Editor’s note: JD Deitch is CRO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based market research firm P2Sample. 

Use of the word programmatic has peaked over the last 10 years, and yet many may not be quite sure what it means. The formal definition, “of the nature of or according to a program, schedule or method,” is decidedly unclear. Automation, another wildly popular term didn’t even come into being until the 1940s and, although the meaning is clearer, there is still some confusion over its application. The two words are almost used interchangeably in the marketing and market research spaces. How can we start to distinguish this terminology as it relates to our space?

Our colleagues in the advertising industry (in a move led by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a standards body) are seeking to shift the industry’s focus from being programmatic – which they define as data-driven ad buying – to automation. The implications for doing this are obvious: the benefits of broader automation are numerous. We can find easy analogues for market research when considering their impact categories. 

  • Transparency: Automation can increase visibility into areas such as processes, platforms, services and associated costs, helping to inform decisions about where efficiencies can be achieved. 
  • Data quality: Proprietary and widely varied data collection systems require advanced data mapping to accurately match disparate data and identify unique respondents. 
  • Inventory quality: This concept can be equated to survey quality in the marketing research field. Essentially, automated technologies can judge quality based on specific desired outcomes based on various data points, like performance, user experience, completes and more. 
  • Brand safety and reputation: Automated processes do not have the benefit of a human filter and can sometimes place the brand near undesirable content – or, in a market research’s case, align with bad data or practices. Active management is underway with layers that measure and control these issues. 
  • Ad effectiveness and marketing intelligence: Tying directly back to the market research space, this area has to do with the active and passive collection of consumer insights based on ad effectiveness. 
  • User experience: While automation allows further personalization and relevant experiences, it also operates without standardized best practices, which can result in sour user interactions. It’s everyone’s responsibility to fix these problems and start to allow users greater control over their own experiences. 
  • Organization alignment and staffing: The result of all the platform-collected data is that organizations must align workflows and become driven by a data-centric approach from the inside out.

Many companies still use the term programmatic to describe much of what they do, and this generally indicates that automation is driving processes. For market research sample suppliers, automating functions can deliver many of the benefits identified above, from respondent recruitment through bidding and feasibility to project execution. In addition, I’ve seen automation influence fraud mitigation and improve the respondent experience.   

No matter the intricacies of defining these terms, the movement toward a more automated, technology-driven process is the future of the sample space. The efficiencies, accuracy and quality it delivers promise to meet the demands of a quickly changing industry.