A programmatic primer for small to medium contractors

How does your business find leads? Traditionally, contractors, like all B2B enterprises, have bought media in trade publications, on the theory that relevant content indicates a relevant audience. An ad in a publication for architects or developers, for example, yields prospects. But the trouble is, many of the readers you pay to reach will never be customers, and many of the potential customers you want will never read those publications.

For a variety of reasons, B2B marketers have been slow to adopt marketing technology. In a recent survey, only a third of B2B marketers said advertising technologies like programmatic were playing a significant role in improving marketing performance. Put simply: there’s a lot of room for improvement and a big opportunity for B2B marketers who understand programmatic.

What is Programmatic Advertising?

The term “programmatic” refers to the automation of data-driven decision-making. In the media world, it refers to buying media through a real-time bidding (RTB) protocol based on available audience data. In a programmatic context, the idea is to apply real-time audience data to the media buy. Instead of trying to reach the demographics that might be represented in a given medium, the advertiser creates detailed audience profiles of the people they’d like to reach. Then the media buyer, through an ad network or exchange, targets those profiles across multiple publications.

As a contractor, that profile might be as granular as targeting developers in specific ZIP codes, building only residential properties valued at $10 million or more. Moreover, the ad’s creative makeup can vary dynamically based on the target’s profile; one developer might see creative content emphasizing green construction, while another might see creative content for luxury buildings. The key is that the content is no longer a proxy for audience; instead, advertisers use programmatic to identify and reach a specific audience in the most direct way possible.

Once the advertiser has a match and it’s time to execute the media buy, programmatic platforms work in conjunction with RTB tools, allowing the advertiser to bid on each opportunity in a real-time auction. But because advertisers are bidders, rather than price takers, they have the opportunity to express a monetary preference on each match. In effect, you bid on audience with the same nuance you use to bid on projects, determining how aggressive you want to be based on the value of the prospect. But the entire process, from target identification to bidding and placement, takes place in a fraction of a second and is completely automated, so SMBs can focus on their business, not advertising.

Who is Using Programmatic Advertising?

Marketers spent about $10 billion on programmatic last year , accounting for about half of all display ads. Nearly every major brand uses programmatic to some degree because, it’s an essential part of every marketer’s tool kit. But programmatic is more of a scalpel than a saw. So the question isn’t which marketers use programmatic, but rather when should they use it? Programmatic is appropriate whenever marketers have a specific audience in mind. The more specific you can be about your audience, the more targeted your messaging will be. Typically, a B2B media buy will be ideal for programmatic because the target audience is almost always a niche one. Furthermore, that niche can be segmented to target specific messages to specific groups within the larger whole.

Very Low Cost to Entry

For contractors, like most SMBs, one of the greatest advantages of buying media programmatically is the relatively low entry cost. From an efficiency standpoint, targeting technologies like programmatic control costs because advertisers pay only for the audience they want to reach. Just as important, campaigns can be adjusted on the fly, so targeting improves over time. At the same time, the nature of the programmatic marketplace also lowers costs because upfront commitments and minimum media spends aren’t part of the equation. Technology platforms provide self-service interfaces to buy targeted media with budgets as low as $1 per day. Of course, the budget you spend will ultimately affect your ability to win auctions and meet your audience reach objectives, but not your opportunity to compete.

Use the Right Tools for the Job

We think of programmatic as a tool associated with display media. This is because it grew out of the challenges display advertisers faced a decade earlier. But increasingly, programmatic is playing a larger role in channels ranging from search and social, to video and mobile. It’s even possible to run a programmatic TV or native advertising campaign. The takeaway is that B2B marketers should continue to use the channels that work for them because every channel offers tools for automation, when appropriate.

Be Cognizant of the Effort Involved

Programmatic brings a world of opportunity to marketers, but also complexity. There’s a learning curve associated with programmatic; the process may be automated, but it still requires people with skills to set it up. On the creative side, programmatic means scaling up operations. The more specific audience segments you have, the more messages you’ll need to create. Eventually, you’ll want to get to the point where every segment has a custom message because that’s what will drive efficacy. Lastly, programmatic lives and breathes within a larger context of big data. The more data you can apply to your business, the more effective your programmatic campaigns will be. But of course, the collection and deployment of data has associated costs in the form of IT infrastructure and training.

Where to Start

Contractors should take the time to define their target audience and goals with as much specificity as possible. Once a contractor can articulate a specific audience and goals, it’s worth spending some time learning about the various options and capabilities of programmatic. Only after you have brought yourself up to speed should you plan to engage an agency or vendor to walk you through the technical aspects of programmatic marketing.