¿Se Habla Programmatic? A Publisher’s Guide to Learning Programmatic

mattmaroonThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Matt Maroon, a targeting and programmatic sales specialist at Microsoft.

After my freshman year of college, I took a short leave from school and moved to Central America. I had taken Spanish courses for three years in high school and felt confident in my ability to communicate in a Spanish-speaking country. What I lacked in communication skills, I figured I could “fake it ’til I make it.”

Upon arriving, I quickly realized that knowing a few words and expressions in Spanish were not enough for me to truly communicate. While I understood the basic sentence structure to formulate ideas and initiate conversations, I had a really hard time understanding other people’s responses and sometimes questioned if we were even speaking the same language. The problem was obvious: I was limited in the language and couldn’t communicate effectively in real-world situations.

Similar communication barriers exist in today’s world of programmatic advertising. I recently moved into a role that has required me to become fluent in the programmatic space. I have found that there are people who are expert in both its process and proposition, while there are others who are only familiar with a few buzzwords and are trying hard to “fake it ’til they make it.”

Many advertising groups profess to be “all in” on programmatic, but struggle to define their strategy. It can become difficult to have a meaningful conversation about programmatic buying when many in the industry lack fluency in the process.

For the last several years, many in digital advertising have become familiar with programmatic buying terms, including demand-side platforms (DSP), supply-side platforms, data-management platforms (DMPs) and agency trading desks. But if some do not fully understand how each platform is leveraged, we may question whether we are really speaking the same language.

How Do We Eliminate Programmatic Language Barriers?

When mastering a new language, a person must get to a point of fluency where they can assimilate and coordinate all of the living complexities that make communication rich and effective.

Likewise, it’s essential to become familiar with the structure of the business being served so that one understands how to connect the dots between supply and demand. This means we should not get caught up in LUMAscapes that map out each individual ad exchange, ad server or data supplier. Instead, we should take a step back to identify an advertiser’s strategy and capabilities, and align their automated buys with their individualized approaches, keeping in mind that there is no single or “best” way to automate buys.

We should also try to avoid the pitfalls that often accompany learning a new language. While learning Spanish, for example, I once said, “Estoy embarazado,” thinking I was saying, “I’m embarrassed.” What I really said was the male equivalent of “I’m pregnant.”

Similarly, miscommunications can lead to misunderstandings when first learning programmatic advertising. For those more familiar with direct ad buys, we might think it makes sense to move direct sold budgets into automated buys, without considering the nature of bidded environments. I myself have been guilty of this.

However, as we become more familiar with the space and the nature of buying, we realize that selling direct and selling programmatically is not an apples-to-apples activity.

Where Should I Focus When Learning The Programmatic Language?

The best way to learn the language of programmatic is to start with a single advertiser’s strategy and build a plan that connects supply with demand.

Like language, each advertiser will speak its own “dialect” of automated buying that is somewhat unique. For example, when I visit different Spanish-speaking countries, I cannot use the same version of Spanish across the board. Rather, I have to find the right words, sentence structure and tone appropriate to each country in order to effectively articulate my thoughts.

Automated buying on digital platforms is similar. First, I need to become familiar with an advertiser’s broader marketing strategy. Then I need to know who is working with that advertiser to execute the buy and how they have translated the brand’s objectives into measurable KPIs. From there, I can formulate a plan to tap into the right media at the right time to implement a successful campaign.

Publishers must tune their ears to the goals of their advertisers by working with multiple technology, data and yield optimization partners to connect their supply with demand.

With that said, it is still important to recognize trends within the programmatic ecosystem. Recently we have seen an evolution of changes, such as DSPs taking on DMP functions or agencies realigning trading desks with their direct buying teams. In some instances, advertisers are taking programmatic buys in-house, narrowing the scope of work for their agency. It’s important to understand these trends, but it’s more important to know the players who are enabling programmatic buys and their specific role in a brand’s programmatic strategy.

Learning the language of programmatic is essential in the media industry today. While programmatic buying is not a new phenomenon, it is a trend that continues to shape the way media is bought and sold across multiple platforms. It’s important that we immerse ourselves in the needs of individual advertisers to implement buys according to their strategies and capabilities. By doing so we can eliminate language barriers and collectively engage in meaningful conversations that will benefit everyone.

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