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Programmatic Adtech for B2B advertisers

Programmatic advertising is not something B2B marketers took to at once. In fact, the original avatar wasn’t even conducive to B2B buyers, who valued relevant exposure and high engagement versus maximum exposure and clicks.

But now, programmatic adtech is evolving and its becoming increasingly relevant for B2B marketers and advertisers too. We explore some important aspects of the changing B2B-programmatic equation.

Programmatic is the best way to reach the maximum number of people at the best possible cost – but that also means low quality of reach and poor engagement. B2B advertisers didn’t think it made sense to them. Justifiably so.

Kevin Cunningham, CEO, President and Co-founder of predictive acquisitions firm MRP says that “programmatic hasn’t always provided B2B with the depth and direct conversions they need to drive ROI”. B2B Marketing needs time, higher levels of engagement, more technical marketing material and of course, a campaign that simultaneously connects with multiple decision makers.

But things change. The recent B2B Advertising & Marketing Report 2018 by Adage and Dunn & Bradstreetshowed that programmatic for B2B is on the rise, with 63% of B2B marketers (on a sample of 164 B2B advertisers) indicating they currently buy or sell advertising programmatically and 64% of B2B firms that buy advertising programmatically plan to spend more in 2018 than they have in 2017.

So, what’s changed for B2B programmatic advertising? Here are a few reasons why B2B advertisers are increasingly investing in Programmatic Adtech

  1. Advancements in data management, predictive analytics and machine learning are changing the game for B2B marketers wanting to scale their display efforts without compromising on the inherent need for quality targeting and engagement.
  2. More B2B buyers are seeking a B2C buying experience and display is an important piece of the media mix when trying to deliver that ‘holistic’ brand experience during the buying journey
  3. Programmatic is evolving to become more data-driven. Lack of data has been a pet peeve of B2B marketers but with DMPs and DSPs, that is changing. Data-driven programmatic essentially means better ability to segment and target than was possible earlier. The entire data-solutions ecosystems have evolved rapidly in the last few years, with DMPs and third-party data vendors providing increasingly sophisticated targeting and segmenting options by fully leveraging the marketers’ first-party data for programmatic. For example, AppNexus’ data marketplace helps data companies bucket sell their data, which ultimately helps marketers identify and prioritize targeting accounts and align resources based on tiers.
  4. Programmatic is evolving to offer a wider mix of media options: from display to native, video and mobile advertising – programmatic today enable the buying and selling of all these formats. In fact, as per the B2B Advertising & Marketing Report 2018, nearly half of the respondents were using programmatic to purchase native advertising, video and sponsored content (as against display). These are more appropriate channels for the content-focused marketing style that B2B marketing needs.
  5. Publishers are responding with increased transparency, wider offerings (native, video and mobile for example, instead of just display) and better ability to track ROI
  6. Advancements in attribution and predictive analytics have led to better account as well as individual level reporting capabilities as well as targeting based on intent. It has helped build a stronger business case for B2B marketers.

More orchestration, more optimization

An important area that B2B marketers have matured in is not just the increasing variety of tactics but the increasing orchestration of all the tactics in the mix.  Instead of looking at individual components of the marketing mix to deliver different outcomes, they have moved closer to the ideal of ‘seamless customer experience’ by better orchestrating the tactics – several moving parts that when coordinated, helps the buyer make meaningful progress on their journey.

B2B marketers now believe that programmatic helps boost other marketing tactics. Programmatic provides lift to the other tactics that they’re executing, whether it’s email, direct mail, inside sales, or even social media, by boosting the overall response rates and return on those other downstream tactics. It’s also easier now to buy programmatic adtech at a smaller scale”, says Kevin. He offers this example to demonstrate the power of integrating programmatic with a holistic marketing plan for higher ROI “we recently piloted an ABM program that contained a mix of coordinated tactics for one of our clients and found that inside sales responses were 30 percent higher for the set of accounts that also engaged with display”.

Alex Chatfield, VP Sales & Account Management at AppNexus adds “another way to optimize the marketing mix, is for a B2B marketer’s system to identify when a targeted prospect has stopped engaging with brand content on one channel (e.g. email), and automatically re-engage that user across programmatic formats (banners, videos, native ads, etc.) and devices (desktop, mobile, CTV) to reignite interest”.

Evolved Programmatic enhances ABM efforts

For a few years now, though, it has seemed like B2Bs shifted their attention almost entirely to account-based marketing (ABM). ABM promised the ability to communicate with highly targeted ‘segments of one’. That said, a lot of what went under the guise of ABM was essentially highly targeted programmatic display advertising and retargeting for B2Bs. Perhaps it was easier to sell a new concept (ABM) internally, instead of reselling what was already perceived as a poor fit for B2B (programmatic)!

Of course, since then ABM too has evolved and as Kevin says, when done right, is “a combination of many tactics, not just programmatic. A well-run ABM program should incorporate email, direct mail, display, inside sales and more. The key to ABM is to understand what accounts are a priority between sales and marketing; leverage insights to drive messaging to those accounts, and then orchestrate a series of coordinated tactics”.

Alex says that programmatic too has evolved to offer a more ABM specific solution. “Programmatic ad tech began as a purely user-centric targeting approach and has evolved to support targeting a company and a user. In other words, instead of just targeting individuals, marketers can now target specific companies.  They can budget and frequency cap at the company level; and modify bid prices based on opportunity size. B2B marketers can easily target their known customers or prospects with Programmatic”.

The bottom line is that ABM as a strategy essentially encompasses both programmatic and inbound tactics. By making the right choices about what proportion each tactic needs to be allocated in the mix, and at what stage of the buying journey they are needed to play their part, B2B marketers can improve their marketing ROI.

Evolved Programmatic meets evolved Martech: or does it?

Programmatic adtech is moving towards identifying and targeting real-time intent signals using predictive analytics, personalization of content and dynamic content based on the context. (Sounds rather like B2B inbound marketing!). In addition, DSPs and CRM systems are increasingly able to ‘talk’ without compromising data security/ anonymity.

The apparently unavoidable ‘merging’ of martech and adtech will strength the data further and bring more transparency and smoother data flow between the systems. All in all – this will mean a more consistent and personalized brand experience for audiences. But there are still practical challenges today when trying to coordinate ad tech and martech efforts. The most impactful of them, according to Alex, is onboarding CRM data. “Data onboarding specialists like LiveRamp and Throttle do a good job of converting CRM data to targetable online identifiers in a privacy safe way, but marketers lose the 1:1 mapping in the process. The end result is that a marketer can’t outline a custom engagement path for a single user; they can only outline an engagement path for groups of users”. Which, of course, is the point of programmatic. Give the fundamental chasm of PII (Martech) vs. anonymous (Adtech) data, the best ‘integration’ a B2B marketer could hope for is for the two to feed off of each other in a way that delivers an orchestrated experience to the audience.

More the merrier, but the attribution conundrum continues

This more diverse mix of tactics that B2B marketers now have access to, thanks to a ‘full-spectrum’ programmatic offering, plus ABM plus inbound brings the question of multi-touch attribution for B2B marketing back to center stage.

Kevin agrees that B2B marketers need to leverage advanced attribution solutions to ensure that every marketing channel is getting the appropriate credit/attention/allocation. “B2B sales cycles tend to be much longer and require more nurturing. A pure last-click/last-touch attribution model won’t give marketers an accurate picture”.

Alex agrees. “B2B marketers too often depend on last-click/last-touch attribution models, which don’t give the full picture of the relationship”. Attribution and measurement are also evolving for B2B marketers. “By integrating the DSP and CRM layers, B2B marketers can directly tie paid media investments to leads and sales’, he adds. “I think there is a new expectation around attribution and tying ABM campaigns to actual sales, not just filling out an online form”.

Hopefully, the next stage of evolution for B2B marketing will be all around putting a feasible attribution model in place- one that covers tactics within programmatic, ABM and inbound as well as across devices.

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by Chitra Iyer
source: MTA