Programmatic advertising has emerged as one of the most efficient ways for marketers to reach audiences anywhere they are on the web in real-time. Research firm eMarketer estimated that in 2016, 73% of all digital display ad dollars in the U.S. were transacted this way. If you want to market your business or service, programmatic advertising should be in the consideration set of tactics.
Every time a web publisher serves a page to a user, some of the ad slots on that page are sold at an auction among potentially tens of thousands of advertisers. Demand-side platforms (DSPs) are the software systems used by a wide variety of advertisers and agencies to access to these auctions. A quick DSP search on advertising software review site G2 Crowd yields 14,000 product results in the category. That’s a lot of products to evaluate.
Choosing a demand-side platform (DSP) is a lot like buying a car. Cars are all the same in terms of basic functionality – four wheels, a motor, takes you from point A to point B. But people don't usually buy cars for the basics. They've got their own specific needs in mind, as well as features, budget and extras. For example, if you regularly drive around your kid's basketball team, you can't do that in a two-seater Porsche.
Marketers who want to spend more media dollars in programmatic advertising channels are a lot like car shoppers. They have basic needs where most DSPs can deliver on these. Sure, advertisers can choose not to use a DSP and just engage service firms or ad networks to do programmatic buying for them, but where's the fun in that? And for that matter, where's the transparency, the margins, and the learning? These are valid reasons for advertisers to operate programmatic campaigns on their own.
In programmatic advertising, the expectation is that the marketer can find any type of audience across desktop and mobile and bid to get an ad placed in front of that audience. All DSPs have this capability and so choosing a DSP almost always comes down the specific features and service. Not every tool is created equal and it's up to the marketer to figure out their own restrictions and qualifications. Marketers should address the following questions internally to find their perfect DSP.
How much support and training do ad buyers and managers need?
Advertisers should ask potential partners about training support. The DSP partner should have robust programs and resources in place that match the needs of the customer. Furthermore, it's important to clarify if access to training and support comes with an extra cost.
What is the advertiser solving for and what is the business goal?
Sure, an advertiser wants to reach an audience. But is there a specific problem that needs to be solved for the business to thrive? Does the advertiser need awareness or do they just want to sell product? And where is that conversion happening – online or offline? Understanding the organization's business problem and mapping how marketing can solve that can help narrow down the list of DSPs.
What features are important?
This is a big question and a paragraph of analysis would not do it justice. Suffice to say that there are endless options of DSP features to look for, including inventory types (based off formats and devices), audience signals and data that's accessible (and the costs that come with using them), ad creative management, optimization capabilities, brand safety measures (baked-in and extra-cost selections), and reporting. The main points to think about are the features that are non-negotiable for the advertiser.
How much are advertisers willing to spend?
This is probably the question that shortlists the DSPs the quickest. The DSPs with the most features and integrations tend to require a high monthly ad spend commitment. While “high" is a relative term, the minimums are designed to attract a specific type of enterprise-grade advertiser (think national brand moving thousands of products/services every day). If a marketer doesn't fit in this mold, there are alternatives that are accessible but do not compromise on the feature-sets.
Why is advertising with a DSP better than other advertising options?
Marketing is a multi-faceted function. Programmatic is one of many ad-buying tactics to use in digital, and a marketer has to evaluate the best uses of their budgets. A DSP allows advertisers to only buy the impressions that matter most. The reduction of waste and increase in operational efficiency makes programmatic a vital part of any digital strategy.
Choosing a DSP could be as complicated or as simple as buying a car. There are many options and variables to consider, but there may be only one or two things that are important. It all depends on the marketers and which DSPs can meet their needs. Only they know what's right for them.