This has been a banner year for the practice of programmatic ad buying, with “the most dramatic growth and expansion” to date, according to eMarketer. It won’t stop here, either -- forecasts show the market growing from $10 billion to $14.9 billion by the end of 2015. That’s slower than 2014, but it’s still nearly 50% in growth, and more importantly, it accounts for 55% of the display ad market.
This is a sign of investment from the biggest brands and agencies, but perhaps more importantly, it’s also a sign that the market is opening up to small and midsize businesses (SMBs), who are finally starting to have access to programmatic advertising in a way that makes sense for their marketing needs and budgets. Serving this market in 2015 and beyond is necessary to continue this meteoric growth, and that means programmatic needs to be so easy anyone can do it.
One recent article tried explaining programmatic to a child, playing it mostly for laughs. But there’s an undercurrent of importance here. The easier programmatic gets, the better it is for marketers of all sizes, which is crucial when considering SMBs. These owners are not marketing experts, no matter the definition. That’s not intended as a knock on the SMB owner -- it’s just that no one ever starts their own business because they want to learn how to do SEM or Facebook advertising to promote themselves.
The marketing industry constantly talks about how digital is redefining the role of professional marketers, but think about how that affects business owners responsible for practically every component of their business, including operations, sales, orders and marketing. Small-business owners have always been at the tail end of the adoption scale. But when it comes to online ad operations, you’re asking a lot of them. Forget the audience targeting and dynamic creative touted by agency trading desks and venture-funded ad tech start-ups; these are business owners who still aren’t sure if they have time to put their ads online.
But all the growth should signal a change, making the basic tools available at the SMB level. Major marketers have invested heavily in programmatic, spurring innovation and maturation. You could also say that programmatic is the big brands’ attempt to replicate the SMB experience online. Programmatic ad buying and targeting allows them to create one-to-one marketing messaging with a degree of familiarity, something that SMBs do offline all the time, because they have direct relationships with their customers.
Publishers that serve this market are recognizing it, too. In the not-so-distant past of offline advertising, SMBs would call the local newspaper and take out an ad in the print edition. Local media has always provided solutions for its advertiser base, so both seller and buyer have transitioned to the online world, with many of these localized media outlets embracing programmatic to aid their SMB marketing partners. Publishers are helping advertisers buy inventory on their sites via programmatic means, but are also helping advertisers reach other sites to capture the right audience. And some newspapers are expanding into managed services, helping SMB marketers build and execute these programmatic campaigns.
Giving access to the programmatic pipes is a huge win for the SMB market, but the process needs to be simple. It’s this kind of adoption -- from both the buy and the sell side, across traditional and online media, at the local and national level -- that will truly drive programmatic growth in 2015.