A Small Enterprise Cheat Sheet for Understanding Programmatic Advertising


It’s been said that the hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. The abundance of online resources has changed the buyer’s journey forever, and while figures vary, at least 50 percent of the decision-making process is complete before the customer reaches out (some studies put that number as high as 70 percent).

Only Half of B2B Advertisers Use Programmatic

In some ways, the change that’s happened in B2B mirrors what has happened on the B2C side. But thanks to an abundance of consumer data, B2C brands have had nearly a decade to develop programmatic solutions. Those solutions are capable of identifying customers early on in the buying process and reaching them across multiple channels and down the funnel. By contrast, Big Data has only recently made an impact on B2B. Not surprisingly, only about half of all B2B marketers are currently using programmatic, even though two-thirds of those surveyed said programmatic was just as valuable to them as their B2C counterparts. Clearly, B2B marketers see a lot of room for growth with programmatic, and that process starts with education.

Step One: Target Your Ideal Customer Profile

Rule No. 1 of sales is to know your customers. In that regard, it has always made sense for B2B marketers to engage at trade shows, as well as with industry publications, and to play an active role in both of those channels. But trade shows, which offer highly relevant leads, only happen once a year. And while industry trade publications are excellent ways to reach a targeted audience, that audience is consuming eight hours of media per day, with the vast majority of that content having little connection to their jobs.

So in addition to engaging on industry sites where your customers are spending some of their time, it also makes sense to reach your audiences in all the other places they are spending the rest of their time online. That’s the central premise of programmatic. Unlike with a direct buy, you’re able to reach your audience independent of the media they’re consuming. At any given moment, you can reach audiences across the web, whether they’re on an industry site, ESPN, Yahoo News, or some site they love but that you’ve never even heard of. In order to do that, you need to create detailed audience personas.

Take a look at your LinkedIn profile and you’ll see one isolated snapshot of just how much B2B data has evolved in recent years. Layer in trade association memberships, email newsletter subscriptions, increasingly robust CRM data, and a growing industry of third-party B2B data vendors, and the picture becomes crystal clear. Today, there is ample B2B data to do true persona targeting on key business attributes. Ultimately, an audience persona can be as specific as you want to make it, and you should be able to identify multiple distinct personas based on how you segment. But at a minimum, it should segment audiences by firmographics, like industry, business size, revenue, and geographic location, plus individual attributes like profession and job title, to name a few. The more data you can bring to bear, including data from sources like CRM, social, and mobile, the more successful your campaigns will be. But the key takeaway is that programmatic’s audience-centric approach isn’t just about using data to better target customers you would have found through other means. Rather, programmatic opens a wider universe of potential customers because personas speak to sales opportunities that go beyond the mere demographic targeting of a direct buy.

Step Two: Target Those Showing Buying Behaviors

While persona targeting enables you to identify and reach your specific customer profile at the top of the funnel (or early stages of the buying journey), it’s important to also apply behavioral targeting to engage buyers as they move through the sales funnel, exhibiting intent by researching key phrases or reading relevant content.

To some degree, most B2B marketers are already familiar with behavioral targeting because it plays a key role in search marketing. If you’re already doing that, you should keep it up. But if you focus exclusively on search, you’ll miss the opportunity to influence the majority of your potential buyers. Think about it: How much of your time online do you spend searching? Search probably accounts for just a fraction of your online activity, which typically consists of surfing lots of video, social, and other content. With behaviorally targeted display, you’re finding those people are searching relevant keywords and displaying your ads on their favorite sites for several weeks after they’ve completed their searches. You can also add a layer of contextual targeting into the mix to catch potential buyers who are reading relevant content with those same keywords. Moreover, you should always use site retargeting to continue to influence those people who have visited your website and left without taking action.

When you adopt a programmatic advertising approach, you’re expanding the behavioral targeting you’re already doing in search marketing to the wider spectrum of channels and content that buyers are consuming for hours every day. And you’re engaging them with creative that’s appropriate for the middle or bottom of the funnel.

Step Three: Automate the Process, Manage Your Holistic Marketing Mix

Ultimately, the goal of programmatic advertising is to automate your media buying process so you can deploy it in real-time to reach just the audience you want, at the most efficient price. Ultimately, however, your results will only be as good as the B2B data you work with. Programmatic is, after all, a computer-driven tool, and therefore one of the oldest programmer rules applies—garbage in, garbage out. Or, in marketing terms: good data in, great results out.

Still, while programmatic represents a significant advance for B2B marketers, it is by no means a replacement for all the other things you should be doing. In fact, programmatic is only one important piece of a much larger paid media strategy. And in all honesty, paid media should be part of a larger, holistic marketing mix that integrates earned and owned media strategies as well. After all, if programmatic proves anything, it’s that the customer has the power, and marketers need to engage them wherever and whenever they are during their entire buying journey.



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