Buyer Spotlight: Katana

By OpenX in Brands & Agencies|January 20, 2017

We caught up with JJ Bannasch, President and co-founder of Katana on hot topics in programmatic and what’s next in the industry.

How is Programmatic growing at Katana?

Since Katana’s inception in 2013, we have specifically focused on programmatic media buying for our clients, so the success and growth of the company is attributed to the industry’s rapid adoption of programmatic solutions. We also function under a slightly different and broader definition of “programmatic,” implementing campaigns that span across all channels, including paid search, display, video, paid social and native.

We’ve seen a significant increase in clients wanting to do media buying programmatically, which has helped our company grow over the years.

There have been two primary areas of growth for us: 1) new clients looking to get into programmatic for the first time, starting with programmatic audience buying display campaigns, and 2) clients doing some programmatic, but looking to expand into additional and more advanced channels and tactics.

When I look at the digital media landscape today, the tools, capabilities, platforms and solutions are exponentially more advanced than 5+ years ago, but there are still a large majority of clients still executing their media campaigns in same fashion as they were in 2012. The digital media world has changed dramatically, and clients can gain a lot by focusing more on programmatic.

How does Katana excel as a programmatic leader?

There are four main areas current and prospective clients mention for choosing to work with us.

1) Educating clients – Clients with a knowledgeable understanding of the tools and tactics being used in their campaigns often experience greater success with programmatic. Making the commitment to educate our clients and build long-term relationships not only empowers them but helps propel their campaigns into more advanced and customized places faster.

2) Business impact – At Katana, the majority of employees have been working in the digital agency space longer than the average media buyer, with experience in developing holistic digital marketing strategies for clients across multiple verticals. We understand the big picture and can identify where programmatic solutions can fit into clients’ overall digital strategy, ensuring that campaigns align with larger business objectives.

Using this knowledge, we find value and costs savings for some of our clients by sharing campaign responsibilities with them. This is especially important when audience data modeling is integrated into programmatic platforms; a few clients have a great internal team and resources already in place, so it makes more sense for their internal team to maintain that portion of control, and we simply tap into their data sets via an existing DMP or CRM.

3) Approach – We avoid working in siloes across executions, optimizations, strategy, operational structures and planning. Our campaign management teams communicate directly with clients daily to ensure smarter, strategic decisions and a more agile campaign environment. Many clients are great at getting into programmatic at a lower investment level but struggle to scale beyond basic programmatic executions such as retargeting. We also bring a tiered approach to help our clients scale campaigns outside of the standard one-size-fits-all approach.

4) Expertise – We are experts in knowing and understanding the many tools and solutions available in programmatic, and have a thorough knowledge of each. Our competitive edge is the fusion of our expertise on each of these tools and our understanding of how to create different combinations to make a custom solution for a client need that extends beyond a single technology, solution or platform. We’ve also built a number of internal tools that overlay into programmatic buying systems, giving us an advantage with the analysis, optimization and management of campaigns.

There is a need for developing talent within our space, building deeper partnerships with leading companies, and improving how clients execute better programmatic campaigns– we are just barely scratching the surface of what is possible.

How important is the partnership with your exchange vendors?

Our relationships with exchange vendors are very important since they provide the environment we offer to our clients. These relationships can easily make or break a campaign’s performance.

Interestingly enough, where ads actually appear is one of the largest responsibilities a media buying company has with their clients. Having a client’s ad appear next to the wrong content can hurt campaign performance and may also hinder brand perception for potential customers.

Our relationship with inventory sources like OpenX are critical touchpoints of a successful campaign, and solid vendor relationships give us a competitive advantage when aiding in the optimization, management, and setup of a campaign. OpenX has been a great partner to us over the years, and we truly value the openness of finding the right solutions and inventory for our client’s campaigns.

How do traders at Katana educate themselves about inventory, quality, fraud, viewability and the “next big thing?”

This is one of the largest challenges any trader has within our space because the space is moving so fast. I personally find that surrounding yourself with other professionals in the space and “talking shop” with experts at industry events, like Programmatic IO, offers great exposure to useful information and also provides valuable networking opportunities.

I also started a group in Southern California/San Diego called Programmatic Media Labs – an organization purely focused on sharing information and helping the programmatic space advance. The group keeps us up-to-date with ongoing conversations across all programmatic players ranging from DSPs, ad exchanges (like OpenX), and data providers (DMPs) to ad verification tools, mobile data companies, and dynamic ad companies.

What do your clients expect from programmatic?

I have experienced a wide range of expectations of what programmatic can do for a client, ranging from thinking it will solve their entire marketing programs by simply clicking the “on switch” to fundamentally changing their business overnight with no planning or strategy put into place. We have a significant number of clients who understand how to properly leverage programmatic buying, but we also do a fair amount of education on best practices, roadmaps, and training on the ecosystem to understand the role of different aspects of programmatic buying.

What does a great vendor partnership look like?

We look for partners who are transparent and open to finding mutually beneficial solutions for our clients. We are very hands on, and engage in vendor partnerships that integrate well with the other portions of programmatic buying tools we have in place; flexibility is an important characteristic for us.

One of the things that we love about our partnership with OpenX is working closely on building new solutions for our clients and brainstorming ideas on we can both help drive things forward in the programmatic space.

We specifically choose to work with partners who are transparent and open to working on developing client solutions together.

What’s next for Katana in the programmatic world?

This is a great question as it is so hard to predict what’s next in this space. The “unknown and need to be agile” is what makes our programmatic world so exciting. In general, we are looking to grow with the right clients who are interested in becoming a stronger force within the media space.

There is a need for developing talent within our space, building deeper partnerships with leading companies, and improving how clients execute better programmatic campaigns– we are just barely scratching the surface of what is possible.