Ethan Heftman Explains A+E's Precision + Performance With Guaranteed Clarity

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Cover image for  article: Ethan Heftman Explains A+E's Precision + Performance With Guaranteed Clarity

The competition in video goes beyond the fight for consumer attention. Every video provider is looking to land ad dollars with a one-two punch of broad but targeted reach matched with business outcomes via addressability or attribution.

A+E Networks has dubbed its delivery of both as "Precision + Performance." Ethan Heftman, senior vice president of Precision + Performance advertising sales, recently described the group's approach to me. He also discussed A+E's first-to-market guarantees of select outcomes. As this is an essential area for everyone in media to understand, I recommend listening here to the full discussion. (The following article has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

To bring the kind of transparency that every conversation on this topic needs, I asked Heftman for specific definitions, starting with "attribution" and how it applies at A+E. "For us, attribution is … tying a media exposure on A+E Networks to a specific business outcome," he explained. "It's going beyond simply the discussion of what type of media metric we delivered — the delivery of an impression — to what type of action or behavior that impression caused. Is it fueling a behavior at the top, or awareness, area of the funnel; the middle, or consideration area; or at the bottom of the funnel, a sale or specific outcome type?"

A+E markets its Precision + Performance product as impacting outcomes in each of those three areas, versus just the expected top-of-funnel. Historically, "television hasn't been properly credited with outcomes in the consideration segment of the funnel or in the real action area: driving a web visit, driving a store visit, driving a specific sale," Heftman said.

Next, I asked Heftman to explain A+E's view of precision and performance. "Precision is our advanced audience targeting tools; that is, through the use of advanced data sets — whether it's MRI, set-top-box data from an MVPD..., Axiom or Polk data, or first-party data that an advertiser provides us," he explained. "Performance are the tools that we use to discuss, find, and prove specific outcomes within that purchase funnel. The better job you do of identifying and finding those discreet audience segments, the better job you do of picking dayparts and programs that deliver against them, the better outcomes you will have."

That's not to say A+E is aiming to move the business entirely away from where it's been traditionally, he clarified. It's important to find a balance, he asserted: "For too long now, the business has been overweighted towards specific actions, whether it's search or immediate last-click web conversion. We have always said that the value of brand advertising is in the combination of broad reach and specific focus."

What he's also saying, though, is that television has been overlooked as a driver of conversions and, as such, A+E is working with attribution partners such as Data Plus Math and iSpot who, according to Heftman, "are coming up with multitouch attribution models that, for the first time, fairly calculate the value of all of those different media touchpoints to create that conversion."

To a degree.

"We're still in the very early days of this and the two metrics that we feel comfortable guaranteeing are foot traffic and web conversion.... That is, store foot traffic, [which] can be to a store, a restaurant, an auto dealership," Heftman said. "And web conversion can be a visit to a broad website, a visit to a product configurator — any type of web behavior that can be tagged is something that we are willing to guarantee. We've done this now across 48 advertisers, across a number of product categories."

We circled back to precision and how it dovetails with A+E's programming, as well as its audiences and how they behave. "The team is able to take the audiences by program, daypart, and network and overlay them with the discreet segments that our partners are looking for," he said. "And then, translate that into a buy that takes the best of television — the ability for our content to reach mass audiences — with precision targeting built-in...." Targeting that is as only good as the data provided, he cautioned.

Heftman also shared the categories that perform well and which platforms A+E can precision target (hint: all) and measure performance across (ditto!): "We've always been able to talk about performance outcomes in the digital space, in the OTT space. We believe that the real game-changer is being able to have that conversation in the linear space and then marry that with the existing conversation in digital and over the top."

As for the famous guarantees, Heftman said: "We are comfortable managing the risk, guaranteeing specific behaviors. If an advertiser is willing to let us use our entire audience, let us precision target across our entire audience, find the most valuable consumers, serve a message to them, [then] we will guarantee that a behavior will occur on the backend...."

The plan is to expand the behaviors A+E is willing to guarantee, he noted. "We don't make the claim that this is the future and it has arrived today, fully baked and ready to go. We understand that the world is becoming more fragmented in terms of viewer consumption," Heftman said. "We understand that demand continues to be strong from advertisers looking to get into television. We want to be able to offer each and every one of those advertisers a buying opportunity that works for them."

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