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  • Manfredi Sassoli

Onboarding digital marketing capabilities for success

In my previous two posts we looked at the strategic and commercial implications around online media management and why considering on-boarding this part of your company's value chain could create value.

Managing programmatic platforms however is not the easiest task: after all building a new capability rarely is.

So how should advertisers move forward?

This is a two steps process. Step one is understanding if as a company you should build that capability in-house. Here are some questions to help guide you through the process:

1.    Is advertising a strategic part of your business?

a.    Is it responsible for a large part of your sales?

b.    Does it represent a large area of expenditure for the business?

2.    Are you large enough to be able to justify an in-house team? (if it is strategic you should not rely on a single individual, you need to hire a team)

If the answer to both is yes, then on-boarding your digital media management is worth considering. Excelling in this area requires aligning the following factors:


This is possibly the most critical factor: having the right people with the right attitude can make a world of difference. The good news is that you are doing the hiring so you can influence this. Having salaries at the adequate level will help you get people with the right skills, giving them the opportunity to work on exciting projects can help you attract the best talent with the right motivations: these motivations can be your building blocks for the team culture.


Having the right KPIs is never as easy as it seems. To simplify the KPI setting process there is one universal rule: 1MM (or the one metric that matters). If you teams are optimising to multiple metrics they will at best perform below par and at worst run into internal conflicts. As a rule of thumb you either want to maximise output for a given investment or you want to maximise volume for a given efficiency level.


Your technology needs to be fit for purpose and your team needs to know how to use it. In some cases starting with the technology can be a good idea, so that you can influence your hiring process. Picking a technology solution today can be hard as there is a huge complexity in the market. Starting simple is often a good idea: performance is mainly driven by how people use technology, rather than how sophisticated the tech is.


From knowledge sharing to testing, from reporting to task prioritisation, the team needs to work in the correct way. If for example your finance team is extremely strict with monthly budgets, then the team will struggle to take advantage of spikes in demand and risk to overspend when seasonality is low. Similarly, if you rand team requires to overview all decisions made by the digital team, this will slow things down. If you are running an international operation and your Danish campaign requires a different set of reports, it is doable, but it may require investing 30% more time reporting for just one single country.

Not everything can be streamlined and exceptions can be made, but every exception is a small trade off in efficiency and if you start making many of these you quickly get to a point where your peak performance is 30% below your optimal performance. Ultimately it is about optimising resources in terms of money and man hours invested as they are your two finite resources. If both are optimised towards your KPI, then you will be close to your optimal performance. Any deviation from this alignment should have a strong rationale.  


I will not go into detail on this topic as it can vary hugely depending on the geographic scope of your operation. The one key piece of advice in this area is to design your structure with your goal in mind: building a centre of excellence. Without positive and ongoing collaboration there is no development and a successful digital marketing operation is all about progression. You are not building a team to solve today's problem but one to take advantage of tomorrow's opportunities. Digital technology keeps evolving, so you want your team to be able to not only keep up, but also innovate.


Great professionals always make a difference: in an area like digital marketing where performance feedback is almost in real time, an A player can quickly outperform the market by a significant amount. For programmatic marketing the key skill required to excel is being numerate and analytical. Other key traits are a performance for passion, "geekiness" and creativity. If you are hiring experienced professionals then hands on experience is a must, as is detailed knowledge around optimisation methodologies. Finally, as we mentioned earlier, familiarity with a certain technology can be critical, however if other team members are pro users of the technology in question, then this becomes secondary.

I generally prefer to hire for potential over experience, but a solid track record in delivering against hard targets speaks for itself, (as long as you can contextualise those numbers). Factors like industry experience and in-house experience are often not critical. Say you are an automotive company, I would suggest hiring the smartest digital experts you can, they will then be able to quickly pick up sector relevant information from the wider team of experts. Hiring smart people form different verticals can also help bring in new ideas to the firm, which is a nice side benefit.

As it may be apparent to you, setting up an operation as the one I have just described requires involving different stakeholders: creative, finance, brand, legal, analytics etc. For your digital advertising team to drive performance, it needs to be integrated within the company and to achieve that some change will be required, (you can call it digital transformation). Alternatively advertisers can keep digital marketing as a separate discipline, leave their customer's data outside the company and let agencies do the work - at their own peril.

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