This article was updated Aug. 1, 2019


Programmatic advertising revolutionizes the traditional media-buying model for B2B companies, creating lasting changes in how they approach lead generation.

In the consumer-facing world, a majority of digital media buys already occur over programmatic platforms. eMarketer estimates that 70% of all digital media buys in the U.K. occur programmatically. 

B2B companies lag behind in this category — just 19% spend over half of their media budget on programmatic buys. There are many reasons behind this slower uptake, but advancing technology and marketer upskilling could soon close the gap. As a result, 69% of B2B marketing professionals indicated that they plan to increase programmatic spending this year. Of those, 22% claim they plan on increasing their programmatic media budget by more than 25%. Just 3% stated that they plan to spend less.

As spending and stakeholder interest for programmatic in the B2B world increases, a number of significant changes and trends within industry practices have developed.

Data Management Platforms & B2B Programmatic Advertising

One of the most significant changes in B2B programmatic marketing sees advanced B2C targeting capabilities come to the business world. B2C segmentation traditionally relies on readily available consumer information. Marketers can easily glean standard cookie data as well information like a Facebook user’s marriage status or a blog reader’s topic interests to craft segmented campaigns to maximize relevance and appeal.

But, B2B audience data is simultaneously harder to obtain and more important for targeting. While most parents could potentially be convinced to buy a $300 jogging stroller, for instance, a company may only have 1-3 people in charge of procuring SaaS software with a $2,500/month license. Also, many B2B solutions only apply to certain verticals or organizational structures. Marketers need access to specific, granular data both on company structure and on audience job roles before B2B targeting can be viable.

Fortunately, this data has become easier to obtain, thanks to third-party datasets and the capabilities of demand-side platforms (DSPs). Many programmatic agencies can now offer more robust Account Based Marketing (ABM) by accessing business-oriented datasets directly in their DSP allowing clients to automatically target specific business roles and personas. The DSPs often combine third-party data with the buyer’s first-party datasets, like their CRM, to produce a list of viable targets. Some organizations have even been developing internal data management platforms (DMPs) to take full advantage of their first-party data and allow it to be shared more broadly with media partners.

“What’s behind the change is the greater ability to connect anonymous data with PII (personally identifiable information) data,” explains Ashu Garg, general partner at ad-tech-focused VC firm Foundation Capital. “Secondly is the ability to get much more precise targeting from niche segments and audiences across platforms, whether that be social, display or video platforms.”

DMPs in combination with programmatic demand-side platforms (DSPs) can also enable lookalike targeting at scale. This helps B2B brands grow their audience and generate more marketing-qualified leads. According to Dun & Bradstreet data, 52% of B2B programmatic users employ lookalike targeting, and a full 23% more plan to by the end of 2017.

Programmatic and Marketing Automation Combine for a Cross-Channel Sales Funnel

Programmatic media buys offer promise for holding together the diverse stages of a B2B sales pipeline across channels. 62% of the most successful B2B marketers employ a marketing automation system to nurture qualified leads and manage their progress through the pipeline. These systems can deliver custom content based on buyer persona appropriate to their current status in the sales process.

For instance, an infographic can capture the interest of a non-lead, prompting them to sign up for an email newsletter. As the person becomes a qualified lead, they can be sent correspondingly more detailed materials that outline the benefits of a B2B company’s solution. Marketing automation tools like artificial intelligence-driven chat can segment and nurture leads. 

Programmatic media buys can reinforce these content-driven nurture cycles through targeting and retargeting. Using DSPs an agency can target those listed as qualified leads with promoted content corresponding to the discovery phase. The system can also display ads leading to ebooks or landing pages with stronger calls to action for those further along the pipeline, as indicated by the client CRM. In this way, B2B programmatic systems can tie together channels and correspond more directly to stages within the sales pipeline than any single channel could alone.

“For one telecom client, we were able to gain 508% more conversions using B2B programmatic advertising than pay per click (PPC) advertising alone,” Forbes Agency Council asserts.

A Shift Towards More Meaningful B2B Marketing Metrics

While programmatic media buys have broadened B2B marketers’ capabilities, many companies still struggle to decipher actionable KPIs. Dun & Bradstreet report that 34% of B2B programmatic users state that “measurements and metrics” are one of their biggest challenges.

47% track simple conversions like clicks, while 44% utilize traffic lift as a KPI. Neither of these metrics reveal the true dollar value behind a campaign or individual impression. In turn, optimization becomes more difficult.

On the other hand, 29% of brands do focus on closed sales, 16% on client acquisitions and 43% on generated leads. Taking the next step and prioritizing cost per acquisition or cost per lead could orient these brands toward making incremental improvements. Additionally, the growing capabilities of multi-touch attribution can help marketers learn more-granular information from campaigns. By measuring channel-specific performance through a fractional attribution system — as opposed to a looser last-click model — B2B marketers can learn which impressions are most effective and allocate their budget accordingly.

Improve B2B Programmatic Results With Symphonic

Symphonic Digital has become a leader in account-based marketing and programmatic technologies for major enterprises and SMBs alike. Our team-led approach ensures that your campaigns get fed the data they need to empower optimal targeting, relevant retargeting and transparent attribution. At the same time, we develop a strategy for incorporating programmatic media sensibly into each stage of the sales pipeline to optimize your close/win over time.

Let us demonstrate our capabilities and reveal how we can help your B2B business grow when you contact us today.


Related: Cost-Per-Action Defined

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