Today's marketers have a lot of questions about programmatic advertising: Where do I start? If I automate my bids, will I be sacrificing quality for "low rent" inventory? How much control will I have over where my ads appear?

As is often the case with any type of relatively new technology, people are still finding their sea legs. But using programmatic technology intelligently doesn't have to be complicated. A basic understanding of where automation most appropriately fits within a balanced digital marketing strategy will help advertisers make smart and successful programmatic choices.

Whether directed at financial trades, the purchase of airline tickets, and now media buying, automation is, at its essence, a tool for driving greater efficiencies at scale. When large numbers of buyers and sellers can come together without a lot of manual steps in between, valuable resources can be redirected to other important tasks that exclusively require human brainpower and talent—such as creative campaign development and execution.

Certain classes of transactions are still handled by stockbroker and travel agents, however, just as there will always be a place for direct media buys. The trick is knowing when programmatic technology is the best tool for the task at hand, and then wielding the tool with skill.

Here are a five key considerations to keep in mind to get the most value out of programmatic advertising.

1. Stay balanced

The idea that marketers have to choose between a programmatic or premium path is a false one. In fact, an advertising strategy that views programmatic and premium inventory as opposites is imbalanced—much like a barbell with a weight attached to only one end.

Many media packages do come together best when a buyer and seller sit down with each other and work out the right deal. But that doesn't mean that programmatic strategies can't also be used simultaneously to automate for better efficiencies and results overall.

The question shouldn't be one of whether or not to use programmatic technology. Rather, the real question that advertisers should be asking is this: What are the best ways to use programmatic channels within a balanced and holistic advertising strategy that includes both automation and direct sales?

2. Know what you want to achieve

Take the time to understand what components of your marketing campaign are best suited to a programmatic approach. That means developing a comprehensive outline of your objectives in relation to the type of audience you want to reach, at what scale, and the performance required.

Now that an overwhelming array of programmatic technologies are available, spending a little effort up front to identify the best match for your campaign will help ensure you get optimal value from your technology investment rather than make a costly mistake.

3. Automate, don't go on autopilot

The value of automation is that it eliminates busywork (like manual insertion orders) that keeps media planners from turning their talents to more advanced strategy. But not everything that can be automated should be. (Sometimes, for example, it might make more sense for a marketer to capitalize on a special relationship with a key publisher.)

When a programmatic approach does seem like the best fit, it still doesn't mean that you leave all the decision-making to a machine, or that you sit back and take no active role in optimizing the results. Automate, but don't put your entire strategy on autopilot.

In fact, the efficiencies gained through automation should enable marketers to spend even more of their creative energy on strategies designed to tap into programmatic advertising's unique ability to granularly target and segment audiences.

4. Learn how to read the data tea leaves

Ad buyers need to know how to harness all the data that is made available to them to bid more effectively on the inventory that gets them the best results.

That goes beyond just knowing that your ad is reaching 35-45 year-old women, for instance. Content (where, exactly, is your ad running?) and context (such as how often a target consumer has been on a particular site during a single session), are also highly relevant data points that are key to achieving strong performance and ROI.

5. Take control

Why do some advertisers fear automation? Because no one wants to find out that their carefully crafted message has appeared next to content (porn, for example) that reflects poorly on their brand. As programmatic technologies have evolved, vendors are beginning to offer controls that empower buyers to more effectively reap the rewards of increased reach and automation while mitigating the risks.

With so many programmatic options now available, including more and more opportunities to purchase premium content programmatically, marketers should only consider solutions that include an ability to carefully control the parameters of automated bidding.

* * *

Although the buzz around programmatic advertising has reached deafening proportions—"Is it The Next Big Thing?" "Overhyped?" "Misunderstood?"—today's marketers really only need to know one thing: What's in it for me?

The answer is greater ad buying efficiency, more-granular targeting, and improved reach, provided that programmatic technology is used strategically—and in circumstances where it is truly the best tool for the job.

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Five Ways to Realize Greater Value From Programmatic Advertising

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image of David Jacobs

David Jacobs is senior vice-president of publisher sales at AOL Networks, where he is responsible for its premium publisher platforms, including He also oversees the ADTECH division, which provides global cross-platform ad serving solutions for premium publishers, advertisers, and technology companies.