Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of Interactive Advertising Bureau, engaged attendees with a challenge facing all media companies: how do you drive premium prices for digital advertising when the market is flooded with cheap tonnage and frictionless ad inventory?

The digital industry has been optimised for direct response and promotional marketing that feature formatted and standardised spaces, Rothenberg said. This strategy has traditionally been utilised as a way to control costs, but unfortunately has not satisfied the needs of marketers. These strategies still hold value, Rothenberg said, but media companies should refocus their attention on branding to provide better value, both for their marketing clients and consumers.

“We need to break out of tonnage tradition and direct-response swamp, and put more effort into brand engagement,” Rothernberg said.

He asked the audience to redefine branding as a “collection of assets and capabilities that allow one company to charge and to sustainably keep premium prices versus like competitors in the same category through time.” If a media company does not definably compete in branding, he said, then it is not playing a role in driving what customers need. And if customers are not convinced that a company’s brand is worth the price, it will die.

“We have not been serving our customers appropriately,” Rothenberg said.

Rothenberg told INMA delegates that to pull out of the “commodity spiral,” they must work on providing marketers with exactly what they want: brand awareness, favourability and purchase intent. To do that, he said, media companies need to stop sacrificing premium ad space to low-price advertisers and start developing creative marketing strategies.

“All media companies own something unique that gives you an advantage, and that is your audience,” Rothenberg said. “You have access to their desires and their hopes, and their dreams and their insights.”

Traditionally, media companies have relied solely on the ability of marketing services to build their brands. But Rothenberg said there needs to be a creative revolution within the company, because the company knows best how to reach the hearts and minds of the consumers.

“We can no longer be passive recipients of marketing strategy from marketing services," Rothenberg said.  “We have to participate.”

And with the lines between the “digital value chain” beginning to blur, companies need to take on new capabilities to compete, Rothenberg said.

“Technology does not exist simply to implement others ideas,” he said. “It must be part of the way you create your business.”

The media business has changed significantly over the years. Where the different types of media used to work independently of each other, Rothenberg said there are now only two categories of media companies: those who work on work on multiple platforms, and those who do not. Those who apply themselves across multiple platforms will be able to provide more quality content to their audience, he said, and will therefore be able to drive more premium prices.

This is the key to a successful, robust marketing campaign. “Just as we brought ourselves into it, we can pull ourselves out of it,” Rothenberg said.