For marketers of all stripes, 2019 represents a landmark year. It’s the first year that digital advertising is expected to represent half of all advertising dollars invested. That “half” equals the small sum of $302 billion. B2B companies are part of the trend and are projected to increase their digital-online budgets to more than 40 percent of total marketing dollars available. While B2B digital advertising estimates vary — anywhere from $6 billion to something close to $15 billion for 2019 — it’s pretty clear a digital tipping point has been reached.
Digital advertising is no longer a “maybe” investment for B2B marketers, it’s a “must.” And in that context, programmatic ad buying is once again front and center.
Marketers should shake off their (perhaps) dated ideas about its appropriateness or efficiency in targeting more nuanced B2B audiences. Recent advances in technologies related to media exchanges, bidding platforms, ad serving, and analytics have created the environment in which even a niche B2B target can be found online, served an ad, and tracked to analyze behavior related to their journey path.
TRADITIONAL VS. PROGRAMMATIC AD BUYING
So that we have a baseline to compare it to, I wanted to share some details around “the old way of doing things.”
Twenty-some years ago, I got my start in the industry working for a “Silicon Alley” dotcom startup in NYC. The company’s business model was very much like that of a print publication, with the primary difference being that the content was delivered exclusively through the company’s websites.
The company did well positioning itself as the leading online destination for this audience. This meant that if you wanted run online advertising targeting women between the ages of 18 and 44, our website was a good place to start. But that buying process required proposal evaluation and negotiation with each of the publishers selected, followed by contracting, setup, management, report analysis, and an optimization strategy for each of the publications chosen for the buy. (And yes, we’ve been doing all of that reporting and optimization since the early days of the industry.) This is a pretty cumbersome process, and can take a significant amount of time.
And with that baseline set for contrast, let’s get into the topic at hand.
WHAT IS PROGRAMMATIC AD BUYING?
Programmatic ad buying is the process of buying online advertising impressions using a tool called a demand-side platform. These platforms, also known as DSPs, are a collection of advertising technologies that allow a digital campaign strategist the ability to set targeting criteria to match their audiences and purchase ad impressions that match those criteria. That may sound a bit complicated, but that’s because it is. The good thing for marketers is that computer science engineers have been working for years to create platforms that are easy for us to understand and use, while the system executes complex logic and algorithms on the back end.
THE BENEFITS OF A DSP TO A MARKETER
Simply put: efficiency, efficiency, and more efficiency.
By purchasing digital advertising programmatically via a DSP, we can target an exact audience persona (as defined by online behavioral AND demographic footprints) without having to go to each individual publisher that might have that targeted persona as part of its audience, as it was with “the old way of doing things.” This is, quite literally, one-to-one buying with little waste, because the person seeing the ad is exactly the person we want to target, based on clues and cues they’ve left in their online activities and credit card purchases.
Additional efficiencies happen because the buy — with all related processes — is made once via the media exchanges which host the ad space inventory from hundreds of thousands of publishers and venues available. Because these exchanges are technology platforms, specifications apply to any and all media properties that become part of the buy. Ordering, evaluation, campaign analytics, campaign management, analysis, and ongoing optimization all happen via the DSP platform — not through back-and-forth communication with individual publishers.
Another efficiency is pricing, because a media exchange is essentially an auction platform with bidding happening in real time. Media buyers essentially set the market price for an impression based on the economics of supply and demand. For advertisers, this has meant dramatically lower prices for digital media. Similarly, if we’re targeting a certain audience persona — and not a certain publisher — we have a much bigger universe of sites where that individual might visit, which increases the number of available impressions, while also driving down the cost.
Yet another efficiency results from reporting, which is typically faster, more robust and more immediately usable coming directly from the DSP rather than waiting for a publisher to deliver its promised metrics. Likewise, optimization happens as it is needed — immediately. It’s very clear when a certain part of the buy is underperforming, and a skilled DSP manager can tweak the buy in order to see improved results not long after the changes are made.
All in all, programmatic ad buying via a DSP is a valuable and efficient method when used by a savvy digital marketing strategist. Even highly distinct B2B audiences, that can be a challenge to reach using the paid search channel (the perennial rock-star of the digital marketing world), can be successfully targeted using a DSP, with campaigns managed and optimized in real time.
In the event that you’re not a savvy digital marketing strategist, and wouldn’t be comfortable licensing a platform and managing your own campaigns, that’s not a problem. Our own in-house team is bringing this capability to our clients every day with outstanding results. And we’d be happy to help you out as well.