'The data available for programmatic B2B pales in comparison to what’s available for B2C'

The Drum recently met up with Jason Abbate, director of interactions at global B2B agency Stein IAS to see how he addresses client concerns over transparency and how the agency is working out B2B programmatic solutions, including overcoming the challenges of limited data resources for trade marketers.

How do you use programmatic in the campaigns you create for your B2B clients?

There are multiple ways that we are incorporate programmatic into our buys. We run programs through our DSP [demand-side platform], leveraging third and fist party data. Where it makes sense, we take advantage of the full range of programmatic tactics including audience targeting, private networks and of course, retargeting. For clients who have their own DMP [data management platform], we can build more elaborate first party segments, but that’s not very common and the jury is still out on whether it makes sense for clients to invest in their own DMPs. Additionally, we work with our publishers to layer audience targeting into our buys whenever and wherever possible.

Has it been difficult educating your clients about programmatic? What’s the learning curve been like?

We haven’t found educating clients to be particularly difficult. Some tactics – such as onboarding a client’s database – are a bit more difficult to grasp and often require multiple discussions. Sometimes, we run into issues with clients who are already familiar with programmatic and have unrealistic expectations about the B2B data available (in comparison to what’s available for B2C).

Can you give an example of a challenge you faced in putting B2B programmatic to work for a client and how you successfully overcame it?

We’ve had lots of challenges with B2B programmatic in terms of performance. Typically, these buys don’t perform as well as endemic, direct buys and since we are careful guardians of clients’ dollars, we look closely at performance. Several times, we’ve shifted money out of buys through our DSP and recommended direct buys with audience targeting as more effective ways to leverage third-party data.

What can you tell us about your clients’ spend on B2B programmatic and the reasons behind it? For instance, is it growing or shrinking as a percentage of overall marketing/advertising spend? Why is this, and what trend do expect your spend in this area will take in the near future? Over the next several years?

Programmatic is still only about 10-to-15% of our spending versus direct buys. That’s because it hasn’t proven to work as well as direct. While that portion is larger than it was a few years ago, it’s unclear how much or how quickly it’s going to grow. A lot of that will depend on how fast the B2B programmatic landscape evolves. It’s still a very B2C world, with only a select few data options for B2B advertisers. There are a lot of promising developments, but the growth will depend on performance. For some programs, we have actually been shrinking the programmatic piece of the buy because it simply hasn’t performed. That said, we see audience targeting components of our direct buys as another way for our clients to take advantage of the programmatic ecosystem. At least 30 to 40% of our direct buys are audience targeted and that percentage is growing.

What metrics/KPIs do you use to measure the performance of your B2B programmatic advertising?

For the most part, we are evaluating and managing programmatic as a demand-gen tactic, so we focus on conversion metrics, with cost-per-lead being the typical core KPI. We track performance across all audience segments. Some of our programs are more focused branding, so we’ll optimize based on front-end metrics but for the most part if a tactic or segment isn’t converting, we’ll adjust it or kill it.

What are the biggest current challenges you see B2B marketers continuing to face with programmatic and how can they meet them?

The biggest challenge is that the programmatic ecosystem doesn’t offer enough of the granular targeting data that we need to ensure that we are delivering the right messages to the right audiences. The data available for B2B pales in comparison to what’s available for B2C. Programmatic remains too much about scale – low CPMs to target fairly broad segments. B2B is about granular targeting. We need more data, better data for B2B.

The other (very much related) challenge is performance. Programmatic offers great opportunity but it still isn’t delivering results that match up direct buys in most B2B programs. I think addressing this challenge is about better data.

What are the most important advantages/benefits programmatic is currently providing to your B2B clients?

Generally, programmatic is allowing us to expand reach in a targeted way. Our direct buys are quite expensive – with CPMs that can easily go higher than $100. With programmatic, we can target our audiences across the web for a small fraction of that.

What advice would you give to B2B marketers who are just starting out with programmatic or may be considering it? What are the most important things they should focus and the most significant pitfalls they should watch out for?

First thing, is jump in. In most B2B spaces, it’s worth testing programmatic. Start out small. For many advertisers, something basic like IP targeted programs could be a great way to start.

Watch out for scenarios where you are asked to make long or overly large commitments. Ask questions – know where the data is coming from. And, as with everything else you do online, create compelling meaningful conversion and experiences and track performance very carefully.

Any other thoughts or comments you’d like to add?

We are very enthusiastic about B2B programmatic but there is a long way to go until the promise is realized. A lot of the true promise lies in the ability to connect marketing tech and ad tech – targeting based on deep sets of data we know about a prospect, along with integration of channels like email and display. Developments such as the Oracle’s acquisition of BlueKai suggest that the tide is moving in that direction, but it’s still unclear when all of the pieces will come together.