Welcome to the programmatic revolution

Up to now brands have faced great difficulty in reaching customers across devices and mediums - but with the new range of data available, real-time bidding and a programmatic approach, 2014 might be advertising's "big bang" year.

In my last piece for the NS website, I predicted that the advertising industry was headed for a Big Bang moment. This was a comparison I drew with the financial industry, where, in 1986 almost overnight the bowler hats and handshakes for completing a deal disappeared and were replaced with electronic, screen-based trading. It revolutionised the industry and properly cemented London’s position as a financial powerhouse.

The reason I think we are heading to this point, and fast, is due to the reams of data that are being produced across the web every single second. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and personal computers, coupled with the emergence of social networks, sharing platforms and the resilience of email, people are sharing their likes, preferences and opinions more than ever before. The web has always been social. And by this I mean the way in which content is produced, consumed and distributed across the digital world. In granular form this can mean shortened links, using widgets on pages to share information, even sending a good old fashioned email with a link in it. The human behaviour of communications is very much alive and well in the digital age.

This has created an unprecedented opportunity for marketers, who are now able to take advantage of the amount of data out there to help target consumers and find new customers in a precise and relevant way, at scale. Simply put, there are billions of sharing data points in all forms happening across all digital touchpoints.

We are however at a stage now where processing this information has to be automated. And this is why we are fast approaching a “programmatic” revolution. Technology, through sophisticated algorithms, is increasingly able to find valuable characteristics, gauge consumer behaviour and target messages with laser focus to the right audiences. It brings a previously unavailable automated intelligence to help brands target quickly enough to hit potential audiences with relevant content in a timely fashion.

Some may say “isn’t this just real-time bidding?” It’s not. The concept of “real-time bidding” has been in existence for a few years and is simply the methodology behind buying and selling advertising impressions in an open marketplace, much like an auction model. This is where brands are (allegedly) able to buy and sell online display advertising in real-time, one ad at a time and serve them to the public. However, as with most software, your desired outcome is wholly reliant on the information you put in and the way in which you use the data you have. How often have you been served an ad for a train or plane after you have made the journey? Real-time bidding is an important trading component of the marketplace but it is the marketplace as a whole that is becoming programmatic. This enables brands to aggregate, book, analyse and optimise all forms of digital content and media so they can serve targeted offers, messages, and ads across all channels. The ultimate benefit here is that marketers can identify customers in real-time, in the right place, and on the right device, to help retain or win new business.

It basically means that they are able to connect the dots between their content, their audience and their media buying; to ensure they are genuinely reaching their target audience based on their likes, preferences and behaviours right here, right now. This is a hugely powerful asset for brands.

Another reason this is going to start to address the challenges we all face is the mobile channel. Mobile advertising has struggled on two levels. Firstly, it has struggled as web advertising did in the early stages and has sadly had to adopt a clusterbomb approach with clients being measured by the number of app downloads that they are able to achieve (akin to how many likes or followers you can get - numbers with no real meaning). It’s expensive and sees little return on investment. Secondly, even though the mobile or smartphone is becoming the prime means through which people communicate today, marketers have struggled to connect with them as they move between smartphone, desktop and tablet. The programmatic marketplace will address both as it brings data and a cross platform approach, thereby enabling brands to target and connect with their next customers using tailored marketing messages. A big drive for this new paradigm will be the ability to combine the analytics of each consumer action and deliver a personalised experience to users, with intelligent software and an increasing use of cookieless targeting technology. It’s the shot in the arm that will ensure mobile continues its aggressive growth.

Brands are already turning to a programmatic approach and seeing significant returns. However, thanks to the amount of data out there and the need to integrate with mobile, 2014 promises to be the year which all channels reach a “Big Bang” moment - and you don’t want to be the brand that is left behind.

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

Communications are thriving in the digital age. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.