Adrian Tompsett is vice president of business development at DataXu. Follow him on Twitter @atompsett.

Marketers spend money to drive a purchase. Obvious point, but one that’s often missed in the pointless debates about “premium” inventory.

Premium, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and cannot be generically defined. It should be defined based on the marketer’s objectives. For a credit card company looking to drive new account sign ups, premium media is the media where those users can be found and driven back to the site to convert. For an auto manufacturer looking to build brand awareness for next year’s new models, premium media should be selected based on its ability to do just that. In both of these cases, that media could be accessed either through a sales team or an exchange — usually both. Smart marketers will look for smart pipes and programmatic access to all media, continually measuring and optimizing toward those impressions that give them the best bang for their buck.

The labels don’t matter here. It is all about ad effectiveness. Efficiency gains (cost-cutting) are interesting and real, but ultimately the CMO is looking for advertising effectiveness (more sales). This is about pushing product off of the shelf, not shaving a few bucks here and there from a marketing budget.

People in this industry are often guilty of confusing the way media is accessed with the underlying inventory. Or worse, they use access technology as their means of moderating and resolving sales channel conflict (direct is premium and programmatic is not). My long-term view is that over the next few years all media will be bought programmatically — the waste is too great for this not to happen. This does not mean that sales people will go away or that custom sponsorships are over. Both will stay the course and have their place in this new world. And both will live side by side in the same ecosystem.

The right choice is not premium or exchange; it’s programmatic. The exchanges are a tremendous source of efficient reach. That said, consumers don’t distinguish between premium and non-premium sites. Consumers don’t talk about exchange versus non-exchange inventory. So if you are a savvy marketer and want to have a conversation with your consumers, you need to go find them wherever they are. That means exchange. That means mobile. That means social. That means direct sold. Advertisers looking only at efficient reach are missing the boat.

Programmatic is about the how, not the what. In a sense, it is more efficient and enables marketers to save money and to reallocate savings into more strategic areas like better content creation or better pricing, packaging or promotion. But “the what” is where things get really interesting. Programmatic buying is 100 percent data-driven. I’m not talking only about cookie-based retargeting or third-party segment buying. It goes far beyond this into the more novel idea of a brand building its own algorithms that find and act on patterns of engagement in the digital lifestyle.

The world is going programmatic, whether you like it or not. Premium and non-premium are meaningless distinctions. Analytics will drive the new premium. Buy-side technologies will become pervasive across both guaranteed and non-guaranteed media. As an industry, we need to stop bickering about premium versus non-premium. Let’s focus our efforts to have the right conversation with the CMO about ad effectiveness. At this level, these arbitrary distinctions no longer matter.

Image via Shutterstock

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