10 Key Considerations for Programmatic Partner Selection

The concept of in-housing programmatic advertising is alluring. After all, it removes the middle-man and increases the revenue earned on every buy. But, in-housing programmatic comes with often-times insurmountable obstacles related to tech and staffing. That’s why a partnership approach is typically the most advantageous and offers the quickest route to market.

Editor’s Note: While this article directly addresses publishers, the key considerations offered in regard to successfully selecting a programmatic partner are also relevant to marketers.

As publishers seek deeper efficiencies to maximize digital revenue, the concept of in-housing programmatic advertising is alluring. After all, it removes the middle-man and increases the revenue earned on every buy.

But, in-housing programmatic comes with often-times insurmountable obstacles related to tech and staffing. That’s why a partnership approach is typically the most advantageous and offers the quickest route to market.

Teaming with a programmatic partner to help you monetize your audience niche and data, however, can be risky. Every vendor has a fantastic story to tell and appears to offer not just the moon you requested, but the rest of the solar system, as well.

With that in mind, here are the 10 key areas to assess ahead of time to put yourself in the best position for success when selecting a programmatic partner.

1. Data

A strong vendor really has to be able to on-board first-party data with a decent audience match rate (around 30% or higher). You can also create actionable first-party audience segments through a vendor by adding a pixel to your site. Your own data is the best route for targeting, so the vendor should help you extract value from it.

Does the potential partner bring any strong second-party or third-party data sets? This is the data they can bring to you to supplement what you know about your target audience. First-party data is great for reaching your customers, but to stand out in more competitive verticals, you need as much actionable data as you can find.

Finally, can the partner on-board and overlay key data sets to enhance the industry-specific data you and they already use? Data sets around “propensity to buy consumer goods online” or “avid hunter” or “discount shopper” can help you profile (and message) prospects in new and meaningful ways.

2. Products

Once you know you can reach the right audience, you need to be supported in as many digital manners as possible. Most vendors can deliver various sized banner advertisements, but programmatic has grown up quickly. Consider mobile banners, native, video, YouTube, Google Display Network, audio, over-the-top video, and digital out-of-home as ways to reach your audience now and into the future. Many ask which product reaches the most members of their intended audience. The answer you want to hear is the combination. The more options you give your customers, the more you can sell.

3. Transparency

Programmatic inventory is a murky world of liars, cheaters, and crooks. You can deploy all the software in the world to protect yourself once you have launched a campaign, but partnering with those who drag you into the muck leaves you showering with hogs.

Find out ahead of time where the messaging will appear and how the costs break down. Make sure you are hooking in with the major players in the programmatic space for inventory.

Of critical importance is your comfort level with their battle against fraud and zero-value impressions. You need to know if your partners embrace (or, better yet, actively deploy on your behalf) third-party firms like Integral Ad Science, White Ops, and Moat. Discomfort with the industry’s watchdogs would be a pretty bad sign.

4. Inventory Scale

Strong data, using an array of digital methods, and pulling inventory from the major players should result in scalable inventory. However, if the scale is too good to be true, it is. Millions of impressions in a month against a segment that has only a few hundred people in it is not a home run, it’s sketchy.

5. Minimums

There are some wonderful offerings on the market that might change the world, but they are geared for consumers and don’t help in the B2B setting. If the minimums are high, the partner is showing they may not be in the business for your business.

6. Price

The cost paid to the vendors will ultimately determine your own pricing and ROI. If the cost from the partner is substantial, it might price you out of the market. Additionally, you will be paying significantly more for more niche inventory, like audio and out-of-home.

Let the costs make sense for your business, but not guide the decision-making process. Dollar-store prices in the programmatic space could put your business and client relationships in jeopardy quickly.

7. Service

Without campaign performance metrics, much of your determination will come from corporate websites and sell sheets. Anyone can sound good on paper and pixels, but how does the vendor respond? Are they responsive and informed? Interacting with others on the team (outside of the sales professional fronting the eventual deal) can be a good indicator of quality. Confusion often means trouble.

8. Speed

While speed and service often go hand-in-hand, the important speed here is from creative/tag delivery to impression delivery. With a good amount of setup ahead of time, you should be able to launch relatively quickly … within 24 hours or so. Waiting a week or more is bad service or depicts trouble within their internal operation or tech stack. Potential partners should offer some level of guarantee that if you have an emergency deal that needs to launch ASAP, they can move mountains and get it up quickly.

9. Past Performance

It is fair to request past performance metrics, but know that most will not be able to compare apples to apples or show what is often proprietary data. If benchmarks are available, first seek average click-through rates, viewability by position/tactic, and fraud percentage.

10. Other Partners

Get a client list from the potential programmatic partner and check it out. Ask around with a few industry friends. If the vendor is new to your industry, you might just ask others offering programmatic services. They are likely to know about the new vendor in question and will at least tell you their faults.

These items are important because you may not know if you have a good or bad partner until the first few months of campaigns have delivered (or not delivered). In the fast-changing world of programmatic advertising, a few months is an eternity — and your business could be sunk before you know it.

Eliminating Vendor Risk Is a Critical Step to Win Back Consumer Trust

You don’t have to work in ad tech to know there’s growing distrust around how personal information is being collected, used, or misused. With the GDPR in effect and the CCPA on its way, publishers should consider what third-party partners are doing with their data and take steps to eliminate vendor risk.

Editor’s Note: While originally written for the publishing audience, marketers face a similar situation, as they work with vendors and must be compliant with GDPR and eventually CCPA.

You don’t have to work in ad tech (or even advertising at all) to know that there’s a growing sense of distrust around how people’s personal information is being collected, used, or misused by the various content, commerce, and online service providers they interact with every day. But publishers have a front-row seat to the drama as it all unfolds – and an added layer of responsibility, given the direct relationship between users and their content.

With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in effect and with a look ahead to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), it’s important for publishers to consider a potential consumer trust issue of their own: what third-party partners and vendors are doing with their data.

You’re Only as Safe as Your Partners Are

To be clear, many publishers have already stepped up their privacy game. Whether it’s to stay compliant with new regulations or actively regain public trust, legacy and digital-first publishers have raised the bar on internal privacy standards, moved toward restricting access to their user data, and worked to secure their systems against breaches and attacks.

Unfortunately, implementing these changes alone is not enough. Not when publishers rely on a host of third-party partners to help keep everything – from video players, to content personalization tools, to programmatic ad deals – functioning effectively.

Each of these partners has its own approach to data collection and usage that needs to be added to the publisher’s overall privacy equation.

Since cutting ties with all third parties isn’t exactly a simple (or realistic) solution for most publishers, partnering with service providers on a privacy action plan – one with overarching standards, but with enough modularity to work across multiple vendors – is a straightforward way to help eliminate that risk.

1. Standardize the Vendor Selection Process

Keeping consumer data sacred starts with being highly selective about whom you work with. Rather than asking ad-hoc privacy and data usage questions, develop standardized questionnaires as part of your vendor selection process. Ask prospective partners pointed questions such as:

  • What data will you collect from us?
  • What is the purpose for collecting this data?
  • What controls and safeguards do you have in place to ensure data is handled properly?
  • Will you share our data with other third parties? If so, with whom and why?

Furthermore, only work with vendors that have received industry certifications from trusted third-party auditors. And of course, put a process in place to revisit each vendor’s data management approach on an annual basis and as regulations change.

2. Get Technical and Business Leaders on the Same Page

Obviously, technical subject matter experts such as the CTO and CPO, and regulatory experts like Legal should play a significant role in managing vendors’ data privacy compliance. But the responsibility shouldn’t stop there. Protecting user data and preventing leakage requires input from key stakeholders in disciplines like sales, marketing, and even platform support.

Business leaders often own the day-to-day relationship with the vendor, and thus have an on-the-ground perspective that the technical experts may not. As a result, they can be more aware of the intricacies of the relationship than the technical experts alone.

Similarly, platform support and sales leaders may have an understanding of site glitches that could be compromising user data, and examples of how, when, and why privacy shortcuts might have been taken in the past.

Privacy and trust are far too important to be relegated to technical leads only, so keep business leaders looped in from the beginning to ensure full coverage and alignment.

3. Plan and Communicate

Trust, of course, is built on communication.

Be transparent with customers about the partners you work with, the data they use, and how you’re working with partners to keep everyone’s data safe. Ideally, this info comes as part of a broader education campaign about how you’re putting customer privacy first in your data initiatives.

Meanwhile, the sheer volume of consumer data in play means that missteps are unfortunately inevitable. This makes having clear emergency protocols and plans for handling worst-case scenarios – including how to communicate details to customers – a critical step in the process.

Throughout these communications, be sure you’re conveying information in simple English, not technical jargon or legalese. To see how it’s done right, learn from some of the brands noted for doing it best.

Remember That You Don’t Need to Go at It Alone

Use trusted vendors as a resource for best practices and as trusted privacy guides. At a minimum, they’ll be able to help you better secure data through their own systems. They may also give you fresh perspectives on how to choose other vendors wisely, and can provide critical support in driving better data standards industry-wide.

With the right approach to partnerships, publishers can leverage vendors as allies (as opposed to bearing with them as potential risks) in the fight to win back customer trust.

How to Select the Perfect B-to-B Data Vendor

Most B-to-B marketers rely on customer data from third party suppliers. But how do you choose among the myriad of data providers out there? Use this handy checklist of criteria, organized into three categories: the data product itself, the surrounding services that will help you get the most value from the data and the factors that suggest the vendor will be a satisfactory business partner for your company. To get started, you need to identify your business and marketing objectives. Let’s look at this process in detail.

Most B-to-B marketers rely on customer data from third-party suppliers. But how do you choose among the myriad of data providers out there?  Use this handy checklist of criteria, organized into three categories: the data product itself, the surrounding services that will help you get the most value from the data and the factors that suggest the vendor will be a satisfactory business partner for your company. To get started, you need to identify your business and marketing objectives. Let’s look at this process in detail.

First, clarify your marketing objectives for the data. If you are going for customer acquisition, your data needs will be different from those for retention goals. Here are some examples.

chart1Next, prepare a detailed analysis of each segment you are trying to understand or communicate with. This will allow you to assess your data needs with precision and avoid buying what you don’t really need. Most companies are targeting a variety of audience segments, based on variables such as customer product needs and customer profitability.

Criteria for Vendor Evaluation

Only you can determine which criteria are most important for your business. I suggest you pick a handful of primary criteria that you deem essential to your company and marketing objectives. Then pick a few secondary criteria that you might consider “nice to have.”

This list will help you ask vendor candidates the right questions to make sure they can meet your needs.

The Data Product

chart2

Services Surrounding the Data

chart3

Characteristics of the Vendor Company

chart4

The world of data vendors is a crowded one. Each vendor has its own strengths, specialization and culture. Your due diligence will pay off with a productive partnership that will take your marketing programs to the next level.

This article is excerpted from “How to Select a Data Vendor That is a Perfect Fit for Your Marketing Objectives,” a new white paper available from Infogroup.  A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Deciphering Big Data Is Key to Understanding Buyer’s Journey

Long before a sale is won or lost, customers and prospects embark on what can be called the “buyer’s journey.” This journey is a complex evolution spanning the entire lifecycle of the customer-vendor relationship, beginning with identification of the underlying business issue or need, and culminating in vendor selection.

Long before a sale is won or lost, customers and prospects embark on what can be called the “buyer’s journey.” This journey is a complex evolution spanning the entire lifecycle of the customer-vendor relationship, beginning with identification of the underlying business issue or need, and culminating in vendor selection.

Along the way, the prospect engages in a wide breadth of activities. Some are internal, such as winning over key stakeholders, building internal consensus and acquiring the necessary budget; while others are externally facing. For example, market research, engaging with colleagues in similar firms to share experiences, and of course contacting salespeople for product demos and pricing negotiation.

I do not claim to have coined the term ‘buyer’s journey.’ For more information on it, you can check out a great article by Christine Crandell that appeared on Forbes.com earlier this month. Among other things, Crandell does a great job explaining how social media can be leveraged to better connect with and understand the buyer’s journey, particularly during times when prospects are not engaged with your sales team. What’s especially interesting about the concept of the buyer’s journey is that prospects are actually unengaged with your firm during the vast majority of this process. Engagement only begins when prospects start their market research and contact a salesperson—usually not before.

Now how does this relate to database marketing? Well, it does in two huge ways. On a strategic basis, any marketer worth his or her own salt knows that effective marketing depends getting your message in front of qualified prospects as inexpensively as possible. In order to do this effectively, identifying how prospects are researching the marketplace is key. Why? Because this is where your prospects are spending much of their time, this is where you need to have your brand appearing front and center. So, from a marketing spend point of view, without a doubt this is where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck.

Now, of course, this is far easier said than done. It’s going to take a ton of market research, including customer interviews, focus groups, industry insight and general analysis to identify how your customers researched the marketplace prior to making a purchase. Did they attend key industry trade shows or events? Do they belong to specific peer or networking groups? What publications do they subscribe to? Whatever the answers to these questions are … well this is where you need to be.

Another key to deciphering the buyer’s journey is understanding how the prospect is engaging with your firm across all Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This understanding can only be arrived at through a deep analysis of every touchpoint between you are your customers. The best way to achieve this is to identify and extract customer and prospect data wherever it may reside. There are no shortcuts here. For large organizations, it can be located in an email broadcast tool, CRM, ERP, Marketing Automation Solution or purpose-built Master Data Management (MDM) Hub, among other places.

Now, of course, this means extracting and sifting through tons and tons of data—everything ranging from garden variety campaign analytics to purchasing history, from personal attributes to company insight, from demographic data to psychographic profile. Tracking, archiving and sorting out all this information is big business. In fact, many in the industry are now referring to this reality as ‘Big Data,’ as companies track and store vast troves of information that they need to make sense out of. In addition to the physical IT infrastructure required to capture and store the information, making sense out of it often requires technical expertise. Without wanting to veer off topic, if this sounds interesting then I suggest turning to NPR, where an interesting and in-depth story on Big Data aired on November 29, 2011.

As I was saying, once the data is extracted, you need to make sense out of it. Paramount to this task is the process of creating robust user profiles replete with detailed demographic, psychographic and, of course, (for B2B) firmographic information—in effect, multi-dimensional user profiles—and mapping it back to KPIs that help identify engagement patterns and behavior central to the buyer’s journey.

Once user profiles have been established, this is where the fun parts comes in, as marketers leverage this information to create compelling offers that speak to the various customer segments. The good news is that recent technological innovations have made this job much easier and more effective. Using marketing automation tools, it’s now possible to broadcast varying sophisticated drip marketing campaigns to various segments of your database—segments that can now easily be created using complex rules based on both list attributes and user engagement. What’s more, the marketing message itself—email creative, direct mail piece, landing page, and so on—can now be highly personalized based on profile data, resulting in higher response rates, reduced media costs and, of course, improved customer satisfaction.

I hope this all makes sense. Any comments or feedback are welcome.