How to set up an efficient programmatic campaign

Every programmatic campaign is different. That’s because each campaign can have a different KPI and business goal. Regardless, there are some best practices that I find work for any programmatic campaign.

This post aims to address the phase from planning the campaign up to going live on a DSP. Optimization and reporting will get their own posts.

1.Set a goal, represented by a KPI if possible

Every marketing campaign should have a goal. That goal could be lead generation, branding, sales, traffic to a site, app installs…

If you do not have concrete goals and KPIs, you will not be able to tell if your campaign is performing. You will need both goals AND KPIs. A number of clicks alone is not enough – what do you need those clicks for? Similarely, improving brand awareness alone is not enough – How are you measuring brand awareness?

Try to find a KPI that represents what your goal is. If your goal is app installs, your KPI could be cost per install (CPI). If your goal is sales, your KPI could be cost per sale.

If your goal is branding, try to understand what your planners/clients mean by branding. Set a KPI based on that.

2.Select your target audiences

Once you have a campaign goal, you have to decide who you’re going to target with your ads.

In the world of addressable media, where almost any conceivable audience segment is within reach on the major DSPs, there is a lot of choice. Pick several target audiences and test which ones perform. Making changes in really time is an advantage of programmatic that you must take advantage of.

If you are promoting a women’s perfume on your site, you might be asked to target the typical women 25-34 segment by your client/planner. Try to think out of the box here. Give your input. Who do YOU think would want to buy your perfume product? Why wouldn’t 18 years old buy it? Or 50 year old for that matter? How about women interested in a certain type of music and fashion? Why does age matter at all here?

In some cases, you will be working off of a brief. The target audience will be mentioned within the brief that you receive from the planners/client. If you think that the target audience does not make sense, challenge it. In some cases, you will not be able to change the target audience from the brief. That’s fine. At least try to understand how that target audience was selected.

3.Think of your consumer journey

This is especially true for campaigns with a sales/conversion goal. What does the ideal customer journey look like after clicking on a banner? How about after visiting the site? After adding an item to the shopping cart?

Here’s an example – let’s use the perfume as an example again.

Steps for user journey 1:
  1. User clicks banner
  2. User lands on product page
  3. User enters payment information
  4. User completes transaction

This helps you figure out what you need to do to have the campaign ready. In user journey 1, you would need to make sure your landing page is ready. Your site needs to have tracking pixels in place to track conversions. If you’re activating remarketing, you should set up the remarketing list logic.

For example, if a user landed on the product page, try to customize the next banner he/she sees to acknowledge that. If a user has already converted, do not serve him/her the same creative again – try to cross sell.

Once you think of the possible user journeys, you will be ready to work on the next step.

4.Get your material ready (creatives, landing page, tracking)

You have your campaign goals and KPIs. You have your user journeys mapped out. Now, you need to build the material for the campaign.

First comes the creative. A good creative can be the difference between a successful campaign and a failed one. Make sure that your creative has several versions to A/B test performance. If possible, have your creative be dynamic. Each step of the user journey should have its own creative. Yes, it might be a bit creepy for the user, but the performance will be better. Make sure you have separate creative for mobile and for desktop. DO NOT forget about mobile. Most of a user’s time spent online is spent on mobile devices.

Try to have your creative in most iab standard formats for display and mobile to maximize reach, but don’t be afraid to use rich media/out of the box creatives if needed.

Tied to the creative is the landing page. The message on the landing page should be consistent with the creative’s message. There needs to be consistency in your messaging. If you are offering 10% off on the creative, the landing page should clearly show the 10% off offer. This should apply to all your creatives. As with the creative, try to have several versions of your landing pages. Software like will allow you to streamline this.

In some cases, the creative department sits far from the campaign activation department. You must fight to bring them closer, no matter how hard it might be. Creative and landing pages WILL make or break your campaign. Media alone, no matter how good that media is, is not a strategy. Media does not exist in a vacuum, even if it sometimes feel that way.

5.Take a minute or two to visualize your campaign

Imagine the product you are selling. Take it in. Don’t become absorbed by technology to the point where you forget the product you are selling. And don’t forget the consumer.

What is this new-age crap?

This is a bit of a personal opinion. It feels to me like marketers are getting separated from their target audiences by layers of technologies. This step helps you take a minute to realize that you’re about to set up a campaign that will reach thousands or millions of real people (hopefully).

So close your eyes a minute or two, and remember that you’re in marketing not in finance. This will put you in a slightly more creative mindset when you begin building your campaign.

6.Multiple line items with mutually exclusive audiences

Finally, you get to log into your DSP. I will not go over the choice of a DSP here. That is a topic that warrants several posts.

Whichever DSP you decide to use, make sure that you use the technology to flesh out your strategy, rather than being pigeonholed by the capabilities of the technology. For example, just because a DSP has a unique type of data or inventory, does not mean that you HAVE to use that data and inventory for every campaign. Start from the strategy.

I like to start with 5 discovery line items and 3 remarketing line items (if you’re running remarketing).

The discovery line items will help you acquire new users. The remarketing line items will help remarket to existing visitors of your site. Discovery and remarketing should have a separate creative at the least. I recommend separate creatives based on the recency of your remarketing as well.

I find that performance is more tied to the inventory than to the 3rd party data. An ad that appears on a site that is contextually relevant is often better than an ad that is blanket targeting an audience. A visitor to a site about loans is more interested in loans than a user which an algo estimated is interested in a loan. Make sure you target the right inventory. Try to get deals for premium inventory if possible. If not, keep an eye on which sites you’re running on.

Whatever you do, frequency cap your campaign. Do no spam your users. This is especially true for video ads. Nobody likes to see the same video ad a dozen time a day – this is how adblockers are born.

The initial campaign set up will not stay the same as the campaign goes on. As you optimize, the set up with evolve to hone in on the tactics that are performing. However, you need to make sure you do not start with too narrow a targeting. Start broad-ish with your targeting and hone in on what performs.

A word on brand safety

Brand safety is a topic on its own. I want to emphasize that you should make sure you know where your ads will appear though- whether through a whitelist, a blacklist, verification tools or other tools, do your best to safeguard the safety of your brands. You do not want your high end brand (or any brand) to end up next to non-brand safe content.

7.One last test and going live

Before setting the campaign live, have a last look at the targeting parameters. Are your campaign dates and budget set up correctly? Are you creatives working well? Is the landing page live? Is the tracking in place?

Make a checklist and tick every point. It pays to be careful.

Once you’ve done your tests, you can set the campaign live. And now the real work begins.

[End of part 1 on Campaign Management]

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