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Crain | Programmatic, Research, Technology

Preparing for the Programmatic Future

Certainly, I can hear the feedback from readers now – “Sure, old news. Move along.” Depending on the region and country where you live, it may have already hit critical mass. Depending on your professional experience, you may already be fully bought in and need no more convincing. Depending on where you work, you may believe you’re doing all you can to get your business to the programmatic promised land.

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Too often, though, industry insiders lose sight of the fact that programmatic in some circles is neither common knowledge nor common practice.

Too often, though, industry insiders lose sight of the fact that programmatic in some circles is neither common knowledge nor common practice. There still remain many emerging markets where driving change is proving a challenge, with many businesses reluctant to take on any new risk. Further still, some media operators are too wed to the traditional way of doing things to make the kinds of investments required to get the programmatic party started. Sadly, it’s still too easy today to fall back on the differences between programmatic sales and direct sales and think of them as two different things.

They are not that different, really. They are simply parallel paths to the same destination. For this reason, it’s important that we take a step back and remind the entire market of the global context in which all of these local programmatic investments are being made.

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

We’ll soon be operating according to a new market transaction standard for most every ad sold, and we’ll have little recollection of the world from which we came. As with any market shift, there is first mover advantage for the earliest of entrants. More significantly, however, there is also massive risk to those who are slow to adapt. No one wants to be a Sony Walkman in the age of the iPod, nor a record store in the time of iTunes. Resisting changes of this significance and scale are tantamount to ceding revenue and profits directly to nimbler competitors by simply closing your doors to new business.

While there is urgency to capitalise on current market conditions and grow revenue, it is more crucial that the steps taken today serve as groundwork for the future, to ensure one survives and thrives in the long term.

No matter what the size of the programmatic investment being made by a media seller or media buyer, they are not only better able to compete in today’s market, they are taking steps to future-proof their business. Shifting a sales strategy from largely ‘direct’ to ‘automated’ takes time, requiring across-the-board changes to people, process, and tools. Those changes cannot happen overnight, nor can any organisation even absorb changes of that magnitude all at once. While there is urgency to capitalise on current market conditions and grow revenue, it is more crucial that the steps taken today serve as groundwork for the future, to ensure one survives and thrives in the long term.

No one will argue that, when responding to today’s opportunities, it is very important to be mindful of the near term ROI. However, it is equally important – if not more so – to make those changes consciously, with an eye towards tomorrow’s ad market, and in the context of a long-term revenue strategy. The good news is this: the velocity of change today is such that that the half-life of ‘bad’ ideas is incredibly short. Any experiment or initial investment this quarter, even if it fails, will pay back far more in learning than it costs in revenue. Furthermore, it’s all but guaranteed that, in the next quarter, there will be another new strategy or set of tactics to test and evaluate. No doubt, this too will represent another modest risk to the business, but it is a risk that must be accepted in the name of progress.

Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”
– Thomas A. Edison

Media sales as a discipline is changing, and those changes are important and durable.

If taken a step further, even the most knowledgeable of digital media players still has little visibility into the truly long term changes programmatic will bring to so-called traditional media channels. Media sales as a discipline is changing, and those changes are important and durable. With every step taken down the programmatic path, large or small, a buyer or seller is building out the principles, processes, and practices that will guide their business for the next several decades, long after today’s ‘online’ and ‘offline’ distinctions are rendered quaint – if not downright archaic.

In the end, we are all groping in the dark, learning as we go, and it is that theme I hope to reinforce with this post. Against that backdrop, there is but a single mistake that one can make: standing still during this time of unprecedented change.

Chief Strategy Officer