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Before you begin working with any potential programmatic media partners, these six questions can help you make sure your campaign performs to the best of its ability.

With Nielsen’s recent acquisition of eXelate, it seems a fine time to talk about audience data – how to use it effectively for targeting, and how to ensure that this data works for your campaigns. Whether you’re working with programmatic partners to create and target custom audience segments, or activating a mix of existing first- and third-party segments, here are six questions to ask any potential programmatic media partners to ensure your campaign performs:

1. What Data Sources Are Used to Build the Target Audience Segment?

Is the data source behavioral (e.g., site visits) or location-based (e.g., the user’s mobile device was observed at a particular location)? Is the data generated through first-party intelligence (e.g., using a pixel on your website), or by activating existing third-party segments? Understanding where the data used to build your target audience comes from is the first step in determining whether that segment is appropriate for your campaign.

2. How Clean Is the Data?

Most of us aren’t data scientists, so this one is admittedly tough to verify. Even so, it’s worth asking your potential partners what measures they have in place to clean data once it’s received – from within their systems as well as from data provider partners or brands. Do they work with third parties to ensure cookies to be targeted belong to humans? Do they check that locations reported are both accurate and plausible? One of my firm’s clients, for example, has an entire team dedicated to manually checking the accuracy of latitude/longitude data signals received from partners before they are used in any lookalike models. After all, garbage in, garbage out.

3. How Are Audience Segments Defined?

You’d think there would be near consensus among media and ad-tech companies on how to define such common segments as “Movie Buffs,” “Moms,” or “Auto Intenders.” You’d be wrong. While some may have a low threshold for including a consumer in a given targeting segment, others may require multiple signals of intent across a variety of data sources.

For example, in order to qualify as an “Auto Intender,” must a user visit a car-related website within the past week? The past month? The past six months? How many times must she visit within the given window? Must that user also visit a car dealership? There are pros and cons for how any segment is defined (see below), but be sure to understand how potential partner defines the segment. And don’t be afraid to ask the partner to refine the segment to meet your business needs.

4. How Much Scale Can I Achieve?

The promise of programmatic marketing is that advertisers will no longer be limited to mere demographic or psychographic targets, and can instead target the best consumer based on a variety of behavioral intelligence. Indeed, with granularity comes precision – but also less scale. Work with your potential partners to understand just how much each additional targeting parameter will limit your campaign’s potential reach. Find a balance between precision and scale that sets your campaign up for success.

5. How Fresh Is the Audience Data?

A second promise of programmatic marketing is real-time decisioning – showing the right user the right ad for every impression. In order to ensure campaign effectiveness, you only want to show ads to those who meet – and continue to meet – your target audience requirements. Ask your potential partners just how often they rank their segments. Does it occur in real-time? Daily? Weekly? What process does the provider have in place for ensuring your ads aren’t shown to those no longer in the market for your brand’s products or services?

6. How Can I Reach My Target Audience Across Screens?

Nielsen’s acquisition of eXelate has large implications for the future of addressable marketing across screens (including linear television) as well as for cross-screen attribution and reporting. If you’re going to execute a cross-screen campaign, find out how your potential partner builds its audience profiles – through IP matching? With logged-in user IDs? With device IDs? It isn’t enough to know the pure volume of devices in a given segment; you need to know how many are readily addressable with a strong level of accuracy.

These are just a few of the questions to ask your potential media partners when building and targeting custom audience segments. Check out a broader list of questions for potential programmatic partners here, or send me your favorites for inclusion in a future column.

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