As the founder of London-based Canton Marketing Solutions, Robert Webster has been focused on helping marketers navigate the shifting sands of the digital landscape for nearly two decades. He’s passionate about the value of data and why data insights are critical to delivering integrated customer experiences.

Robert is an outspoken advocate on the importance of fighting for quality publishers and data integrity. His firm was a finalist in The Drum 2019 Agency Business Awards in the Startup Agency of the Year category. 

Robert sat down with Audiens for our That Moment series to talk about his defining moments in digital marketing, how search engines pulled off the biggest trick in the business and what’s next for digital marketing. 

Audiens: You’ve been the head of technology, director of data and insights and even a campaign manager and head of operations in your career, what has been the most significant change or shift you have seen in digital marketing in those years?

Robert Webster: I believe it’s the change we’re going through now with cookies because they are becoming less and less relevant. Cookies might have around two years left, and there are only useful on 40% of ads, but this 40% also skews much younger and richer so you could argue it’s even more critical.

Audiens: So, what is the brand’s most significant challenge when it comes to capitalizing on their marketing spend? 

Webster: For me, it all starts with measurement. If you’re not able to measure something, it’s next to impossible to optimize spend. Even worse, many brands are actively measuring incorrectly, which pushes bad media decisions. ` By using last-click metrics, it really only encourages brand search and retargeting, which are the least incremental digital channels.

Audiens: What are brands looking for today in terms of engagement with their audience today?

Webster: Brands are looking to have a seamless conversation with their audience. To be able to communicate the benefits of their brand and product and hear back what the customer wants. Sadly this core principle of marketing is mostly forgotten by many of the actors in the ecosystem.

Audiens: So many marketers have relied on customer data platforms (CDP) to help define that conversation with their audience. Still, even that is changing, how do you see CPDs evolving over the next few years? Will they be replaced by another new platform?

Webster: Platforms emerge and grow from earlier systems. Many CDPs started out in life as tag management platforms, ad servers, or CRM systems. That evolution is far from over. Over the next few years, there will be a lot of change adapting to the new browser features post cookie. In the longer term, we can expect CDPs to move to manage not only customer information but, indeed, information across the advertising and marketing lifecycle.

Audiens: Speaking of legacy platforms, where do you think the DSP model will be in five years? 

Webster: The SSP and the DSP are just the pipes that connect buyers and sellers at their heart. In the future, we will have unified platforms that connect many sources of media, not just RTB display and allow for seamless buying and measurement of a brand’s media needs. That will include channels such as Out of Home and TV. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation will be at the forefront with the human element controlling strategy and ensuring the machine are fed the best possible information and calibrated for the brands’ needs.

Audiens: What would you change about digital marketing if you could? 

Webster: It would be how bands approach measurement. In the industry, there’s a dramatic lack of understanding of the principles of measurement and, in particular, incrementality that holds everything else back. For all the talk of AI and machine learning, if you can’t first measure success, you’re feeding the machine junk, which actively makes marketing efforts worse, not better. So many brands rely on web analytics for media measurement, a role it’s not designed to do. 

The greatest trick search engines ever pulled was to persuade brands that brand search – searches for the brands’ own trademark terms – was an advertising channel. It really isn’t, instead, brands should count that as a cost of having a web site and re-attribute those sales to other media channels. Similar could also be done with retargeting though not to quite the same degree.


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