March 6, 2019 | by Jon Fletcher

Marfeel-Con 2019: Focus on the user and all else will follow

If we had to summarize the first Marfeel-Con of 2019 into a single concept, it would be this, ‘Focus on the user and all else will follow’.

This line actually came late in the day, from Stefan Schick, head of global channel partners at Google. His talk examined how publishers can use certified partners to remove some limitations of scale or size that publishers frequently encounter. But, despite the title, like so many of the talks we attended, the topic always returned to giving the user a better experience.

This is why the issue of user-centric strategies seemed to define this Marfeel-Con. No matter the subject of the talk— from Google AMP to monetization through header bidding—the core conclusion was that publishers have to improve their metrics as the result of better user experience.

So, for those unable to attend, we’re recapping the key points from Marfeel-Con, and understanding why user experience seemed to dominate the production.

First, what is Marfeel-con?

Marfeel-Con interview

We’re a firm believer in the power of collaborating with our publishers and the publishing industry. So, we created Marfeel-Con—our quarterly publisher meetup— to do exactly that. The mission of Marfeel-Con is to inform, interact, and innovate, and we’re there to learn from our community, just as much as teach.

We invite a selection of our publisher partners and some industry leaders to join us, give talks, and connect to other professionals in the industry. For the first Marfeel-con of 2019, we were joined by 14 major publishers, held multiple sessions, and finished the event with a round-table featuring speakers from The Washington Times, Google, the Mobile Marker, and Marfeel.

While topics vary from session to session, every Marfeel-con seems to have a wider tone that shows us the broad direction of the industry, and how people are applying the developments being made in digital publishing.

Here’s what the worlds of digital publishing and ad tech are focussed on in 2019:

Reaching readers with a user-first strategy

We started the day with two broad, functional topics that could fill entire days themselves: using SEO to take advantage of the mobile traffic boom and getting the most out of your AMP pages.

Each subject has objective best practices, but the conversations kept returning to adapting each page to the reader, rather than short-term optimization techniques.

Our speaker, Manel SanJuan, described this approach as, ‘demonstrating to search engines that we are offering what users are searching for’.

It’s no longer sustainable to just try had hit the cues that the algorithm uses to pull searches out. The results have to meet the needs of the user.

The wider mission of Google AMP is also aligned with this user-first way of thinking. They state their mission as to “Provide a user-first format for web content, supporting long term success of every web publisher, merchant, and advertiser.”

The feeling created by these sessions was that applying focus to the reader is a way to become sustainable and safeguard against technological changes in the future.

Google may be seen as the gatekeeper to traffic through SEO and features such as AMP, but, they are clear that their responsibility is to their users.

These talks at Marfeel-con demonstrated a switch in mindset from publishers and advertisers, think user-first and then use the tools from Google to reach your audience.

Guests at Marfeel-con talking

Everyone’s still betting big on programmatic

Even if the focus of the day seemed to lean towards users and readers, monetization will always be a recurring topic for digital publishers.

Throughout sessions on the monetization landscape, it became clear that the industry is still betting big on programmatic, specifically on mobile. But, there are still major flaws to be worked out before the potential can accurately be seen.

Working alongside Prebid.org to deliver programmatic solutions, our head of product, Lucas Isern mentioned some of the work being done to improve the experience of header bidding, for advertisers, readers, and publishers.

‘We’re introducing ad quality strengthening among SSP’s, daily creative reviews, and an SSP blocking autonomy that would prevent bad creatives from displaying.’

The talks and the questions that arose from this session showed that the industry wants their programmatic advertising to be both as user-focused and profitable, as possible.

Although it can be seen by users as a ‘necessary evil’ it is possible to increase the user experience of how ads are delivered. More relevant, quality ads, that display alongside, not disrupting content will result in better overall user experience.

The session ended with an analogy of print publishing. We talked about how magazines such as Vogue are able to integrate their advertising as part of the user experience, in a way that compliments the content, rather than detracting from it.

Strong opinions and conflicting views

We couldn’t end the event without attempting to provoke some more discussion and see the points where we disagree. To do this, we hosted a roundtable discussion on the future of programmatic, into 2019 and beyond.

Forming the round table were, Chantal Tode from Mobile Marketer, Stefan Schick from Google, Jorge Carrasquillo from The Washington Times, Xavi Beumala, Marfeel’s CEO, and Marko Žulj from Google.

Marfeel-con roundtable guests

This gave everyone a chance to put the experts on programmatic on the spot and get their insights on the future.

One of the most lively points raised was the issue of 5G and if the increase in network speed would be the catalyst for increased adoption of programmatic. The panel discussed if mobile speed is the real issue that prevents programmatic from filling ad space and being more effective.

It was suggested that uncertainty regarding transparency and trust in programmatic, and the security of the infrastructure are bigger realistic barriers than network speed. In addition, increasing the market share of programmatic over display also has to break down the established processes publishers have for display. Programmatic faces resistance from publishers unable to build new systems and from people concerned about the removal of traditional job roles.

The panel concluded that programmatic doesn’t have to be a wholesale removal of human skills, but that it will allow these skills to be re-applied to developing strategic advertising systems for digital publishers.

That was our first Marfeel-con of 2019. Whilst we can’t cover everything that was discussed, there was no doubt that user experience—and its knock-on effects—occupied the publishing collective mind in 2019.

If you’d like to connect with us at another event, you can sign up to meet our team here.