Programmatic – shape up or ship out
By Richard Badley
Programmatic has had a fantastic few years. Since its inception more than 11 years ago, media agencies have been obsessed. And why wouldn’t we be? It is everything the industry loves; exciting, innovative, performance focused. This perfect concoction brought us a new way of trading, utilising vast amounts of data and putting customers right at the heart of activation strategies.
But, there was a fundamental problem…
To the masses, it was a dark art. People throughout the supply chain had little idea what was going on. The general rule was; provided you knew more than the person you were talking to - go for it. We accepted that because it did (and still does) deliver incredible results.
The hard truth is, the right people still don’t always understand enough about programmatic or aren’t using it in the right way. In my 15 years in media, when any campaign – programmatic or not - doesn’t perform as we hoped it would, more often than not it can be put down to lack of a well thought out strategy and racing towards short term goals rather than considering the overarching marketing strategy.
Fast forward to today and programmatic spend continues to grow globally, although the excitement seems to have worn off a bit. Rather than take our eyes off it though, there are many reasons to keep driving forward - volumes of accessible data are growing and as they grow, so too do the possibilities for what can be achieved programmatically. So how can we keep programmatic advancements moving now and into the future?
Work smarter, not harder
People need to focus less on the technology and more on ownership, engagement and smarter application. What gives programmatic the edge over a standard network buy is data. While companies now have a great opportunity to embrace analytics, they rarely get the most from their activity by operating a thoroughly data driven approach. There are two ways to address this:
Increase the capability and competency of more people working with data. Learn to collaborate and share data in an improved way.
The first is critical to get the most out of programmatic. Once you raise the standard with innovative and creative solutions, outcomes and performance will follow. Secondly, we need to drive change from a collaborative perspective and be better at sharing. There is as much to be learnt from the failures of campaigns as the successes. No two campaigns will play out the same, so it’s important to share learnings with everyone involved – be they the creative designer, marketer or trader. It’s a positive information loop in which gaps still exist all too often.
When it works, there is nothing else is like it
It’s important to remember that, as with most things, when it comes to programmatic you get out what you put in – it’s not designed to be a last-minute addition to a campaign schedule.
As an agency we run hundreds of programmatic campaigns a year. No two are the same; most are successful, but not all. The one constant is when we plan better, with the right people in the room, ensuring everyone in the chain is engaged and involved, the results are always better. Of course, this can be a challenge when we are so often against the clock but I would challenge anyone who thinks a fast solution is better than a high performing one.
When we work intelligently, ensuring crucial data points are joined up, we can achieve great results. For example, a common challenge our organisation addresses is advertising towards gender, diversity and social mobility objectives. Without integrating data and working intuitively in partnership with specialists like The Exchange Lab, this is a challenge. When executed with a clever route to market, we can shift dials by up to 60% in these areas. To do this, we need insight and accurate measurement to ensure it all works together.
Pause, collaborate and go for it
I can’t help but think that if we had all been a little bolder earlier on in the programmatic journey and admitted, “I don’t understand”, there wouldn’t be the disillusionment we sometimes see today.
To achieve great digital advertising, I would encourage everyone in media to challenge their own thinking. Everyone involved needs to be more engaged in the planning, strategy and activation of campaigns – ultimately be held more accountable for decisions made. Sit around tables earlier, involve more people and set bars higher. If we all do that, the industry will benefit.