Smarter Advertising: How Small and Medium Businesses Can Harness the Potential of Programmatic Buying

The future is programmatic, but especially for smaller and medium businesses that are operating with smaller budgets while also seeking the most efficient buys. 

Reaching the right audience at the right moment is critical to business success. However, if the company’s budget is limited, this is not easy. Modern technologies, such as programmatic buying, may come to the rescue, allowing small and medium enterprises to advertise cost-efficiently and reach their marketing goals faster.

Why Programmatic (and What’s That, Really)?

Traditional advertising was mainly manual: it required finding a website where you’d like to place your banners and communicating with its owners. It was a time-consuming and suboptimal solution, plus often, it was expensive. Today, there’s a modern alternative called programmatic advertising. The word “programmatic” refers to how it operates: instead of people, the algorithms buy and sell ad space.

But it’s not just automation that makes programmatic so enticing – it’s also relevance. This technology can ensure your ads will be seen by the right audience in the right context. For instance, you’ve seen programmatic ads when shopping on Amazon. This company shows customized ads to visitors based on their purchasing and browsing history. 

Programmatic advertising revolutionizes the industry, making it easier for global companies and small and medium businesses to access large target groups.

Let’s look at some data to prove this point. According to Statista, in 2023, global spending on programmatic advertising reached $558 billion. By 2026, this number will likely grow to $700 billion. Also, the share of programmatic advertising in digital spending worldwide has increased since 2020. In 2020, it constituted 77.04%, in 2023 – 81.06%, and in 2029, it’s projected to reach 84.92%.

In 2021, 45% of small business respondents in the USA said they paid for digital advertising. They spent $534 monthly on average, and 93% of small companies planned to increase this amount.

So, programmatic advertising is undoubtedly the future. And it’s worth delving deeper into the subject. 

A Closer Look at Programmatic Advertising and Its Benefits 

Basically, the programmatic advertising process looks like this:

  • A company creates an ad campaign, describes the audience (demographics, location, etc.), and decides on a budget.
  • The ad is downloaded to the programmatic exchange via a dedicated platform. The exchange conducts auctions for ad space: who’s willing to pay more for showing their ad wins.
  • A user visits a website participating in the exchange and sees the winning ad. 

Companies can use various types of programmatic ads, such as video ads, audio ads, and out-of-home (OOH) ads on billboards and displays. Today, video format is the most popular option, although OOH usage is growing in retail and other industries.

Every business, regardless of size, can experience the advantages of programmatic buying. But what are the benefits, exactly?

1. Cost-Effectiveness – Programmatic buying allows SMEs to control their budget and spend exactly as much as they are ready. Moreover, you can always be sure your ad will reach the right audience, so your money won’t go to waste. Companies often spend a significant share of their marketing budgets on traditional ads, like in magazines or on TV. Sure, many people will see this campaign, but how many belong to your target audience? With programmatic buying, every time your ad is displayed, counts.

According to Google News Initiative, direct ads cost two to four times more than programmatic ads. The numbers are $10-20 per thousand impressions for direct ads and $1-5 for programmatic ads.

For example, capturing the right audience’s attention was challenging for the Canadian clinic Whistler Medical Aesthetics. They tried traditional advertising channels like radio and magazine ads but weren’t satisfied with the cost-efficiency ratio. The company wanted to attract new customers, but the conversion rates were low. 

Eventually, with the help of consultants, they changed the strategy and focused on several types of programmatic ads. After the first month, traffic to their website grew by 60%. The clinic spent 50% less but got 25% more in return.

2. Advanced Targeting – Programmatic buying helps small and medium businesses identify and reach the right target groups, which is challenging with traditional advertising. The secret behind it is the approach’s core: focus on the audience, not the website. After all, for a company, it doesn’t really matter where the potential customer sees its ad. What matters more is what happens next. The programmatic approach suggests delegating the choice of websites to algorithms. 

So, to run an efficient campaign, a company needs to target the audience appropriately. It can choose among multiple targeting options and combine several in one campaign. The most popular criteria are demographics, interests, and online behavior. The better you describe the audience, the higher the engagement and conversion rates.

For example, a non-profit organization, The Amanda Foundation, wanted to speed up the process of adopting homeless cats and dogs. They decided to try programmatic advertising to reach people interested in hosting pets. Advanced targeting helped the organization identify the right audience and create a profile for potential pet owners. For instance, young people prefer more active dogs, while older people would likely adopt a calmer animal. The campaign’s results exceeded expectations: all the pets found new homes.

3. Real-Time Optimization – Programmatic campaigns are more flexible than traditional advertising. Moreover, the ad’s performance is measured in real-time, and the campaign can be adjusted on the go to get better results. Data on total views, conversions, impressions, etc., is recorded all the time while the campaign is running.

Here are the mechanisms enabling real-time optimization:

  • Bid adjustments allow changing the frequency of ad showings depending on the device, location, time of day, etc. There’s also an option to adjust bids based on performance metrics. This helps a company maximize its return on investment in advertising.
  • Ad placement optimization. Programmatic buying allows placing ads in the best possible location on the web pages and changing it if performance metrics aren’t good enough.
  • Audience retargeting. Programmatic advertising aims to increase conversion rates. Hence, it can reach people who have already interacted with a company. It helps to engage non-customers and offer something new to existing clients.

4. Flexible budgeting – Programmatic advertising allows companies to set a spending limit, and they can decide whether it will be per day or for the whole campaign. Small and medium businesses often can’t afford pricey advertising, so it’s crucial to keep the budget under control. Luckily, programmatic buying helps prevent overspending.

As you can see, the benefits of programmatic advertising are convincing. Now, let’s determine how to achieve the best results using this technology.

Better Targeting for Better Outcomes

Programmatic buying isn’t a magic wand. Companies still need to do their homework to make it work, i.e., get to know their customers. With demographics, it’s not hard; you just need to analyze the data you already have. But if you aim for advanced targeting, you’ll have to discover more: what are your customers’ interests? What do they do in their spare time? What do they value the most? Consider conducting an online survey or interviewing your customers to collect this data.

The more you know about your audience, the more targeting options you can use. Among them:

  • Behavioral Targeting – This option focuses on customers’ online activity, such as visited websites, cart abandonments, purchases, etc. A simple example is ads with a particular product you start seeing after visiting an online store and looking at similar products. If implemented correctly, behavioral targeting helps companies increase sales and conversion rates. For example, the children’s clothes brand Sunuva couldn’t afford a big sales team but needed a sales boost. Behavioral targeting was the answer: the company focused on cart abandonments and offered visitors relevant product recommendations. It helped increase turnover by 8.9% since the first day.
  • Contextual Targeting – This option allows ads with relevant content to be placed on websites. For example, watching an interview with a famous athlete on YouTube and seeing the ad for a brand-new sneakers model results from contextual targeting. Marketers discovered that such advertising increases conversion (and irritates the audience less). Some more examples are knife ads on the website with recipes and sports equipment ads next to the article about the exercise routine.
  • Geotargeting –  is a location-based option. Simply put, you reach customers in a certain geographical location and show them your ad. For instance, a restaurant may target people within a 3-block radius. Another popular tactic is to target customers in locations (country, state, city, ZIP code, etc.) that have already shown high conversions. For example, the cider maker Marners launched a campaign in four UK cities to sell tickets to its sponsored events. The company chose the locations where, according to the data, people were the most likely to buy tickets spontaneously. The campaign was a huge success: not only were all the tickets sold, but people also ended up on a waiting list.

For small and medium companies, a wise ad placement strategy requires considering relevance, time, and exposure. This is when targeting options come into play. Any business can choose one of them or combine a few to ensure the best possible result.

Managing Campaigns with Programmatic Platforms

Modern programmatic platforms offer small and medium companies practical solutions to manage their ad creatives effectively. For instance, businesses can:

  • Customize Their Digital Ads – If a company has done its homework, it knows much about target groups. So, it can customize ads for different customer segments and channels. After all, the “one fits all” approach rarely works; you often need more than one creative option.
  • Conduct A/B Testing – A company can test two or more different ad creative options and compare the results. For example, a clothing store can experiment with different images and offers, monitor their performance and draw conclusionsThis helps make more informed decisions, reach the right audience with the right message, and, eventually, save money.An impressive example here is Lacoste. A designer brand decided to boost its summer sales in France, the UK, and Germany and turned to programmatic advertising. First, they conducted audience analysis and defined customer profiles. Then, they harnessed the power of A/B testing: they ran various versions of creatives, adjusted them, and tested new ads. The process continued until the company reached the best results. The campaign resulted in 19,749,380 impressions and 2,290 new sales.Sure, small and medium companies’ budgets are much more humble than Lacoste’s, but they still can analyze data and experiment with A/B testing.
  • Use Dynamic Creative Optimization –  Since the programmatic approach includes permanent performance tracking and users’ behavior, it allows companies to adjust creatives, such as images and messages, in real time to ensure their ads are as relevant as possible for viewers. How does it work? A company must create a flexible template with elements that may change, such as calls to action (CTAs), images, etc. Then, track the metrics of each option, if necessary, eliminate inefficient versions, and add new ones.

Creatives play a vital role in engaging customers and increasing conversions. So, one of the company’s primary tasks is to ensure they deliver the message to the right audience in the best possible way. 

Customer segmentation is essential to achieving outstanding results. Dynamic creative optimization will be the most efficient if you’ve identified critical segments of potential clients. You can divide them by demographics, interests, or online behavior. Later, it will help you connect to each segment with the most relevant version of the ad. 

Last but not least, programmatic platforms measure ad performance and create sophisticated reports that companies can use to improve their decisions. The typical set of metrics includes clicks, impressions, conversions, and return on ad spend (ROAS). This data is enough to evaluate the campaign results and compare your expectations with reality.

Today, programmatic buying is changing the market rules. With its cost efficiency, budget allocation flexibility, advanced targeting, and real-time optimization features, small and medium businesses can achieve the success they could only dream about, reach a wide new audience, and learn much more about existing clients. So, why not try it as part of your marketing strategy?