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

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.