It creeps up on you when you least expect it. It makes you put your plans on hold. It’s the ultimate “time suck”, sometimes holding a strange power over you that you may not even realize. This may sound like Pokémon, but it’s actually something far greater. It’s about the organizational phenomena known as Brand Lag – and if you’re a marketer or advertiser, we’re certain you’ve experienced it more than once.

So, what is a brand lag? Essentially, you approach a new strategy or a tactic everyone is talking about, only to be faced with roadblocks, frustration, and minimal results. Think jet lag, only instead of falling asleep in an unfamiliar time zone, you’re falling behind the competition.

While ‘brand lag’ is common in many industries, we see it often when organizations employ programmatic media buying, which is essentially buying that incorporates the use of data, technology, and algorithms to automate, predict, and present relevant ads in real-time.

Here are some common areas in digital where we see brands lag the most:

Brand Lag #1: Do I understand all of my partner options, what they provide for me, and why I am using them, trading desk and otherwise?

Brands need to understand their options across the digital landscape, especially when it comes to selecting a partner. With the technologies, practices, and terminology evolving constantly, it can be hard to decide which tools will best help your brand grow. Whether you are a brand manager or a publisher, you need to recognize all of your partner options in order to select the ones best suited to fit your needs.  Oftentimes, and for a variety of reasons, brands and publishers do not assess all of their options and may be saddled with a less-than-perfect fit.

The rise of programmatic buying brings another layer of decision when it comes to choosing a partner. Do you use a trading desk or go direct to a DSP? Again, it is imperative for brands to define their goals and decide which services they believe will be better at achieving those goals.

Brand Lag #2: Do I have visibility into how my digital buys are set up?

Ultimately, advertisers may not know where their money is going. In addition, there is also a question of how much is being paid in elements such as commissions and mark-ups (see our recent report on transparency here). Many have been contractually excluded from finding out. The issue of arbitrage, which refers to agencies that are buying wholesale inventory and marking-up to the client, has resulted in many advertisers appointing independent trading desks to gain greater control and visibility where little currently exists.

So, what’s the solution? It may be as simple as answering all the contractual terms across the board. However, this needs to include how associated parties and subcontractors work, how they access funds, and how rebates and other benefits are divvied out. Only then will you have full visibility into how your digital buys are set up.

Brand Lag #3: Is my media being optimized properly?

With digital budgets increasing year-over-year, it’s imperative that advertisers are getting the most bang for their buck. If your digital buying agency isn’t consistently monitoring and optimizing your buys, you could be missing out on better placements and higher delivery. Advertisers should hold their agencies and publishers accountable for campaign performance. Sharing reports with publishers on their performance metrics and optimizing placements according is a good practice. Agencies should also constantly monitor placements and partner metrics in order to shift the budget in a cost-effective manner. This produces cost efficient and highly viewable campaigns.

Keeping the lines of communication open between these two parties in terms of goals, standards, and averages, keeps surprises to a minimum and ensures that your digital budget reaches its full potential.

Brand Lag #4: Am I getting the reporting information that fits my needs?

In the end, it’s all about results and brands have to know what information is useful, how to gather that useful information, and then how to use it to improve future activations and your business as a whole. This starts with a reporting structure that provides real visibility into programmatic media buying. Ultimately, if you’re not receiving reporting information that fits your needs, you won’t be able to strategize future buys or report accurately to your stakeholders.

Bottom line: If the goal is to boost your brand through a new form of media buying, you should be able to see if this is a method that works for you and your team.

While brand lag may be a foreign concept to your team, you’re bound to encounter them in some form or another – just like a Rattata or Pidgey. However, unlike Pokémon, the key is to not search aimlessly, but to understand where and when brand lag occurs and put the tools in place to combat issues before they become unmanageable.