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How to develop a winning programmatic strategy

Business strategy businessman holding a blackboard planning team strategy on a chalk drawing of a so

Programmatic advertising technology is fundamentally changing the way brands interact with consumers, offering a vastly more efficient way to execute and manage a true omnichannel media strategy and offer more personalised brand experience that has proven to assist more leads and sales conversions than any other method of digital display advertising today.

Learning this, it would come of no surprise to you that programmatic advertising is also the method responsible for helping the world’s most successful brands get in market fast and disrupt their competition from every angle by using data-driven insights to delight customers with a more ‘personalised’ approach that gets sharper with every interaction.

However, whilst programmatic advertising’s superior targeting and predictive capabilities (thanks to AI and machine learning) has brought marketers closer to the ‘holy grail’ of advertising than ever before, if you don’t have a clear and concise roadmap to guide you through this dense ecosystem, it can quickly become more like ‘how did I get here and where do I go now’.

In all its glory, programmatic is still a complex beast; one that needs to be constantly monitored, optimised and fed fresh creative assets [yes – more than once every 6 months].

So, before you shoot out of the gates and risk losing sight of the finish line before you’ve started, it’s good to warm up and get a feel for the journey ahead first.  A strategy or roadmap will be your shining guide; keeping you on track around the inevitable twists and turns that running any new advertising technology will bring.

So, where to start?  Good question.

Step 1. Stay Agile

The very nature of programmatic is dynamic, so whilst it’s good and necessary to have a plan of action, a big part of your success will be determined by your team’s willingness to pay attention, accept learnings and pivot quickly.

Unlike traditional media strategies where demographics, placement, creative, CPM’s, reach and frequency are pre-defined with specific publishers and scheduling is virtually set in stone whilst the campaign is running, programmatic is vastly different and will run its own race, especially in the launch phase (first 2-8 weeks).

The predictive capabilities of programmatic is what makes it leaps and bounds ahead of any other ad technology and method of media buying today. An intelligent programmatic strategy is one that keeps moving, adapting to change as the technology learns who, how, where and when a prospect is more likely to engage and convert.  If you start out with this same agile mindset, you too will be leaps and bounds ahead and ready to take advantage of new, more lucrative opportunities.

Don’t be surprised or feel let down if your typical online customer profile turns out to be completely different than the traditional demographics you’ve been working with for years or if the types of sites and categories you thought people would be researching your products or service have completely bombed out.  Here’s your opportunity to embrace new learnings and totally change creative direction; change creative images and messaging, switch channels and start adding more popular, more engaging ad units ASAP. The worst that can happen is that you’ll develop more key learnings about what’s working and what’s not. However, more likely is that you’ll start to streamline your online marketing, reduce purchase and decision-making timeframes, improve customer experience and generate more revenue online.  Not so terrible after all.

Step 2. Setting Your Goals And How They’ll Be Measured.

Before developing a programmatic strategy, you’ll need to start with setting your goals, KPI’s and how they’ll be measured.

Common programmatic advertising goals and KPI’s include:

  1. Generating a percentage increase in sales and leads per month
  2. Decreasing the cost of acquiring a sale or lead online
  3. Increasing customer lifetime value over time.

However, at the end of the day, it’s about understanding and agreeing on how these goals will be measured and setting up a reliable infrastructure to measure them accurately that will ultimately determine your long-term success with programmatic advertising.  In the land of ad tech this practice is referred to as ‘attribution’.

Common Attribution Mistakes

Don’t be fooled by the old metrics of ‘first click’ and ‘last click’ attribution, save these ones for your search campaigns.  As a full-funnel advertising method, you’ll be leaving valuable ad dollars on the table if you are purely focussed on measuring programmatic success simply based on a lead or sale tracked to first or last click.

Real Case Use Examples

For example, if you’re an ecommerce business looking to increase online sales, one attribution goal could be measuring multi-channel effectiveness via uplift in social media engagement – more shares, likes and video views.  A noticeable uplift from these channels is likely to contribute to a greater lift in brand reach and awareness resulting in more online sales.

Another example is a B2B marketer wanting to increase qualified leads.  An important attribution model for lead generation is understanding what media channels and specific ad formats are generating the most traffic and time on site.  It may take some time for these channels to convert a higher volume of qualified leads however if their traction is being measured and attributed as part of the customer journey, then they will generally lead to more content downloads and contact forms being completed online.

Step 3. How To Develop A Winning Programmatic Strategy

Now that you’re setting out with an agile mindset, defined your goals and agreed on how they’ll be tracked and measured (attribution), it’s time to develop an effective programmatic advertising strategy. Easier said than done, but certainly possible with the right guidance.

Remember, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” programmatic approach, so you can’t expect to buy an effective formula out of the box. Let’s look at the key elements of a programmatic strategy.

Do Your Homework

An effective media strategy always starts with a target audience in mind.  An effective programmatic strategy starts with data in mind – your first party data.

You’ll need to investigate things like:

  • Your weekly and monthly web traffic.
  • What it’s costing you to bring a new visitor to your website and convert them.
  • Size of your database, social communities, apps and video channels.

All have the potential to influence what you should be spending per month, the types of ad channels and formats you should considering running, and how the programmatic ad tech will leverage all of your earned and owned assets to accelerate the delivery of your goals and KPIs.

Remember, programmatic makes every interaction between your brand and your audience smarter than the last, so take advantage of the data you currently have and grow from there.

Set an agile budget

While it’s possible to set your monthly budget in stone, the nature of programmatic advertising promotes a more fluid financial approach. The artificial intelligence (AI) of programmatic advertising is always finding faster and smarter ways to achieve your campaign goals, which is why an agile budget can give you the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

For example, if you’re a retailer focussed on increasing sales volume, you may want to base your budget on what you’re willing to pay to acquire a new sale (also called cost per acquisition/CPA). If you’re focused on scaling brand awareness, you may base your budget around a cost per new visitor model (CPV) or what it will cost you to get more qualified leads to your site.

Your programmatic agency partner will be able to recommend a budget that’s based around your specific goals, taking into account your current web traffic, other owned assets, and if the lead, sale or traffic goal is viable.

Choose ad tech platform/s and media channels

Deciding on your ad tech vendor is a good place to start. You’ll need to look at whether their platform is equipped to deliver on your goals, and whether it’s a good match for your budget and media channels.

Some demand side platforms (DSPs) offer an entire suite of digital advertising channels, like web, video, social and email. Others might specialise only in web advertising across all formats of display advertising, like rich media, native and video cross-platform.

If you’re in doubt, this is where an agency partner can help and may identify a need for two complementary platforms that each play a specialist role.

Use Advanced Audience Targeting Tools

To achieve an audience-centric strategy, you need to consider what type of data (like first, second and third party) will allow you to define and reach your intended audience at scale and on budget. You’ll also need to think about scale and frequency, and how to avoid making your targeting too narrow, which will hinder your ability to achieve scale.

There are some amazing audience targeting tools available today, and if you’re new to programmatic you’ll be astonished at just how much they can give you the head start most brands are looking for.  For example, you can target people on the internet (web channels) based on what domain names they have searched for or based on the emails they are receiving from specific competitors’ domain names.  For example, you may be a property consultancy business wanting to target people looking for property in a specific region, state or country that may have received emails from your direct property consultancy competitors.  All you need to do is supply a list of keywords and your competitor domain/s and the programmatic ad tech will go about locating these people anonymously and serving them display advertising over the web.

Employ the Right Creative Formats

The types of creative formats able to be deployed using programmatic software are more exciting today than ever before. The creative possibilities are becoming limitless, including formats like:

  • Video and Dynamic Video
  • Rich media page takeovers
  • Native
  • HTML5
  • Dynamic social and web

It’s easy to get carried away with all the new creative options but try to reel in your excitement and always look through the lens of your goals and KPIs.

Here are three things to consider when it comes to choosing the right creative formats:

  1. Your budget: programmatic creative isn’t free and should be kept fresh; ideally updating every 8-12 weeks however if you’re an e-retailer you should consider changing your display creative every 2-4 weeks.
  2. Less is more: A limited creative budget shouldn’t mean limited performance. There are creative technologies that can assist you building programmatic display assets at scale for less.  Focus on creating different types of ad messages that can be deployed simultaneously across more channels.
  3. Sizes: The more ad sizes you create, the more ad inventory you’ll have access to. Always remember, programmatic brings scale – use it.

Map Your Customer Journey

Mapping out a customer journey is about being more strategic in the way you start and evolve a conversation with prospects to give you the best chance of making a sale. Or, in programmatic terms, it’s making sure you’re serving the right ad to the right customer on the right channel at just the right time.

The easiest way to get your head around creative mapping is simply relating it back to your own sales process. Think about your creative assets as salespeople, building a relationship that starts and evolves as soon as the potential customer walks through the door.

For example, a customer walking in-store for the first time needs to feel comfortable about your brand proposition before feeling pressured to buy. This is like the ‘prospecting’ phase of programmatic, where your creative messaging should be structured to introduce your brand with a sequence of softer messaging to entice your prospect and engage their interest first.

Once they’re a little more familiar with your product range, your salespeople start unloading more relevant information until it’s a safer bet to talk price and close the deal.  In programmatic terms, this is called the retargeting phase, where another short sequence of creative ‘retargeting’ messages are set up to match specific URLs that are triggered when the prospect arrives or clicks through to those particular pages, sections or buttons.

Also, keep in mind, a good agency partner will spend time understanding your sales process to map out a creative strategy that aligns with your goals and KPIs. Also, your ads can be easily adjusted and optimised ‘on the fly’ (more easily if they’re using creative management software) once your customer journey is better understood.

Implement Brand Safety

One way to sabotage a perfectly planned programmatic campaign is by forgetting to pay attention to your brand’s safety.  Brand safety means ensuring your brand is not going pop up in any unsavoury websites or next to offensive content that is misaligned with your brand’s messaging and identity.  For example, porn or gaming websites or content containing political violence or extremist religious propaganda.

The good news is that within the programmatic ecosystem itself, the fight to protect brand safety has come in leaps and bounds over the past 2-3 years, with many demand side platforms (buy side ad tech) integrating brand safety into their platforms.

Adgility Top Tips For Ensuring Brand Safety

We only work with programmatic platforms that have best-in-class brand safety features integrated into their platform through partnerships with companies such as Integral AdScience, DoubleVerify and Comscore. These companies have developed algorithms, formulas and data-driven tools to prevent ads from ever appearing alongside undesirable content.

Also, stay away from suppliers who want to charge you additional fees to keep your brand safe.  Brand safety isn’t a luxury or a ‘nice to have’, it should be part and parcel of a professional programmatic strategy and campaign set up.

In summary

So, there you have it. In a nutshell, by approaching programmatic with an agile mindset and budget, taking a bit of extra time to set up your goals, research your own data and web assets, implement the right technology and creative assets and map out your customer journey, you can feel confident about launching your own programmatic journey to success; surpass all your goals and maximise every new opportunity to drive superior performance from your advertising investment.

Think of it as one small step for marketing and one giant leap forward for your bottom line.

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