Programmatic ad revenue is estimated to top $15 billion in 2015, with no signs of slowing down. As the media industry surges into a more automated future, it's becoming increasingly important for marketers to balance efficiency with authenticity when it comes to brand-building.
Programmatic advertising provides brands with the plumbing required to avoid waste and spend every dollar wisely. Automated buying is an important and necessary evolution for online media, but marketers should be wary of myopically focusing on efficiency alone.
As Kraft Foods' Bob Rupczynski noted in a recent iMedia interview, brands should not lose sight of the power of personalized experiences in the quest for automation and efficiency. In other words, "cost-cutting is not a way to build brands."
Programmatic has become a powerful tool for advertisers when it comes to driving efficiencies, but it does not build brands. What builds brands are the authentic connections that are created and strengthened by bringing consumers into the product development and marketing lifecycle. The true essence of marketing is storytelling, and storytelling starts with people.
Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, articulates this concept in a recent byline he published on LinkedIn. "Some companies rely too heavily on complex micro-targeting models instead of engaging in true conversation with their consumers," he said. "[Brand] authenticity comes from the process, not merely the outcomes." What he means is that the act of being a brand that's open to consumer participation can build authenticity in and of itself.
Consumer participation is an innate characteristic of some of the most successful startups and challenger brands -- The Honest Company and GoPro come to mind as examples -- but for larger, more established brands, forging a direct relationship with people is much more difficult task. It requires new tools and a new approach in which a brand invites its customers to participate in all stages of the marketing lifecycle.
Starting with insights and innovation efforts, a brand can work alongside its customers to ideate on new products and leverage their opinions to inform smarter marketing decisions. We've seen brands co-create new product concepts with the community, and then empower those same people to have a say in product positioning and creative decisions via A/B testing. This level of always-on consumer participation allows a brand to develop the products its customers want to see, and go to market with confidence when it comes to its media and advertising investment.
Beyond inspiring new product ideas and informing marketing decisions, marketers can partner with their customers to enrich their brand storytelling efforts. Inspiring user-generated content in the form of social conversations, multimedia, and reviews will position real people as the protagonists in your brand's story and drive more authentic interactions.
We recently partnered with DigitasLBI to help Whirlpool unearth powerful consumer stories as part of the "Every day, care" campaign, which marks the brand's largest advertising effort to date. The core theme of the campaign was to shed light on all of the simple moments of kindness and love that take place in the home everyday, so it was essential for the brand to elevate authentic stories as part of the broader campaign.
The promising news for marketers is that people are increasingly seeking out this type of active, two-way relationship with brands. Per a recent study from IBM, 75 percent of "brand enthusiasts" say that they want to collaborate with brands on product ideation and innovation. The study goes on to say that Millennials, in particular, crave "selective engagement" with brands -- read: interactions on their own terms -- and are waiting for brands to make the first move.
Victors and Spoils -- an agency founded on crowdsourced principles -- found this out firsthand during a Bolthouse Farms campaign aimed at encouraging Americans to eat more vegetables. Upon seeing a New York Times Magazine content piece that pitted broccoli against kale, three Yale University students set up a crowdfunding campaign to bring the campaign to life in New Haven, Conn. Their proactive participation in the campaign was replicated across other cities soon thereafter.
The key takeaway for brands and agencies: efficiency-driving tactics like programmatic hold tremendous value, but these must be balanced with authentic, personal connections that have the power to build your brand in the long-term. In the quest for efficiency, the people you want to reach still matter.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.