AOL's Bob Lord on why it’s time for publishers to join the programmatic revolution

It might sound simple, but embracing change is the first step to success. And let’s be clear: publishers hold their own key to success. The question is, do they believe it?

Bob Lord

Programmatic platforms have much more to offer publishers than the automation of their operations and workflow. While streamlined process efficiencies enabled by automation are certainly valuable from a cost-savings standpoint in 2015, we’ll begin to see programmatically-charged data empower publishers to boost the return they are getting for their inventory.

What is already apparent is that publishers are starting to move with the times and Condé Nast is a prime example of this. By fully embracing programmatic and merging its direct sales with its programmatic team, Condé Nast has reduced the conflict between the two channels and increased effectiveness through a steamlined process. Moves such as these demonstrate how publishers can fully embrace the future of programmatic, allowing the value of inventory to increase, and in turn, make them more desirable to potential ad buyers.

Northern & Shell is another publisher that has followed suit. This year alone, it has heavily invested in its CRM database, which will manage touch points for users across all content, whether it’s social media, on site or email. The move will allow Northern & Shell to reach its users through data segments, showing a huge transition towards its investment in programmatic.

At AOL, we’ve heard first hand that publishers are willing to make the jump to programmatic. In our definitive industry-wide study, Programmatic Futures: Where Culture Meets Code, 48 per cent of publishers told us that programmatic is allowing for better campaign integration across different media and platforms. Publishers now understand that being programmatic-savvy is the key to their business.

By leveraging sophisticated targeting, frequency capping, brand safety and other data-driven tools (traditionally thought of as 'buy side' technology) to more precisely identify and segment key audiences, publishers will be able to entice a greater number of premium brands to spend through programmatic channels. John Lewis, for example, achieved a media first for its 2013 Christmas campaign, with the first programmatic buy of a half-page format on RadioTimes.com, a historically strong fit for the brand.

Programmatic data optimisation capabilities can especially help mid to long-tail publishers capture more buyers. It means they can compete on the quality of the audience delivered rather than on name recognition alone.

Most recently a high-profile entertainment brand took over all display advertising alongside Big Brother content on Channel5.com. The large, impactful masthead, half page and mobile formats were bought programmatically across Channel 5’s desktop and mobile inventory to amplify the client’s TV advertising to second screeners whilst the show was on air. The brand also implemented a programmatic video campaign with pre-roll and in-banner ads in premium placements that reached an 88 per cent relevant audience.

To go back to our research, we found that 65 per cent of publishers agreed with the statement that they now spend more time talking about strategy and audiences as a result of programmatic. We know that as programmatic develops and is adopted more widely by the industry, it is essential for publishers to continue to build on their greatest asset: their audience profile.

Used on the sell side, programmatic technologies will continue to transition from being used as an 'efficiency/savings' assist to a dominant means of driving more effectiveness and better outcomes. Smart publishers will employ techniques like audience extension, re-targeting and more to augment their offerings.

We have seen examples of this from eBay, a forward thinking publisher in the programmatic space. Earlier this year, eBay announced it will sell mobile formats programmatically from the beginning of 2015, as it strives to create the best customer experience for its advertisers and users. We’ll begin to see the use of programmatic technologies allowing brands to add further value for their customers, including, but not limited to: more creativity, more innovation and bigger ideas.

To keep things simple, the publishers who can best plan, execute, analyse and report – across audiences, screens, ad formats, time of day and content types – will see the greatest ROI.

Advertising has moved beyond the testing stages within technology. Powered by data and programmatic platforms, we are rapidly moving one large step at a time into a future that is truly game changing.

Bob Lord is chief executive of AOL Platforms. You can follow him on Twitter @rwlord

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