The Power Of People In Programmatic

If you’re new to real-time bidding (RTB) and programmatic marketing, it can all sound pretty daunting: algorithms, pixels, attribution modeling, data management platforms. The list goes on and on. And just when you thought it couldn't get more complicated, the latest chatter is all about how AI (artificial intelligence) is leading to a future where machines manage everything. The way people talk about it, you’d think Skynet from "The Terminator" was coming back to life to take over digital marketing.

With all the hype and terminology, it’s no wonder that some in the RTB industry are worried about being replaced by computers. And, sure, in some cases that will happen. But before we get carried away, let’s remember that the future of ad tech is not about technology alone, but about the combination of technology and people. The marketer, the real flesh-and-blood human being, is still the one who is thinking through the hard problems and goals, the one who stays up at night worrying about the return on spend, the one who is obsessed with how many new conversions the campaign is driving for the brand.



This isn’t to downplay the importance of technology in RTB. The last decade has brought incredible innovations that allow us to use more data than ever before and make valuable decisions in only a few milliseconds. No marketer can do what computers do today. But, on the flip side, no computer can listen to a brand manager's long list of goals and then translate those goals into a multifaceted campaign.

Think of the most incredible and expensive tools you can buy. They might look great, but they’re useless without a skilled carpenter who knows both what they’re best used for and how to use them. The same is true of demand-side platforms, or any of the other advanced tools RTB marketers use today. The more skilled the marketer, the more powerful the tools become. Without a skilled marketer, the technology isn't just useless -- it can sometimes do more harm then good.

Why are we bringing this up now? Because major brands are starting to get a little tired of companies pitching tech innovations that sound great but sometimes make things more complicated than they need to be. Neil Ashe, CEO of global ecommerce at Walmart, is an example of someone who's ready to see things get less rather than more complicated in ad tech: “Obviously, the need to survive and the need to thrive drives a desire and a need to differentiate. The reality is, often times, it's just not that complicated," Ashe said at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's recent Annual Leadership Meeting.

As long as we're on the subject of what you humans can do that machines can't, let's also remember what a great client service team can do for a client. The partnerships that form between ad tech companies and their clients can only come with a deep understanding of a client’s marketing goals and objectives. Because, for all that computers can do, they still can't yet connect with clients around the basic terms that matter to them: customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, return on investment, and lifetime value.

So, sure, talking about tech and AI can be entertaining. Let's just remember that innovation needs to be accompanied by a human touch. Ashe's words are a stark reminder to everyone in RTB-land that the hunger to offer the latest bells and whistles can backfire after a certain point. Sorry, Skynet, but humans still matter in ad tech -- at least, for now.

1 comment about "The Power Of People In Programmatic".
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  1. Robert Brill from, March 17, 2014 at 6:53 p.m.

    Isn't the purpose of the intra-company programmatic chief, the agency trading desk head officer, or the programmatic consultancy lead to be a conduit of innovation and education to all requisite parties?

    Advertising is complicated for people who don't understand advertising. That's why ad agencies exist. Ad tech is complicated for people who aren't tech heads. That's why people hire professionals with specialized engineering degrees. Programmatic is complicated for many ad professionals, but I think that's OK. These innovations are good for our business, and complications mean highly customizable feature sets are available. It is incumbent on these practice leads to synthesize marketplace opportunities to the needs of the organization, and to educate company heads.

    If I am a business owner I'm less worried about the complications that programmatic brings to the table. I'm more worried about hiring the right people to ensure they are keeping me up to date about the programmatic approach and how it provides me with a competitive advantage.

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