How to create winning B2B programmatic ad campaigns

Whether establishing a brand or increasing demand, here's how one company ran two successful B2B programmatic ad campaigns.

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Programmatic ad campaigns live and die on getting customer segmentation right. For B2C that means looking at large behavioral trends of big groups of people For B2B it’s a more detailed and intricate process, focused on the behaviors of very small, specific groups. 

We asked Annamarie Andrews, VP for global marketing at Cielo, an international talent acquisition partner, to walk us through two programmatic B2B ad campaigns — how they did it and what they learned along the way. 

“When we consider programmatic advertising, I tend to put things in two different buckets … brand and demand,” says Andrews. “Brand is the long game. If people don’t know who we are or what we do, they aren’t going to reply to our e-mail, send us an RFP or answer our phone call. The demand side is connecting with the right organizations that we know, that we want to win to grow. So think about programmatic ad campaigns in those two buckets. Is it leaning with brand and brand awareness or is it leaning with really more targeted sales messaging to the accounts that we know we want to win or that we know are in the market for our services?” 

Last year, the company launched two campaigns. One in the U.S., where the company was pushing into a sector they’d never been in before, was demand focused. The other was an international brand campaign which included introducing the company in several nations. It was also part of their global brand refresh.

Dig deeper: Get With The Programmatic: A Primer On Programmatic Advertising

“We shifted from a really specific category within talent acquisition called recruitment process. outsourcing,” Andrews says. “Now we’re much bigger and broader and do everything from executive search to more high-value transformational consulting. We’re trying to own a new and different space in the minds of our buyers.”

Moving to account-based marketing

The campaigns were launched as Andrews and her team were re-thinking how they approached digital advertising and how to make it more effective. One outcome of this process was a shift to a more account-based marketing approach. To do this they partnered with 6Sense, an ABM platform provider. 

For the global brand effort, Andrews and her team used 6Sense Targeting, which found “more than 160 accounts that we wanted to get our message and information through,’” says Andrews. “We never layered on buying intent or where they are in the buying process because frankly we didn’t care, we just wanted to get awareness and visibility.”

For the U.S. demand campaign they then dug deeper to find out which executives at these accounts would be the most interested in Cielo’s services. These people have the same responsibilities but may have different titles — chief HR officer, chief people officer, chief challenge officer. They also wanted to connect with the people in the role a step below them, the VPs for talent acquisition and/or human resources. 

Constructing personas

You can never know your customer too well in marketing, especially in a demand campaign. Which is why Andrews and her team went beyond the job titles, adding demographic and psychographic data to construct personas. These are then used to tailor the messaging.

“We always start with, ‘How can we connect the personal value that someone will gain from our new brand or our services and tailor our messaging there?’” Andrews says.

This is part of a messaging matrix or framework for creating headlines, supporting copy, proof points for the initial creatives. 

“Always leading first with that top level message, then think about the visual design and the way that it connects,” Andrews says. “Consider everything from important keywords that are speaking to pain points that we know that these personas have down to color theory and color and shape of button to people versus iconography.”

The customer experience after the ad

Then comes something equally important for both brand and demand campaigns: Determining what the experience should be when the person goes from an ad to a landing page, to an offer or to a piece of content.

For the demand campaign, this requires further segmenting the audience into where their organization is in the buying process. 

“We couldn’t do this before we had the capabilities within 6Sense,” Andrews says. “We could target based on self-reported demographics or singular points of digital behaviors. We were never able to say based on this cumulative activity across an entire organization, we have a pretty good guess about the actions that they’re taking and what that means in terms of where they are in their buying process. That has really completely been a game changer to our strategy and making sure we’re spending money on the right accounts at the right places.”

There are three tiers in this segmentation:

  1. Low intent/beginning of the buying journey.
  2. Mid intent/mid journey.
  3. High intent/end journey.

This lets them further refine the messaging matrix by asking what pain points do you think they’re trying to solve at each point in the journey. 

This tiered approach to advertising helped Andrews prove a hypothesis that was built into the campaign from the start: Your ads will get more engagement when they’re being served to people that are later in the buying stage. Knowing this informed their pricing strategy for ad buying. “If we only had $10 we’re going to put two on low intent and the rest on mid- and high-intent because that’s where we’re seeing more engagement and more conversions.”

Now that they understood the impact of tailoring to the buying stage, the Cielo team started tailoring according to industry, adding industry-specific language and pain points to the messaging.

Don’t set it and forget it

The ads were distributed on the Google display ad network, LinkedIn and a B2B network via 6Sense. “It takes and distributes our ads across a multitude of sites and depending on our personas or where we’re trying to target,” says Andrews. “If we think about the more brand-focused campaigns, we will use the Facebook ad network which includes Instagram, but that isn’t ever our main source.”

After segmentation, the biggest draw of programmatic advertising is automation. Buying ad space, running the ad and more are done automatically. Andrews says this may make marketers think it’s a set it and forget it operation. Do that and you miss out on key data.

“A piece of work that we did after running a campaign for a month is going and diving into the detailed URLs to know what sites the ads are being served to and creating a list that we now use repeatedly,” says Andrews. “That pulls out and removes URLs that were either underperforming or were places we actually didn’t want our brands appearing. One perfect example is we didn’t want our ads appearing on any sites that were focused on politics because that’s divisive.”

How well did they do?

The big difference between brand and demand campaigns is the outcome: What you want the audience to do, think and feel from seeing/engaging with the campaign. So, how did these campaigns do?

“[For the brand campaign] our ultimate measure of success was, did we get this new brand in a new category in front of more than 160 organizations?” Andrews says. “We were able to deliver impressions for 98%.” 

About the demand campaign, Andrews says, “We’re now able to understand how these campaigns are influencing one opportunity. And not just winning an opportunity, we have seen really positive indicators with this hyper focused targeting on buying stage to deal velocity and increase in win rates.”

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Staff
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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