If you've ever looked at a pair of sneakers online and then had that website follow you across the Internet, bombarding you with ads for more sneakers, you're familiar with programmatic advertising. Site retargeting, as that specific tactic is called, is one way that companies are leveraging the technology of ad exchanges, real-time bidding and data management platforms to support their marketing strategies. Whether or not site retargeting appeals to you personally, it's a quite successful tool for marketing and selling consumer products.
Retargeting is only one example of what's possible with current ad technology and programmatic advertising. The appeal of these technologies is not only evidenced by their prolific use but also by the attention they're getting from an acquisitions perspective. In the past year, Oracle acquired two data companies, BlueKai and Datalogix; Rubicon acquired iSocket and Shiny Ads; and LinkedIn acquired Bizo.
While all these acquisitions point to tremendous growth and development in terms of technology and revenue, they haven't done much to address a complex but often overlooked quandary: The needs of b-to-b advertisers differ greatly from those of b-to-c advertisers. Most of the advertising technology we have now is fundamentally built to target consumers, which means that b-to-c marketers are seeing huge dividends while b-to-b marketers are struggling to find value.
Despite this, b-to-b marketers have adopted the same technology and, in some cases, have tried to tweak it to fit their needs. It hasn't lived up to expectations because, ultimately, there are irrefutable differences between marketing to companies and marketing to consumers.
Today's programmatic tools do a great job of collecting information about individuals on the web, leveraging a mix of the ad tech and marketing data platforms available. It has enabled brand marketers to reach new levels of precision in their targeted advertising. However, much of that persona, demographic and behavioral data isn't as immediately impactful to b-to-b marketers as it is to their b-to-c counterparts because the b-to-b sales process works differently.
- The b-to-b selling universe is smaller than you think.
To begin with, for b-to-b marketers, the selling universe is not infinite. There are a limited number of companies in the target market for your product. If you're using ad tech to target exclusively by demographic, that doesn't necessarily mean you're targeting people who can buy your product. In fact, it likely means you're wasting a fair amount of budget on prospects who will never make it into the pipe.
- B-to-b buying committees are bigger.
Furthermore, the b-to-b buying cycle involves multiple stakeholders and lots of deliberation. Until you become intimately familiar with an entire account, you don't know who has the buying power or how decision-making happens. That means spending ad dollars to target one specific individual is not likely to move the needle. For b-to-b advertising to make an impact, it needs to be seen by several people within an account, not just the one who visited your site, filled out a form or matched up a persona level. While b-to-b marketers will ultimately want to get certain messages to specific individuals within an account, they need to start targeting at an account level first.
- The b-to-b sales cycle is longer.
A typical b-to-c sales cycle lasts seven minutes while the average b-to-b cycle lasts seven months. To capture opportunities and drive immediate action, b-to-c advertising is delivered in single campaigns. But unlike b-to-c buying, b-to-b buying isn't triggered by a single event, such as a website visit, sale or a holiday. Instead, successful programmatic advertising for b-to-b requires an "always on" approach. Programmatic advertising for b-to-b needs to be in sync with specific buying signals, account engagement, sales efforts and educational themes. Once interest is determined, ongoing ads needs to be served as part of integrated campaigns. B-to-c technology that blasts a select group of individuals based on isolated triggers will never truly impact the b-to-b sales cycle.
- B-to-b is a complex sell.
With a longer sales cycle comes a longer, more complex funnel. B-to-c programmatic is neither set up to move targets through the funnel nor is it able to measure the impact an advertising campaign has had on revenue. B-to-c advertising is often a brand-awareness play, and b-to-c retargeting is configured to complete a sale. Neither of these addresses the real need of b-to-b marketers: moving target accounts from the initial research phase to engagement and through to close.
- B-to-b requires different metrics.
Those one-off campaigns not only lead to discontinuity, but they make it extremely difficult for b-to-b marketers to measure or prove success. The generally used metrics—click-through rate and impressions—mean little at b-to-b organizations, where marketers are compelled to collaborate with sales and impact the bottom line. Rather than CTR, b-to-b needs metrics that connect campaigns to other marketing goals, such as website engagement, traction with sales and revenue.
It's become apparent that b-to-b marketers require a different approach. The good news: The ad tech industry is responding. By not trying to fit into b-to-c's shoes, we're likely to see an even deeper integration between programmatic advertising and enterprise marketing tech stacks.
B-to-b sells to accounts, and ad tech that targets just one individual isn't going to accelerate or even support the b-to-b buying process. We finally have the tools to run successful programs, and if we don't act now, for the first time, we'll only have ourselves to blame rather than inadequate resources.
About the Author
Peter Isaacson is a proven business leader with over 25 years of marketing experience in both b-to-b and b-to-c marketing, ranging from branding, advertising, corporate communications and product marketing on a global scale.
As CMO for Demandbase, Peter is responsible for overall marketing strategy and execution, including product, corporate and field marketing. Prior to joining Demandbase, Peter was CMO at Castlight Health, helping to scale the company and build the marketing team prior to its successful IPO. Peter got his start in advertising, working at agencies in New York on accounts ranging from Procter & Gamble to Compaq computers.
Demandbase is the only marketing solution designed specifically for the account-based needs of b-to-b. We make it possible to deliver personalized ads targeting specific businesses across the Web, and then tailor the messages on your website to convert these companies to customers. The Demandbase b-to-b Marketing Cloud is powered by patented technology that connects to your existing sales and marketing technologies—including CMS, CRM, marketing automation, analytics, chat and others—to provide a unified view of all activity across the entire sales funnel.