Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The new programmatic ecosystem is complex, heavy on data and ever-evolving, so how can brands differentiate themselves and survive this increasingly complex space?
Experts at the Programmatic Summit 2016 in Sydney this week agreed it starts with understanding your data and your customer, and applying your programmatic approach strategically - but not just with the end game in mind. And not all marketers are sold on programmatic’s promise yet.
“Programmatic allows us to start to deliver on the true proposition of digital,” said Roadshow Films deputy director of marketing, Rob Moore, during a panel session. “As we automate, as technology advances through machine learning, and things just become better, faster and more proficient, we can actually start to identify things in real time, make changes to our campaigns and achieve better results as a consequence. That’s a huge opportunity.”
But American Express marketing and business insights director, Ciarán Norris, expressed concern that we’re seeing programmatic as an end rather than just a means.
“We talk about how we’re going to go programmatic, rather than talk about why,” he said. “Sure, it’s a way to automate things, but if often gets conflated or confused with real-time bidding, or open exchanges. The threat is that we rush to some sort of technical nirvana that doesn’t exist where we end up buying ads where we shouldn’t be in places where we shouldn’t be, just because they’re cheap.”
Krux senior account director, Andrea Chin, saw one of the biggest opportunities in programmatic as the ability to target audiences.
“More and more brands are realising that programmatic isn’t necessarily a means to an end to a cheap CPM,” she said. “It really is about how we actually reach customers that we know and how we reach customers that we want to know. The challenge is in the proliferation of technology at the moment and testing the new players in the market. As brands focus on understanding which metrics really matter, more and more people are trying to test out different technology providers.”
Moore also believed working in the new commercially and technically complex environment presents a new raft of challenges, especially for brands serious about their infrastructure investment.
“In every meeting I’ve had with people who operate in this space, everyone says the line - you need to work with us and everyone is ripping you off, but I won’t,” he said. “For brands, it’s increasingly difficult to see the wood for the trees. An organisation needs to make core investment decisions in infrastructure and people. So it is a very difficult road for us to navigate and it’s not something we can achieve very quickly. And at the moment, we kind of don’t know who to trust.”
With programmatic evolving faster than brands can keep up with or adapt to, experts said the focus must be on making more informed decisions based on their data.
“Brands need to ask the tech vendors how they actually make their money,” Norris said. “You need to have a process in place to determine whether you can take that risk to access the solution the vendor is supplying you.”
Chin has yet to see one solution fit all. “Some brands are looking at customer lifecycle value, others are looking at click through rates. But not all brands are set up to look at one set of metrics,” she commented.
For Norris, programmatic is just a way of buying ads, and again requires marketers to focus on core business objectives.
“You need to ask: What am I trying to achieve and how am I going to do it – and a lot of the time it is through creative advertising, excellent content and having the right people,” he said. “You need to understand your business objective and what your customer is doing.”
Another concern raised by the panel was the lack of talent to deliver programmatic effectively in order to leverage brands across the board.
“It’s not that there is a lack of awareness about programmatic,” Chin claimed. “It’s that there are nuances to being able to be a good trader and execute and buy new media in a different way. We need to understand the technology and understand how to get the most out of it.
“On top of this, you need to push your tech provider to offer more formats and functions to support your needs. That’s a skill I think is widely lacking in the people who operate the platforms themselves.”
As more brands try and take programmatic on board, this lack of talent to drive it will become more of an issue, Norris added.
“This is why it is important that our teams understand the marketing basics and are prepared with asking the right questions,” he said.
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