Commentary

Is The Programmatic Pendulum Swinging Back Toward Storytelling?

As brands and agencies continue to shift dollars to programmatic campaigns -- two-thirds of display media is now purchased programmatically, according to eMarketer -- marketers are starting to take notice that they may be doing so at the expense of creating emotional connections with consumers.

Brands everywhere have swarmed to take advantage of programmatic advertising, and with good reason. Programmatic advertising can deliver more efficient reach and frequency, pinpoint targeting that leverages new data sources, and stronger performance. Advertisers like Kellogg’s, Target and many others began to bring their programmatic efforts in-house. The world’s largest advertiser, P&G, declared it would aim to purchase the vast majority (70%) of its ads programmatically.

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When an industry shifts as fast as the display business moved to programmatic, it’s natural that the pendulum can swing too far. At the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference just a few weeks ago, P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard noted, “We're spending too much of our time on measurement of advertising vs. the quality… Measurement is not going to make crappy advertising better."

Of course, data-driven marketing will continue to play a central role in identifying whom to target, how, where, and when -- P&G’s selection of Hearts and Sciences as its agency was all about data -- but if you’re relying wholly on programmatic to build your brand on what in 2017 likely will be the largest advertising medium in the world, you’re not positioning yourself for long-term success. Banner ads and other standard inventory, which comprise the vast majority of programmatic inventory, don’t build brands; stories that connect with consumers and elicit emotion and engagement do.

Below are three ways to ensure your campaigns balance the best of both worlds to drive results.

1. Start with the story. As Georgia-Pacific CMO Douwe Bergsma noted in a recent trade press article, storytelling isn’t new. Rather, “It's more of a fundamental strategic approach to how to view your communication efforts across all touch points." Once a brand has its story framework and voice, it becomes incumbent upon partners of that brand to ensure that story is optimized for distribution to its audience.

After all, as Bergsma explained, the best stories unfold over time: “It's only when you're exposed to multiple touch points that you start to understand the value and the deeper meaning of the story.” Marrying great storytelling with optimized, data-driven distribution best evokes emotion from and engages consumers to ensure a brand’s message resonates.

2. Incorporate “human data” into the paradigm of “big data.” Personalization counts, explained Deborah Wahl, McDonald’s CMO of USA, at the ANA conference. Her brand’s goal is to make each message more personally relevant and engaging to customers -- no small feat, given the brand serves 26 million customers a day. The most important data is the data that tells you who a consumer is, her likes and dislikes -- information that often sits within first-party systems.

As publishers and brands alike start to harness their first-party data to develop more customized segments of consumers, we’re on the cusp of a new phase of content development, in which data can help personalize a story for different audience segments, resulting in better and more impactful advertising overall.

3. Don’t settle for the lowest common denominator. While new types of custom inventory are starting to be purchased programmatically, the vast majority of inventory available on the open Web today is still standard display and pre-roll, which can help with reach and frequency but cannot, on its own, build and maintain a brand. Programmatic campaigns work best when they complement other, higher impact formats and experiences that deepen consumer relationships, from offline experiential to in-store activations to product placement and original content.  You must use both for greatest efficacy.

We sometimes forget that no one marketing product or solution can magically accomplish everything a brand needs to achieve, especially when it comes to connecting with consumers. By marrying the best of programmatic (e.g., data, insight, targeting, and efficiency) with more upper-funnel, creative storytelling that establishes emotional connections with consumers, brands can drive sales and brand loyalty in digital, just as they have done in other media, but with better measurement, less waste, and a greater impact overall. The pendulum is moving back to equilibrium, and that’s a good thing for marketers, publishers -- and especially, our consumers.

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