This article originally appeared in The Drum on September 21, 2016.

Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) plucked the low-hanging fruit of creative optimization in digital advertising. By turning a creative into a creative template, DCO changes the value of a text or image element using a large data feed, usually location or last product viewed. But once a marketer has dynamic locations and product images, what comes next? If DCO excels at contextualizing a single creative, a Creative-Side Platform (CSP) goes further by optimizing an entire creative plan. 

CSPs represent as big an opportunity for digital marketers as DSPs. CSPs do for creative plans what DSPs did for media buying. That DSPs preceded CSPs is a matter of economics – arbitrage is a big money-maker, so that’s where investment capital went first. But this also tells us something about the potential of CSPs – they drive lift without a penny more in media spend.

If DCO excels at contextualizing a single creative, a Creative-Side Platform (CSP) goes further by optimizing an entire creative plan.

What exactly is a CSP? A CSP is an ad server with tons of audience data. CSPs access audience data by integrating with DMPs but also by building in third-party audience data like demographics and interests. CSPs leverage all of this audience data with endless creative testing, decisioning and optimization tools that make it easy to develop and deploy a creative segmentation strategy.

You can run an A/B test that shows which creative variation wins with men vs women, with parents vs non-parents, or with new customers vs long-time customers. You can figure out how to drive sales from millennials by running an A/B/C test of 3 creatives only when a millennial is served an impression. And, ultimately, you can deploy a creative decision tree that captures the creative segmentation insights generated from all this testing.

CSPs represent the elevation of programmatic from an ad delivery platform to an insight-generating platform. The messaging segmentation strategy that results is a proprietary asset of the brand, as tightly guarded as the segmentation strategy developed by traditional database marketers. In fact, that’s a telling comparison, as CSPs represent the introduction of martech best practices into digital advertising. DCO, by comparison, is a thoroughly adtech phenomenon.

Hold it, you may be thinking. I can already serve different creatives to men and women using my DSP. Not so fast.

First, media targets are not creative targets. Men respond to a message tailored for men regardless of how much the media they consume costs. The latter, media costs, are incredibly dynamic from day to day, as anyone who has worked the controls of a DSP console can tell you. A creative segmentation strategy, on the other hand, is more stable over time, though it does evolve with changes to the brand and to consumer preferences over time.

Second, ask an ad operations team whether they can serve 5 creatives to 5 different demographic and interest segments. Here’s the ad ops ordeal this creates: buying 5 media targets from a DMP, creating 5 line items on the DSP, cookie syncing the 5 media targets with the 5 line items, generating 5 ad tags from your ad server, and trafficking those ad tags to their respective DSP line items - and then testing all of this to make sure no mistakes were made. Even then, your creative decisioning rules are ignored by all other line items on your DSP, other DSPs you use and direct buy publishers.

Third, testing to see if this creative decision makes sense on the DSP isn’t possible because creative testing requires holding the media constant between creative groups. Creative testing has to be done on an ad server.

The slow feedback loops of direct marketing channels are about to be replaced with far faster and more data-rich feedback loops from programmatic. CSPs are the orchestrators of this feedback loop and will not only drive future lift in digital advertising, they will drive the segmentation insights that are leveraged across all direct marketing channels.