Trains, Planes & Automobiles
Using Programmatic to Transport Your Brand Story
You’re on a site that you visit often, and you see a banner ad. It’s a teaser, really, telling very little about the product. As you look at it you realize that it isn’t a typical banner at all. It’s the first few lines of a brand story, one that you’re about to experience in a multi-channel, multi-dimensional way. Welcome to the world of programmatic storytelling. It’s an unfamiliar domain, newly minted and still in the process of evolving, but it’s growing quickly, and gaining strength. Recently, AOL UK studied the “human role” in programmatic advertising, and found a link to creativity. In speaking with publishers, marketers, and trading desks the brand found that, “the use of data to target and track consumers and deliver tailored marketing messages has opened up new forms of creativity, such as site retargeting, dynamic creative and sequential storytelling.” Forty-seven percent of respondents agreed. But how does a marketer harness programmatic’s potential, and what does he stand to gain from doing it?
A Case of Story vs. Call-To-Action
Once upon a time (in July of this year, to be precise), Facebook, social media ad platform Adaptly, and fashion site Refinery29, released a report addressing what’s
known as sequential storytelling. In it, the brands revealed the results of a study devised to determine which of two Facebook marketing strategies was most effective in generating email subscriptions to Refinery29.
The first approach involved a “sustained call-to-action” ad meant to boost sign-ups. The second told a brand story through sequencing, in which multiple messages delivered over time worked together to create a cohesive impression of the brand. The first such ad expressed the brand’s positioning statement. The second provided information about the product, in this case the site content. The third encouraged consumers to subscribe.
In comparison with the straight call-to-action ads, the sequenced approach to ad delivery – the one that told the brand’s story – resulted in an 87% increase in visits to Refinery29’s landing page. The brand also saw a 56% increase in subscription rates. Finally, those consumers who saw all three of the ads converted at a higher rate than those exposed to only one or two ads in the sequence.
There’s a lot to be gleaned from a study like this, but above all else, it confirms a hunch most marketers have had for years: storytelling works. Yes, it’s a buzzword, hijacked by the ad industry and turned into marketing jargon, but storytelling is one strategy that has earned its accolades … no matter what the critics say.
Sizing Up Sequential Storytelling
Chango HAs addressed sequential-or “flow”-advertising before. In an article published on CMO.com, VP of Marketing & Partnerships Ben Plomion said, “Taken individually, no single ad in the sequence tells the whole story, but together the ads allow a brand to lead its audience on a journey of discovery–a journey that’s often marked by intrigue and surprise.”
Those two words - intrigue and surprise - are important, because it’s here that digital brand storytelling has an edge over traditional advertising. Also important is the word “lead.” Creative aside, what produces intrigue and surprise when presenting an ad to a consumer? The method of delivery, of course. Brands don’t just lead consumers through their story, they ferry them from Point A to Point B, across channels and devices.
Think of digital media, and programmatic in particular, as the vehicle that transports your story. It serves the needs of brands by being highly efficient, and the needs of consumers by speaking directly to their behavior, because ad creative can be modified based on the Internet user’s reaction and optimized to mesh with her response. It’s an audience-centric approach that considers the customer’s lifestyle, along with the data, that allows a brand to create germane messaging. And it’s about as far from mass-market banner advertising as you can get. A child, winding down at bedtime, can listen to a book being read or hear a story being told by a parent. The latter route will produce a more personalized experience, as the parent will include all the things the child loves. Which is more likely to be remembered the next morning?
Brand storytelling has assumed countless forms, some of them more effective than others. Advertisers are telling stories through social media and infographics, SlideShare presentations, branded films and Web series galore. They’re using display and mobile and tweets to package and deliver their messages, sequential and otherwise, to customers wherever they are. But it’s the way in which those stories are delivered that’s setting campaigns apart. That intrigue and surprise Plomion mentioned? It isn’t just in the ad copy or visual appeal. It’s in the delivery vehicle itself.
Continual Commercials for the Omnichannel Consumer
“There is a mindshift that needs to happen away from ‘we buy websites’ … to ‘we create and deliver audience experiences.’” So said Joanna O’Connell, former Principal Analyst with Forrester Research, in a webinar titled De-Mystifying Programmatic Digital Advertising. “Consumers don’t think in channel silos,” O’Connell went on to say, “ … the challenge for us is that we still buy, optimize, and measure that way.”
In many ways, this sentiment is what links the concept of brand storytelling with programmatic marketing. It used to be that advertisers packed their messages into 30-seconds of television or advertorials in print magazines. The brands that took a different approach were few and far between, and they got plenty of attention. In the early 90s, the now infamous series of TV spots from Taster’s Choice coffee generated enough interest among viewers that the campaign dragged on for 7 years, with the commercials airing during daytime TV and evening dramas. “The amazing thing is, even though people don’t know it is coming on the air, they are just as caught up in it as they would be a soap opera or a regular program,” said a product manager involved with the campaign. She added, “People are bombarded with media messages, so this was definitely very different.”
When it was revealed that, in spite of conducting a consumer poll to determine the outcome of the story, Taster’s Choice would not run a concluding installment, critics seemed almost relieved. “The new Taster’s Choice spots will emphasize the jar of coffee ... It’s a reminder that TV’s purpose is not to entertain but to move product,” one reporter said.
That was sixteen years ago. How times have changed. “Bombarded” doesn’t begin to describe the contemporary consumer’s advertising experience. Increasingly, consumers want their content - such as a response to a brand complaint made on social media - in real time. They feel more positively toward brands after being exposed to real-time marketing. Deliver a campaign over the course of 7 years? It might as well be a lifetime.
As for the suggestion that a brand can’t entertain and move product at the same time, tell that to Red Bull, Volvo Trucks, Dove, and any number of top tier companies using storytelling to power their loyalty and sales. Taster’s Choice did something right, and fairly revolutionary, with its campaign. As it turned out, the recurring delivery of ads that tell a story, then called a’continual commercial’ has the power to engage consumers in a whole new way.
Today, the delivery of those coffee spots would be very different. The first of the ads might appear to a consumer on Facebook because he’d Liked a competing coffee brand’s page. With the help of day-parting, the next might show up on a lifestyle site in the morning or afternoon, when that customer’s likely to be thinking about getting a boost of caffeine. Another installment might arrive when the consumer is visiting a food site on his mobile phone. By the time the target customer has viewed every piece of the story, the congruity, timing, and context of the campaign are likely to have him hooked. Ad creative plays a part in this, to be sure. But without programmatic to transport to the story across channels and platforms, its impact just isn’t the same.
Why Storytelling Plus Programmatic Makes Marketing Sense
What makes a modern brand story stick? More often than not, it’s relevance. With programmatic, a story can be told in real time, adjusted and optimized depending on the actions of the viewer. As the advertiser tracks response and conversion rates, a new, and sometimes unexpected, pattern may emerge. With flow advertising, that new pattern can be harnessed and capitalized on by changing the way in which the story is delivered. The recipient, or consumer, gets something that’s customized to her personal interests and needs. It’s a system that serves storytelling well. As any writer will tell you, knowing your target audience and what your readers like is critical to success. Even before those Taster’s Choice ads, Choose Your Own Adventure books were big, billed as ‘game books’ that let the reader shape the outcome. “You’re the star of the story!” boasted the paperback covers. It was all about the audience.
Mad Libs offered a similar experience by producing a unique outcome every time. In both cases, the story was customized to the reader’s tastes. Programmatic, with its capacity to direct a brand’s story, does the same. Yes, it’s useful for delivering display advertising in an efficient, effective way, but there’s a world of storytelling potential there that largely remains untapped.
Consumers are savvier than ever before. You can bet that many of them now notice when they’re being retargeted. They see that Zappos ad following them around, whether they choose to click and complete their outstanding transaction or not. This creates a huge opportunity for brands. An audience, active and alert but not necessarily engaged with an ad, is primed to accept a marketing experience that entertains rather than simply informs. The majority of retargeted ads push a purchase. What might advertisers accomplish if they used their ads to tell a story instead?
As O’Connell pointed out, this kind of progression requires a mindshift. Brands need to move away from thinking in terms of single ads to a larger, more cohesive campaign. Programmatic isn’t only useful for selling last-minute airline tickets when inventory allows, or driving shoe sales based on displayed intent. Marketers’ demand for good methods of telling brand stories online is touching all mediums and delivery vehicles. Programmatic is a perfect fit.
Tell a Story Worth Transporting
One of marketers’ big gripes with the concept of storytelling is that it’s too vague. So brands are finding success with brand stories … what are the stories about? How do you write a story that elicits a response, and ensure it can be told through programmatic? Refinery29 chose to tell its brand story in a non-linear way, focusing on brand image rather than narrative. Here are a few other ideas:
Brand storytelling has become a vital part of digital advertising, but in many ways it remains undeveloped. Sequential storytelling and flow advertising can help enhance it and drive its success. Will programmatic have a place in your brand’s story?
Data Geek or
Today's CMO Must
Excel at Both
A Not too long ago, I spoke to Steve Herrera, an executive recruiter at SEBA International, about what it takes to be a great CMO in this era of data-driven marketing. Specifically, I asked him about the great divide in marketing skills: Silicon Valley vs. Madison Avenue, or put another way, data geek vs. storyteller.
Whose skills will reign supreme?
Let’s be honest: The storyteller has taken a beating over the past five or so years thanks to the rise of programmatic marketing in particular, but also in no small part to the cornucopia of marketing automation technologies that let marketers measure everything.
Remember all of those articles citing the hubris of Mad Men’s Don Draper? The ones proclaiming that the days when advertisers controlled the conversation have gone the way of the black-and-white TV?
Consumers, we hear daily, are in full control of their buying journeys, and they’re the ones who tell marketers what they want. Savvy marketers look for ways to listen. Listening equals data collection.
Everything we need to know about our target audiences, and the best ways to engage them, lie within the bits and bytes of their click-streams, the thinking goes. Of course, no one can deny that data is enlightening. Its signals tell us who our audiences are, where to find them, and how they’re influenced.
But does it trump storytelling?
Steve dismissed the notion out-of-hand, pointing out that the advent of marketing automation tools and programmatic marketing has brought the role of data into center view. To paraphrase Steve, data is the shiny new toy in the sandbox.
Steve offered up several examples where the pendulum appears to be swinging back towards storytelling.
Facebook, for instance, successfully achieved great scale and is one of the most successful pioneers of data-driven “growth hacking.” The company didn’t even hire a chief marketing officer until last year! But as soon as Gary Briggs signed on as CMO, the storytelling began.
“Facebook’s Mother’s Day video was designed to establish an emotional connection, and highlight the benefits of their service,” Steve explained.
Tesla is another example Steve mentioned. The company’s mission is to reduce the consumer’s carbon footprint and eliminate dependency on fossil fuels. Though highly driven by its mission, one rarely hears the company talk about it. Instead, focus is on creating the best driving experience that also happens to be good for the environment.The brilliance of this approach is that it offers direct benefits to consumers (i.e. great driving experience) while accomplishing Tesla’s goals, which in and of itself may not have widespread appeal.
Amuse or Lose the Consumer
In an interview on MarketingProfs, Nedra Klein Weinreich, makes the case that storytelling is an essential requirement since consumers can now ignore or block advertisements.
“I believe that the age of the 30-second spot and interruption marketing is just about over. It’s so easy now to skip over TV
commercials with our DVRs, block online banner ads, and tune out the pitches being thrown at us constantly,” she said.
The marketer’s challenge, Ms. Weinreich states, is to present brand messages in ways that make consumers want to pay attention to them. In short, we must entertain them.
She’s clearly on to something: I’m reminded of the Dos Equis The Most Interesting Man in the World commercials. I must admit, I watch those commercials all the way through.
Of course, as Ms. Weinreich points out, we live in a ‘transmedia world,’ with consumers flitting between numerous media channels via their computers, televisions, tablets, and smartphones. And that, in turn, requires marketers to parse out parts of their story across multiple media, “allowing the audience to become participants in integrating the pieces.” In other words, marketers need to perfect their sequential storytelling skills.
That begs the question: How do markets tell sequential stories across multiple devices and channels? How do they know which ads consumers have already seen so they can successfully integrate the pieces? That’s nothing short of multi-channel cross device attribution – the epitome of Big Data science.
Over the last year, we’ve seen a noticeable shift across the digital advertising landscape: More and more brands are doing their programmatic buying in house. This, of course, isn’t the best news for agencies. No one disputes that agencies continue to play a vital role in the digital ecosystem, but if the in-house trend continues, agencies could see a critical revenue stream dry up.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that WPP CEO Martin Sorrell is pushing back against the trend. Last week Sorrell told The Wall Street Journal that the emergence of in-house buying is “a temporary phenomenon.” According to Sorrell, ad buying simply isn’t a core competency for many marketers. In addition, Sorrell believes that most marketers lack the technology acumen to buy programmatically.
Sorrell makes some good points. While there’s little doubt that big companies such as Apple can pull off in-house buying and create their own agency structures, smaller companies with fewer resources may well struggle with programmatic technology.
And even larger brands might sometimes miss their agencies if they’re removed from the picture. While a big brand might be able to hire its own tech experts and creative geniuses, it might still lack the organizational structure to keep campaign messages consistent across multiple channels. Imagine, for example, a brand that’s working with an agency for site and TV buys and working exclusively with a vendor for programmatic campaigns. Ensuring creative alignment across every channel could quickly turn into a major headache.
Whether Sorrell’s prediction will be proven true remains to be seen. But one thing is already clear. If agencies do want to hang on to programmatic buying, in many cases it’s going to require a cultural shift within the agencies. In a June 2014 interview with Chango, Sam Ashken, planning director at The Barbarian Group, made the case that agency planners need a new mindset. Writes Ashken, “We need to have the humility to accept that the data we get back from programmatic might identify segments and insights that not only did we not know about but also didn’t even know we didn’t know about it.”
So, what specific role should an agency play in programmatic? According to Matt Kain, Starcom MediaVest Group’s EVP, Global Network Client Operations, that role — at least for Starcom MediaVest — has a number of different facets, from filtering potential partners and vendors, to investing in tools and the development of a service practice around those tools, to educating clients on how the opportunity can help build their businesses.
“One of the misconceptions is that machine intelligence will replace human intelligence,” Kain recently told Chango. “The reality is that there are things that machines do well, and things humans do well.”
While Sorrell might be underestimating brand marketers, the insights of Kain and Ashken are a great reminder that we shouldn’t underestimate agencies either. Programmatic certainly poses a challenge to some agencies, but The Barbarian Group and Starcom MediaVest are good examples of agencies that have clearly recognized the challenge and responded.
We might not yet know if the in-house trend is temporary, but it’s a safe bet that the agencies that shift their cultures now will be the big winners in the years ahead.
Taking the Pulse
Programmatic advertising has been growing rapidly, and yet what we see now is likely just the beginning. Programmatic advertising has been growing rapidly, and yet what we see now is likely just the beginning. Forrester and eMarketer agree that we’ll see a massive increase in programmatic spending in the coming years. BI Intelligence, a research division of Business Insider, anticipates that digital media buying through real-time bidding platforms (a key component of programmatic buying) will rise to over $18.2 billion in 2018, up from $3.1 billion in 2013.
How can we expect so much growth when programmatic already seems so popular? To better understand the dynamics shaping the industry at this critical juncture, Chango and Brand Innovators recently conducted an investigation — The Programmatic Advertising Pulse Study — into how marketers at Fortune 500 companies are using programmatic advertising.
Because even experienced marketers often use the term “programmatic” in different ways, the study first needed a single and consistent definition. The definition of programmatic for the purposes of this study was “the systems, rules and algorithms used to automate and optimize the purchase and delivery of data-driven, targeted and relevant ads to consumers.”
With that definition in place, marketers were able to respond to a wide range of questions about how they use programmatic and those responses held plenty of surprises. A striking 70% of marketers surveyed are currently using programmatic advertising techniques. More surprising still, almost one third of those marketers have been using programmatic for less than one year.
Among other things, these numbers reveal just how rapidly programmatic is growing. But equally striking, perhaps, is that almost a full third of Fortune 500 brands surveyed are not using any programmatic techniques at all — a finding that goes a long way toward explaining why we can expect such explosive growth in the years ahead.
Of course, not all of the expected surge in programmatic buying will come from first-time users. The study also found that a quarter of marketers currently buying programmatically still feel they need more education on how to use programmatic techniques.
The study also looked at the specific factors driving programmatic spends and respondents showed clear and consistent preferences. Targeting across devices, improved performance, data/insights, and cost efficiencies were far and away the most important factors.
None of this is to say that the study had only good news for the programmatic industry. The study also found that plenty of marketers are still concerned about a number of different issues. The top concerns included determining the best measurements, solving data integration, ensuring site quality/brand safety, and maintaining sufficient resources to manage campaigns.
Intriguingly, marketers today are overcoming these challenges with very different approaches to management. Some marketers still rely entirely on agencies for their programmatic campaigns, while others have given up on agencies altogether and moved their campaigns in-house. Still others have gone with a middle ground approach, splitting management between agency and in-house resources.
How management practices will look in the years to come remains to be seen. Just over half of survey respondents said they will be outsourcing more of programmatic to agencies and partners, while the others plan to move in the opposite direction with more in-house management.
The differing views on management are another reminder that programmatic, for all of the industry’s successes, is still in its early stages and still very much an industry in flux. The good news for marketers is that the Programmatic Advertising Pulse Study offers a snapshot of a thriving industry that is poised to make a major leap in the coming year. Yes, there are still challenges. But so long as the industry as a whole doesn’t shy away from those challenges — particularly those around.
The story of Alice in Wonderland is the perfect metaphor for digital marketers today. We all find ourselves becoming “curiouser and curiouser” as we navigate this unfamiliar, yet magical, programmatic world. Each “step” further into the magical gardens of Programmatic Wonderland brings with it new people, dumbfounding conversations, powerful software, vendors, powers, and perils. Each makes ambitious new marketers shout “Curiouser and curiouser!” But what are all these new and wonderful programmatic advertising tactics, and how do they work? To better explain the “magic and wonder” of programmatic advertising, and in honor of great storytelling, here is the marketer’s curious and whimsical journey through “Programmatic Wonderland.” Thus begins Alice the Marketer’s journey …
Down the (Retargeting) Rabbit-Hole
Alice the Marketer was restless. Her traditional ways of advertising weren’t cutting it. “What is the use of an ad,” thought Alice, “without the right data and media to effectively target it?”
“My ads are intriguing, but I wonder if I am targeting the right people? I need to make more efficient use of a data management platform and demand side platform,” Alice thought, having no idea what DSPs or DMPs were, but they sure were grand words to say.
She had heard of retargeting. That might be a good place to start. The truth is, though, she didn’t know what was possible …
So many out of the way things have happened in digital marketing that marketers now believe that nothing is truly impossible.
It was worth a shot.
Alice began to chase the White Rabbit, her ideal customer. She ran a retargeting campaign to get this White Rabbit’s attention, but as she went deeper and deeper into the retargeting rabbit hole, the complexity of programmatic advertising unfolded before her.
First, she came to a locked door. Behind this door was her big data. She had ideas—the key—about what to do with that data, but she couldn’t grasp which technology would help her fit through the door. Then, Alice saw an ad-tech vendor—a DSP—labeled BID WITH ME, beautifully printed, in enormous type.
This DSP would help her place real-time bids on ads, but without the right data, these ads would attract the wrong audience. She’d entered into the programmatic world, but she still wasn’t in Programmatic Wonderland.
Alice waited to see if anything else would happen but: nothing. Our marketer then entered the striking, colorful programmatic garden of intent data, and saw another ad-tech vendor – a DMP – adorned with currants that spelled out GIVE ME DATA. The old ways of display would be left behind. She can now tie data to her ads and not be left in the blind.
Alice gave it data and her head—her ego—quickly grew.
The Pool of (Technology) Tears
Alice thought that after entering the garden, she had a grasp on programmatic, but something was wrong. She was upset, her language somehow different, using marketer jargon like:
“How do I get ROI?
Improve efficiency with more big data
In real-time with DSPs
And do it at scale!”
“How retargeting seems to win
How neatly algorithms parse my data
And welcome more customers in
But now I must explain it to my boss!”
Alice sobbed. She felt hopeless; worried she would be stuck in the pool of jargon tears forever.
Suddenly, a mouse appeared. “Oh, mouse! As a CTO, do you know the way out of this jargon pool?” Alice asked.
Mouse winked at Alice the marketer, and began explaining the complex language used in ad tech.
Alice and Mouse climbed out of the pool of jargon tears and onto the safe shore of an office.
The C-Suite and a Hard Sell
Alice brought Mouse to a meeting with the C-Suite to better explain programmatic, and hopefully win their approval.
Sitting in the conference room was the C-Suite all bantering and bickering about what’s best for the company, the brand.
Duck—the CMO—said, “Found it!”
“Found what?” asked Dodo, the CEO.
“Of course you know what ‘it’ means,” replied Duck.
“But what is programmatic?” asked Dodo.
“The best way to explain it is to do it.” says Duck.
“But how much does it cost?” chimes in Lory, the CFO.
“Will our customer’s information be safe?” wonders Eaglet, the CIO.
Alice chimes in and intrigues the C-Suite with her wild tales of programmatic.
The meeting ended, and the C-Suite’s approval had only mildly been won.
The Consumer Sends In A Frustrated Bill
Alice wished she had never gone down the rabbit hole.
After meeting with the C-Suite, she begins to explore other programmatic options with a new campaign. The trouble is, she was too greedy and, forgetting to use the right frequency cap, sent too many ads to the White Rabbit and upset him.
So she starts from the beginning, and goes back to her desk to evaluate the DMPs and DSPs, to includes data such as: How many times has White Rabbit seen her ad and which device should she use to show the White Rabbit ads on?
However, she doesn’t know the right formula so she optimizes using both.
“BID WITH ME,” begs the DSP. Her ads begin to show up across display, mobile, FBX, Twitter, and video. The DSP works quickly and her ads get shown to the White Rabbit and other consumers in real time. “The quicker the better,” Alice says.
“I know something interesting will happen,” Alice thinks. “But these ads still aren’t perfect, I need to optimize the target audience for better results.”
“If I feed this DMP more data, it’s sure to change my results, as my data is already large, and it can’t get much larger. It must get smaller.” Alice gave the DMP more data parameters and algorithms. Her data began to shrink, her audience becoming more and more targeted. After optimizing like this, she was getting much better results. But something was missing.
Advice from Cater & Pillar Agency
Alice meets with Cater & Pillar, an advertising agency. The Caterpillar, a relaxed and cool ad man, and Alice look at each other. The Caterpillar addresses Alice in a languid, sleepy voice.
“There’s room for programmatic and creativity to work together, now that you have mastered the technology, you ought to create compelling ads.”
“Yes, but with so much automated technology at my disposal and so many devices to target, how can I creatively tell my brand story?” Alice wonders.
“Brands, ad tech, and agencies must all work together,” says the Caterpillar, taking a drag from his hookah. “There you will find your ‘a-ha’ moment.”
“I’ll have to discuss this with The Duchess Tea brand right away,” thought Alice.
Programmatic & Place
Alice calls a meeting with The Duchess Tea— the brand—at The Duchess Tea Castle, their headquarters.
After discussing the concept of programmatic branding, The Duchess Tea gives Alice a baby, a symbol of entrusting her to bring branding into Programmatic Wonderland and to find the right mix of ingredients, devices, and media to spread awareness for The Duchess Tea brand. Alice knows exactly what she wants to do now. She wants to use her DMP, and the garden of data combined with her DSP, and the power of real-time technology to create a ‘flow advertising’ campaign. This will allow her to create a seamless advertising experience for the White Rabbit.
She can barely contain her joy.
As she sits there at her desk, giddy, a floating Cheshire Cat floats by grinning. The Cheshire Cat, an industry thought leader, tries to persuade her that everyone in programmatic is, truly, mad. “If you don’t know who you are targeting, any media will get you there.” He says with a grin.
“Oh no, no,” Alice replies. “I know that the White Rabbit has searched for “Tea” on his desktop. And I know that he resumed browsing on his tablet. Because the White Rabbit is on a tablet at this very moment, I’ll display a video ad. And once he moves to his phone, the next ad in the sequence is a promoted Tweet.”
“I am so confident that the White Rabbit will buy The Duchess Tea that I’ll head over to their tea party now.” And Alice skips over to the Ad Hatter’s Ad Tech Tea Party …
An Ad Tech Tea-Party
Just like marketers navigating programmatic advertising today, Alice’s adventures in Programmatic Wonderland is to be continued …
Want to know what happens when Alice meets the Ad Hatter? Get the next installment soon at chango.com/alice
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