Programmatic media buying has been around for years but recently it’s been refined and matured—so now’s the time to do the same with your attitude to it. The knee-jerk reaction for most companies who employ the technique is to be lazy. It’s automated right? It’ll do all the hard work for you. The temptation is to leave the box running because it’s also cheaper than employing creative thinkers to monitor and tweak it. But, that’s exactly what you have to do.
Last year, at The Economist, we thought about scaling back our investment in programmatic which had, at that time, dictated just 1 percent of our media spend. Then, we decided to try smaller tests in a more limited number of markets and the returns were significant. Now, it accounts for 15 percent of our annual spend in media channels.
The smart way to see dramatic ROMI (return on marketing investment) is to stay deeply involved. Automated systems are programmed to return to the same suggestions that have yielded results, (according to data they generate). But what about outliers? Human creative thinkers—the human addition to the process—are invaluable in applying more rebellious, ingenious and untested ideas, which in themselves may yield surprising outcomes.
We have a three-pronged mantra at The Economist which goes, “Measure relentlessly, optimize ruthlessly and pursue determinedly.” We know from experience that humans, experienced in seeing and reacting to “fuzzy logic” patterns, need to roll their sleeves up and dive in across all three dimensions.
This is why many industry hires now come from gaming and betting backgrounds; a new breed of experts who are deft with data. Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, coined the term, Math Men (and women, of course) for this new generation of creative planners and marketers.
The Economist is in the process of bringing more of its programmatic activity in-house, partly for this reason. Not only can you effect the human interaction, but monitoring, updating and testing is made easier too. Slackers should be warned not to expect quick results, or not to rely on them, at least. Consider the arc of your media campaigns. We always consider storytelling, the customer journey, so that information is rolled out, piece by piece, over time and via varying platforms to gain better engagement. The slacker way is to send and forget. We're suggesting it takes time and effort—just like slow cooking.
As an industry, we've been trained to think in terms of developing serial campaigns. That episodic behavior is old-hat. Today we need to keep ever-on with our activity and let the system learn. Set up programmatic properly, spend time looking at the results and cook up creative ways of approaching people with the data. Getting it right is essential. Soon we’ll be moving into an era of pervasive programmatic.
The emergence of an Internet of things means you will, for example, be exposed to programmatically-bought food ads on your fridge door as you start prepping your evening meal, or be presented with bingo wing reduction ads on your ironing board. Not that any of that will bother the slackers, mind you. Activity is not their strong point.