Best Practices: How to Improve Programmatic ROI

10 Steps to Boost Programmatic Campaign Performance

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This year alone, nearly $21 billion will be spent on programmatic ad buying, according to a forecast by Magna Global. With this magnitude of investment, advertisers are feeling pressure to justify the costs.

Here are 10 steps to improve your programmatic campaign ROI:

1. Don't just race to the bottom. Many marketers view programmatic as simply a way to buy cheap inventory. Bid and audience optimization can be a delightfully rewarding process, but it has created tunnel vision in our industry. See the bigger opportunity. Programmatic allows you to communicate in paid media in unprecedented ways. Real-time targeting, data and creative are redefining advertising. This movement is about more than saving pennies on your CPM.

2. Media and creative -- buddy up. It's true, the gap between media and creative teams is closing, but when programmatic is involved, we need to do better. Break down barriers between teams, and that starts with discussing programmatic as more than a robotic way to buy inventory. Media folks, you need to inspire your creative counterparts. Talk about the finer details of audience segmentation. Ask how the stories in each ad might change by audience. Share performance data with the creatives, too. Together, all parties must be held accountable for the success of the advertising.

3. Tailor creative to be specific to each audience. Programmatic buying lets you target an optimized audience at the right moment on their path to purchase. Use these signals to tailor your messages. Too many advertisers have amazingly specific media plans but then serve the same generalized creative to all segments. By not tailoring the creative, you're missing out on the audience targeting benefits you're paying a premium for.

4. Stop taking "data-driven marketing" so literally. This may be the biggest misstep in programmatic overall. In this era of big data there is a tendency to think about programmatic creative as a data feed that literally changes a dynamic asset in every ad. The easiest way to make these dynamic creatives is to connect them with location, time, device, stock market, or weather data.

Instead, use your data to develop insights that drive your strategy. Take all of your customer and business data and learn as much as you can from it. Then apply that to your programmatic marketing strategy. If the data reveals clusters of customers who derive different value and benefits from associating with your brand, apply that knowledge to the stories you tell in paid media. That's data-driven marketing.

5. Bet small. Programmatic makes it easy to test concepts before the main campaign goes live. If you can discover what works best in advance, you're already miles ahead of your competitors. During planning, block off time specifically for a test. It's surprisingly common that the test is the first thing to get cut when the campaign isn't coming together fast enough. Early performance data is one of the clearest signals you can use to optimize campaign performance.

6. Tap into your in search and social media know-how. AdWords was the original programmatic marketing platform, and many sophisticated marketers have mastered it. Tap into the search and social ad experts in your network for your tactical and strategic questions. You might be surprised by how much expertise is right under your roof. What has worked for ads in one channel may be the lesson you need to boost ROI in another.

7. Keep the creative fresh. Every creative execution has a lifecycle. At first, repetition helps lock in the message. But at a certain point, your audience has seen enough. Facebook's algorithm knows that stale creative starts to fade, so it diminishes impressions over time if you don't update the message. Consider doing the same. After 30 days, keep an eye on your programmatic performance. If it dips, reinvigorate the campaign by rotating in a new creative.

8. Recalibrate in real-time. Don't have a set-it-and-forget-it mindset. Maintaining poorly performing audience/creative pairs without rebalancing is a borderline mar-tech crime. There are two primary factors in a digital campaign: the media and the creative. You can re-allocate budgets to higher performing ads. Don't forget that you can also replace the creative in low-performing ones.

9. The macro picture still matters. If you're always focusing on micro-optimizations, you may miss opportunities to optimize your entire media mix. Your customers are on Facebook. They're in search engines. They're on their phones. Across their digital journey, they are exposed to display ads. Unite your storytelling across these platforms and your messages will become that much more persuasive. If you smartly allocate your spend across programmatic and non-programmatic channels, you maximize ROI in a big way.

10. Embrace mistakes as the fastest way to learn. Don't take setbacks personally; instead see them as an opportunity to deepen your expertise. Mistakes can be gifts. You learn far more when things aren't going well than when they are.

The original promise of programmatic was that transacting media was going to get easier. In the process, we have unlocked far greater potential. Now the opposite is true. Advertising has never been more complex. But for those who are willing to do the work, significantly better campaign ROI awaits.

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