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Programmatic buying aims to make digital marketing even more effective by leveraging the full potential of data to reach consumers with relevant messaging in real time. A recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report examines the digital campaigns of five top advertisers across four industries to demonstrate the benefits of an integrated, and thus more holistic, data-driven programmatic buying approach. Below, review five steps that BCG recommends advertisers take to maximize their campaign performance for substantial gains in efficiency, and click through for the full study.

John Wanamaker, a successful merchant and early proponent of advertising, famously said a century ago, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don't know which half." A recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) research report commissioned by Google uses this quote to illustrate a conundrum that marketers still face today. Though technology has advanced significantly since the early days of advertising, the reality is that there are still issues that impede a brand's ability to harness the full potential of digital marketing.

Programmatic buying promises to make digital advertising even more effective by using real-time data to reach consumers with highly relevant messaging. The BCG report shows how you can be certain that you're not leaving money on the table when it comes to maximizing the performance of your digital campaigns. Start by adopting the latest, most data-driven approaches to programmatic buying, and ensure that you have the talent and organizational structure in place to support these approaches.

Until now, the promise of programmatic has been hard to grasp concretely, except by those within individual companies that employ it and see its results. Even then, a single organization's view is myopic, at best, and blind to the true potential of programmatic buying where the latest, most holistic and data-driven approaches could be used to maximize its effects.

The BCG research examines not just one company but five—across four industries—to prove the effects of an integrated, and thus more holistic, data-driven programmatic buying approach. With concrete numbers, BCG shows the difference this approach has made to the companies' bottom lines. And those numbers are enough to make even those who assume they're doing a good job of maximizing their digital campaigns take a second look. On average, the results of BCG's test-and-control methodology across five brands reveal that advanced techniques garnered a 32% decrease in cost-per-action (CPA), as much as a 200% improvement in action rates for clicks and view-throughs and up to a 70% reduction in cost-per-click (CPC) and cost-per-view (CPV).

Five steps for improving programmatic campaign performance

Based on the research, BCG recommends that advertisers do the following to maximize their programmatic campaign performance to see the kinds of substantial gains in efficiency the companies in the study saw:

1. Adopt a unified technology platform Choose an integrated platform for your campaigns. Working from a single source helps mitigate the challenges of accessing data for your campaign workflow. Your campaigns will launch faster, you will be able to use target audience lists across tools and channels and your teams' performance will not be cannibalized by the teams bidding against each other.

2. Implement advanced audience targeting techniques In the study, the following techniques resulted in substantially improved key metrics for advertisers:

  • Display remarketing from search ads allows you to reach consumers who have previously clicked on a search ad for your product or service.
  • Video remarketing involves reaching users who previously interacted with your video channel.
  • Behavioral analytics helps advertisers reach users who have not only visited your website but also demonstrated valuable behaviors while navigating the website, such as viewing specific product pages or adding items to a shopping cart.

3. Eliminate fragmentation Fragmentation in your strategies, teams, tools and data can result in conflicting goals and incentives; a lack of transparency in performance; wasted effort and slow execution. Align your online and offline strategies. To do so, invest in a platform that can gather audience data across every touchpoint of the campaign.

4. Invest in and integrate the numbers people Invest in people and not just in technology. Companies often regard the ability to analyze and use data as a standalone function that is not included in campaign development. Hire data experts and make them part of the team.

5. Test, learn and keep learning This study compares and examines one-off campaigns with the goal of seeing whether advanced programmatic techniques could improve their effectiveness. By experimenting further over time, it's possible to deliver continuous incremental improvements—on top of the substantial 30% to 50% increases achieved by the advertisers studied.