It’s often claimed that there are a number of barriers to programmatic adoption; brand safety challenges, lack of premium formats, lack of talent, lack of technology interoperability, lack of financial transparency and so on. But the one which is mentioned most often and the one I personally believe to be the biggest barrier to programmatic adoption is education. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

The people who sign off the marketing budgets do not understand the space fully enough to be confident investing sizeable budgets into it. Indeed, I’d argue that they don’t even know whom to turn to for help.

There are two contributory factors to this barrier:

1. No ubiquitous definition

It amazes me that we still don’t have a ubiquitous definition which all marketing folk can recite word for word. The governing bodies need to standardise the meaning for marketers, agencies, publishers and technologies by finding the common denominator (data and technology in my opinion). Having been in this space for more than five years I shouldn’t still be reading endless column inches discussing, ‘what does programmatic mean to you?’

2. Trust

This point may be contentious. But if I put myself in the shoes of a marketer I would worry about who I can trust to educate me. There are many who would like to bend the marketer’s ear – and often to their own benefit.

To illustrate this I’ve highlighted below the key parties marketers can turn to. These are broad generalisations which won’t be true in every single case. But this helps highlight the conflict of interest and challenges marketers face:

  • Tech vendors. These are the people that own and operate the technology marketers need to execute programmatic marketing. They make money when a brand spends money so instantly there’s a conflict of interest when they provide any educational information. Understandably they also lack deep knowledge about their competition. They may also be ignorant about other marketing channels under the marketer’s care.
  • Independent trading desks. The desks crucially lack expertise across all the marketing channels. They are too single-minded to educate marketers. Similarly to the technology vendors their businesses are setup on the ‘spend money to make money’ model.
  • Governing bodies. Unfortunately, despite having good intentions, the governing parties are spectators. They must rely on what everyone tells them. As such, their educational programmes are actually driven by tech vendors.
  • Digital auditors. Auditors don’t have deep-rooted expertise in the space. They don’t have people within their organisations who have been at the coal face of programmatic technology. They themselves may only be aware of a small percentage of what’s actually happening. Again, their information may primarily be provided by the tech vendors.
  • Agencies. Agencies are deemed to have an uphill struggle in gaining the trust of their clients. This may be because marketers fear their budgets may be directed – with a lack of impartiality – into the agency’s non-disclosed trading desk.

It’s clear that there are lots of voices, opinions and objectives when it comes to programmatic education. The lack of a ubiquitous definition and an impartial educational source only complicates things.

My recommendation to agencies to tackle this pervasive issue is to launch a consultancy service alongside programmatic offerings, with the aim to serve as an impartial advisor; helping clients consider various technology products, services and solutions. A service like this can help brands select and implement the right solution for their needs. If desired, agencies should also seek to provide the talent needed to operate that technology, provide analysis and help clients re-deploy their programmatic insights back into their larger marketing plans. 

Ultimately, to truly educate in programmatic you need experts who understand broad marketing objectives and how technology can deliver against them. And these rare experts need to also be trustworthy and impartial. It’s a lot to ask.  It is this scarcity that I believe to be really holding back more widespread programmatic adoption.