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Are B2B Companies Ignoring a Rewarding Marketing Opportunity?

By Elisa Silverman on January 26, 2016

Reading Time: 6 minutes

programmatic ads

The findings of a couple recent reports suggest that many B2B companies are ignoring a highly effective marketing tool – programmatic ads display. The first is a study commissioned by AdRoll and conducted by Forrester Consulting on B2B prospecting via digital marketing. The second is Hanapin Marketing’s State of PPC (2015/2016).

The Forrester research confirmed that changes in the buying cycle due to the explosion of digital and content marketing have made it increasingly difficult for B2B companies to identify and connect with prospects during the discovery phase.

The discovery phase
It’s increasingly difficult for B2B companies to identify and connect with prospects during the discovery phase.
  • 72% of respondents said engaging with anonymous buyers is a major challenge
  • 62% of respondents said that identifying early stage buyers is getting more difficult and more expensive

There’s been much discussion on how deep into the buying process prospects go before wanting to speak to sales. Here we see highlighted the critical first subset of these self-directed prospects – those who aren’t yet downloading content or otherwise making themselves known to B2B companies. So B2B companies need cost-effective tools to make themselves known to these most elusive prospects.

While the Forrester study points to the potential of programmatic ads for B2B, it and the Hanapin report indicate that it’s an underutilized, low priority digital channel. (Check this out if you want an intro to programmatic buying.)

Here’s a deeper look at the reports with a few take-aways.

#1: B2B Companies Underestimate The Potential of Programmatic Ads

Forrester’s analysis identified programmatic ad as one of only three digital channels whose effectiveness outstripped its popularity. B2B marketers using programmatic advertising found it to be a more effective lead generation tactic than email or organic social media, and equally as effective as in-person events and search. Furthermore, Forrester reports that nearly half of the companies already using programmatic advertising attributed at least one major benefit to it, including gaining intelligence on a prospect’s place in the customer journey and providing customized content to prospects and customers. Furthermore, In contrast, those who hadn’t yet started using programmatic ads were significantly less likely to think any of these major benefits could be realized.

According to Hanapin’s report, programmatic ranked last on the list of most important aspects of digital marketing in 2016, with only 34 percent identifying it as such. Accordingly, only 30 percent of respondents said they were planning to increase their programmatic ad budgets in 2016.


Take away: The opportunity here is that old adage of just showing up. You may find advantage simply by using an effective marketing approach your competitors aren’t using. In its report, Forrester recommends creating a pilot campaign to compare against a standard campaign.

#2: Mired in Basic Segmentation

Using programmatic buying effectively means having in-depth knowledge about your prospect base, their interests and behaviors. Over a third of the B2B respondents in the Forrester study do only basic market segmentation (industry or company size) or no segmentation at all. Nearly twice that many (60%) of the Hanapin report respondents say specialized targeting will be the most important aspect of digital marketing in 2016.

Take away: Since the Forrester and Hanapin respondent communities don’t overlap, I can’t say that the nearly two-thirds of Hanapin respondents who say specialized targeting is critically important are the two-thirds of Forrester respondents who are doing something more than just basic segmentation. However, if you’re in the third of B2B companies not engaging in more sophisticated targeting than company revenue or employee count, and you’re not prioritizing improving your segmentation capabilities for 2016 – you’re getting left behind.

#3: Being Successful with Programmatic Ads Requires a Marketing Automation Strategy

It’s unsurprising that marketers classified by Forrester as “mature marketing technologists” were 39 percent more likely to have programmatic ad buying in their marketing toolbox. These mature marketers are also 37 percent more likely to agree that programmatic ad buying provides major benefits. Those reporting the greatest benefits were using programmatic ad buying within a broader marketing automation strategy that ensured delivery of the right ad to the right prospect at the right time.

mature marketers
Mature marketers are 37 percent more likely to agree that programmatic ad buying provides major benefits.

Half of the brands and agencies surveyed by Hanapin consider automation software the most important aspect of digital marketing over the past twelve months, and 61 percent of them believe it will be the most important aspect for the next twelve.

Take away: Finding success with programmatic buying isn’t just a matter of having technology to handle programmatic ad buying. It needs to be part of a larger automation strategy that takes advantage of their combined intelligence and capabilities. As the pool of brands and agencies using marketing automation grows (as the Hanapin’s report showing a 20 percent increase in those who consider it important to digital marketing indicates), the window to be in a space unoccupied by competitors may be shortening. Although layering in programmatic ad buying is likely a later phase for those just starting to implement a marketing automation plan, after they’ve gotten experience with more sophisticated segmentation and mapping content to stages in the buyer’s journey first.

Bottom line

As always, technology giveth and technology taketh away. As easily available digital content has increased the cost of finding and identifying B2B prospects, digital tools also provide opportunities to engage with these unknown prospects on a much more granular.

Instead of all your unknown prospects seeing the same PPC ads and getting shoveled to the same landing page, you can still devise separate, relevant messaging for each persona that can reach them through behavioral targeting and programmatic ads.

If you’re not quite in Forrester’s “mature marketing technology” category, now may be the time to start ramping up your marketing technology sophistication so all marketing opportunities become available to you.

Landing Pages Designer

Elisa Silverman is a B2B content writer with a background in law and technology, who’s spent a career helping diverse groups of people communicate well with each other.