Managing the nuances of programmatic media

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An agency executive recently made the following comment in a December 2013 Digiday article:

"Lots of people will talk about programmatic buying in the same way that they talked about big data: without having a clue about what it really means. And in the unlikely event they do understand it fully, they won't know how to implement it or have the time or energy to figure it out."

From my many years in the programmatic space from a buy side and sell side perspective, this comment articulates the state of programmatic affairs brilliantly.

With the nascency of programmatic buying just behind us, media managers are now being presented with different kinds of challenges that are requiring them to adjust their industry paradigm and skillsets. Digital marketers who leverage programmatic buying through demand side platforms (DSPs) have access to a variety of game changing functionality whose efficacy and inventory is serving as an equalizing force for savvy digital agencies competing against larger media holding companies.

According to eMarketer, the usage of RTB through programmatic buying is pacing to hit $9 billion dollars by 2017, which means that in a very short time, programmatic buying will become the primary vessel to buy and sell media. This game changing functionality surrounding cost controls, inventory options, and execution has been well documented for years and is no longer a ”nice to have" but a "must have." For digital marketing managers navigating this space, managing a team of media planners or simply trying to mitigate financial obstacles, there are several items that should be considered to be successful.

Organizational management

Digital marketing stakeholders have been long fascinated by the ability to target a customer/prospect on an impression by impression. As the technology stack of programmatic buying improved, the ways to target these individuals has become more comprehensive -- advertisers have been jumping into the DSP game in droves. These new players have had to realize in short order that few things programmatic (aka technical media buying) media buying are as simple as they seem.

From a business level, marketing upper management need to have a fundamental understanding of programmatic buying so they can decide how to best position it, integrate the practice, properly staff for it, and for agencies, communicate its benefits to its clients. These managers will go through a similar learning curve as their predecessors who had to wrap their head around new digital marketing concepts such as that of big data, social media, or even search when it was first emerging over a decade ago. During the inception of each new digital marketing tool, there were organizational hurdles surrounding internal competencies, staffing, management tools, and campaign management experience.

For those still grasping onto a superficial understanding of these digital marketing concepts, some will tend to leave the competency, hiring practice, and organizational management to internal resources to "figure it out," which can have varied success. Unfortunately, in many cases this kind of practice is that of the blind leading the blind and problematic when that internal resource does not have the technical chops or the foresight to understand the impacts of business decisions. Even with the best of intentions, those who have a traditional digital media background will find an altered reality when they manage an internal DSP for the primary reason that DSPs allow for real-time inventory versus relying on publisher partners to deliver per insertion order specifics. This means that these managers need to understand how to forecast their delivery and understand how to optimize to performance KPIs, much like those on the publisher side do every day for their clients.

In the arena of programmatic buying, it behooves any business stakeholders to get "into the weeds" when it comes to:

  • DSP/Product capabilities
  • Programmatic industry landscape
  • Performance benchmarks
  • Staffing requirements
  • Business development
  • Technology investment

The first three technical topics informs the latter three business strategies as updates to DSP technology, vendors, inventory sources, and regulatory news directly affect how marketers will position themselves. This is not suggesting that marketing stakeholders should become versed in coding or the day-to-day trafficking. But rather, understanding the optimization levers that can be pulled, the latest innovation in mobile/tablet targeting, RTB direct buying, or opportunities in the expected Twitter exchange will better guide business strategies and investments.



Wade Kingston
Wade Kingston January 27, 2014 at 7:31 PM

I get that there's still a learning curve here, but the most important lesson learned is that RTB (especially mobile RTB) needs to be a factor and a bigger focus for advertisers now, not tomorrow. This market is ripe for rapid growth in the coming months and years...