eMarketer reported that by the end of 2015, programmatic had reached a significant milestone. For the first time ever, the portion of U.S. display ad dollars transacted programmatically (59%) outweighed traditional display ad spend. This translated to approximately $15.43 billion in total. And programmatic is just getting started.

RhythmOne recently conducted a study in conjunction with Ad Age that took a deeper look at programmatic buying behaviors and concerns amongst advertisers – the results were fascinating (download full report on Ad Age). One of the key areas of interest in the findings was the differences between those whom we labeled “heavy” or “power” programmatic users (marketers spending 50% or more of their online budgets on programmatic) and those who were considered “light” users (spending less than 10% of their budgets programmatically).

Here’s a closer look at some of their top concerns when selecting a programmatic partner:

Performance. Performance in media – whether your goal is awareness or direct response – is always the holy grail. Heavy and light users of programmatic (not too surprisingly) ranked performance as one of their top concerns, though this was even more pronounced in heavy programmatic users, 68% of whom ranked it as a top concern. Programmatic grew out of performance-based marketing, though in our experience, sophisticated programmatic users see it as not just a bottom of the funnel channel, but also a great way to extend reach and frequency with awareness-focused campaigns as well.

Data Targeting/Segmentation: While this was a highly-ranked concern for both groups, 68% of heavy programmatic users considered this a top concern compared to only 50% of light users. Those who are heavy users of programmatic clearly have a keen understanding of the power of reaching an audience on any device at any time vs simply targeting a publication. This philosophy holds true for more sophisticated brands in general who are using their customer data to predict cross-sell and up-sell opportunities as well as to understand and be present when a given ad message will resonate most. Programmatic can be instrumental in helping brands use data to dynamically and granularly target the right individuals at the right time with the right message.

Viewability and Verification. Ensuring an ad is seen (viewability), and that it is seen by a human being and not a bot (verification) is getting a lot of attention these days – and for good reason. Millions of ad dollars are siphoned away because of fraud or lack of viewability. For heavy programmatic users, both of these topics were of high concern, with viewabilty being ranked even more important than verification. For light programmatic users, these issues were not a top priority, most likely because they are doing the majority of their buying directly (thus a belief that these impressions are both viewed and verified – though this is not always the case, as we’ve seen in recent high-profile examples).

Cost. Most people immediately equate programmatic with RTB. By it’s very nature, auction-based buying is a very efficient way to buy programmatically. Interesting, by ranking, cost was the most important factor for light programmatic users, while cost ranked only 3rd for heavy programmatic users. The likely reason? Heavy programmatic users understand that programmatic goes way beyond RTB – these days, with the ability to structure private marketplaces and direct buys, heavy programmatic users understand that “programmatic” simply means “automated” while those less familiar with various buying structures may think it is solely associated with RTB and bargain or remnant buying.

Scale/Reach. Almost half of heavy programmatic users cite scale as one of the most important factors in choosing a programmatic partner. This is of note given the amount of consolidation that is occurring across the ad tech industry. Niche players that service a particular audience or device are being passed by in favor of centralized solutions that can offer turnkey access to all types of inventory – across devices, across ad types.

What can we learn from heavy programmatic users? One of the big take-aways is that their priorities have not changed – ROI still trumps all. But with the rise of mobile and video and emerging channels like connected TV, digital out of home, wearables and even virtual reality, the ability to buy and track media across channels is becoming an imperative that only programmatic buying can help to facilitate. Strategy centers around buying audiences, not buying sites, and both the supply and the demand side must deliver on standards of quality and efficiency as we seek scale and reach our audiences with advertising messages that are both relevant and compelling to the end consumer.