DSPs: don’t be dominated by the dominant

Our Head of Display Dan Edwards discusses how to choose the right Demand Side Platform.

There are many demand-side platform (DSP) suppliers around in a crowded marketplace right now. As the programmatic trend grows, selecting the right platform relies on observing the details of the spec. Key requirements of a good platform are data management, advanced decision-making, and buy types.

DSP marketing is facing unrivalled governance by digital super-powers Google, Amazon, and Verizon. These giants currently have control over so much user data, they’re one step ahead of competitors — they provide a unified view of each customer. DSPs of today are complex beings, though.

Discovering the right platform for your, and your clients’, needs is all about understanding the specifics, rather than observing the name emblazoned across the front page.

First and foremost, let’s assess what a DSP can do before identifying the key ingredients to an excellent one.

The DSP essentials

A DSP is a unique media buying platform. Using algorithms and data, its singular interface has the ability to decide when, where and how to buy ad placements. This is done either in an auction or fixed environment.

Direct response marketing still forms a large part of most DSP buying strategies. However, in a fast-paced digital economy, client budget is increasingly being moved over to programmatic. Here, audience targeting efficiency is increased under a safer contextual buying environment.

This programmatic trend is great news for the industry, as targeting remains the cornerstone of display advertising. For each campaign, a series of targeting rules can be set up in the DSP directed at:

  • Device type
  • Time of day
  • Day of the week
  • Audience
  • Demographic

Once targeting rules are set, the DSP gets to work. The platform can serve users digesting media across any digital platform — from desktop to radio via out-of-home. This provides unparalleled reach for display campaigns.

Managing campaigns within a DSP is also straightforward, reducing setup times. It can be done manually via self-service or through partners such as agencies, trading desks, and media owners.

Cutting through the noise

So, DSPs provide bespoke targeting opportunities within a display strategy and total control for the buyers under one interface. But, with so many suppliers, how do you decide which platform to run with?

The big corporations make the most noise, but this is often used as a mask to cover underlying issues. I’ve outlined eight key points to help you choose an outstanding DSP:

1. Scope. What exchanges and environments can be targeted, including the markets of unique users?

2. Devices. Which ones can be targeted? Desktop and mobile should be standard. Can the platform buy inventory from gaming platforms, in-app, connected or addressable TV?

3. Buy types. The majority of leading DSPs can buy across the open exchange, private market place or preferred deals. Only a handful can run guaranteed programmatic.

For example, Google can sync DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) with its biddable buying platform (DBM). This guarantees buys with publisher audience data imported directly. That’s the main benefit of buying within the same ecosystem.

4. Integrated DSPs: The prospected DSP should offer ad-serving. Running a campaign using the same ad-server through to biddable buying will improve reporting efficiency and path to conversion. It’ll also remove inefficient tagging. A win-win.

5. Advanced decision-making. Any DSP worth considering will offer machine learning. Equally as important is bid-multiplying, dynamic creative optimisation, and campaign goal optimisation.

6. Brand safety. A good DSP will provide its own brand safety. At a minimum it should utilise a third party ad-verification platform. Look out for whether it is Media Rating Council (MRC) accredited.

The industry has a strong focus this year on providing safe, and contextually relevant, media.

7. External data. What forms can the platform import? Strong performing DSPs will pull in data from content management systems, e-mail, CRM, as well as offline.

8. Data management. This is a deal-breaker. A good DSP must have an open source approach to data. The ability to run their own tag manager technology is a must-have.

Choosing your preferred DSP is all about getting lost in the detail, and avoiding the slick shop-front. Be agile. Test outside of the bigger DSPs. Google, Amazon, and Verizon have their own benefits, with massive digital footprints and the insight of the unified user view. But they’re littered with technical barriers like disruption to cross-device tracking, frequency, and attribution.