique requirements of the buyer. For instance, the buyer may ask for audience segmentation, frequency capping, or special creative that aren’t standard offerings. The operations team is left to figure out how to match what’s been sold with what can be delivered, and turn it around in a few weeks or days. This disconnect causes delays, discrepancies, and unhappy buyers.

Productization can help eliminate that disconnect by clearly identifying what is available to a sales team. This doesn’t mean that your organization shouldn’t offer the new and bleeding-edge experience buyers want, but when a request comes in that doesn’t match up to existing products, clear product definitions should provide the time and context the publisher needs to really capitalize on the opportunity.

Inventory management also gets a boost from productization. Not only does the structure and consistency of the catalog make inventory management possible, it’s also a way to prevent campaigns with combinations of targets and ad slots that have no chance of delivering in full. Is it worth it to deal with the booking calculations for users of a certain age in a specific DMA on your travel section? If not, don’t sell it.

AI: How will a publisher benefit from productization?

AS: A huge benefit is the sustainable boost in revenue that comes from implementing enterprise-wide sales guidelines. There may be inventory that performs best when sold to particular industries, or through specific sales teams, or when offered through an exchange. Implementing controls that ensure inventory is sold with the whole yield curve in mind is the only way to raise the effective CPM across the board.

Rate card management tools also help publishers boost revenue because they set standard rates for all products by channel, including price goals and minimum floors. They also let publishers ensure that products are sold using the cost method (CPM, CPC, etc.) that delivers the best results.

Another benefit is improved reporting. Productization is instrumental for any critical revenue analytics. The holistic view lets publishers compare how their inventory performs across sales teams and channels. Since all sales teams, including performance and marketing teams, will be working with comparable products, publishers can actually compare apples to apples.

AI: How does a publisher go about productizing inventory? What are the first steps?

AS: Any publisher doing direct sales today has been doing productization since their first IO was trafficked. Even if they haven’t been thinking about it as productization, all the placement lists, trafficking instructions, rate cards, creative specs and other materials that sit in Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and people’s heads are the building blocks of a product catalog. The first step is to focus as an organization on the right strategy for the business and get buy-in from stakeholders to participate. From there it’s a matter of deciding on the technical infrastructure for managing the catalog and going through the process.

To really manage a robust enterprise level catalog requires an Advertising Business Management platform that can really bring everything together. It should provide the tools to generate and manage a product catalog, and ideally it will embed that catalog in the sales, trafficking and reconciliation process with hooks into business intelligence and inventory management.

Operative hosted a webinar on this topic Thursday, Nov. 17. Our guest speaker and presenter was Joanna Bloor, VP of Sales Operations for Pandora. To obtain a copy of the webinar recording, please send an email to and Operative will email you the link once it becomes available.