Programmatic has taken the advertising world by storm in the last couple years, but many questions remain. That's why with the latest CMO Corner, I decided to get an expert take. Steven Ustaris is the CMO of ownerIQ, a cutting-edge programmatic company that specializes in creating second-party data solutions for retail. He shared some best practices for brands looking to get started with programmatic, including what metrics to track, how to use programmatic in marketing strategy, and what data trends to pay attention to.

What drew your interest in marketing technology, and specifically programmatic?

I started working at the media agency, Carat, in 1999-2000. Back then, I was assigned to the AOL ISP campaign, so you can say I was literally selling the internet. But the Internet bubble had just burst, so viable online advertising options were scarce. Our most efficient and measurable acquisition channels were a more traditional direct mail and magazine poly bag program. Then around 2002-2003, the ad-supported web made a comeback and was starting to show promise as media for "down and dirty" acquisition-based campaigns due to the sheer reach and low cost. But as the long tail of the web kept getting longer, and inventory was approaching infinity, we quickly realized that we needed to automate parts of the process if we wanted to maximize the value of the channel. In other words, the fragmentation of the audience in the channel had quickly outpaced humans' ability to manage it; the buying, managing and optimization of it was far too cumbersome. So as marketing tech and ad tech started to evolve around the planning, buying, measurement and optimization process, we were quick to adopt these solutions for our clients' campaigns.

How does programmatic advertising fit into a complete marketing stack?

If you are using digital media as a direct response or acquisition channel and not leveraging programmatic, or any automation, that is just silly. Integrate these strategies into your digital strategy. In a broader sense, think of "programmatic" as a concept of automating parts of the media buying process that are generally inefficient, then look at what you are doing today across channels and ask yourself: "Could this system be faster? Can it be smarter? Could it be more cost efficient? Could it be more transparent?" If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you should explore solutions that can help you accomplish this. Remember, today programmatic primarily includes digital desktop and mobile, but it is quickly moving to other media.

What's an example of a brand that is using programmatic successfully?

Without citing an exact example, I would say this: any brand that is implementing a programmatic strategy where they are hitting their ROI goals with as close to 100% transparency throughout the process, is using it successfully. By transparency, I mean they have full price transparency (know what they are paying for media vs. data vs. services vs. tech), they have attribution transparency (see each individual vendor's contribution to the sales funnel), they have audience transparency (know where their data is sourced from), and channel transparency (know distribution of ads on desktop, mobile, etc.). I guess based on these standards, not a lot of brands are using programmatic successfully.

What key metrics do you think everyone should track, but might not already?

I can tell you what they SHOULD NOT track: click-through rate. In digital display there is a decade worth of data, reports, case studies, proving how worthless this metric is and how optimizing to it could actually hurt your business. Marketers should track to a tangible action that demonstrates a real business outcome, e.g.--sale, lead, registrations, etc.

What trends do you expect to see for retail brands' digital marketing this year?

We are in the era of second-party data, and retailers and their suppliers are the earliest and fastest adopters of this new concept. So I believe that this year most retailers will create some form of a shared data economy, i.e. custom second-party marketplace, with their suppliers. These companies have an existing "sharing and cooperative" marketing relationship; they have shared shoppers, they share marketing funds, they share ad space, etc. In 2016, channel partners are integrating their data assets, such as first-party cookied audiences, CRM data, and so on, to these existing cooperative infrastructures to power their advertising programs, improve cross-channel attribution, and generate better consumer insights.

Steven Ustaris is the CMO of ownerIQ. He has more than 15 years of experience in the field of digital advertising, and has previously worked at Studiocom and Carat.