That’s the question I got from a former colleague of mine a couple of weeks ago. She was not happy with the results her media agency was delivering through their programmatic media buys, and called to ask if I thought she should cancel those buys and shift the dollars somewhere else. Before I answered her question, it was important to help her look at how and why programmatic has overtaken traditional media buying, and talk about when it works best.
Programmatic has quickly engulfed manual inventory-buying across most categories with a projected 78 percent of all digital ad spend going to programmatic buying formats. If you are wondering how happy most clients are with their programmatic buys, 70 percent of marketers report that switching to programmatic has dramatically increased their ROI.
Most of our clients enthusiastically support the programmatic media buys we do for them because of the high level of control it gives our media buying team, the accuracy of the automated audience matching capabilities, and the ability to scale audiences in minutes.
At the same time, those of us who do large programmatic buys each month have learned not to expect the technology to make magic all on its own. We assign roles to guide strategy and monitor programmatic campaigns, and we anticipate optimizing campaigns for greater returns over time. Additionally, we recognize that a 100 percent programmatic media buying policy often does not make sense for every client’s campaign goals.
Read on to learn why you may not be getting the returns you expect out of your programmatic campaigns, how to fix it, and the limited situations where traditional media buys could still make sense.
Programmatic Requires Careful Segmentation, Persona Building and Audience Optimization
The audience-scaling capabilities of programmatic and its automated buys hold great promise for companies, but do not be fooled into thinking the platform will do all the work for you.
Our agency still needs our clients’ customer data to accurately select the traits of the audiences that will have the highest potential for conversion. Without including this first-party data, we would have to rely on the DSP (demand-side platform) to make educated guesses about our clients’ ideal audiences, and educated guesses are still guesses.
To guide our third-party audience-matching tool, we can import custom audiences from our clients’ marketing lists, their retargeting data, their CRM data and more. The programmatic DSP can also sync to a container tag on our clients’ sites to generate an Audience Composition Report (ACR) and highlight segments that stand out. But off-the-shelf data and industry “common knowledge” targeting recommendations are just a starting point.
Additionally, studying performance data can help you identify standout trends to refine your audience targeting parameters. Over time, you can generate more-accurate matching with higher conversion rates — and a lowered cost-per-action — than before.
Make Sure You Have Chosen the Right Programmatic Platform for Your Context
Programmatic activations thrive on context, so if you are feeding creative and messaging into the DSP that don’t match up with audience intent, there will be a disconnect.
You can fix this problem by mapping the customer journey for your most-critical buyer personas. Decide where each hypothetical programmatic impression can act as key behavior triggers to get your audience to the next step of the journey. Analytics data and A/B testing can reveal these opportunities with greater clarity over time.
In addition, make sure to research the respective strengths of each programmatic platform to ensure they can most-capably meet your goals. Conversion rates on social media for many industries are below 5 percent, for instance, with CTRs below 2 percent nearly across-the-board. Yet, a platform like Facebook Dynamic Ads is effective at generating brand awareness when used to match audience interests.
By the same token, the Amazon Advertising Platform offers a rich source of consumer purchase data, allowing you to directly connect customers to pruchase offers when they are near the end-of-funnel, generating more accurate path-to-purchase behavior reports for your campaigns.
Deciding which mix of programmatic platforms works best for your goals is a key step in driving greater ROI over time. Marketers must look into the more-granular controls offered by their programmatic platform in order to select specific publishers or coordinate campaigns more effectively across channels.
When Traditional Media Buying Can Make More Sense
Here are a few situations where traditional, manual ad inventory buys could make more sense than programmatic:
- You are a direct sponsor for the publisher or a specific program they are engaging in
- You are being offered a specific package of rich media units or native ads (although some programmatic platforms now offer both of these services)
- You want specific activations on high-quality sites that are not available for specific targeting by your chosen programmatic service
Even in these instances, a hybrid strategy of programmatic and traditional media buys makes the most sense. The ability to automate inventory selections and match audiences through a DSP — including scalable look-alike audiences — are capabilities that should not be passed upon by modern marketing stacks.
Keep trying, put in your research, and temporarily scale back your program to engage in more-granular A/B testing if need be, and you will eventually find the high returns that programmatic now delivers for millions of brands around the world.