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It’s time to reconsider display ads. Here’s how to make them work smarter

Advances in B2B data mark a new beginning for display advertising, says Aberdeen’s Judith Niederschelp

Display advertising can be problematic for B2B marketers. Clearly, B2B buyers and decision makers are active online. But the ability to appeal to the right people, at the right time on this platform has eluded many brands. And when you’re dealing with lengthy buyer journeys, timing and relevance are everything.

Simply putting

display ads out there and hoping someone, somewhere will engage is not an effective strategy

. Clever headlines, compelling messages and high-value content mean nothing if they don’t reach people in-market for your offering. Yet this is exactly what many B2B marketers are forced to do. It’s either that, or avoid display advertising altogether.

There are three core challenges with traditional display advertising for B2B brands:


  1. Retargeting and remarketing aren’t smart enough

Targeting people who’ve previously visited your website with display ads is a mainstay of many demand generation strategies. But it is flawed. First of all, visitors include all sorts of people who will never be in-market: competitors, students writing research papers, job candidates. And secondly, what about the people who do need your product or service, but haven’t visited your website? With this approach, you’ll need to rely on luck to get in front of them.


  1. Ad fraud and click fraud can consume your budget

Non-human traffic is a major problem eroding the value of display advertising. Some sources reckon up to 60% of display ad budgets are lost to fraud bots. This reduces confidence in the process and seriously impacts return on investment. 


  1. One-size-fits-all doesn’t fit very well

B2B marketers know how important it is to serve relevant messages and valuable content tailored to buyers’ needs and journey phase. But traditional display advertising techniques simply can’t facilitate this. They rely on spreading the net wide and hoping it catches something.


Finding a better way

In 2019, we have more B2B data and insight at our fingertips than ever before. The above scenarios are not acceptable. However, few marketers realise that

display advertising strategies can in fact be driven by intelligence

about who is actively in-market.

These are the people who you need to reach before they find your competitors. They’re the people who will read your carefully considered blogs, whitepapers or research findings with interest, because they cover the needs and pain points they’re currently grappling with. And display advertising is a really effective way to reach them – if you do it properly.


Operating with intent

When you add intent data to the equation and tailor your strategy accordingly, you can transform display advertising into a powerful marketing tool.

In a B2B context, intent data spotlights solutions or services an organisation is likely to procure in the near future. It’s rooted in tangible purchase intent signals generated through online behaviour related to specific categories that are relevant to your offering. When there’s an uptick in searches, downloads or engagement with content related to that category, it indicates increased propensity to purchase. Put simply, it lets you know when buyers are buying – better than that, it tells you when they’re starting to think about buying.

The beauty of this data in a display advertising scenario is that it can be used to target relevant individuals without needing to gather their personal information. Once employee behaviour signifies purchase intent, ads can be deployed at a location, organisation or even device specific level. It means people who already have a propensity to engage get to see your ads. And you can ensure those ads are relevant, based on the content they’ve already consumed. You can convey tailored messages, instead of relying on a catch-all (which too often translates as ‘catch-little’) proposition.

So, to summarise, the three challenges with traditional display ads can be addressed if you:

  1. Use real, focused intent data (not predicted or assumed intent at a generic level).
  2. Insist on a solution/partner that detects and avoids bidding to fraud bots.
  3. Develop multiple ads, for different areas of your business and different buyer journey stages, so they can be deployed effectively in response to specific purchase intent signals.


At Aberdeen

, we’ve found that this approach can drive a two-fold increase in click through rates. What’s more, it drives down costs and increases ROI, because you ultimately place fewer ads. They’re placed intelligently, which beats taking a scattergun approach and hoping something sticks.

In the digital economy, marketers need to move fast to capitalise on opportunities. Display advertising offers a means to achieve this and with today’s advances in data, it deserves a second look.


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