Programmatic tends to get a bad rap in the marketing world. Not only is there an immense amount of marketing jargon surrounding it, making it sound complex and difficult, but the threat of fraudulent data and media spend is ever-present.
I’m here to help you stand back from the buzzwords and complexity, clarify how programmatic actually works and what it truly does well, and give you pragmatic tips you can use to avoid the most costly pitfalls of programmatic.
I have a unique point of view: I’m a fugitive from the programmatic industry, having just spent two years in the belly of the beast working for a programmatic ad platform. And prior to that, I was (and still am) a marketing leader just like you, personally responsible for leading marketing to grow revenue on the client side. So I personally understand and navigate the real world pressures of having to grow revenue in a smart, measurable and scalable way as a modern marketer.
Ready to dive in? Let’s see how programmatic can fit into your B2B toolbox.
A simple way to understand programmatic
Programmatic, which is really nothing more than using data (usually in the form of a cookie) to match an online user with an advertisement across thousand, if not hundreds of thousands of websites, has long been a staple of consumer marketing. Should B2B marketers add programmatic to their bag of tricks? It’s worth considering, but there are a few things you should know before writing the check to your agency or media buyer.
Having spent that last two years working in the heart of what is usually called the programmatic ad tech space I can share with you some tips I learned that will help you get the most out of your marketing spend if you decide to add programmatic advertising to your lead generation efforts.
I worked in what is known as the “supply side” of ad tech. What is the “supply side” you ask? Think about it this way: Publishers (think Washington Post or New York Times) create the content we all read, watch and listen to. The way these publishers pay for all the content that is created is primarily with advertising. What do publishers have a large supply of? Advertising inventory.
So if there is a supply side, is there a demand side? Of course. The demand side is the advertiser or brand who buys the publisher’s advertising inventory to reach the publisher’s audience — which hopefully has a big overlap with the brand’s current and future customers.
So when you have a supply side and demand side, the logical outcome is a market. In this case, the market is known as Real Time Bidding or RTB. The RTB market is where website readers are bid on by advertisers in, as the name implies, real time. In around 200 milliseconds an auction takes place to determine the value of that reader (based on cookie data) to an advertiser and the ad is served. It is pretty easy to see how the power and scale of this type of advertising is so appealing. Google built a nice little business around it.
Like any market, understanding how the programmatic market works, who to trust and ultimately what you are buying are paramount to getting good value for your money.
Do you have enough scale?
Programmatic Tip #1: Programmatic advertising, in my mind, is best used for top of the funnel awareness at scale. So the first question you have to ask is whether you have enough potential customers to get the most out of programmatic’s potential. If you are a company like Salesforce or Slack your potential customer base is giant and programmatic may make a lot of sense. I worked in financial services where the product was targeted for a market that had less than 10,000 potential users. In that case getting any benefit out of programmatic is suspect in my opinion.
Know who you are transacting with
Let’s get this out on the table— there is fraud in the programmatic market. All along the programmatic advertising supply chain, there is potential for fraud, wasted marketing spend, and increasingly, negative brand impact. This fact alone might make you throw up your hands and say “no way, not worth it.”
I liken it to climbing a big mountain. If you don’t know what you are doing or where you are going, it can be hazardous. But with a guide who knows the terrain and the route you can have a fantastic, safe, experience.
So how do you find an excellent guide to the programmatic landscape? Fortunately, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) exists to certify that the different players along the supply chain have programs and procedures in place to ensure against fraud. TAG sets industry standards, confirms those standards are being met and conducts periodic audits of companies to ensure ongoing compliance.
Programmatic Tip #2: When working with your agency or media buyer, insist on and only pay for the use of firms (on both the demand and supply side of the market) that are TAG certified. There is absolutely no reason to conduct business with anyone who is not TAG compliant. Get a list of everyone that is being used for the transaction. If your agency or media buyer can’t meet this requirement, find a new one.
Don’t pay for bots or ads that were never seen.
You have run your programmatic campaign and it is time for a check in on the metrics.
Your media buyer tells you that you had great success and your advertising had 1,000,000 impressions. Great.
Maybe. The first questions you should ask are: how many of those impressions were non-human traffic (aka bots) and how many impressions were not actually viewed by a person?
Bot traffic is basically small programs that visit sites creating impressions and ultimately money at the expense of the advertiser. Anyone that is TAG certified has procedures and technology in place to stamp out bot traffic. This is one of the reasons to insist on only using approved vendors. Your media buyer should be able to provide you an estimate (which should be a really, really small percentage) of bot traffic.
Programmatic Tip #3: Paying for ads that are not in view is not usually straight up fraud like bots, but it can be just as costly. Maybe one of your ads was on a website, below the fold, just out of view of the reader. It loaded but was actually not seen. Or, maybe, your ad was scrolled by so fast that it might as well have not been seen. Technology is in place to make sure you don’t have to pay for these types of impressions. As you develop your campaign tell your media buyer that you are only going to pay for viewable impressions. They can set up targeting to make sure your ads only load when certain viewability metrics are met like time in view or scroll depth on a page.
Know where your ads are being seen.
You might want to advertise to your potential customers on some websites they visit but run away screaming on other locations they might frequent.
I know several large mass market consumer brands that are not too concerned with where their ads are viewed. Political sites, celebrity gossip, sports — their audience is everywhere, so they want to be everywhere. Other brands have much more stringent standards. They don’t want their ads seen next to news articles (who knows what the article might be about) or they don’t want to show up on political sites.
Work with your media planner to develop a plan for types of sites you want to be on. You can be more general and only include or exclude types (political for example), or you can even go site by site and exclude or include sites.
If you’re looking for a powerful way to target and reach potential customers at scale, programmatic advertising should definitely be on your list to test. But programmatic is like any other tool in the modern marketer’s toolbox; it can deliver great results if you use it in the right ways. Use these tips to help your team be successful as they evaluate, test and scale your programmatic program.