Removing the 'black box' in programmatic

Johan Eriksson / February 2016

In 10 years time from now, more than 80% of all media will most likely be digital and programmatic. Any exact guess about the future is almost always wrong, but we can see that there are some trends clearly driving towards a future where digital and programmatic constitute the vast majority of media.

For example:

  1. The 'Internet of things' trend - That anything that can be connected will be connected. This also goes for more traditional media such as TVs, outdoor signs etc.
  2. The 'Automation' trend - That if something is done more efficiently by computers it will be done by computers.

In the world of media, this would lead to a future where the vast majority of media is digital and accessed via programmatic buying.

Programmatic: The good news

The good news is that programmatic isn’t that difficult. That said, you need to take the time to truly understand it if you want to make it a competitive advantage as a CMO.

First off, it is important to be aware of a key difference:

Programmatic Buying - This is the automated buying and selling of digital media enabled by programmatic technology platforms such as for example DoubleClick.

Programmatic Marketing - This when you use the power of programmatic buying to be able to move further away from mass marketing towards one-to-one marketing, yielding a bigger impact of your marketing efforts due to more relevant messaging.

One of the big benefits of programmatic marketing is relevance. With increased relevance comes greater impact and better return on investments. Programmatic marketing, moving towards relevant one-to-one marketing would not be possible at scale with manual buying. This is where technology truly comes into play.

"The trick with programmatic marketing is to find the balance between splitting your audience into smaller and more relevant audience segments with tailored messaging, and still have audience segments that are sufficiently big to be able to draw relevant data learnings from."

The way to think about the process to move from mass marketing to programmatic marketing is to think about audience segments.

You start off by making qualified guesses on what some of the big audience segments are in your industry. Let’s use car insurance as an example. A good place to start is to segment by intent throughout the consumer journey of See (awareness), Think (consideration), Do (purchase) and Care (existing customers):

  • See: People that could end up owning a car
  • Think: People starting to think they might need a (new) car / car insurance
  • Do: People comparing car insurances options
  • Care: Your existing customers whose car insurance is about to expire

The overall process would begin by communicating these segments and trying to break them down into more and more relevant sub-segments. For example, you might want to create one message aimed at people looking to buy a new car and another one aimed at people looking to buy a used car. Or different messages for people visiting your website for the first time and people that visited your site before. Etc...


The trick with programmatic marketing is to find the balance between splitting your audience into smaller and more relevant audience segments with tailored messaging, and still have audience segments that are sufficiently big enough to be able to draw relevant data learnings from. You will not get to true one-to-one marketing since it wouldn't be efficient to create 10 million different messages for a population of 10 million people. That said, time you probably wouldn’t have only 3 segments either, since it would cluster people into groups which are too large, thereby making the messages less relevant.

If you are used to working with Search Engine Marketing your job is very similar. The only difference is that in SEM you look at keywords, whereas in programmatic marketing you look at audience segments. Each group of keywords and each audience segment both need to have enough volume to be able to draw data-based conclusions around what is working and what isn't, as well as being sufficiently targeted in order to be relevant.

Getting kickstarted with programmatic:

It is critical to remove what sometimes feels like a “black box” of programmatic marketing. You'll be reassured to know that doing this isn't rocket science. Rather, pick one campaign and bring everyone involved into a room to create, execute and evaluate it all together. After you have done this everyone will have sufficient insights and knowledge of programmatic marketing in order to be able to scale it across campaigns without the need to involve everyone at each stage.

To be more specific:

1) The CMO invites the marketing & sales department, the media agency, the creative agency and the programmatic technology provider to a kick-off meeting

2) In this meeting, try to forget for a while what you think you know about your target groups, and aim to create three very different audience profiles

3) Create a “programmatic map” where you gather an overview of your audience segments and outline the key components for each audience segment (see below using the four audience segments See, Think, Do and Care as examples, and also breaking down the Think segment into two sub-segments, one for new car buyers and one for used car buyers)

programmatic 1

4) Execute the programmatic map, led by either the media agency or the in-house programmatic department

5) Meet weekly during one quarter to review results, learnings and agree on next steps

As simple as that.

If you do this, what today might seem like somewhat of a “black box” of programmatic technology will be removed by the exercise, as well as all questions and answers that it will lead to. As a result, from a CMO perspective you will be a much more qualified and informed customer to your agencies, partners and co-workers.

To ensure you're on the right track, ask yourself: do you understand the details of how a campaign gets executed programmatically? If not, how do you know if you are asking the right questions as a CMO?

Programmatic Advertising: Fact vs Myth