Today’s programmatic display ecosystem is awash with trading desks, ad networks, exchanges and demand-side platforms that all claim to give access to individual ad impressions via programmatic platforms.

These platforms leverage combinations of technologies like real-time bidding, dynamic creative optimisation, user targeting and segmentation to help advertisers reach the right audience, at the right time, with the right message and for the right price. 

To help shed some light on this complex landscape, here are ten tips that every performance marketer should keep in mind when it comes to programmatic display. 

1. Programmatic display is about more than buying

Real-time bidding is just one small piece of what is potentially a very big programmatic technology pie. In order to place an intelligent bid, marketers must take into account hundreds of data points that can range from the user’s on-site behaviour to historical CRM data to the time of day — or even the weather. Beyond data collection and analysis for bidding, programmatic technologies also help marketers to customise not only the impression price, but also the message delivered on the other side of the buy.  

2. Not all programmatic technologies are created equal

“Bid volatility” refers to the number of variations in the bids submitted by a programmatic buyer. Bid volatility in RTB can range from anywhere as low as one bid (for example, bidding a flat £3.00 for every user who visited an advertiser’s site) to more than 16,000 bid variations for a single campaign. The same level of granularity can be applied (or not) when it comes to messaging, with some platforms only showing the same static creative for every impression won, and others showing dynamically optimised creatives with offers customised for individual users. 

3. For targeting, tap the value of structured data first

While big data has the potential to bring a lot of value to programmatic display, it takes a lot of work to make that unstructured data valuable. Many marketers are already sitting on top of another store of data that is much easier to apply for value creation in programmatic display: structured data such as their existing CRM or revenue management data. Before you make the investment in untangling big data, make sure you’ve taken the time to leverage your structured data assets to the full extent. 

4. Use segmentation for smarter investments

Marketers can increase the efficiency of programmatic buying using segmentation, which allows them to assign different performance targets (e.g., cost-per-action or ROI targets) for different user groups. The most basic segmentation might be between new versus existing customers (most advertisers would be willing to invest more to acquire new). Existing customers can then be further segmented to fine tune investments based on variables like lifetime value.

5. Don’t throttle back before the system has had some time to learn

Programmatic display platforms are often described as “self-learning” — but in fact this only describes a machine’s ability to aggregate data and recognise patterns within that data. In order to best identify user behaviours and make intelligent buying and messaging decisions, programmatic systems need to aggregate data over time, so make sure you’ve given your campaign adequate time and volume in order to optimise it properly. 

6. Look out for the long game 

With all this talk of milliseconds, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment in programmatic. The problem is that when you forget to look ahead of the next view, click, or transaction, you run the risk of over-exposing your most valuable users. This is why features such as user-individual frequency caps are imperative when it comes to programmatic buying.Without these brand safety checks, you run the risk of burning out some of your most valuable users.

7. Flash-based ads will soon become a thing of the past

This summer, many of the exchanges and supply-side platforms opened up a range of new inventories to buyers that included “Flash-free” inventory, such as mobile browsers on Apple’s iOS devices. Since most programmatic display vendors at this time use Flash to build dynamically personalised ads, they are not yet able to take advantage of this significant share of new inventory. Over the next months we’ll see a huge shift away from Flash towards device-agnostic HTML5 for programmatically optimised display creatives.  

8. Pricing transparency is a crux of the efficiency of programmatic buying

One of the main benefits of RTB is pricing efficiency, and transparency makes it possible for marketers to understand and benefit from the efficiencies of this buying method. Likewise, transparent pricing models give marketers the ability to more easily compare vendors and partners to find out where real value is being delivered in an efficiency-driven channel. 

9. The programmatic mobile gold rush is here, but it won’t last forever

Mobile is becoming a top priority for today’s most aggressive online marketers because, for the moment, there is less competition than on desktop display. In many cases, marketers can reach the same users for a lower price than they might be able to reach them for on desktop. If you have access to technology that allows you to reach users on mobile and Flash-less inventory, then there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to extend your entire programmatic strategy — bidding, messaging, segmentation, targeting — from desktop display to mobile.

10. You still need a human touch when it comes to strategy

For all the reasons listed above, it’s clear that no programmatic strategy is complete without the experience and expertise of a seasoned specialist with a nose for data. With so many potential variables on the table, it can be difficult to know where to start. Even the world’s most “intelligent” platform is useless without the knowledge of how to leverage the technology, so don’t forget to invest in expertise, too.
All in all, just make sure to do your programmatic homework, and you’ll be able to differentiate your business and drive incremental revenues from this powerful performance channel.