Programmatic - A Marketers Guide: Part One.


To understand the appeal of Programmatic Advertising, there are some simple facts we need to accept:

As Marketers, we like to think we know our customers. We say we understand their concerns, their desires, and what makes them decide to buy. The simple fact is: we can’t.

We’re limited to pigeon-holing our customers into broad groups and making educated guesses.

As Marketers, we can upload, test, adjust and optimise to appeal to the most current buying behaviours, keeping up with the most current trends as soon as they emerge. The simple fact is: we won’t.

The world simply moves too fast.

As Marketers, we would love it if our customers thought about us all the time, but the simple fact is: they don’t.

No explanation necessary (I hope).

What is Programmatic Advertising?


‘Programmatic Advertising’ is buying digital advertising space automatically, with machine-learning using data to decide which ad space to select, how much to pay for it, and when to show ads.

Data is the keyword here. Programmatic thrives on it. Every choice it makes is informed, tested, repeated and (finally) vindicated with big data… Data that is more granular than what most Marketers have access to, and utilised around the clock.

Traditionally, digital advertising is mired in a need to be managed. Constant testing is required, and changes come slowly. The need to test, optimise and repeat is a slow process, as many Marketers know. What Programmatic advertising does is take that need for manual optimisation and testing away, essentially freeing a digital advertising manager to focus their time (and money) on other aspects of the wider strategy.

All it needs is:

  1. Your Average Order Value
  2. Your desired CPA
  3. Your ad Creatives
  4. A set of landing pages with which to test
  5. A tracking pixel embedded on your website

At the most basic level, Programmatic decides where and when to buy ad space by observing historical “signals” given by your customer behaviours over time, then appealing to those established signals with your material, until it can refine itself to a point where your ad space is only bought when it is most profitable. If it isn’t profitable, it tries something else, and keeps trying until it is.

Traditionally, broad Display targeting would give you a million impressions on major news sites, and you’d refine from there over time. Instead, Programmatic takes that million impressions and hits the ground running with targeting based off those established “signals”, optimising all the time.

This means that after a short initial testing period, CPA is dramatically lower than where it began.

Having utilised Programmatic with some of our clients, we’ve seen CPA drop 66% within 6 weeks of testing. Depending on how high your Average Order Value is, this can make for an outstanding ROI, especially when compared with the average ROI of Google Display Network campaigns, which are traditionally more focused on Brand Awareness rather than conversions.

Concerns & Changing our Thinking for Programmatic

The biggest concern advertisers have with Programmatic is that it requires “letting go” – giving up control of your precious budget to “the machines”.

One of the common queries an advertiser might have with Programmatic is where their ads will end up showing. The answer is simply: “Where it will produce the best CPA”, although you are still able to state Exclusions for brand safety.

That “where” might not be where we expect, but if it converts well, then Programmatic will keep bidding on it. Often with Programmatic we’ve seen the best CPA come from ad space that has nothing to do with our niche, but we understand that our customers don’t necessarily have to be thinking of us to be in the mood to buy from us...

You Are Still in Control. Work Still Needs to be Done

Programmatic excels when it has plenty to test, so make sure to “feed” it with a wealth of ad messaging, creative variation (in ads and landing pages), and more ambitious methods of optimising your User Experience. With the knowledge that a wider set of website visitors are more likely to convert, Programmatic presents an opportunity for Digital Marketers to fully grasp Conversion Rate Optimisation.

Want to learn more about Programmatic? See Part Two to continue learning how Big Data makes Programmatic possible.

If you'd like to talk to one of our digital experts about how your brand can start utilising programmtic in your digital strategy then get in touch today via email or give us a call on 01233 667800.

Top of mind when ensuring your brand and business becomes Fit for the Future is efficiency. If processes feel lumpy then now is the time to look in the mirror. Even if things are running smoothly on the surface the approach still may not be optimal for the best possible results and outcomes. Here are my 5 Top Tips to becoming Future Fit by improving delivery efficiency whilst successfully maintaining a portfolio of projects. 

Our Sagittarius ‘Production Machine’ has stood the test of time. Yes, it’s continuously evolving with new technologies and processes but our framework remains consistent at its core. Crucial for us is the recognition of challenges and issues from our past experiences, learning from them and adapting to improve this next time around. With digital engineering and martech optimisation accelerating so rapidly the agility we adopt in our approach will become increasingly more important over time.

Having worked in Project Management, Programme Management and now Portfolio management there are 5 key things I believe you can do with relative ease to focus on improving the efficiency of your teams whilst working on a mixture of fixed budget projects and augmented teams with retained external members (like our Business Transformation Retainer model - BTR).  

When striking the right balance, the impact this has across Production can be considerable resulting in an increase in profitability and revenue - always a bonus! 


Tip One: Utilisation  

We define utilisation in two parts - billable and non-billable utilisation. Depending on the type of organisation you are this might be better phrased as core business and supplementary or something simpler just to delineate the split between output that drives you forward fast vs standard working practices/exceptions that exist in any role. 
Both are equally important to understand team capacity. If there is a high proportion of non-billable work booked on a team, then there are generally three potential reasons – leave (sick, vacation, dependent), training or no billable work. 

Leave is necessary, training is an investment and non-billable work is manageable if you know this in advance.  

So how do we manage this? 

  • Understand your headcount target – what are they there to achieve? is your target in £ and hours or something else highly measurable?
  • Understand your available working hours per headcount – each month how many working days are available excluding public holidays and vacation. 
  • Benchmark acceptable non-billable time – review important must-have meetings against others and assess what is a realistic target to hit. Also, assess training and how this slots in within your team and project commitments. 
  • Understand what your sold or no fail commitments are each week/month and match this against availability. 


Tip two: Forward planning 

Like all businesses we have many projects and initiatives running across multiple teams and it’s key to assess those that are on track, require extension plus navigate new work scheduled to land. Sounds like a no-brainer but often in organisations this quite federated and not adhered to with any strictness. It's always the first thing that shows up in any time and motion study. Yes priorities change on a daily basis however we plan our baseline at the end of each month, then each week, we look at the movements or additions to this over the next 3 months onwards to ensure we have the right people, on the right projects for our clients. 

So how do we manage this?

  • Get the right tool in place. A tool that has all project plans, project scope, team skill sets, team members and real-time utilisation data all in one place.
  • Create genuine sight of the project/task pipeline and its shape well ahead of time. 
  • Focus on being proactive instead of reactive.
  • Assess anything that overruns (no matter how small) and cater for this in utilisation

Tip three: Budget management 

I’m not teaching you to suck eggs here. All good managers keep a handle on the finances but here perhaps go that extra mile and treble check if the money really does align to all the component parts of a project or campaign. This is relatively simple to do at the start and making sure this is right before the team begins is an important part of our Project Management role when handling fixed budgets. Warning - ‘creative accountancy’ maybe required. Our priority is to allow as much creativity and innovation within a set output for the greatest outcome. Generally the initial time-boxing presented to us within a project is a guide however the trick is to keep to this scope, total hours and costs in check to ensure profitability if you’re generating revenue or efficiency if you’re deeper inside a brand’s organisation. Poor planning and budget management can creep silently throughout a project and have a sometimes surprising knock-on effect on timelines, resources, and ultimately dissatisfied stakeholders - so our role is to stay on top of this. 

So how do we manage this?

  • Project plans should be done on a granular level with hours and costs attached throughout including a map of all levels of risk.
  • Actual time/production estimates are done on a granular level and monitored daily 
  • Budget management is done on a phase level and continuously cross-checked with the overall budget per skill set or department.  
  • RAG reports are submitted weekly for transparency and visibility.

Tip four: Scope and risk management 

This is an important requirement for any project we handle and tends to be ‘dialled up’ when the budget is fixed with zero contingency. This is not a factor in our agile BTR model as scope is moved to the backlog and product owners prioritise this with the team. However,  for fixed priced projects, a risk log is identified upfront and managed throughout the project’s lifecycle. The scope is fixed at the start, refined throughout and based on additional features/enhancements or by complexity.  

So how do we manage this?

  • All risks need to be identified no matter how small. Ask lots of questions and analyse; what is out of your control and which stages in a typical project may have a strong likelihood of growing (i.e., feedback stages, sign off stages and content population). This is documented via a Risk log and each risk identified has a mitigation plan attached. This is textbook stuff but so often overlooked.
  • The scope is assessed against the level of effort required and how this fits into the original deliverables, costs, hours, and the project plan given. For us we manage this via tools like Jira and Forecast. 

Tip five: Resource management 

When referring to resources, I mean exclusively people of various and specific skill sets that can be utilised to deliver a project or programme of activity. This ranges from Engineers and Creatives to CRO consultants and Scrum Masters and everything in between. Each has a level of experience and expertise and therefore depending on the project presented, we need to actively reduce lead time and ensure that the best suited talent is engaged. If this is not managed effectively then resources that are unable to achieve their outputs become a drain on efficiency.

So how do we manage this?

  • RAG reporting is done each week to Senior Management, and Leadership are kept in appraised of where we need to pivot or offer support to teams. 
  • Less experienced team members are overseen by Seniors. 
  • Training and skill set gaps are managed via training plans and PDP (personal development plans) sessions with Line Managers every 6 months. 
  • Team retrospectives are done either regularly across the delivery period. 
  • This ensures the teams are syncing, communicating challenges to each other and highlighting any support required. 

 As you can imagine there are other techniques that we employ but in summary, these are the core areas within a Delivery function to ensure  your ‘Production Machine’ is well oiled. It’s made up of many parts and when they all move together progression happens smoothly. If there is a piece missing or the fit is wrong, then inefficiency arises and can grind or impact other parts. Whatever processes you follow ensure you have the gauges or temperature checks baked in to warn you if something needs and urgent review. This has enabled us to grow and will help you do the same.

If you need support with your digital projects in any way or would like to talk more about our Business Transformation Retainers then speak to our team.

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25 May 2017 - 5 minute read
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