Programmatic buying, or using algorithms to purchase digital ad space, has been a part of marketing for at least a decade – or even longer by some definitions.

Yet, despite its longevity, programmatic buying continues to confound marketers. Reasons why include the patchwork systems required to get programmatic to work, its acronym-ridden jargon or perhaps its lack of pricing transparency.

Many marketers, however, are unfazed by these obstacles to understanding programmatic and are still interested in its potential to provide greater reach than any other digital platform.

So, what do marketers need to know about programmatic buying as we head into 2019? What do experts think the current best practices are for programmatic buying?

To find out, Econsultancy recently held roundtable discussions with dozens of client-side marketers at its annual Digital Cream event in Singapore. There, marketers openly discussed their experiences, best practices and concerns at a table hosted by Martin Ross, Managing Consultant, Division Bell Group LLP and sponsored by global audience solutions provider, CtrlShift.

Below are highlights of the insights provided by brand marketers on the day.

Why programmatic buying?

The first question tackled by attendees was why are brand marketers still so interested in programmatic buying?

Some attendees admitted that they still had little experience with the tactic and wanted to learn about it from other, more experienced marketers. Others said that they had tried it and were not pleased with the results, so they wanted to learn optimization techniques. And many participants, mostly from large multi-national corporations, said that they were doing ‘a lot’ of programmatic buying, but that they still had many unanswered questions.

When asked what they expected to get out of using programmatic buying, responses included scale, speed, efficiency, and effective reach. Concerns about programmatic buying included lack of transparency, brand safety, viewability, ad fraud, compliance and getting management buy in.

Best practices

Delegates then moved on to what experienced marketers felt were the current best practices for programmatic buying.

Strategy first

Those experienced with programmatic buying insisted that it should not sit on its own. Instead, programmatic buying should be seen as a tactic supported by the marketing strategy, preferably one which was written down in a marketing plan. Additionally, marketers should only use programmatic buying if it makes sense in the context of the overall marketing strategy.

programmatic-roundtable

Always ask questions

Attendees also said that, too often, marketers were not asking enough questions before starting their programmatic buying initiatives. One participant said that marketers should start with basic questions so that they really understood how the programmatic systems worked and how it could help them.

Suggestions for questions marketers should ask included:

  • Why are we using programmatic buying?
  • Can it help us reach our target segments?
  • Should we use programmatic for branding awareness – or for driving last-mile conversions?
  • How do we predict that the bottom line will be affected by using programmatic buying?
  • What problems will it solve?

Simply asking the questions, participants agreed, was a great first step toward identifying the role that programmatic buying should play in their marketing efforts, if any.

Start with a trusted partner – and learn from them

After getting satisfactory answers, should marketers feel that programmatic buying make sense for their brand, they should to start their journey with a trusted partner, such as a programmatic consultancy or an experienced agency.

The partner should not, one attendee stated, overwhelm those new to programmatic with technology and jargon.  Instead, the partner should be able to explain it in a way that everyone on the marketing team could understand.

Additionally, the partner should aim to help the brand with its long-term business goals. This means that they should be ‘product agnostic’ and only recommend the tools and tech necessary to help brands achieve their objectives.

First party data is critical

Marketers getting started with programmatic buying were advised by experts to look at first-party data, or the data which the brand itself has collected.

Data which helps with programmatic buying includes past campaign data, web analytics, CRM sales data and even data from the call centres. Industry experts also said that, before starting with programmatic buying, marketers should analyse their first party data in combinations and see what segments they could create.

Develop personas

Continuing on the theme of audiences, attendees who were successful with programmatic buying said that developing customer profiles, or personas, helped them determine the right bidding strategies for their different audiences.

The experts also pointed out that for programmatic buying to be effective, marketers needed to align the creative with target sites and platforms. Ads should not be the same on social media, business websites, and lifestyle forums, said one participant.

Work out an attribution model

Another piece of advice was that marketers aiming to include programmatic buying into their marketing strategy needed to move away from last-click attribution.

While last-click is a useful way to justify channel selection, marketers needed to consider the entire customer journey across many touchpoints to determine their programmatic buying effectiveness.  The resulting attribution model could then provide a clearer picture of which media touchpoint supports conversions.

And, as one marketer pointed out, that attribution model should include both online and offline conversions, if possible.

Invest and take risks

The final point raised by attendees was that programmatic buying efforts required a lot of investment in systems, processes and technology.

Experienced marketers agreed that, if at all possible, brands should hire an in-house expert to bridge the gap between the business, the marketing team, the trusted agency partner and tech vendors.

And even if marketing teams are not yet able to make that investment, they should, after considering the points above, take some risks with programmatic, experiment and use learnings to optimise future programmatic buying efforts.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank the host of the Building your Programmatic Practice for Maximum ROI table, Martin Ross, Managing Consultant, Division Bell Group LLP and the subject matter expert, Ganga Chirravuri, CTO, CtrlShift.

We’d also like to thank all the marketers who made time in their busy schedules to attend on the day and offer their programmatic buying experiences and insights.

We hope to see you at future Econsultancy Asia Pacific events!

A photograph of the organisers and sponsors behind the Digital Cream agile marketing rountable in Singapore.