“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today's column is written by Matt Sweeney, CEO at Xaxis, North America
Despite prevalent misconceptions, programmatic advertising requires deep human input to properly manage, guide and meld the wealth of technologies and strategies in service of a marketer’s goals.
A better understanding of the human value that both drives and delivers programmatic services is something the entire industry needs, yet at times it's obscured by misunderstandings, challenges and the nonstop pace of technology.
Serving marketers’ objectives
Programmatic solutions and artificial intelligence are powerful tools – but they only work in the hands of humans. And they function best when highly trained people are empowered to leverage the resources and technologies they understand on behalf of the marketer's goals, something that individuals can comprehend with greater nuance and depth than any machine.
In programmatic, it's human beings who understand a marketer's objectives, bring strong institutional knowledge and have deep relationships with critical players in the ecosystem, such as platforms and publishers.
It also takes people to uncover and interpret the machine learnings and contextualize them through the lens of the marketers' goals. A million lines of data are fruitless if we don't decode their meaning or can't extrapolate strategies that enable us to use insights for further optimization and refinement.
Observing and understanding the bigger picture, from a human perspective, is a powerful tool in managing the complexity of huge data sets and programmatic machinery.
It's also people who can connect the online with the offline, activating customers and optimizing toward specific sales-dependent goals or other outcomes that are often powered by programmatic actions. Only humans can think like consumers.
Talent, experience and managing complexity
Properly implementing programmatic advertising requires a team that combines significant talents, knowledge and experience to overcome barriers and move the needle for marketers' businesses.
It requires a mix of data scientists, engineers, skilled technologists, media strategists and analysts – a group that can be as complex to assemble as any combination of technologies, industries, services or platforms.
Teams like this work to distill complexity, add clarity and translate jargon and acronyms into manageable concepts and real outcomes. Team members translate business goals into actions that the machines can undertake, and which we humans can refine and hone.
Not all segments are equal
Let's give two real life examples of how human beings are required to deliver meaningful outcomes for a marketer.
First, envision an analyst working on a global retail account that was optimizing its media to online carts. The analyst realized that all cart transactions were being weighted equally and hypothesized that they could build an algorithm to optimize toward more valuable items, thus increasing the average revenue per transaction. A test was built, and using AI to achieve the multimetric optimization for executing such an advanced algorithm, the average cart transaction increased significantly.
The human insight drove the change behind a better outcome for the marketer that spanned revenue to budget efficiency. Human insight and hypothesis allow us to test and learn and take meaningful action accordingly.
In another example, a retailer wanted to get consumers into its showrooms and assumed that the best time to run ads would be over the weekend, when people would visit stores. It took a human touch to map media exposure to foot traffic and show that the most effective impressions were those seen during the week. People were thinking about their homes during the week, while they were in them, and they were therefore more receptive to media placements during the week than on the days they were heading out to shop – where it might have felt like overkill.
Analysts and engineers then worked together to map dynamic creative to weather conditions, location and life events using the machines to further optimize toward the marketer’s desired outcome.
Machines help people help marketers
Under the guidance of skilled analysts, engineers and media buyers, machines are powerful tools that can become force-multipliers in buying and optimizing media. Artificial intelligence, for example, makes repetitive manual tasks much more efficient and scalable, so the human beings – the programmatic traders and those working with them – can focus strategically on the marketer's desired business outcomes.
Technologies make people more effective, elevating us to focus on strategies rather than time-sucking, lower-value, manual tasks such as entering numbers into spreadsheets, performing simple calculations and needlessly ticking boxes on a dashboard.
It frees us up to focus on marketers, to understand the needs of brand managers and those who aren't steeped in programmatic, to interpret the outcomes they want and set up the systems, processes and people to achieve them.