Programmatic marketing has rapidly become a growing, powerful strategy for marketers, despite the industry frequently encountering challenges from adblocking, fraud, changing data laws and skills shortages resulting in campaigns that miss the mark.

programmatic marketing revolution
Programmatic marketing keeps on thriving despite the industry frequently encountering challenges.

When faced with the expense and complexity of programmatic marketing, many marketers are still wary. The platforms for buying media programmatically are expensive and indistinguishable, the data infrastructure needed to squeeze out all the value requires a large investment and long term commitment, not to mention the array of skills needed to build and execute custom trading strategies.

Yet all of this would be worthwhile if marketers felt they had greater control over the outcome. One of the biggest concerns when going down the programmatic route is whether the promise of a fantastic campaign could still fall flat.

Ensuring the target audience is as close to perfect as possible would go a long way to reassuring marketers, yet this still appears to be a hurdle many struggle to overcome. There are a few reasons why this is and they can all be overcome.

New consumer frontier

Technology may have given marketers the tools to get in closer than ever to their audiences, but it has also empowered consumers to construct and re-construct their own identities. Consumers now have access to an abundance of information that shapes their views of the world and themselves.

Consumption patterns can no longer be defined by ‘traditional’ demographic segments, they are no longer enough to profile consumers and determine how to communicate with them. Marketers need to look beyond these stereotypes when painting a picture of their consumer. If marketers rely solely on demographics to define their ideal buying audience, they are missing the bigger picture.

Beyond demographic

demographic in programmatic marketing
Geography, age and gender are no longer pure gold to marketers.

Attitudes, behaviours and self-perceptions and identities are just as important, if not more important, in understanding the consumer. Todd Yellin, Netflix’s VP of product innovation expresses this well when he points out that Netflix has a mountain of data at their disposal, 99 percent of which is garbage. Only one percent is pure gold. According to Yellin, geography, age, and gender go into the garbage heap. Netflix has moved significantly beyond using demographics to understand its users, having learned this information was “almost useless” as an indicator of behaviour.

The cognitive issue

Whilst many marketers may claim they are aware they need to focus on consumer behaviours, they frequently slip back to a demographic mindset.

As they ask themselves what all their past buyers have in common they naturally shift towards seeking similar consumers to target. This may seem like the most effective way to proceed, however, in doing so they are assuming they can only find new customers in a similar group to their past customers. This mindset shifts them unconsciously away from their buying audience. They are now focusing on a demographic again.

Cognitively it’s far easier for marketers to associate with people than with concepts. So when they begin to craft the perfect target “audience” that makes them naturally lean towards crafting a profile instead.

This shift may appear subtle, but it disrupts planning. Just because someone fits into the same demographic as a historical buyer doesn’t mean they have the same kind of buying behaviour. In fact, their attitudes and emotional drivers are quite likely to be very different.

Purchase behaviour

So how can marketers avoid the trap of focusing only on demographics rather than the buying audience?

purchase behaviour
Marketers can extract valuable purchase behaviour trends.

They need to shift away from assuming new customers can be found in a group with similar characteristics, and focus instead on the group with the similar behaviours to their previous customers. Behaviours that show they are poised and ready to buy a specific product or service. By harnessing purchase data, marketers can extract valuable purchase behaviour trends. Meshing affiliate data with credit card, social recommendation and brand data is the foundation to building unique audiences who are poised to purchase. With such strong purchase behaviour signals, marketers can then model projections of future purchases.

This is the most impactful way to extract value from programmatic marketing because it centres around targeting people who are already in the right mindset to buy. This ensures marketers are messaging their buying audience. Once marketers start modelling future purchase behaviours off past purchases they will find the demographic that the buyer belongs to will become less relevant. The fact they’re in-market as a buyer now truly trumps other variables.

Programmatic still has some way to go before marketers will feel they can reliably forecast the outcome, however this one shift in approach will go a very long way to evolving the way programmatic delivers value.

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