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Why programmatic buying doesn't kill creativity

Why programmatic buying doesn't kill creativity Penry Price

In this season of politics and all kinds of promises about jobs, I'd like to shift the conversation. I'd like to talk about the promise of your job. There is a whole world of creativity and innovation available to media planners and buyers. It entails proactive involvement in the reason we all work in this business, which is the customer and his or her interaction with content. You took this job more to hit "send" than "enter." The promise of your job is fulfillment, which might seem to be contradictory to current machine-based buying. But it's not.

Although I represent a company that focuses on algorithms and advertising technology, my focus here is on creativity. Specifically, I think it's time for the media department to embrace program-based buying, but at the same time demand more creativity from the tech and publishing communities. Most estimates put the current percentage of machine-based digital advertising at more than 60 percent (including search). I'm confident that number will grow over the next few years. But, contrary to popular perception, programmatic buying of media does not need to be a creativity thief. Automation is just machines doing what creative programmers tell them to do. As such, there is plenty of room for creativity. We tend to be blind to its possibilities.
I'm guessing you took this media job to do more than manage keywords and interact with dashboards. I'm thinking media planners and buyers aspire to do more and learn more. Maybe you want the big job. Maybe you want the big apartment. I seriously doubt you worked this hard to be more machine than human. Yes, digital advertising consists of a lot of code driving a lot of automation. But digital marketing has more to offer than that. And you have more to offer your clients.
What the web has to offer, and what you have to offer, is a multi-dimensional, personalized journey. You have arrived at this job after a long and winding road through education and work experiences -- just like your client's potential customers, who have arrived at your client's ads from different places, touchpoints, attitudes, affinities, and purposes. You can be more creative and serve your clients better (and be a hero at work) if you work to align your efforts to truly understand the journeys of your client's potential customers. It seems obvious to those of us who have grown up with digital media that "big data" and robust technology are the only ways to discover the digital customer's journey. When combined with the ability to interact with that data in near real-time, digital marketing takes on an entirely new role. This concept of a digital journey will change the marketing world. It will change your job. The journey has many dimensions and unlimited possibilities. It will allow creativity to once again thrive.
Think about it like this: Your client's new customers begin or resume a journey when they launch a browser or app on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. They want information, value, and engaging experiences. They may even want your client's product. Remember, like you and your career pursuits, the customer is on a journey. It may involve several stops along the way; it may have quick turns and short steps. It's important to remember that customers live the journey. They don't live at the destination, whether it's a website that delivers a purchase, information about products, entertainment, or a job. They live the journey. The journey is who they are.
The customer journey evolves as the customer's interests and passions evolve. The fluidity of the journey is what makes it so rich for your client's potential connection to this new customer. It evolves as the content ecosystem evolves. It's more representative of that customer than anything we've seen or captured before. And it represents a more accurate and sustainable approach to discerning brand interests than any tactic practiced throughout the history of marketing.
While you heard it stress-tested in public forums throughout election season, the "job creator" theme drowned out a more personal and ultimately more important theme. That is, creating at your job. That's the issue here. Being creative means approaching old problems with new solutions. And it takes a little bit of the rebel in you. As digital marketing continues to grow, the most enterprising people in the industry will focus on their individual journeys and will grow with it.
There, I threw some bricks, which anyone can do. But it's not enough. Here are some ideas about how media planners can start to make the shift toward creativity and fulfillment:

Be a planner: Machine-buying has swung the pendulum toward the buyer side of the planner-buyer continuum. The pendulum can swing back to planning. Start to anticipate changes in customer behavior by doing your own research and your own analysis of content and digital use trends.

Learn: This business hardly lacks analysis and information. There's so much, in fact, that it's easy to gloss over the long view in favor of the latest overnights. You can dig deeper. In addition to the dailies and reader feeds that swamp you, take a detour to the McKinsey, HBR, and [email protected] newsletters. If you explore differently, you can think differently.

Create case studies: If something different and successful happens at an agency, it often doesn't get out of the cubicle farm. Push it out. Simple emails can spread best practices and start debates. Instead of hitting "enter," hit "send."

To sum up, the promise of your job is what you make it. Any agency partner that can get you closer to a combination of creativity and efficiency is helping you justify all those nights you worked late and helping you move toward a brighter future.

Penry Price is the  president of Media6Degrees.

On Twitter? Follow Penry Price at @PenryPrice. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"A clock with the words time for innovation" image via Shutterstock.

Penry joined m6d in June 2011. He spent the prior seven years at Google, where he managed business strategy and global partnerships with advertising agencies (representing 30% of Google’s global revenues). He took on this role in 2009, after...

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