How to use a DMP – technically speaking

DMP this, DMP that
DMP trend
Searches on Google for DMP, source Google trends.

There’s a lot of talk in the market on how a DMP and data driven approach can help marketers better reach their users and how a DMP can provide a better online experience. This talk is normally quite high level though, sticking to the idealistic gains one would hope to achieve by using this tech, so I think it would be interesting to talk in more technical details about how a DMP can improve your business as an advertiser, agency or publisher. In other words, talk about how it actually works rather than just spouting corporate speak about ‘data is good and life is data is life and data and the technology and data…’ Data. What a funny sounding word, data is.

Let’s get to it.

So what exactly  is a DMP?

You can think of a DMP (data management platform) as a massive data storage software where you can house vast amounts of data, organize this data, segment it, run analysis over it and then activate it (as in make it work for you).

The data that the DMP houses is normally data about users and their behavior, most often in regards of how  this behavior could be used to target them with an ad (or another type of media in general) that is more relevant to them, which should improve sales.

The data in the DMP is (normally) non-personally identifiable and is composed of “signals” such as a user opening a web page, adding an item to the shopping cart, name of the item was within the user’s shopping cart, whether the user abandoned the conversion funnel or not and so on.

So an example of this data would be: this user has been to my site five times, he has visited the same product page each time, and he has not purchased anything yet.

An example of how to make use of this data: I’m going to select this user (and the hundreds that behaved like him) and create a data segment (basically a container) that includes all of them. I’m then going to push this segment of data from the DMP into a buying platform (or a CMS, or an email distribution software…), and whenever I detect these users (through the info on their cookies for example), I’m going to try to deliver media (banners, videos, search ads, email) to them.

The most important thing to know so far though is that to make use of a DMP, you need to have the data.

How to put the D in your MP

The good news is that data, fortunately for marketers and the NSA, is everywhere! Every action a user performs online can release some sort of signal, which is basically a piece of data that you can act upon should you so desire. But how do you technically get this data into the DMP? There are multiple ways.

DMP tracking pixels and SDKs

The good ol’fashioned way. You place tags that drop cookies (or reads device IDs for DMP that support mobile ecosystems) on your site, your banners, your newsletter, wherever else, and the pixel will drop a cookie on the user’s browser.

For simplicity, let’s assume that we’re in a cookie environment.  The  cookie that this tracking pixel drops contains a unique identifier, which is not tied to any PII (personally identifiable information).  Pixels can also fire (which is to say send a signal) on events such as pageload, clicks, almost any javascript event I would say.

So let’s say a user sees a banner. The pixel on the banner fires and drops a cookie on the user’s browser. The DMP will remember this user as the user that saw a banner.

The same user then goes to a website that you own. The DMP tracking pixel on your site will be able to look at the cookie that the banner dropped, since the cookie lives on the user’s browser. Upon seeing the cookie, the pixel will tell the DMP “Hey, that user from the banner, remember him? Well he’s on the site now!”

The DMP will then quietly take note of this too. And that’s data.

Server to server syncing:

Some technologies, like ad servers, already have quite a bit of user data on them from campaigns that marketers would have run. A lot of these techs offer an export of this user data that you can then import into the DMP.

2nd party data

If you’re a marketer that wants to enrich the data you have access to, you can set up data partnerships with sites. For example, you can go to a site like eBay (just an example!) and say “Hey, I’d like to buy some data about users that have been to your used car section”. eBay could then use their own DMP (for example) to send this data to you, and you’d pay for it (again, just an example!)

3rd party data

Don’t have access to any data or data partnerships? You can still buy data from 3rd party data providers. These data providers use panel data, location data, referral data and basically almost any data source imaginable to build their profile.

So now that you have that coveted data, don’t just stand there, let’s do something with it.

So how can I use a DMP to make my life easier?

I’m going to cover three use cases that a DMP can be used for, which is more than most articles out there but obviously it only scratches the surface of how a DMP can be used. It’s a start though and the comments section is open for further questions.

Segmenting user site data in audiences

This one is for publishers and advertisers with sites that have a big pool of data. For the purposes of this example, let’s assume you’re a publisher.

In the olden days, publishers were in the business of selling impressions and the main proxies to the audience of the site was the site’s content and login data. If a site had beauty products, marketers would assume that this site’s audience is women, and so it went. If the site had multiple content categories, each category would be tagged with a different adserving tag or key value, and those categories would be used as proxies to the profiles of the users visiting the site.

Using a DMP allows publishers to look at the site’s data on a user level rather than on a content level. By collecting and segmenting the data, you can begin to marry audience insights to your impressions. The end game here is to surface more valuable impressions. If, for a simple example, most of your campaigns were being booked on the tech news section of your news portal and the tech section’s traffic is limited, you can expand this audience by creating a tech lover user segment, which is composed of users that have been to your tech section. This allows you to target these users while they’re visiting another section too, thereby providing scale.

Customizing your e-commerce site to your visitor’s profile

This use case is a bit more advanced, but in my opinion it’s very cool although it requires some custom coding.

DMP tags often have a read api, through which you could request the user object from the DMP and the site’s CMS can adapt what you show your users based on this data

As an example if you know that a user has looked at an article on your electronics e-commerce site about a new phone and you’ve saved the phone’s model into the user’s profile on the DMP, the next time the user visits the site you can have a picture of that phone displaying on the homepage.

Having an integrated data strategy

An even more advanced one would be you’re a company with a vast amount of data and you’re sitting on a martech stack. Let’s say you’re a telco provider, you have a user’s CRM data sitting in the DMP and your email marketing system also connected to the DMP. You know a user has shown interest in a model of phone. You know that this user’s phone contract is ending soon.

At that stage you could basically use this insight to customize the email that you send the user about his approaching contract expiry date with the picture of that shiny new phone he was looking at, with a link that takes him to an automatically generated page on your site which is built on the fly based on the data you have about the user sitting in the DMP.

Parting words

DMPs are cool for some companies but they’re also a bit of an overkill for others. In a lot of cases, an ad server, a DSP or a CMS could easily do what you plan to do with a DMP with less time and money investment. However, when you have a lot of stuff working in silos, a ton of data and want to tie things together, that’s probably when it makes most sense to go the DMP way.


2 thoughts on “How to use a DMP – technically speaking

  1. This was really helpful! I’m still a bit confused about using DMP segments in your email tool, how does that work? If the person can’t be personally identified, wouldn’t linking them to an email address identify them? And how do the segments get to your email tool from the DMP? Is this automated through some kind of integration or is it more complicated than that?

    1. Hi Morgan!

      Indeed, once the user is signed up to a mailing list, you would have PII on them. This type of information is not native to the DMP though, although yes it could be ingested into it. Best practice would have you clean the data of any PII before you plug it into the DMP though (so email address would be hashed away).

      On the integration with email bit, that really depends on the email software you’re using. The industry is quite fragmented in that aspect, but there are marketing clouds out there (like adobe) that have all those bits of the puzzle closely integrated, so that makes pushing segments from one piece to the next more seamless.

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