Inside Deutsche Telekom’s programmatic tech strategy

German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom wants more control over its programmatic ad technology.

The Bonn-based mobile and broadband operator, which has 150 million mobile customers globally, wants to keep its precious first-party customer data to itself and has built its own private media trading desk through which it can run campaigns programmatically. It has spent the last two years building a technology stack and taking its data management in-house, a move its says will fundamentally change the way it works with its agencies.

“We want to take charge of our own digital advertising ecosystem, therefore must take charge of the technology that powers it,” said Gerhard Louw, Deutsche Telekom’s senior manager of International media management, who shared the plan at the Association of Online Publishers’ Autumn conference in London earlier this month. “We want to be the leading European telecoms company in Europe and the leader in data-driven marketing and sales. So it’s necessary for us to build this ecosystem ourselves … we want to own the data, we don’t want agencies to own it, or only the publisher to have it.”

Deutsche Telekom is the latest in a string of other brands — such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, American Express, Walmart and MoneySupermarket among others — to have taken similar approaches.

Other brands my follow suit — Audi and Volkswagen are rumored to be considering it– but they tend to be “cloak and dagger” about their plans, said Louw. He said that in unveiling its own plans so openly he hopes it will encourage other brands to come forward to share best practices.

Speaking to Digiday, Louw said the continuing process of arbitrage and the lack of transparency surrounding it in digital advertising, played a part in its decision to take its data management entirely in-house.

“The transparency issue with some of the agencies taking the role as buyer and seller of media has accelerated clients’ desire to be more in control of the ad tech and the data flow. Advertisers don’t know where their money goes in digital, and with so many middlemen in the value chain, we are not sure what each of them earn, so we want to take back that control of data and the flow of money,” he said.

Louw admitted agencies “aren’t ecstatic about it” because they will have less access to some of its customer data. But he stressed that its relationships with its GroupM agencies remains “very strong” and that they will continue to run its marketing campaigns on its behalf. 

“In the past they may have used Xaxis or another solution. The change we have introduced is to pick the tools and companies we work with — in this case Adform. But agencies will still have full access and plan and run the campaigns,” he said. “Our role as a client has changed from five years ago when we would have been content to delegate the planning and buying and just check the figures at the end, and if they are good then fine. We are taking more control and changing it so it’s more of a co-creation approach.”

Deutsche Telekom has two DMPs: one containing private data and one holding public. Into one pours all its first-party customer data, which has been made private and can’t be accessed externally. The other DMP houses all the public, anonymized, cookie data it pulls in from its advertising and people visiting its sites. It is this latter data that agencies will have full access to.

Next it will explore how it can deploy cookie synching between the private and the public DMPs, which will also assist its agencies’ campaign targeting abilities.

So far it is up and running in Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary, with other European countries set to follow. The next in line are most likely to be the Czech Republic and Austria.

“Data is an enabler, from placement buying to behavior audience-based targeting and buying — the who, what and when,” said Louw. “Soon we will create audience plans rather than channel plans, and media space will be bought accordingly. We can turn the digital traces people leave into meaningful data and insights to target people.”

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