When my daughter was nine years old, her basketball team was consistently destroyed. They were so overmatched that they would cheer if one of them managed to score two points.
Yet, at the end of the season she came home with a giant one-and-a-half-foot tall trophy simply for being part of a bottom-ranked team. I dearly love my daughter and admired her effort, but I couldn't say the reward that she and her teammates received was commensurate with the results they produced.
Unfortunately, that is what it's been like in programmatic advertising since its inception almost a decade ago. The things we reward are way out of whack with the results we want.
We measure things like clickthrough rates, completed view rates, cost of media, and other metrics that don't necessarily have anything to do with — and sometimes have nothing to do with — the most important goal of all: winning for our clients.
The way we measure success needs to change. We need to understand, plan, and measure in ways that primarily and actively work on behalf of our clients' business strategies.
A Focus on Strategy
Note that I said “business strategies," not media spend, performance, or some other limited keyhole though which we can peer.
Sure, performance, return on ad spend (ROAS), and many other measures can all work toward the specified goals. But by measuring in narrow parameters we put our thumbs on the scale to talk up how well we really did.
Clients may want reach. Reach is easy. Just buy TV ads. But did the right prospects see those ads? Did they see them enough to make an impression, to influence them and their intent to purchase in any way?
Clickthroughs are easy too. But who's clicking? Exposures, views, even KPIs — if they're KPIs I choose by myself — can be easy, too.
The point is to not dictate to the client what they need in order to have a successful campaign. It is to ask them what their strategic business goals are and how they believe they can show that the marketing they're paying for is serving those goals.
It's Not What We Can Count, It's What We Should.
Maybe we want to count downloads, signups, brand lift, store visits, inquiries. There are a whole bunch of things we can measure. The overarching question, though, is which of those measures the client says will give them the boost their business needs.
Then we can employ all the tools in our formidable arsenal, the expertise of our highly skilled teams, the relationships we have with publishers and platforms, the powerful technologies at our disposal, all in service of the goals they are trying to reach.
I adore my daughter and I'm certain she deserves all the recognition in the world. I'll let psychologists, educators, and sociologists battle over whether we're doing the right thing for our children by giving them heaps of recognition simply for participation.
But when it comes to programmatic advertising, the relationships we have with our clients have to be based on something other than outsized rewards.
We have to base our performance, our compensation, our rewards, on the proof we provide that we are delivering real, verifiable, measurable results — results that serve our clients' important business strategies and bring about real business outcomes.