Programmatic buying: The disconnect between reality and expectations

While daunting for many marketers, programmatic buying drastically improves a brand’s ad targeting capabilities and optimises marketing spend. It is not only here to stay, but is fast becoming the future of marketing.

So, why do marketers remain wary of it? According to Eddy Chan (pictured), marketing technology leader at Kimberly-Clark APAC, what marketers are actually struggling with is not just confined to the technicalities of programmatic buying, but rather connecting the reality of the situation to their preconceived marketing expectations.

Click here to see what went on during the conference.

“The problem lies in wanting massive transformation. You can’t do that. It has to be bite-sized. It is all about educating the market – it is about how it will help you to engage better with your audience,” he said.

“If you want to go with a big bang, no one will understand what you are doing and by the time you decide on a strategy, it will be too late in the game.”

He was speaking at Marketing’s inaugural Performance Marketing 2015 forum.

Getting programmatic up and running needs the support of senior management to ensure the entire company is on board with the function. If your senior management doesn’t push for the integration of programmatic buying into the marketing mix, most likely the rest of the company will not see the importance of it.

“You need support from top management who will need to find time to understand it. If a head of the region, who manages multiple countries, can find time to try and understand and get updates on programmatic, the rest of the company will also quickly adapt and understand the importance of the function,” Chan added.

Fail fast and learn fast

How a marketer should approach programmatic is through embracing speed and quick learning. Test a few things at one go, learn and move on from it, advised Chan.

Kimberly-Clark, in a bid to remain ahead of the game, decided to make a move into programmatic in the APAC market this year. The brand has already experimented with programmatic buying capabilities in the US market two years ago and has had experience in the Europe market for about a year and a half.

Nonetheless, the mosaic of markets in APAC truly presented a challenge for the brand.

“If we were to sit and wait for the right partner, solution and segments we would still be just sitting still. So we put that aside and said let’s out the key pieces we need. We need the right data, the right DSP and right agency for us to work with. Focus on those pieces and get out to market as fast as possible,” Chan said.

Chan admitted APAC is still a tricky and challenging market for the company because of the different maturity levels in each market. Kimberly-Clark is still in the midst of learning to adapt and “play around with the pieces” to find a right fit for markets such as China which have huge growth potential and also the smaller, but more mature markets such as Singapore. And, of course, everything else in between cannot possibly go unnoticed.

But the common ground across all APAC markets remains that in all the markets digital spend is on the rise.

“We needed to move into programmatic to ensure future-ready thinking. Programmatic TV is the next frontier and it is coming. If you think about TV budgets, it costs a lot and we wanted to make sure we were not playing catch up with programmatic TV when it finally hits,” Chan said.

Speaking of a lesson Kimberly-Clark learned in Korea five years ago, Chan said the company spent nearly two years building up its market share when it failed to take up e-commerce quickly enough. From the leading market share holder, it dropped to number five in just two years.

“We were heavily invested in retail and supermarkets and thought the e-commerce boom wouldn’t hit us. The next few years were very painful, but now e-commerce contributes to about 35% to 40% of our revenue. That’s the story we want to avoid with programmatic,” he said.

Recognise what you can and can’t do

Learning where you lack and learning to fill those spots with external partners is vital. Kimberly-Clark knew the in-house capabilities it had having worked with programmatic in markets such as Europe and America, but replicating the success in APAC required a different strategy because of the diversity of the markets.

“We knew we were not a tech company and we needed to focus on what we knew and could do. We partnered with Mindshare, our agency, to run our trading desk and find the right tools with DSP and data providers and started with that. That allowed our marketers to get back to what they did and understanding our customers.”

Being always on

Programmatic is also today forcing marketers into being “always on”, said Cedric Dias, head of digital marketing for OCBC Bank. Marketing has moved from product era to marketing era to what is now known as the relationship era. The metrics of success today are no longer centred around brand visibility or awareness, but rather engagement and reach.

With programmatic making targeted audience reach that much easier, fostering sustainable relationships with the right mix of content that will resonate is vital.

Where marketers are failing is their unwillingness to move away from the “one big ultimate” marketing campaign syndrome.

“We end up hoping to have something like Volvo’s Epic Split. But that’s not always possible. Most of the time, we end up with something that gets a little bit of visibility and then dies out,” Dias said.

With attention spans being at an all-time low, big disruptive advertising can no longer survive in today’s marketing mix. Those who look to disrupt will have to face extinction, added Dias.

So how to adopt an “always on” mentality?

Essentially, brands need to create many small ideas that stitch together to form one big idea. At the end of the day, the always-on journey has to be made up of valuable content that will range from campaign messaging to deeper brand experiences.

Rather than bombard them with information, Dias added that smaller “lightweight interactions over time” can lead to consumers building deep, emotional connections.

“Campaigns do not need to give away all the information at one go, but rather marketers need to learn to hold information back so as to be able to engage the consumer through different points of the campaign journey,” Dias said.

While ads around new product launches will continue to exist, in the realm of programmatic, it is essential to create a “flow” and keep the conversation going at the numerous available touch-points.

Know the pitfalls

For KCC, investing in the right data and paying for the quality was also of utmost importance when pushing programmatic out in the region. But as with many organisations, KCC was wary on how to actually protect itself in the world of programmatic.

Chan advises that brands keep in mind four key points:

– Buying third-party data: Is there quality data in the market? In most markets, Chan said it was a challenge. The data will not be 100% accurate or clean and it is an issue most companies still grapple with.

– Brand safety: As a family brand, it is important for Kimberly-Clark to have its brand name appearing in the correct family-friendly websites. Brands should be wary of where their ads are appearing. Currently, Kimberley-Clark relies on its media partners to ensure ads are not misplaced.

– Viewability: How do you know your target audience is really seeing the ads? Unlike traditional media, brands should also find ways to ensure the data is clean and ads are being viewed by the right demographic in their entirety.

– On-target audience verification: While the solution is still an imperfect one, buying data has no guarantees. Neither is buying audience verification, but it is a start.

“Programmatic is a long-term commitment. That’s a decision we made and we know we need to invest to make it work,” Chan said.