In early 2012, when data management technology was somewhat nascent, I wrote about “the five things to expect from a DMP.” They were: To unlock the power of one’s first party data; decrease reliance upon third party data; generate unique audience insights; use data to audience power new channels; and create efficiency. A little over three years later, those things still continue to drive interest in DMP technology—and great value for both publishers and marketers.
The “table-stakes” functionality of DMPs—segmentation, lookalike modeling, targeting, and analytics—continue to resonate. Even the least advanced DMPs have those abilities, and this is what people who buy DMP software should expect from any system. Unfortunately, there are now dozens of “platforms” that claim DMP technology. Some are legitimate players, born from the ground up to be “first-party” DMPs. Some have been created as “lightweight” DMPs to collect and distribute cookies for display advertising. And still others are legacy tag management or network platforms that have bolted on DMP functionality as they work towards a fuller “stack” solution that marketers say they want.
Writing this article again, three years later, I would still encourage software buyers to evaluate their DMP choice on the ability of their partner to meet the above-listed criteria. But, there has been so much nuance and development over the last several years. Therefore, additional selection criteria present themselves if one is expected to make a reasonably informed choice in DMP selection going forward.
Here’s what the modern DMP consumer should be looking out for:
- Lookback: Three years ago I talked about “lookback windows” in the context of giving publishers the ability to attribute future conversion events to ads shown previously on their site. That is still a compelling publisher user case. What “lookback windows” really refer to is whether or not your DMP can capture 100% of the raw, log-level user event data—and store it. This necessitates an open taxonomy (because “you don’t know what you don’t know,”) and also the ability to store tons of data and make it accessible quickly. This is considered to be complete data architecture. Many DMPs operate with a rigid, defined taxonomy and only collect segment IDs—not the underlying data. That’s a problem for businesses that need to move fast and activate new segments opportunistically. Ask how—and for how long—your DMP stores data.
- Onboarding: Lots of DMPs claim to have the ability to easily ingest CRM and other offline data and match it to cookies, but the truth is everyone depends on a limited set of “onboarding” vendors to provide the matches. That’s fine, but there are some nuances and subtleties involved in the process by which offline data enters the online identity space (hashing). DMPs should enable seamless connection to all three major onboarding providers, the ability to select the methodology by which offline identity is matched to online, and also be able to automatically choose which onboarding partner is right for each identity. Ask how each DMP you evaluate works with each vendor, what kind of match rates you can expect, and how each stores persistent user identity to insure better matches over time.
- Measurement: Let’s face it, the ability to tweak programmatic audience delivery to online video viewability numbers up a few percentage points is great, but nothing moves the needle like linear television. Marketers spend a ton of money there, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future—all the while moving incremental percentages of their budget into the digital channels where folks are spending an increasing amount of time. But, they are never really going to go full throttle with digital until they can reconcile reach and frequency across channels—and those channels must include linear! Your DMP should be able to handle overlap reporting, light attribution, and cross-channel media performance—but it should also start making some highly informed guesses about how linear audiences map to digital ones, in order to enable true attribution and media mix models. Ask how your DMP is positioned to tie the linear and digital strings together from a measurement perspective.
- CDIM: Three years ago, we were still waiting for the “year of mobile” to occur, so “cross device identity management” was still largely pre-funded slideware on some entrepreneur’s computer. Jump to today, and “CDIM” and “CDUI” are at the tip of every ad tech tongue! As more and more people move from device to device—almost none of which support the traditional cookie as an identifier—marketers and publishers desperately need to map devices to people. It’s the only way to deliver the fabled “360 degree view” of the user. Ask your DMP vendor how they are prepared to deliver deterministic matches and, more importantly, how they reconcile identity without seeing a user logging in across devices. Doing great probabilistic matching necessitates not only strong algorithms but, more importantly, scale of users which breeds precision models. What is the size of their “truth set” of user data with which to probabilistically determine user identity? The quality and scale of that data will determine your choice.
- Data Governance: I think the biggest question to ask a potential DMP vendor is their philosophy on data ownership. For both marketers and publishers, audience data is likely one of their top three assets. Trusting such data to a technology vendor is not something to be considered lightly. How is that data stored? What are the policy controls available to help you share that data with trusted partners? What about privacy and governance? How can my platform help me activate data in different places, where different rules about PII and data collection and storage apply? Knowing the answers to these before you buy can save lots of heartache (and legal fees) later. More importantly, how independent is your data? Is your partner also in the business of selling media or data? That can create some conflicts of interest—especially if your data might be valuable to a competitor. Finally, what if you want your data back? You have the right to get it out quickly, and in a useable format.
The bad news is that choosing a DMP isn’t any easier than it was three years ago. It’s a lot more complex, and you really need to dig in deeply to understand the very small nuances between platforms that appear, on the surface, to be very much the same. The good news is that there is a great deal of selection available, and some very high quality vendors to choose from. Take your time, put your vendors through a very rigorous process that includes asking the questions outlined above, and choose wisely!
[This post originally appeared in the EConsultancy blog on 5.11.15]