AdExchanger.com: Please discuss your responsibilities. And, what does the yield management team look like at Cars.com?
JW: My team is responsible for inventory forecasting, rate card design, pricing management and revenue analysis. At Cars.com, our yield management group is part of the Product team but we are heavily dependent on other functional areas. All of the functions related to order fulfillment like sales ops, ad trafficking, billing, etc., have a large impact on revenue maximization and are spread out over several vertical teams like Operations, Finance, and Sales. Recently, I’ve been tasked with examining our various systems and processes that cross all these teams from product creation to order management and fulfillment.
Are/were there challenges in creating a rate card?
There were a few political hurdles when we developed our first standard rate card, but they’ve been resolved. Today, our ongoing challenge is the enforcement of the rates and product policies when volume and relationship factors come into play. For example, when an exceptionally large revenue order comes in, there is naturally pressure to accept whatever discounting or terms might be attached. However, this is rarely in our best interest, even in the short run. The biggest orders require the most inventory and at Cars.com that usually means utilizing ad space that could be put to better (higher revenue) use elsewhere. In the simplest terms, it doesn’t make sense to make Price-Quantity tradeoffs when demand exceeds supply. That’s simple enough in theory but can be very difficult to manage in the face of pressure from advertisering partners who are accustomed to using purchasing power to get their way. Equally difficult, is pushing back on an internal sales force that has very little personal incentive to care about opportunity loss.
Do you use ad networks to monetize unsold inventory? What are you trying to "yield manage" in your guaranteed
We used a network several years ago, but lately we have been in the fortunate situation of being completely or nearly sold out. Even when we do have some impression flexibility, there isn’t enough unsold inventory to consider using an ad network. Admittedly, this is a good problem to have, but when premium inventory is scarce we are limited in our ability to grow revenue. A few of those revenue levers are: making smarter decisions about how guaranteed inventory is allocated, reducing waste, and maximizing the use of remnant space. The challenge is that these types of decisions require deep visibility into inventory availability and inventory utilization across multiple competing products. I found that the standard tools we had been using just didn’t provide the level of detail or dimensions we required, so we partnered with Yieldex. Yieldex is a software as a service vendor that helps us maximize the value of our premium impressions by providing my team with inventory visibility, accurate forecasting, and improved targeting.
What is Cars.com thinking in terms of a data strategy especially as it relates to ad targeting? Any plans around retargeting or reach extension?
We currently have an on-site retargeting product that essentially follows visitors that have performed certain actions or displayed target behaviors on our site. We also offer an audience extension product through our partnership with Yahoo. The same users we tag for our on-site retargeting product can be followed anywhere on the Yahoo network.
Does a private exchange make sense? Why or why not?
We see huge opportunities related to creating a private exchange and are currently examining our options. A savvy media buyer will notice that they can purchase 50 million “auto intenders” via the various trading desks, but there are only roughly 1 million new cars sold in a given month. Anyone paying attention would spot that discrepancy and immediately question how these exchanges are qualifying 50 million “auto intenders”. Naturally, we believe that our audience is highly focused and extremely premium by comparison. Consequently, developing a platform for re-targeting or data exchange that uses exclusively our own data would be mutually beneficial to both our advertisers and Cars.com.
What are a few milestones you would like to achieve in your day-to-day in the coming year?
The main goal is to move beyond the day-to-day tactics and focus on implementing a complete yield management strategy. So far, our team has done a decent job of transitioning that work into automated or controlled process and policies. But that type of change requires a lot cross-functional buy-in and support. To help facilitate this, we have set up a Yield Council that’s comprised of VP level executives who collectively have the clout to set and enforce policy in a holistic way. Some issues that we plan to tackle this year are: sunsetting a couple products that “perform” well for advertisers but don’t deliver sufficient yield, tweaking our order and delivery systems so we have more scalability, and building a process to make more pro-active inventory allocation decisions.
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