Mobile programmatic evolution

Jordi de los Pinos, CEO at Smadex by Headway, explains the advantages of niche specialised tech through his experience of building a mobile-first app marketing platform.
Programmatic has been around since 2007, when the first RTB desktop ad exchanges came on the scene, but the term has r e-emerged with a vengeance and become the buzz word of nearly every ad tech conference in 2018/19… and I have to confess, I am slightly to blame.

Programmatic hysteria is back because advertisers are excited that programmatic has at last matured in the mobile industry, and they are finally seeing the capabilities the performance-driven app crowd was waiting for.

Programmatic revolution
You see, during the first big programmatic revolution, programmatic technology improved transparency, scaled inventory access, and opened up a world of data for desktop advertisers. But mobile advertisers were a little left out of the party, because of the technological complexities of connecting mobile devices to the exchanges.

In 2011, I was designing chips for mobile phones and planes, for companies like Qualcomm and Telefonica. Working at the forefront of smartphone technology, I spotted the need for a platform that would prioritise the key elements of the emerging mobile advertising ecosystem. So I left my job and founded Smadex, with the mission of developing a mobile-first demand-side platform (DSP) that would be the core technology of the perfect mobile app marketing platform.

Our first step was to integrate with all mobile ad exchanges. We needed to work with existing technologies to connect the demand (advertisers) with the supply (apps/websites). Integrating with the OpenRTB API allowed us to define dynamic pricing for each impression in real time. From there, we needed to add the additional complex functionalities, such as data targeting, inventory control and creative management.

We quickly found there were both many challenges and many advantages to focusing on mobile. To start, integrating with the many MMPs, SSPs and ecosystems was costly. It required substantial development, relationship management and infrastructure. Every interaction with each ad exchange had its price, and scaling up required a lot of investment.

But building a programmatic platform for mobile devices also meant we were able to leverage mobile-specific characteristics to improve the entire media-buying process. For instance, targeting could be executed based on a users’ carrier, GPS signal, device ID, OS version or device brand. We could optimise for mobile-only ad formats, and create deeper relationships with mobile-first SSPs such as MoPub and Smaato.

Machine learning
The next big breakthrough for the platform came with the introduction of machine learning. Programmatic buying generates massive amounts of data with each impression. The data scientists at Smadex were able to utilise first- and third-party data to optimise campaign targeting and achieve desired performance KPIs at scale. Most amazingly, every improvement we introduced to our algorithms quickly translated into increased revenues, something which continues to happen today– at an exponential level.

To make a platform worthy of the performance-driven mobile industry, in addition to using the data insights to improve Smadex’s internal functionality, we also wanted the marketers themselves to have direct access to the data they need to guide and optimise advertising spend in real time. So we added an easy-to-use, super-powerful, multidimensional reporting interface, and pushed the boundaries of transparency by making it accessible to clients.

I would honestly say that nothing is ever perfect, and we are constantly improving and optimising our platform to improve quality. I am grateful that our efforts and commitment to performance have recently been recognised by the mobile measurement platform Kochava and its Traffic Index, in which we ranked second for quality traffic.

In 2017 Smadex was acquired by Headway, a company that has specialised in mobile marketing and programmatic for the last seven years – and knows just how powerful both worlds can be when joined together. We have benefited from Headway’s experience and successfully combined our technologies to provide even better solutions for the business challenges faced by growth marketers.

This article first appeared in the February 2019 print edition of Mobile Marketing. You can read the complete issue online here.