Programmatic in practice: getting real about outcomes, success factors and relevance

As we’re approaching the end of 2015, it’s safe to say that this year has been – and is – one of disruptive forces in the advertising ecosystem and ad tech industry.

In a previous blog post we started covering some of these disruptions and we will continue to but this is for sure: extreme contextual relevancy, a focus on digital experiences (predictions for 2016 coming!) and achieving better customer intimacy and engagement are among the challenges and opportunities for years to come.

While, as an industry we’re moving towards ever greater ways to engage consumers thanks to, among others the many new technologies of the so-called 3rd Platform, we’re also challenged by technologies and digital transformations overall. Among the technology-driven innovations that increase efficiency, relevancy and value overall: programmatic.

Programmatic is big but what’s the value?

2015 is a year in which programmatic advertising and media continued to build upon its impressive growth in 2014.

In Europe, for instance, the net advertising revenue (NAR) of programmatic desktop display grew by 56.6% in 2014 and this year programmatic remains big . Despite still being smaller in the overall programmatic revenue total, mobile programmatic even exploded, to quote the IAB (+240.2%) and programmatic video display NAR growth was good for +176.6%.

While these are all very impressive numbers and the benefits of programmatic are recognised we also need to be humble and continue to focus on the true value of programmatic media buying, both for consumers and for our customers, advertisers.

Programmatic, for instance, requires quite some fundamental conditions in order to work. And these fundamentals are all about helping customers become more relevant to consumers by getting data and analytics right, helping them with their social ecosystems and proving the value of an integrated approach where the Voice Of the Customer, insights, efficiency, feedback loops, smart media buying and great creative work meet each other.

Programmatic defined – twice

OK, that was quite a mouthful. But so is the official definition of programmatic according to the IAB report (PDF opens) which contains all of the previously mentioned stats and was released at dmexco 2015, back in September.

Here we go: “Advertising revenue that is generated through transactional or workflow automation mechanisms embedded in an infrastructure that relies on a set of rules applied by software and algorithms that draw on data, commonly known as ad tech. Following the IAB’s proposed taxonomy, programmatic’ here is an aggregate category that is composed of four discrete transactional models, each of which we consider a sub-set…”. And this is just the beginning of the definition.

Good definitions make good friends but at the same time programmatic can be a bit overwhelming and the proof of the pudding is in the eating as the benefits of programmatic need to be shown to customers.

Nicky van der Meulen - Head of Digital Media at Aqua Agency

Nicky van der Meulen – Head of Digital Media at Aqua Agency

Nicola – Nicky – van der Meulen, who is Head of Media at Aqua Agency in South Africa recently joined a podcast on programmatic advertising, looking at it from a real-life perspective and ending with tips and messages we like to share.

Let’s start with that definition again. What is programmatic in a nutshell? Essentially it’s a way of media buying whereby placement is automated using technology and removing quite some human/manual intervention. And that technology is artificial intelligence, really an umbrella term for a set of – some more and some less – smart technologies.

Artificial intelligence, and programmatic sometimes too, do have a somewhat scary connotation. However, none of both are new. AI is used to extract meaning from data, serve organic search results in function of search terms in Google and recognise/classify text when you scan a document, to give just a few examples.

Programmatic isn’t new either. Nicky mentions Google AdWords as an example where real-time buying or bidding has been used forever, which effectively is programmatic media buying. The difference with programmatic as we see it today is that, where Google AdWords uses one system, we now can use it across ad platforms for search ads, social ads, banners, video, you name it.

Efficiency, relevance, value and the proof of the programmatic pudding

What it essentially boils down to is that programmatic allows us to be more efficient and spend less time on manual tasks, freeing up time and resources to mine data, gain insights, understand the why behind them and create the most relevant campaigns and advertising possible, for the consumer and the advertiser.

Still, as Nicky says, it all might be a bit overwhelming for some while others can’t wait and want to start using it, even if they’re not really ready.

That’s where that ‘humble’ aspect comes in. Programmatic media buying doesn’t work if those digital marketing fundamentals aren’t fully ready for this cost-effective and smart way of media placement. We need all the analytics, integration and consumer feedback in order to make it work and be even more relevant.

The growth of programmatic in Europe - via IAB

The growth of programmatic in Europe – via IAB

In other words: while the technology is certainly removing some human tasks, it doesn’t replace humans at all. On top of the mentioned tasks such as data mining you also need people to build the foundation that is needed for programmatic and its possibilities to scale and add various criteria in our never ending quest for relevance.

A great way to make it happen and tangible with a focus on the proof of the pudding? As is tackled in the podcast, for us it requires having an integrated approach and the ability to help our customers step by step, building great cases on a proof of concept basis. By seeing what an integrated and programmatic pilot can do, advertisers can discover the benefits and new ways to be more efficient and, most of all, relevant. 

Tools and minds working in unison for the outcomes you want

“Will programmatic make people redundant?”, Nicky is asked in the podcast. Certainly not now. After all, our roles are changing as well. In analytics we become storytellers instead of number reporters. And in media we become media analysts.

Tools are tools and even if they are great they are about far more than advertising technologies but require a full stack with analytics, social monitoring and human creativity, analysis and intelligence to work in unison to provide the outcomes we, advertisers and consumers are really looking for.

More in the podcast which served as the basis for many takeaways in this blog post. Listen to it: it’s fun, easy and full of practical thoughts, promised!