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How to Build a Programmatic Strategy: 4 Easy Steps

More and more digital advertisers turn to programmatic ad strategy in an attempt to widen their audience and manage campaigns more efficiently. Emarketer predicts that by 2021 programmatic ad spend will reach 88% of all US digital display ad spend which accounts for $81 billion. While the sector is expanding and developing at a huge pace, many people might feel that it is hard to keep up. In this post, we are going to explore what is programmatic advertising, how it works and how to apply this knowledge to your advertising strategy step-by-step. Let us now start with a programmatic strategy definition and explore what kind of advantages programmatic ads strategy can give for marketers.


What does programmatic strategy mean

Programmatic ad strategy is a set of planned actions and measures aimed to reach one or more goals set by the advertiser with the help of programmatic advertising tools. It can be a single campaign created to introduce some product or a set of retargeting campaigns oriented at different segments – as long as programmatic technologies are used and your goal is reached, that’s programmatic ads strategy.

The underlying process is simple – a publisher puts an inventory to an ad marketplace via the supply-side platform (SSP), while an advertiser sets up a campaign on a demand-side platform (DSP). When a user clicks on a page, automated real-time auction among advertisers starts and the winning ad is then displayed to the user. The whole process takes less than a second, so the user experience is not affected and marketers don’t have to spend lots of time negotiating each ad placement. Because of this efficiency brought by programmatic to the advertising world, some call it the future of digital advertising.

Now that we know what is programmatic strategy, we can shift our attention for a little bit and delve into the benefits of programmatic advertising and investigate why advertisers need it. Without programmatic, tons of work has to be done manually: one should pre-negotiate many things, including pricing, and the campaign can still turn out to be ineffective. All this time and money spent on manual ad buying could be used to come up with more engaging campaigns that better understand the potential customer.

With programmatic ads strategy, one can buy advertising across various publishers and set up more flexible conditions. Moreover, the opportunities for precise targeting and personalization are far greater than for traditional advertising. Numerous tools measuring the effectiveness of a specific advertisement are only making it easier to create even more successful campaigns in the future. Using various sources of big data, programmatic algorithms can target each user at the right time and place, with the right product and convert website visitors into customers.

How to build a programmatic strategy?

At first, programmatic advertising might seem too complex and the question of how to build a programmatic strategy is very common among those who are just starting to launch programmatic campaigns and work with self-service DSP. But, fear not – although this journey might look long and curved, there is a map to navigate around. Once you get to know the programmatic ecosystem more closely and plan every stage of your strategy accordingly, the road will lead straight to your goals.

There are many things to consider while creating a programmatic ad strategy, but the core stages remain the same for any kind of campaign. Here are the core four milestones you’ll need to pass throughout your way:

  • Preparation
  • Work with the audience
  • Creating engaging ads
  • Making the right targeting choices

Every stage is very important for the success of the whole strategy, so make sure that you put enough effort into each of these steps and pay attention to the details. So where do we start?

Step 1. Preparation

Before you jump into the huge mix of creatives, audiences, platforms, and measurements, it is important to take your time and make a few preparatory arrangements and plans. The first thing you have to do is to get a clear vision of what you are willing to achieve and what are the resources available for this mission. It might take some time to investigate those things and set up your mind to the right course, but it will be worth it.

Set up your goals. Defining your goals is the most important thing you have to do, before starting to create any strategy. For programmatic ad strategy, there can be many several types of goals, such as:

  • Increase sales;
  • Raise brand awareness;
  • Get more visits to the website or app;
  • Lower the cost per user acquisition;
  • Return previous clients, etc.

You should also think about how to measure these goals accurately to determine the success rate of your strategy. For example, if you chose to work on brand recognition, a good but not so obvious marker would be social media engagement. Or if your main aim was to get more visitors to your website, it is important to measure not only page views but also clicks and engagement. Having clear goals and precise measurements is an essential part of any strategy, which will help you not to get lost in the following parts of your quest.

Make the initial measurements. In order to start an action and track your progress, you need to precisely know your initial position and resources available for programmatic ads strategy. You’ll need to consider what is your current website traffic, how much does it cost to convert new customers, current audiences, and communities on different channels, etc. These numbers are crucial when it comes to your potential spending, as well as the main ad formats and channels for your campaign.

Stay flexible. In traditional advertising most of the specific options are pre-defined. With programmatic ad strategy, you’ll have to set up for yourself all the things such as frequency, demographics, pricing, and scheduling. As programmatic technologies keep changing, it might be a good practice to set your mind for the same strategy. For example, you can find out that your potential online customer is different from what you’ve thought of them or that some of your channels are less successful than the others. There is always a chance to open new approaches and opportunities, so get ready to try something new, adapt and never stop learning.

Don’t set a fixed budget. As already discussed, by nature programmatic algorithm always searches for new opportunities to reach your goals faster and smarter. This feature requires certain flexibility, as you need to change your focus fast in order to grasp these opportunities. To give yourself more freedom in adopting new policies, always set an agile budget, as it will help you manage your strategy according to newly acquired data.

Step 2. Work with your audience

Let us now talk about the audience: what are the different types of data and how to avoid some pitfalls. Programmatic allows marketers to use first-, second-, and third-party data to better understand who their potential customers are and target them more precisely. This knowledge is essential for subsequent steps, so you should always take it into account and adapt your strategy accordingly once you see some changes or spot new trends. Using some of the following practices, including audience segmentation and advanced targeting solutions, combined with programmatic technologies will help you to create an ideal programmatic ad strategy and reach your goals quickly and cost-efficiently.

Segment your audience. The best thing you can do to get your course of action in order is to segment your audience based on the information you gathered with data-management platforms. This way you can narrow down your strategy to specific messages which will be delivered to specific audiences according to an ideal ‘profile’ they belong to. These profiles or segments can depend on various criteria, such as:

  • Age group (for example generation Z, millennials, generation X, Baby Boomers, seniors) (enabled by certain DMPs)
  • Gender (i.e. male or female) (enabled by certain DMPs) Device (mobile or desktop)
  • Location (countries, regions, and cities)
  • Behavior (spends lots of time browsing, often shops online, prefers video to banner ads, etc)
  • Interests (sports, arts, fashion, games, etc) and so on.

All these parameters are compared with the data from the SSP and, if the user profile corresponds to the actual website visitor, bidding starts. Once the advertiser wins the bid, an ad is served to the best matching user at the best price.

Map a customer journey. Apart from the right visitor and the right price, an ideal programmatic ads strategy also takes into account under which circumstances the ad will be served. To help you make sure that the user will encounter your product at the right time and place, try to map your customer journey. Think of how the relationship between your brand and your customers is developing starting from the first introduction all the way down to the purchase. Remember, that at first, it is important to present your brand and build trust. Only when your potential client becomes more or less acquainted with your products or services, should you try to close the deal. And of course, don’t forget about the retargeting feature, for sometimes it is much easier to return a satisfied consumer than to convert new visitors into customers. Don’t forget to adjust your ads once you get additional information about your clients and their journey.

Target accordingly.There are many tools you can use to target your audience even more precisely than you could imagine. Consider which data sources you are going to use according to your needs and budget. Your first-party data combined with data gathered by data-management platforms (DMP), CRM data can give you plenty of opportunities to lead your visitors to purchase through various types of targeting and retargeting. Second- and third-party data can help you find new visitors among people who haven’t encountered your brand yet, but might be interested in your product or service. Apart from this, it is also crucial to plan the frequency and scale of your targeting campaign, so that it won’t turn out to be irritating or ineffective. There are plenty of targeting strategies you can use, such as behavioral, demographic or contextual targeting, and most programmatic platforms provide an opportunity to try any of them, so don’t hesitate to experiment, learn and develop your campaigns along the way.

Step 3. Create engaging ads

Like almost any type of advertising, programmatic advertising relies mostly on visual channels and requires clear eye-catching creatives which would stand out among thousands of ads users encounter each day. To break through such amount of information, the message should be precise, compelling and relevant. Moreover, the ad should be delivered through the right channel. The choice of format is one of the most defining features of what your creatives would look like. So what are the most effective ad formats and how do you choose one? The most common formats are the following:

Banners. Banner ad formats are the most famous of all ad formats. These are usually displayed in different desktop and mobile ad sizes and placements. The purpose of banners is to display ad messages for the targeted visitors. After clicking on the banner, the user is sent to the landing page of the site and can proceed directly to purchase.

Rich Media. Rich media ad formats are similar to banners but are much more interactive. It is a modern format that is far superior to standard banner ads. They are easy to remember and are more likely to impress the user. Usually, rich media brings 2-3 times more clicks compared to the standard format.

Video. Video ad formats are considered one of the best ad formats, especially relevant for informative campaigns. Video advertising usually gets much more attention and is highly engaging. It is also easy to implement into trending channels such as CTV and OTT.

Native advertising. A popular advertising format that is not blocked by adblockers, as it is created specifically to merge with the design and style of the site. Native ad formats are also less interruptive and are more engaging compared to more traditional formats.

There are several important factors to consider while making a ‘format’ decision, but some of the most relevant include budget, flexibility, and ad sizes. It is a good practice to create flexible messages and deliver them via different channels and formats. Finally, more ad sizes give you an opportunity to get featured on a variety of devices and obtain greater reach. It also increases the campaign’s flexibility. Along with the campaign you can find out which formats work best. The more adjustable your programmatic ad strategy will be, the better.

Step 4. Make your choices

Now that you’ve finished essential stages of preparation, work with your audience and ads, it is time to make some important decisions. Each of these arrangements can define the success of your campaign on different levels, so it’s important to pay attention to every single detail and choose wisely. Data partners. This choice is fundamental when it comes to working with your audience, especially if you don’t have enough data yet. You can define what kind of information is the most helpful based on your goals and what kind of targeting campaigns you are going to use. It also depends on such factors as devices you want to track, desired frequency of data updates and accuracy. You can experiment with different metrics, but be sure to always check that the gathered data is valuable to your specific campaign and KPIs.

Data-management might be a good option if you want to integrate your first-party data with other sources and organize it in one place.

Brand safety. Imagine the situation: you’ve measured everything carefully, studied your audience, created superior ads and launched a perfect campaign and everything is just great. When suddenly you realize that your perfect content pops up near extremist propaganda or at some other inappropriate place. You certainly don’t want this scenario, which is why it is absolutely necessary to work on your brand safety and verify that DSP (demand-side platform) you’ve chosen only works with proven and authorized publishers.

Choose the right DSP. An ad tech platform is a fundament of any programmatic ad strategy, as it has to be well-equipped to meet your demands and ensure that you’ll reach your goals with given resources. Some DSPs are focused on specific channels and formats, while others might offer a more flexible approach. Again, your choice here should be based on your goals, but the more functionalities your DSP will support, the more potential your programmatic ads strategy has. Apart from this, a good demand-side platform should be supplied with security checks and filters, various opportunities for targeting and reporting, as well as sources of high-quality traffic.

Metrics and feedback. It is impossible to estimate the success of your campaigns without adequate metrics and feedback. And these things are especially vital for the process of adjusting and rearranging of your campaign on the way. Online auctions are good metrics for direct campaigns, while for brand awareness things like social media response and increased traffic might show a more detailed picture. In any case, don’t forget to track your KPIs regularly and make necessary adjustments when possible.


So, now you know what is programmatic strategy and that in order to build it you need to prepare well, get to know your audience, create engaging ads and make the right choices. It is easier than it sounds, once you’ve supported with robust technological stack. SmartyAds demand-side platform provides all necessary tools to build an effective programmatic ads strategy even if you are a complete beginner. Not only our solution ensures good traffic and brand safety, but it is also cost-efficient and provides an opportunity to gather necessary data and adapt your campaigns.

It is easy to take action now – sign up at SmartyAds DSP and create your perfect campaign!


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