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The role of the SSP

09 Nov 2020  |  Emma Newman 
The role of the SSP

Partner content

PubMatic's CRO Emma Newman evaluates the difference between a good supply-side platform and an excellent one

The digital advertising industry has always moved quickly and been subject to many external influences, such as changes in legislation and the emergence of new content distribution platforms.

To thrive in any fast-paced industry, companies need to have the development capabilities and flexibility to roll out new solutions that shake up the industry, meet client requirements, and give them a competitive advantage.

For supply-side platforms (SSPs), changes in publishers’ and brands’ requirements over the past couple of years have augmented the role that they (the SSP) play in the ecosystem. From a high-level perspective the role of the SSP is to make digital advertising as effective and efficient as possible which requires delivering across many aspects.

Getting the basics right

As the old adage goes ‘you can’t run before you can walk’ meaning you have to master the basics before moving to more advanced capabilities. The foundations of a good SSP are quality, transparency and the ability to prove to programmatic ad buyers that their ad spend is going to legitimate suppliers.

In order to do this, at a minimum, SSPs must be able to show that they adhere to the ads.txt and sellers.json initiatives. At the other end of the supply chain, SSPs need to provide pre- and post-bid fraud detection capabilities and viewability measurement.

Only then can SSPs say that they truly maximise the effectiveness of digital advertising. It goes without saying that all the above needs to be reported back to media buyers in a fully transparent way.

Solutions for a cookie-less world

Next up for a good SSP is to provide solutions for identity and audience addressability without the use of third-party cookies and it’s here that we start to see the importance of flexibility.

There are a number of identity solutions available: Device ID, a unique, cross-domain, cross-device identifier; User ID: a persistent identifier connecting various device IDs together to provide a holistic view of an individual consumer; and customer ID which enables reconciliation of a customer’s online identity (ie. It’s device or user ID) with offline identification information (such as an email address or a phone number).

Offering the full spectrum of identity solutions and providing actionable education and advice for publishers and brands puts SSPs in a position to maximise audience addressability, publisher yield, and advertisers’ return-on-investment (ROI) based on individual requirements.

Embrace everything

Publishers and brands come in all shapes and sizes which means that their requirements are diverse. Some may operate in niche segments, some may only exist in specific markets, and others may be highly seasonal. Successful SSPs don’t pigeonhole themselves, they work tirelessly to ensure they can support and optimise all ad formats, use data to maximise fill rates and eCPMs, and provide cross-channel insights.

Today, SSPs need to operate a one-stop-shop that encompasses display, video, and connected TV (CTV). This is especially pertinent when it comes to CTV which is still very much in its infancy. Emerging CTV platforms and early adopter brands desperately need data-driven insights that show how CTV campaigns perform against other channels and how audiences engage with CTV ads.

Advanced SSPs are able to offer this by building on their existing reporting capabilities and forming partnerships with CTV measurement providers which they are able to do because of their scale.

It’s also worth noting that some CTV providers, including Roku and Amazon that dominate the market are creating their own walled gardens each owning their own DSP. The benefits of this to buyers are access to first party data from the DSP and de-duplicated reach and reporting.

However, there are also downsides which independent SSPs should solve for, these include: providing one platform for all DSP buys; providing a full view of available inventory for informed bidding decisions; and access to unified content regardless of which platform they appear on.

Commercial flexibility

Business arrangements with demand partners need to be created and evaluated on an individual basis in order to offer publishers and brands the best value for money. Good partners will invest time in building relationships based on mutual understanding of the costs of integration and transparency.

This should be part of any good SSP’s business strategy and constantly evaluated in order to ensure publishers are receiving revenues that reflect the true value of their inventory and that brands are getting the best quality placements to maximise ROI.

Collaborative demand deals also create a window of opportunity for bespoke innovation - something that is increasingly necessary during these turbulent times. Media planning cycles have become considerably shorter and are subject to almost constant change as brands look to adapt messaging, reach target audiences as they change media consumption patterns, and maintain share of voice.

SSPs with established flexible commercial models with demand partners and publishers are able to react to such changes and build custom packages that can be activated quickly, minimising any potential downtime. Such flexibility - both commercial and technological - benefits the whole digital ecosystem and provides a foundation upon which we can build to innovate further in the future.

Funding a better digital future

Trustworthy SSPs have leadership teams that understand the importance of reinvesting a portion of their profits into innovation that is focused on creating a better digital advertising ecosystem.

What does this mean? It means dedicating resources to developing tools that create better user experiences, solutions that put publishers in control of their inventory, algorithms that are capable of ingesting and understanding more and more data as it becomes available.

All of these things lead to cleaner supply paths and build trust among the media buying community that independent solutions are a viable alternative to the walled gardens.

We can only do this if we work together to create an open solution - not one that is owned by a single company - another walled garden solution isn’t going to benefit anyone (apart from the walled garden). A big part of this is opening up lines of communication and including brands in those conversations which will facilitate better decisioning around which SSPs are best suited to any given brand. This is not about pushing smaller players out of the market as often they deliver much needed niche solutions.

Going forward the role of the SSP needs to encompass understanding of the fact that brands and agencies now know that not all SSPs have been created equally and, as a consequence, are actively engaging in supply path optimisation (SPO) in order to improve ROI.

Good SSPs have already scrutinised their own business and made their supply paths cleaner and less cluttered. Moreover, they have put in place a strategy to make continual streamlining ‘business as usual’ rather than a one off process.

Excellent SSPs are taking this a step further and educating the wider industry to ensure that this goal is something that everyone takes seriously and accepts responsibility for.


Emma Newman is chief revenue officer, EMEA at PubMatic

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