Programmatic may be exciting the media industry, but it also risks running away from marketing’s objectives of customer-first engagement. David Reed examines why the data management platform could be the answer to the problem.
If media buying used to be like the hotel industry, then programmatic was its Airbnb. Where media owners used to offer their ad inventory in a range of packages, media buyers tried to gain efficiencies by bundling their clients’ buying power together in order to bring the price down. Programmatic advertising has turned that model on its head - efficiency is gained through buying less, not more, but through better targeting.
It has electrified the whole media sector because in theory it gives publishers better rates for their inventory while also yielding better results for advertisers. In reality, it continues to be fraught with problems, from difficulties with ad blocking through to fake impressions which may even have been generated by the media owners themselves (see my blog).
You don’t have to be looking at programmatic for long, however, before you start to ask yourself a critical question - if its whole raison d’être is better targeting, why is the data that drives it so poor? Compared to digital marketing with its richness of first- and second-party data from customers and commercial data owners, the world of real-time bidding relies on anonymised browser data and the questionable quality of what media owners know about their audience.
Pressure on publishers to improve their game is starting to pay dividends for advertisers, however. “A lot of programmatic was about remnant inventory, not brand. That is changing,” says Ed Weatherall, DMP strategy lead EMEA at Rocket Fuel. “Publishers are not just selling their cheapest ads using programmatic, they are identifying multiple audiences across multiple estates and gaining more information on them as a result. That is turning their ads into premium inventory.”
As anybody familiar with data knows, the more you collect, the better you understand your audience or customer. By tracking website visitors and aggregating information on their journeys around publisher or ad networks, media owners are getting a deeper understanding of their behaviour and interests. As they load that data into their selling platforms, it allows the demand side platforms (DSPs) used by agencies and advertisers to close the gap between their target audience variables and what is being offered by publishers.
This is where the latest resource is coming into its own. Data management platforms (DMPs) bring together first- and second-party data sets already in use by advertisers, anonymise and aggregate them, then feed them into the DSP. It is the uplift this can generate that led Rocket Fuel to buy x+1, a US-based DMP, 18 months ago which it has now fully integrated into its eco-system.
“The opportunity is to bring in all the disparate data sets, loading data in from multiple sources, then running data out to distribute across multiple channels,” says Weatherall. At Rocket Fuel, the unique proposition is its artificial intelligence-driven Moment Scoring, which runs millions of audience data points through a cognitive platform to create a score, then matches this to the best-fit ad inventory on offer, all in real-time.
As well as the Product Marketplace publisher data it accesses from the publisher side, the company’s DMP also claims to be able to integrate offline data from clients, alongside the digital marketing data they hold, applying a persistent identifier to allow for anonymised matching. While it is possible to load in all the data an advertiser holds, there is a question as to how desirable this really is.
“Onboarding CRM data is one of the easier things you can do, but getting ROI from what could be a million pound investment is more difficult. When you talk about DMP projects, they can become large-scale integration programmes because there are a lot of stakeholders in marketing, IT and compliance,” he says.
To mitigate this, Rocket Fuel offers its DMP in modules that can be built out as resources and budget allows. It also integrates with both third-party DSPs, not just its own, as well as a range of industry-leading marketing automation systems to ensure the flow of data out of the digital marketing arena and into its programmatic environment.
So what, then, will be the difference between a fully-integrated DMP and a conventional CRM solution? “Traditional CRM is about segmentation and group-based marketing. That is better than nothing. But when consumers are in digital and mobile channels, they can be different people at different times - your behaviour on Monday morning is completely different to Monday afternoon. CRM would struggle to categorise that, but targeting those behaviours is the added value of programmatic,” argues Weatherall.
There is also the crucial distinction of keeping targeting data anonymous, stopping short of anything that might be personally identifiable information. In this big data world, it might become a moot point whether aggregated behavioural data captured via cookies and tags really does stay the right side of that line. For now, this is what the programmatic world claims for the DMP.
Given the importance of this new platform, it is surprising how little attention it has been getting. A recent Forrester assessment of market-leading DSPs pays DMPs little notice, other than to note that Google does not have one.
One reason may be that, like CRM before it, DMPs are difficult to build. As Cathleen Ryan, director of marketing and advertising at accountacy SaaS provider Intuit, speaking at Programmatic I/O in San Francisco in April of this year, said: “This stuff is not easy. We have been on a three-year journey with our DMP. It’s been an awesome ride, but it has not been without its challenges.”
Data ingestion and normalisation is the key element, then aligning it with targetable audiences on every device. She described it as like a Swiss Army knife, able to do multiple things across multiple devices. Crucially, the DMP begins to leverage marketing’s most important asset. “Your first party data is the most important thing you have. It is gold, it is what makes a brand a brand. So make sure your privacy and compliance is iron-tight. Our legal and compliance team has a seat in our programmatic team,” said Ryan.
Ian James, managing director, Acxiom UK, believes DMPs are starting to change the way programmatic is viewed: “It is very clear that what we are seeing in marketing around the DMP at the moment is viewing it as the starting point, rather than looking at the programmatic media element. It is the core component of data-driven media. The DMP has risen to the top as the go-to place to start the customer journey and understand it in a meaningful way.”
He argues that the combination of first-party data with second-party enhancements, even when anonymised for the programmatic buying environment, is correcting a problem digital marketers have faced with this initiative. “The journey started in the wrong place - with the media. It is not about the channel, it is about the customer. So the DMP is a really critical tool for that,” says James.
Acxiom’s acquisition of Live Ramp was a vital move to support its play in the DMP space, giving it the environment in which clients’ data from CRM and its own aggregated data sets could be brought together to support programmatic media buys. “It solves the challenge of taking offline data into the online environment in a way that is compliant and at scale,” he says.
His colleague at Acxiom France, managing director Vihan Sharma, makes an important point about the need for marketers to be building their own customer-insight capabilities to support programmatic. “More and more when you look at the online giants like Facebook and Google, they are walled gardens and becoming more closed. They are selling advertising solutions based on anonymous cookies. Other publishers will follow that direction.”
For digital marketing driven by ever-increasing knowledge of the consumer, buying blind in this way is problematic, unless it can bring that data to the negotiation. Building and populating the DMP is a key step in giving some power back to the brands whose money actually pays for the channels being used by consumers. It may also be the best way to make the robots work for marketing, rather than fighting against it.