When baseball was first invented, the number of players was not specified. It wasn’t until 1857 that sanity and structure were brought to the sport, making it the right number of players, playing on the right size of field. Programmatic, both inside and outside of the industries we serve, continues to throw new players on the field.

It can really be apples and oranges

Without a helpful filter (like this article) you might think you are comparing apples to apples.

The game is easy to figure out once the performance metrics begin pouring in, but we have all been forced into agreements without much data to back up whether the vendor is worthy of a test. Without the back of a baseball card and shared agreement on the important statistics, how do you determine your next programmatic partner?

Here are the 10 areas to assess ahead of time to put yourself in the best position for success.

  1. DATA. A strong vendor really has to be able to on-board first-party data with a decent match rate (around 30 percent or higher). You can also create actionable first-party audience segments through a vendor by adding a pixel to your site. Your own data is the best route for targeting, so the vendor should help you extract the value from it.Do they bring to the table any strong second-party data sets, like farm acreage or machinery ownership information? This is the data they can bring to you to supplement what you know about your target audience. First-party data is great for reaching your customers, but if you’re going after prospects, you need scalable and powerful partnership data.Finally, can the partner overlay interesting third-party data sets to enhance the industry-specific data you and the partner already use? Data sets around “propensity to buy consumer goods online” or “avid hunter” or “discount shopper” can help you profile (and message) prospects in new and meaningful ways.
  1. PRODUCTS. Once you know you can reach the right audience, you need to be supported in as many digital manners as possible. Most vendors can deliver various sized banner advertisements, but programmatic has grown up. Consider mobile banners, native, video, YouTube, Google Display Network, audio, over-the-top video, and even digital out of home as ways to reach your audience now and into the future. Many ask which product reaches the most members of the intended audience. The answer should always be the combination.
  1. TRANSPARENCY. Programmatic inventory is a murky world of liars, cheaters, and crooks. You can deploy all the software in the world to protect yourself once you have launched a campaign, but partnering with those who drag you into the muck leaves you showering with the hogs.Find out ahead of time where the messaging will appear and how the costs break down. Make sure you are hooking in with the major players in the programmatic space for inventory, like The Trade Desk, App Nexus, DoubleClick, and MediaMath to name a few.Of critical importance is your comfort level with their battle against fraud and zero-value impressions. You need to know if they embrace (or better yet actively deploy on your behalf) third-party firms like Integral Ad Science, White Ops and Moat. Discomfort with the industry’s watchdogs would be a pretty bad sign.
  1. INVENTORY SCALE. Strong data, utilizing an array of digital methods, and pulling inventory from the big boys should result in scalable inventory. However, if the scale is too good to be true, it is. Millions of impressions in a month against a segment that has only a few hundred people in it is not a home run, it’s sketchy.
  1. MINIMUMS. There are some wonderful offerings on the market that might change the world, but they are geared for consumers and don’t help in the B2B setting in which we work. If the minimums are high, the partner is showing they are not in the business for your business.
  1. PRICE. Programmatic was a race to the bottom early on. The goal was to get as low as possible. That should not be the goal anymore. If the price is too low, it’s not likely the quality you deserve. If the price is too high, it’s not likely worth it.With little or no first- and second-party data and only consumer-level third-party and geo data, the pricing is below $10. The scale after that is probably between $10-$50 depending on the level of niche the data (and your marketing targeting) demand.
  1. SERVICE. Without campaign performance metrics, much of your determination will come from websites and sell sheets. Anyone can sound good on paper and pixels, but how does the vendor respond? Are they responsive and informed? Interacting with others on the team can be a good indicator of quality. Confusion often means trouble.
  1. SPEED. While speed and service often go hand-in-hand, the important speed here is from creative/tag delivery to impression delivery. With a good amount of setup ahead of time, you should be able to launch relatively quickly … within 24 hours or so. Waiting a week or more is bad service or depicting trouble within their internal operation or tech stack.
  1. PAST PERFORMANCE. It is fair to request past performance metrics, but know that most will not be able to compare apples to apples. If benchmarks are available, first seek average click-through rates, viewability by position/tactic, and fraud percentage.
  1. OTHER PARTNERS. Get a client list from them and check it out. Ask around with a few industry friends. If they are new to the industry, you might just ask others offering programmatic services. They are likely to know about them and will at least tell you their unfortunate faults.

These items are important because you may not know if you have a good or bad partner until the campaign is over and the invoice is already in your hand. At that point, you may already have struck out.