Programmatic traders are the lifeblood of digital advertising, an industry expected to grow by more than 21% this year. That growth, however, has arguably come at a cost: New technologies and processes are released constantly, creating challenges for traders who are the key decision-makers and troubleshooters for live, in-market campaigns. According to a 2019 survey, 97% of traders reported that the increasing number of channels and formats makes their jobs more challenging.
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The pace of industry change isn’t slowing, and the imperative for brands and agencies to invest in the technical expertise of their trading teams is becoming increasingly apparent. To overcome the education deficit faced by traders, brands and agencies must empower their teams’ growth by cultivating a culture of curiosity, nurturing peer networks, and providing access to resources that help traders bolster their skills.
The Foundations of Trading
It is not uncommon for programmatic traders to be viewed as closed-off data junkies. However, this characterization ignores the technical expertise, creative problem-solving, and communication skills that traders must demonstrate each day. Problems are bound to arise in every campaign, and traders are the first line of defense. It is their role to identify these issues, develop strategic responses, and relay this information back to their clients to ensure campaign success.
The skillsets of traders are further stretched when considering the variety of technologies and platforms they must intimately understand. New methods for reaching consumers are constantly emerging, and with each new technology comes a new platform. These platforms then continue to evolve and consolidate as the industry looks to build alternatives to restrictive walled gardens. The end result is a cacophony of disparate datasets, match rates, and tools.
Like most issues in ad tech, there is no silver bullet. But by understanding the problem, we can begin to understand the vital role that education plays in a trader’s success and contextualize that education to ensure they are empowered with the resources they need.
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It Takes a Village
A baseline indicator for a trader’s potential will always be an insatiable urge to stay ahead of the technology curve. This curiosity is most often found in entry-level traders, but it must be nurtured to ensure that complacency doesn’t take hold due to what can be an overwhelming amount of information to absorb. Successful teams will develop a culture of curiosity by encouraging new and experienced traders alike to identify and learn emerging platforms and technologies as they arise.
Teams should first lean on the existing knowledge base of peers and mentors within their organization because target skillsets can be better contextualized within the framework of their organization’s specific goals. Effective teams will encourage knowledge sharing to aid skill development across the group. This helps newcomers get up to speed quickly and enables the established members to learn new tricks that they may have overlooked during their own journeys.
The fragmented ad tech landscape is not likely to change anytime soon, but there are resources that can help lower the barriers to entry. Formal resources, such as platform certifications, knowledge bases and representatives are a great first stop for the big questions. Platforms understand the challenges traders face and are inherently incentivized to make their jobs easier. There are also informal resources that exist to fill in knowledge gaps. Online forums like Reddit have large communities dedicated to discussing everything from technical issues to inside jokes. And for those who are tired of reading all day, podcasts and webinars can be an excellent resource for learning new skills on the go.
A Jack of All Trades and a Master of One
Modern traders are equal parts detective, architect, presenter, and student. Constant cultivation of these skills is necessary for long term success in the role. That said, there is much value in choosing one technology to champion over time. As a trader becomes more confident in the platforms with which they work, they should seek to hone a particular skill that provides the most value to themselves and their team. In doing so, they establish themselves as a go-to source for all matters concerning that technology and further build the team’s collective expertise.
The digital advertising industry will continue to evolve as various technologies, platforms, and channels fall in and out of favor. Teams must empower their traders through a culture of curiosity, effective peer networks, and skills training accessibility. Simultaneously, experienced traders should also take ownership of their own educations to fill their team’s knowledge gaps. When team empowerment and self-ownership come together, traders will have everything they need to drive the performance and return on investment for the advertisers and brands they serve.