You shouldn't be scared of programmatic, because you're already doing it; but the change to programmatic is like the banking industry's Big Bang. It's an efficient way to buy media, or it's the arrival of personalised marketing at scale. It's incremental or it's transformational. That was the discussion at Google's Think Programmatic event, where the speakers were trying to pull off the challenging feat of persuading the audience that, while programmatic is going to transform their businesses, it's also nothing to be afraid of.

Published
September 2014
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The event started with a definition of programmatic from Google's VP for northern Europe, Matt Brittin: using technology to do more faster, and to get smarter as you go.

The first half of this definition formed the basis of the reassurance part of the argument. Brittin pointed out that, under this definition, companies are already doing programmatic in the form of payroll automation, yield management and inventory management.

The discussion of the impact of programmatic came from Andy Mihalop, Google's industry head for insurance. He argued that what makes programmatic transformational is the second part of Brittin's definition. By making brands smarter as they use it, programmatic enables them to become truly customer-centric, and to build personal relationships at scale.

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This all sounds great, of course, but there were two objections. The first was raised by Mihalop himself - how do you actually get there? The second, brought up in the following panel session by Hamid Habib, managing partner at media agency OMD UK, is that while programmatic is part of building personal relationships with customers at scale, it isn't the whole of the process. Or at least not yet.

Mihalop identified the key challenge as being within organisations wanting to use programmatic. He argued that while most businesses claim to be customer-centric, they're really dominated by product and process. The challenge is to break down the silos that exist in today's businesses and really put the customer at the heart of the organisation. And the silos he highlighted were the ones separating marketing and IT.

Mihalop cited the Gartner prediction that, by 2017, CMOs will be spending more on technology that CIOs. While this has widely been seen as evidence that the type of people that will become CMOs needs to change, it doesn't suggest any breaking down of silos. Rather it implies the creation of rival tech-based empires. And while Mihalop highlighted the emergence of new roles such as Chief Marketing Technology Officer, and the vital importance of having someone responsible for ad technology and systems integration within the business, it's crucial to remember that it's not just signals coming in from media channels that matter in developing personalised relationships at scale.

This was the point made in the panel session by Louisa Wong, general manager, EMEA at AMNET, Aegis International's trading desk business. In response to Habib's comment that there's more to building a personal relationship with a customer than just better ad targeting, she highlighted the importance of a 360-view of the customer, using all the data available to the organisation. And she asked how many of the audience either had or were looking to develop a data management platform to enable them to bring all that data together.

The panel agreed that, at the moment, the main driver for programmatic is the increased efficiency it offers, but that very drive for efficiency will help usher in a period of transformation, whether advertisers and agencies are ready for it or not.

What she didn't ask - but what should certainly be the next stage of the discussion for most businesses - is where that platform would sit within the organisation, and who would be in charge of making sure all the organisation's data is integrated within it. Those looking for a silo-busting tool might well find it here.

Equally important was the other part of Wong's reply to Habib's comment that programmatic isn't the solution to personalised marketing at scale - the word "yet". The panel agreed that, at the moment, the main driver for programmatic is the increased efficiency it offers, but that very drive for efficiency will help usher in a period of transformation, whether advertisers and agencies are ready for it or not.

Or as Alison Thorburn, head of search at BT, put it during the discussion, the immediate effects of programmatic on marketing are incremental, but the overall impact on the business is transformational.