If some pundits are to be believed, programmatic real-time bidding (RTB) has sorted out online marketing once and for all. Just set the controls for click, buy, retarget, etc., select your bid price, press "go", and that's it.
But hold on – has years of head scratching by dedicated marketing folk been reduced to a few algorithms and a black box? Well, an increasing number of people are waking up to the fact that no marketing plan can be distilled down to just one strategy.
Different marketing objectives – from raising brand awareness at the top of the funnel, through to finding new, in-market users and driving them to the site, and the intelligent retargeting of site visitors – all require different programmatic RTB approaches, tactics and strategies.
And, guess what – some companies perform better at achieving some marketing goals than others. Even if you take just one horizontal slice of the funnel, there are potentially many thinner slices you need to assess and, to make matters worse, many different vertical strategies exist to address every horizontal marketing goal.
All of which means that it’s back to the drawing board and time to dust off all those old-fashioned marketing theories again.
That’s not to say that programmatic RTB doesn’t play its part – far from it. Without a doubt, the arrival of programmatic advertising and RTB has introduced massive efficiencies and delivered a huge performance boost to many campaigns. It’s just that it needs to be used intelligently to provide the best possible results. So how do marketers achieve this?
Agencies predominantly use RTB for retargeting because of the perceived high ROI it can achieve. I use the word perceived because measuring ROI is much harder than it seems, as many users would have converted anyway. Advertisers who rely too heavily on retargeting waste valuable budget that could be spent attracting new customers and, indeed, it may annoy customers that are over-messaged in this way and put them off the brand.
The trick is to look at incremental sales, controlled frequency of messaging and knowing when to stop. Retargeting done well is a great tool but great care must be taken not to overindulge because it seems easy to do and the results look great.
Looking further up the funnel, prospecting for new customers and driving them to your site is essential, but prospecting is fraught with bad practice. It’s very tempting to take a spray-and-pray approach and push out lots of cheap impressions in the hope that a relevant user will see one and convert. Instead, good practice for prospecting is to identify users who are actually in-market for the advertiser’s product and message them at the right time.
This can be done through the correct use of data and best practice optimisation.
Contextual targeting, audience targeting and lookalike targeting are potentially valid strategies, but few providers use them effectively. There is really no short cut, so marketers need to test a variety of providers and strategies to establish what works best for them. Differences in data, technology, market knowledge and trading expertise make a huge difference in performance.
For branding right at the top of the funnel, the trick is not to find users who are in-market, but instead to find those that fit the advertiser’s typical purchaser profile, whatever stage of the buying cycle they are in. This could be achieved through site-specific buys, audience targeting or even lookalike profiling.
Finally, we need to know what to do once a user has converted. One option is to stop messaging. However, it may be more effective to offer a cross-sell or up-sell the message, which could develop over time into a more robust customer communication strategy.
So just when you thought RTB had simplified your digital marketing plan and you could get your preferred programmatic supplier to do the lot, it’s back to testing one supplier against the other.
Only then can you sit back and know that you are executing the best strategies at all points in the funnel to deliver the best possible ROI for your marketing budget.
Adrian Lacey is UK managing director at Crimtan