Why it’s time for programmatic advertising to get native

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Programmatic still has a reputation for remnant display inventory, but it also has huge potential to help brands deliver native campaigns.

And with consumers’ tolerance for disruptive ads depleting and adblocking consequently on the rise, there has never been a better time for brands to use native advertising to engage in a subtler, more complementary way.

Less intrusive and more sophisticated than traditional display formats, native ads create a more seamless user experience – while programmatic data allows brands to personalise ads in a way that truly comes to life in native.

And native advertising is certainly coming into fashion: the IAB’s latest figures show that content and native advertising spend increased by 49.9% to £776m in 2015.

But for it to really take off, there is work to be done to make more brands comfortable with buying native products through programmatic. So what hurdles should publishers be working with industry to overcome?

Standardising quality

A longstanding concern holding back the growth of programmatic is that buyers often don’t know exactly where their ads will be served. 

Yes, they can buy against a particular audience group – for example, women aged 24-35 – but there is no guarantee that the ad will appear in the right place.

And it’s even more important for the quality of inventory to be controlled for native than display, given the format’s subtler character.

For example, a holiday checklist will serve significantly less value if it appears on a payday lending website, even if it is targeted at a particular demographic that is likely to have booked a break.

Publishers need to provide reassurance that native ads will served in the right, quality places before brands will have confidence to invest in buying native programmatically.

Tap into real time

As a non-intrusive form of advertising, it goes without saying that the design of native advertising is important: it needs to be non-offensive and capable of blending into the site it is served on. But timing and relevance is critical as well, and this is where data comes in.

The automated nature of programmatic opens the doors for brands to manipulate their creative in real time according to the customer insights available.

Using rich data and complex algorithms, every consumer can be served a brand message that is personalised to them. And this can be based on anything from the user’s profile, to the time of day, their browsing behaviour or their location.

Take travel as an example. 

At The Travel People, we have first-party insights into the travel and lifestyle habits of the 43 million visitors to our European sites, such as lastminute.com, each month. And our programmatic technologies mean we can combine that first party data with other audience trends, and tap into those in real time.

For example, a fashion brand could serve a different variation of a sponsored article depending on the type of holiday a consumer is looking to go on, or the stage of the booking journey that they are at.

So a consumer could be targeted with a checklist of beach essentials when they are researching flights to Costa Rica, or an article on the physical benefits of comfortable shoes if they are reading up on things to do on a city break in Paris.

Brands can even adjust the creative of their ads in real-time according to the weather forecasted for when consumers arrive at their holiday destination, switching from sunglasses to raincoats at the drop of a hat.

Too often, native is treated like a foreign type of advertising that can’t or shouldn’t be bought programmatically

And using our extension tools, brands can target consumers with these relevant ads both on and offsite, every step of the way. 

But buyers must have the creative capability to use this data so it adds to the user experience in a native context. And a word of warning: no matter how subtle it is, an ad can easily miss the mark if the targeting and the creative aren’t tightly aligned, making it ineffective at best, and repelling at worst.

So make sure the creative matches the accelerated speed that ad buying and serving has achieved in the programmatic era.

Creative segmentation

As well as being creative in the ads served to consumers, publishers and marketers should think outside the box about how to use data to segment audiences too.

Retargeting those who have demonstrated an interest in a brand, either by searching for its products or visiting its site for example, is a commonly-used practice that is often powered by dynamic creative.

But it’s possible to be so much more granular about this. How about separating those searching for specific items, who are likely to be further along the purchase journey, from the browsers who may not necessarily be ready to pull the trigger, for example?   

Taking it to the next level, brands can adopt ‘lookalike’ modelling, using first-party data to identify consumers who have similar attributes to those who have already demonstrated an interest but haven’t actually engaged with the brand before.

But these segments should always be based on information, not assumption - even if brands are connecting with the right consumers at the right time, to have a real impact the creative must be relevant.

There is no point in serving hyper segmented ads if the creative doesn’t reflect the audience.

Standardising measurement

Unfortunately, native ads are less geared up for measurement than display ads. Native is about content, which often sits at the top of the funnel raising brand awareness rather than driving sales conversion via click throughs.

And without those click throughs as a primary target, it’s difficult to measure the impact that an ad has had.

There’s no easy solution to this, hence why no universal metric exists for native yet.

But the advertising industry needs to work together to achieve a greater understanding of how brands can measure the impact of ads beyond the click – and ultimately ensure that measurement is standardised on both the publisher and buyer side.

Only when this solution for measuring success has been found, and marketing teams are able to report back on the effectiveness of their ads, will they be able to secure necessary buy-in from their senior leadership teams.

Too often, native is treated like a foreign type of advertising that can’t or shouldn’t be bought programmatically.

But programmatic data enables brands to serve non-intrusive native ads that are also highly targeted and creative, meaning they truly complement the shopping experience. This data can be powerful, although it’s important not to lose the human touch when it comes to understanding and interpreting it – and designing formats that will work.

It’s up to publishers to reassure brands on the quality of native programmatic ads and ensure that all parties are on the same page when it comes to measuring their success.

Meanwhile, by being dynamic with the content served to each consumer and using data to segment audiences in the most creative way, brands are placing themselves in good stead to provide inspiration to the right people, at exactly the right time.

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