As more marketers have become familiar with the power and efficiency of buying audience-targeted ads programmatically, the method itself has evolved to support more of their media buying. Programmatic has come a long way from open marketplaces with real-time bidding (RTB) for desktop display ads. But rapid advances in the industry have caused confusion about the best practices and benefits of programmatic buying. In particular, there are five things I see marketers confused about that prevent them from taking advantage of the tools available today.
1. There are options
Programmatic isn’t only open marketplaces and RTB anymore. There are different types of ads, different types of marketplaces, and different ways to complete the buying process. Marketers can programmatically buy display, video, and native ads across devices. This wide range of ad formats can now be bought through open or private marketplaces, the latter of which provide more precise access to ad inventory across sites and apps. Advertisers can buy programmatically through fully managed services available from demand-side platforms, trading desks, and other media buyers, or in-house via self-service buying platforms.
And while each vendor is different, marketers also have choices about data to integrate -- the right mix of marketer data, publisher data, and third-party data can make all the difference in personalizing and targeting ad campaigns programmatically.
For example, one of the largest streaming media companies took digital advertising in-house a few years ago. They started by running basic display campaigns through open marketplaces, but shortly after began mixing in video ads and buying more through private market marketplaces to take advantage of precision and audience relevance of private, pre-defined supply.
2. You don't need to use every technology to be everywhere
Because of a real fear of losing reach and missing advertising opportunities, some marketers use up to 40 different platforms and vendors. But if you’re fragmenting campaigns across too many platforms, you likely aren’t getting the visibility you need across audiences, campaigns, and devices.
You may also be bidding against yourself at some point in the process -- driving up costs, complicating ad sequencing, and compromising the accuracy of measurement against your goals. I often hear from clients that they’re overwhelmed by the range of options and need to focus on one solution that really works and is easy to implement and manage.
In general, it can make sense to choose a smaller set of vendors who have the greatest reach, best data and optimization capabilities, and most insightful analytics and measurement. Looking again at the streaming media company, after years of using multiple platforms and ad networks, they decided to standardize on one programmatic buying platform to reduce integration challenges, maintenance costs, and learning curves, and as a result, have been able to focus on customizing the solution to exactly fit their needs.
3. Measurement starts now
Many marketers wait until a campaign is over to understand how it performed and pull numbers to show the ultimate return on ad spend. But programmatic isn’t “set it and forget it.” It’s an active process that must be adjusted in real-time depending on campaign performance. It’s important to monitor and analyze online and offline campaign performance “in-flight” so you can proactively make adjustments and maximize ROI. Today, there’s so much data and supply available, that automated optimization -- given the amount of data and granular inputs -- is almost becoming necessary in order to drive performance. In many cases, marketers will find it’s time to let machines do the work that people can’t.
4. ABC = Always be connecting
Too often, marketers and media buyers hold budgets until late in a quarter and then “ad blitz” with whatever spend they have left. Sometimes delayed spend can indicate a shortsighted campaign. Businesses always have customers and prospects at different stages of the customer life cycle, and programmatic platforms enable marketers to identify and target users at each stage with appropriate, effective messages and essentially always be talking to their target audiences. This helps buyers avoid cyclical buying patterns with a one-message-fits-all approach and adjust to the needs and interests of customers and prospects.
Email marketers have long realized the benefits of using CRM data and users’ real-time actions, or inactions, to drive frequent, even daily, interactions, with customers. With real-time programmatic access to individual users, marketers can manage budgets throughout the year based on what they know about users to match the best times to reach them.
5. Transparency doesn’t mean self-service
One of the great advantages of programmatic advertising is the transparency into media spend allocation and performance it affords marketers. There are many great platforms that enable advertisers to take full ownership of their campaign execution, and for companies that have the necessary resources and expertise for ad planning and operations, this is a viable option that gives them full control and visibility.
However, taking programmatic advertising in-house isn’t necessary to gain transparency. Many programmatic vendors offer managed solutions in which advertisers can provide extensive input into decisions about data, targeting, and supply selection and have visibility into spend and performance.
There is more than one way to “do programmatic.” It’s important that marketers challenge what they think they know about programmatic, explore the possibilities, and find the right partners to help them understand their options and make the right choices.