My former Wired boss Louis Rossetto used to say that no medium ever replaces its predecessor - but it always changes it in some significant way. TV didn't eliminate radio, but radio changed quite a bit once it took root. People didn't stop going to movies when home video emerged, but the nature of theatrical movies evolved pretty rapidly from that point on. With this in mind, it's high time to end the silly debate about programmatic advertising somehow replacing human interaction. Instead, let's consider how the presence of automation will change that human-to-human seller/buyer relationship.
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Digiday - which has quickly become both mirror and conscience to our industry - was spot on with today's article on how programmatic is changing sales teams. There seem to be two significant intellectual threads among sales leaders. One is the idea of the "barbell," in which the programmatic and native advertising capabilities get bigger and more defined while competition for RFP-based buys withers and dies. The other scenario -- which I find more plausible - is that direct selling and programmatic selling soon become indistinguishable from one another; they become aspects of the same balanced sales organization, the same "Whole Seller." To those who challenge this notion because of the balkanized nature of agencies and trading desks, I say that successful agencies will adopt the same approach. Call it "Whole Buying." A couple of thoughts in support of the idea:
First, let's look at the real practice of "programmatic" advertising. As it exists today, it's far from automatic. Trading desks still have planning teams, and sales organizations have reps making those planning teams aware of desirable inventory and audiences which can subsequently be bought through an automated transaction. Next, look at the reality of direct site selling; with the exception of the web's very largest players, every erstwhile "native" player suffers from a fatal scale problem. Your sponsorship or integration may be super special, but it's just not big enough.
So the "Whole Sale" of tomorrow will look something like this. The seller becomes an expert in identifying pools of audience/inventory that match up well with the consumers that marketers and their agencies want to reach (either on a campaign basis or - more likely - in an "always on" fashion). This audience/inventory may be under the site's (or network's) direct control, or it may be available on a "just-in-time" basis via public exchanges. The Whole Seller will approach the Whole Buyer with a combination of (1) a core creative idea - possibly native - and recommendations on how to programmatically scale that idea across both (2) owned inventory and (3) attainable audiences. Factor (1) is what we might call "native" or "sponsorship" today; factor (2) is what we might currently refer to as a "private exchange" (exchange being a verb, not a noun); while (3) is reach extension and audience retargeting across open exchanges.
Those who cling to specialization on either side of the selling (or buying) barbell will end up marginalized. The future belongs to Whole Sellers and Whole Buyers. And the sooner organizations and individuals embrace this fact, the sooner they'll assume their rightful place in that future.