What is Programmatic Advertising?

As marketers, there’s a lot we have to do for the success of our companies.

We have to make sure our websites are set up for an optimal customer experience and that they add to a great inbound marketing strategy. We have to create content, publish and distribute it, and come up with campaigns that move our prospects towards a sale. And of course, we also have to effectively advertise our companies on various channels. That’s where programmatic advertising comes in.

If you’re not familiar with programmatic advertising either in concept or in practice, then now is as good a time as any to learn more about it. Below, we’ll cover what programmatic advertising is and why it’s such an important strategy to consider, plus where to go if you’re ready to get started.

What is Programmatic Advertising?

Programmatic advertising is the real-time practice of buying and selling ad inventory. Instead of carefully researching and pricing out every dollar of ad spend, companies work with an automated system to instantly jump on the best ad impression opportunities around the web — often within just a few seconds of them becoming available.

The Advantages of Programmatic Advertising

If you’ve spent a lot of time doing AdWords research, then it’s probably not hard to see the benefits of handing the task over to robots. 

Automated advertising, just like automated email marketing, isn’t a replacement for human insight, nor is it a guarantee of successful outcomes. Instead, you manage, monitor, and modify your programmatic advertising strategy as necessary, and the platform takes on a lot of the rote work, freeing up your time for other important endeavors (you know, like all of those other equally pressing marketing tasks we mentioned above).

Beyond just saving you some time, though, there are some other big advantages to putting programmatic advertising to work, including:

Improving your targeting capabilities. Like with most automated tactics, a key benefit of programmatic advertising is that it helps you better collect and act on data. This is crucial when it comes to ad spending since the fewer impressions you get, the more of each dollar you’re wasting. With programmatic advertising, you’ll gather more data from both user and ad so you can serve the right ads to the right people in the right way. 

Real-time insights. Not only do you get access to opportunities in real-time, but you also get access to information that can help drive your email campaigns. Instead of flying by the seat of your pants, you can take actionable steps based on realistic performance expectations, which is a much more productive approach.

Budget optimization. Marketing and advertising budgets are stretched thin as it is, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room for error. Because of the advantages that come with more effective targeting and real-time information, you gain a great tool for ensuring your ad dollars are spent wisely.

4 Types of Programmatic Media Buying

There’s not just one way to tackle programmatic advertising. Here are four of the most common programmatic media buying methods used by marketers.

1. Real-Time Bidding (RTB)

This is the primary way that programmatic advertising is used. With RTB, you bid on ad space without knowing exactly where it is, often getting great deals on high-priority slots.

2. Programmatic Guaranteed

This is a more traditional, one-on-one approach to ad buying and selling. With this method, ad spaces are sold directly with no bidding, with lots of options for picking and choosing what you think will work best with your content and audience.

3. Preferred Deals

Also known as “spot buying,” preferred deals are fixed price ad purchases on spaces that are available prior to being put on open auction, hence the “preferred” notion.

4. Private Marketplace (PMP)

This is similar to RTB, except that you need to be invited onto the platform, which means a much narrower pool of competitors. Think premium inventory and select buyers, with an expectation of mass reach (if you can get your foot in the door).

Programmatic Advertising Channels

There are six different types of programmatic advertising channels:

  • Display ads
  • Audio ads
  • Video ads
  • Social ads
  • Native ads
  • DOOH (digital out-of-home)

Within each of these designations are various sub-formats that allow you to specifically target your programmatic advertising to the end goal(s) that you have in mind. While it can be a little bit confusing to know what channel to start with, as you get more familiar with programmatic advertising, you’ll start to hone in on which channels work best with your audience and which channels aren’t worth the spend.

To get started, find a programmatic advertising channel that you like — such as Facebook Ads Manager, Rocket Fuel, or DoubleClick, all of which are popular options. Then set your goals, set your budget, and set off running with your programmatic ads! 


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