Assessing Programmatic Vendors

Assessing Programmatic vendors is a subject that I have briefly addressed in previous articles by introducing the roles that DSPs and SSPs play in the Programmatic technology mix to deliver improved results for your business.

In this article, I take a closer look into the selection process of Programmatic vendors and share insights that may help you in shortlisting the most relevant partners to help you succeed.

Spoilt For Choice

It’s worth noting that there are in excess of [1] 1,400 advertising technology companies globally. Of those, there are over 300 with Programmatic capabilities that can be segmented into the following categories:

  • Ad Networks
  • Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs)
  • Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs)
  • Data Management Platforms (DMPs), Data Aggregators & Suppliers

With the volume of vendors growing daily, you are literally spoilt for choice with the Programmatic Technology Bubble that is forming. Not only do you have established vendors, but also a whole host of niche Programmatic vendors that have carved out a specific area of specialism.

Examples of Niche Programmatic Vendors

Programmatic vendors worthy of a mention here include Adform (Rich Media), StackAdapt (Native), TubeMogul (Video), and Alteryx (Big Data Analytics and Data Blending).

Programmatic Vendors Sales Strategies

While the bulk of Programmatic revenue on the Demand-Side is billed via Agency/Independent Trading Desks, the majority of Programmatic vendors have their sights set on targeting clients for direct integration and usage of their platforms.

Through direct client integrations, Programmatic vendors are able to achieve improved yields and build upon cumulative revenue to drive business growth and scale.

As Programmatic technology continues to evolve to provide greater transparency and control for clients, these client-direct vendor sales strategies are causing a noticeable shift in power as Programmatic budgets gradually move out of the agencies hands.

In Wall Street Journal’s article WPP’s Sorrell: In-House Ad Buying is a “Temporary” Phenomenon by Jack Marshall, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell told CMO Today “It’s a temporary phenomenon… I question whether [clients] will be able to apply technology successfully.”

However, Programmatic vendor technologies are evolving to address the specific pain-points for clients by allowing them to:

  • Gain a unified view of ad spend and performance across all channels/devices
  • Increase ROI on sales through accurate audience targeting to minimise wastage
  • Offer audiences a seamless experience with their brand
  • Consolidate marketing efforts to reduce bureaucratic costs and improve efficiencies

For these reasons, I do not see the shift of clients taking solutions in-house as a phenomenon, but more of a natural evolution as clients seek to take greater control of their digital advertising strategies.

Programmatic Vendor Partnerships: Look Out For Potential Conflicts of Interest

The different types of Programmatic solutions available can compound the complexity in Programmatic vendor selection. Let’s take The Exchange Lab for example that operated as an independent layer, optimising across a whole host of DSP partners in real-time with the objective of delivering optimum ROI for their clients.

A solution like this could be a good choice as it can help eliminate the need to work with multiple Programmatic DSP vendors, allowing you to use one solution for audience targeting, campaign delivery, reporting, analytics and optimisation.

However, what the DSPs may or may not realise is that like themselves, even The Exchange Lab will have a proactive client-direct sales strategy of their own, meaning that in effect they are indirectly competing with the very DSPs with whom they are partnered with.

The example above is only touching the surface of the intermingled web of Programmatic vendors, their partnerships and the complexities this presents behind the scenes.

But it is one worth mentioning to help you understand that there is a level of confusion not just for those of you assessing which vendors to partner with, but also for the Programmatic vendors themselves that are continuously learning and refining their solutions in an environment where the dynamics are constantly changing.

Looking Beyond The Technical USPs Of A Programmatic Vendor

Due to the large volume of vendors in this space, the augmentation here in terms of USPs/technical features offered is not necessarily enough to help you isolate and shortlist a pool of Programmatic vendors that will best meet your business objectives in each desired country of operation.

The reason for this is that the common denominator between Programmatic vendors operating in this space is Audience Data, which fuels advertising demand.

While there are a select number of brands/digital media owners that work very hard to maintain an element of exclusivity in their audience data, the fact of the matter is that audience data synching (aka cookie-synching) is still taking place like wildfire between ad tech vendors, media owners and clients.

This means the ability to take control of audience data and maintain exclusivity of such data on both the media owner side and client side is near impossible without using the right tools to audit, control and optimise your digital assets.

Due to limitations in audience data exclusivity between Programmatic vendors, it is important to assess them not just on the strength of word of mouth or unique technical features but also on the strength of their non-duplicated audience data reach in each country that you wish to implement such technology.

This will help reduce the amount of cannibalisation of audience data that may occur from one programmatic vendor to the next.

If you are able to isolate vendors that are able to specifically reach audiences surfing content that relates to the context of your business, service or product offering, the end result will be that you will be attracting more of the right kind of audiences into the top of your Programmatic Sales funnel.

These audiences will have a greater propensity to engage with your advertising messages when successfully targeted by your selected Programmatic vendor’s technology solution.

With transparency, you will be able to understand which Programmatic vendors have the greatest reach of audiences by media owners they partner with in each country you wish to utilise Programmatic in the mix. For more insight to audit tools that can help, check out my article ‘Programmatic: The Art of Supply‘.

Protecting The Integrity Of Your Digital Assets

The implementation of any kind of advertising technology, be it Programmatic or not, will see a knock-on effect on the integrity of your digital assets related to site speed and your valuable audience data.

Therefore it is important to implement mechanisms to understand, audit and control this, since the more adtech trackers you add to your digital assets, the slower your site generally becomes.

Site speed is important since the longer it takes for your site to load-up, the greater the chance that your audience is likely to drop-off in the process and find what they want elsewhere.  If you are a retailer that is a potential lost sale. If you are a media owner, that is a potential person matching the target audience of a brand advertiser that would have otherwise bid for that specific person before they dropped-off from your site.

By understanding the site speed, you can set a benchmark of existing performance (good or bad) that will allow you to see what improvements can be made before any additional advertising technology trackers are added to your site.  Tools such as Pingdom Website Speed Test and Google PageSpeed Insights would be a good starting point here.

These tools are helpful as they can help you understand any underlying performance issues related to your physical site structure and the web hosting solution/s you have powering it.

How Should I Manage The Technology Once It Is Integrated?

You have three main options depending on the size of your business, resources available, programmatic expertise and business objectives in terms of how your Programmatic solution could potentially be managed:

  • In-house
  • Managed service by your Programmatic Vendor
  • Managed service by your Media Agency

The decision on how best to manage the technology once it is integrated will depend on a number of factors including the following:

  • Is your digital advertising activity managed in-house or through an agency?
  • If in-house, what internal resources do you have available to manage such platforms?
  • What experience do they have with Programmatic?
  • If none, what level of training and support will the vendor provide?
  • What are the additional vendor costs if any, for these services?

If you are seeking a central source of independent and reliable information surrounding Programmatic, a good place to start is IAB’s Programmatic Guidelines and Best Practice page.


[1] Ghostery, March 2014


  • Gopesh Raichura

    Smoothmind was launched by Gopesh Raichura in 2012. He graduated from the University of Westminster with a B.Sc. (Hons) Industrial Systems and Business Management, with majors in ‘Marketing Management and Strategy’ and ‘Marketing Research’. Gopesh is a London-based Subject Matter Expert, with over twenty years applied Digital industry experience. Gopesh continues to evolve smoothmind as an independent platform for positive change.