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KBR's Grant Hyland on what programmatic advertising is - and why it's the future

StopPress sits down with Grant Hyland, founder and managing director of KBR Digital to talk about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the trouble with digital in New Zealand, and the wild world of programmatic...

By StopPress Team | June 1, 2018 | Sponsored content

StopPress: So for those not familiar with the term, what does programmatic offer to ad buyers? Is it just replacing the menial job of buying ads manually with a robot?

Grant Hyland: Well, it’s complex, but yes, essentially it’s the technology that makes buying advertising inventory in real-time possible. It creates huge efficiency in the way you transact and the way you trade and manage your campaigns. You're able to manage a single campaign through a single platform if you wish and get access to every type of inventory

In the old days that was all manual - you would have to do it all with multiple face-to-face sales conversations, dealing with each of the publishers, negotiating payment terms etcetera.

So there is an awful lot of streamlining that happens through programmatic, and now you can even buy into individual sites through private marketplaces, so even that part of the market has been simplified and streamlined through programmatic means.

So it allows the advertiser to get really granular with where the ad appears - say, in this certain position on this certain site. Can you do that same granular targeting in regards to audiences?

Most definitely. There are hundreds of data providers and there are hundreds of thousands of data segments that we have access to through programmatic channels and through data management platforms.

Simply put, yes, we can get really specific and really prescriptive about the type of audience that you are targeting. 

I see. So how does that play out in the New Zealand marketplace? Does that level of audience detail then create a scale issue?

In the New Zealand market, yes, it can very easily.  It’s a balancing act.  We already have a relatively small population so you need to be careful about being too granular in your approach or you run the risk of hitting the same small audience too frequently.

And so how do you get around that? 

The only way is through testing and optimization - that’s the approach we always take.

At the beginning of my career prior to digital advertising a lot of our work -maybe 90 percent - was done pre-campaign. It was about getting your clients to feel comfortable with what you were recommending.  We didn’t have the granular data and insights to rationalise our approach so it was about gaining their trust by demonstrating a sensible process.  And then you just press go, with 90 percent of the job done before an ad was even placed.  Perhaps we would provide a tear-sheet or the like but that was as far as it went.

With programmatic we are now in a position where we can understand every single impression and how an ad is performing across every different variable; the day it's served, the operating system, the browser type, the audience targeted, what the audience did after viewing the ad, did they bounce off the site or did they stay for another five minutes? We can do that at the impression level, so in the first instance we like to think a bit broader about things, test lots of different audiences and don't be too prescriptive early on.

Be flexible, be inquisitive and test what could possibly work.

A quick aside: What are your thoughts on the recent scandals surrounding data at the moment? Are bad actors like Cambridge Analytica ruining it for everyone? 

There is a bit of distrust in market at the moment. There are some data management tactics and techniques that have been looked at and questioned globally and the market is going through a bit of an evolution at the moment, especially the European market. They have now come forward and put in place a very clear and defined set of rules: The GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation]. 

As an industry in New Zealand, I think we need to be careful here. We need to maintain that trust. Luckily, I think most programmatic practitioners are aware of - or at least pay attention to - the sustainability of the New Zealand market.

So in this age of automation, what’s unique about the KBR approach? What do you tell would-be clients to make them choose you?

Well, we’re really proud of our independent trading desk. We've got specialist people that are focused, day-in and day-out on looking at the campaigns and optimizing them.  The big thing that defines KBR is our transparent approach.  Yes I am talking about our pricing approach but I am also talking about our reporting.  Through transparent pricing we have nothing to hide.  If a client wants to see a hyper detailed report for their campaign, we have no issue with this.  Our systems and processes allow us to track one hundred variables from our campaign all the way down to the impression level.  So we know exactly what is driving our performance and we can provide as detailed reporting as our clients wish.  We fundamentally buy into the idea that transparency is the only way forward for our industry.  There is an awful lot of smoke and mirrors adversely impacting the trust and quality in market.  Its time for someone to standup and lead with a transparent model. So why not KBR.

KBR works closely with KPEX New Zealand’s leading programmatic marketplace. Rogan Polkinghorne, interim CEO at KPEX echo’s KBRs sentiments and says KPEX is committed to a transparent open and safe programmatic ecosystem on both the supply and demand sides.  We whole heartedly applaud KBRs transparent model as we too believe transparency and openness is the future of our industry.  Knowledge is power, so the more advertisers understand programmatic channels the better it is for everyone involved. 

One could get the impression that programmatic is a kind of magic bullet - just point it at the audience you want and pull the trigger. Is that the case? Or is that just a symptom of where we are in the hype cycle?

No, it’s not a magic bullet. Our Trading Desk approach has evolved a lot over the years but we are always pragmatic with our planning process.  Programmatic is an important part of a diverse offering.

No, it’s not a perfect solution. But I think being honest about that - as an industry and certainly us as a business -  is an important thing to remember. We encourage honest conversations with our clients and we like to be rigorous when assessing the best tactics to deploy for a campaign - programmatic or not. 

I think for us, if we put rigour into our thinking and if we've demonstrated a real thought process that makes sense, and we've done everything we can - building trust and taking all the right steps along the way - then even if the result isn’t perfect our clients still know we've got their best interests in mind. Hopefully that's the way the industry sees us too.

Last question. Broadly speaking, is programmatic, ahem, ‘the future’?

Yeah, I think so, and I think it’s actually the case that the future is already here.

Let's be honest, originally it was just a cheap and cheerful way to bang out a couple of banners. You never really knew what you were getting, but it was cheap compared to what you would get if you went to a direct site, plus it was efficient to deliver.

It's far more sophisticated now, more refined and it’s only going to get more so going forward. And remember, we are able to target individual sites and actually pay attention again to individual site content, so the quality of that content is once again a priority.

As part of the digital market in New Zealand, and as part of the programmatic market in New Zealand particularly, we are passionate about always keeping our partner’s best interests front-of-mind. We keep them informed, we’ve got nothing to hide, we’re open and honest with them and we work with them and foster those kinds of relationships.

So yeah, it's a pretty exciting industry, and evolving constantly with a lot of innovation driving it forward.

Want to know more? In the previous pieceHyland talks about the importance of building relationships.

This story is part of a paid partnership with KBR Digital.

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