Programmatic branding: The next step

The majority of digital marketers have grown up around the internet. However, owing to the fact that the KPI for online campaigns has always been the click -- or more recently cost per action (CPA) -- big brands have been unsurprisingly slow to fully utilise online advertising for branding campaigns. Yet given the rising appetite for programmatic campaigns, could programmatic branding be the next step?

Lately there has been increasing focus on measurability, so the idea of running a branding campaign that has no KPI other than a general aim to raise awareness can be difficult for digitally-focused agencies to understand. But that's just what brand marketers have been doing for years with TV and poster campaigns. So if the basic purpose of TV and poster advertising is a combination of impact and reach, what's wrong with digital? After all, many people spend as much time browsing online as they do in front of a TV.

The internet has failed to see branding take off as impressively as direct response advertising because of a number of concerns held by marketers, who are used to running these campaigns offline. However, if the below questions can be overcome, marketers stand to benefit from taking their branding online.

Is my brand safe online?

One of the perceived challenges with online is brand safety. Understandably, brands are nervous about ads appearing next to inappropriate content and have restricted campaigns to a small number of known sites with good quality content as a result. It is, however, entirely possible to buy brand-safe inventory in ad exchanges using pre-bid technology -- especially with the plethora of companies offering advanced tools that prevent the placement of advertising on sites with inappropriate content, or suspicious activity like click fraud.

Will offline targeting tactics work online?

Marketers often seek to use the same targeting criteria they use offline -- usually demographics -- and this reinforces their decision to buy individual sites that match their target audience.

Opting for premium site placements is just like buying ads in magazines read by your prospective customers -- safe and targeted, but expensive and with limited reach. Moreover, it's an approach that doesn't work with mass-market products, as they require massive reach. Buying online advertising in this way will limit the overall amount of inventory available, the number of users that can be reached and therefore limits the effectiveness of branding.

But marketers limiting themselves with demographic targeting are also ignoring one of the fundamental advantages of the web -- targeting users not pages. In fact, well-established behavioural targeting techniques can be used to ensure ads are only delivered to users pre-defined as belonging to a specific target market. This reduces wasted impressions and reaches potential customers outside a defined demographic. And as it's substantially cheaper to buy targeted users using RTB than on premium sites, it means marketers can reach a lot more users for their budget.

Will my offline engagement tactics work online?

Building brand awareness and changing perceptions rely on impact to grab your attention, often with out of home advertising, and the opportunity to tell longer stories through TV advertising. Online, this is best achieved by using non-standard, often intrusive, ad formats, which need specific publisher approval and can be very costly.

The alternative to this is pre-roll video, which to date has been attracting increasing amounts of branding money. But for branding to work effectively, it needs impact. Fortunately in-banner video formats, both standard and expanding, can now be bought at scale within exchanges -- so eye-catching ads that tell a story can be a reality, without having to resort to small, single site buys.

Is my audience seeing my ad? How do I know?

Ultimately, the key reason that digital has remained stubbornly unattractive to branding campaigns is because advertisers have traditionally bought branding campaigns on the established metric of "opportunity to see" and until now there has been no accurate way of measuring how many users have "seen" your ad. As everyone in digital advertising knows, impressions do not equal views.

The final piece of the jigsaw -- and possibly the one that will see programmatic branding finally take off -- is the arrival of new tools that allow the measurement of campaigns by cost per view (CPV), so marketers only pay for ads that have actually been in view on a page. At last, campaigns online can be bought on the basis of an "opportunity to see" metric.

Digital advertising comes with major advantages over offline media -- not least social sharing, the opportunity to go straight to a brand's site for more information, and ultimately purchase immediately. With online branding campaigns now as a realistic proposition, and one that an increasing number of brand marketers will be considering, programmatic branding should be seen as a natural next step.

Adrian Lacey is MD, UK at Crimtan.

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