At my company, we’ve been active in the programmatic buying space for brand marketing and we’ve seen some very positive business results to date. I truly believe it's the future of all media buying (not just digital, but I’ll save that discussion for another day).
Yet, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of programmatic buying's potential for brand marketers. The deck is stacked against brand marketers to be successful; this is an opaque space with ad tech companies often promising us the world. Call us marketers cynical, but we’ve heard that story before. For me, just to understand, navigate and be successful in this space was a huge, time-consuming task full of fits and starts.
Programmatic buying has already established itself as a winning solution for direct response (DR) marketers and yet awareness, let alone adoption, is much slower among brand marketers. Why? Ironically some of the tactics and thinking that has pushed the industry forward for DR are now holding it back for brand marketing. So, I’d like to offer three themes that are inhibiting programmatic buying for brand marketers. While this is certainly not all encompassing, I’m hoping this will provide some insight and impetus to prioritize the needs of the brand marketer even higher.
In order for programmatic buying to truly catch on with brand marketers, the following things must be true:
- The ecosystem must be demystified
- Real-time signals are needed to measure brand-building success
- More ad tech companies are required to focus on the needs of brand marketers
1) The ecosystem must be demystified for brand marketers
This space is crowded and complex, and while it’s understandable that each player is out to further themselves, the unfortunate result is that the space has deteriorated into a huge hairball of complexity.
The reality is that media plans are just a piece of the brand manager’s responsibilities that include developing campaign ideas, individual creative pieces, PR, in-store… the list goes on. Of all those responsibilities, creative development receives the lion’s share of attention - as it should - since it is the most visible piece to the consumer. Most importantly, the creative idea is what drives the business, and we know that media simply amplifies the creative. If the creative doesn’t have the right to succeed, the campaign will fail regardless of the brilliance in the media plan.
So, if you are trying to sell your customer something in which she has no interest and you are not taking steps to make things easier to understand, you are dead in the water. Clearly it is the responsibility of brand managers to engage (and they will), but the industry needs to take the first step and make things cleaner and simpler, while cutting out promises that can’t be fulfilled.
2) Real-time signals are needed to measure brand-building success
Incremental funding for programmatic buying has to come from somewhere. Ultimately, it competes with other types of marketing for funding -- search, print, PR, TV, etc. From a marketer’s perspective, “TV has worked very well in the past and continues to do well (yes, TV’s death has been greatly exaggerated), so why should we stop doing it?”
The answer is simple: done properly, digital programmatic buying has the potential to produce stronger ROI. But shifting spending from something that is working well to something completely new is inherently risky. Enabling brands to quickly understand if their media buys are working helps reduce risk, because if they aren’t working they can quickly shut it off and move funds into better-suited places. A real-time signal of success could go a long way in helping brands feel comfortable in this display ecosystem.
However, the need for real-time feedback from programmatic buying goes beyond risk management, because the nature of programmatic buying enables us to have so many levers and opportunities to optimize our buys - many of the levers are useless without an immediate signal of success.
One thing I hear a lot from various vendors is that a banner “click” is the proper real-time signal. I wish it was that easy. When running a branding campaign (i.e. no direct response objective like ecommerce sales, email signups, etc), informed brand marketers don’t care about clicks. The click-through rate (CTR) of a banner ad has been proven time and time again not to correlate back to incremental brand awareness, equity or sales for branding campaigns. This makes sense as less and less people click banners today vs. historical. Clicks are now at the point where CTRs average less than 0.1%. Optimizing against such a small population could actually lead to false positives.
The lack of a real-time signal creates a domino effect minimizing the true potential of programmatic buying. If a real-time signal doesn’t exist, then it is difficult to leverage programmatic’s optimization features to test and learn what is driving value in a buy (is it demo, geo, banner size, etc., targeting?). Thus as branding marketers we can’t optimize in real-time, and the potential of programmatic buying is left untapped.
3) More ad tech companies must focus on the needs of brand marketers
Perhaps the lack of a real-time signal for branding is why ad tech has almost solely focused on the click and, therefore, direct response marketers. While it is understandable to go after the low hanging fruit, if we want the space to grow (and we all do) there needs to be more attention on the brand marketer.
The opportunity to transfer some TV dollars to the programmatic space exists in spades. The vast majority of brand marketers who can’t afford TV are still buying digital like it’s 1999 (through inefficient means), so there is a great opportunity here, too.
While the space has started to make strides to meet the needs of brand marketers, we need more brilliant minds to take it to the next level.
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