RTB and Programmatic Marketing for Direct Marketers

Direct marketers stand to experience better results from RTB (real-time bidding) and programmatic marketing than about any other type of marketer. This is the topic of my recent column in Target Marketing Magazine.

A few weeks ago I met with the CEO and CTO of Simpli.fi, an advertising technology firm, based in Fort Worth, just minutes away from me. In a few minutes had an eye-opening revelation based on what they revealed to me:

Because direct marketers know the identity of our customers and opt-in prospects, our data can be matched with browser IDs so ads appear before our known customers. Many direct marketers may not be aware that the capability of matched customer data takes online advertising beyond retargeting. Programmatic marketing using RTB is a hidden opportunity for direct marketers. RTB is projected to grow 35% projected in the next three years, and could be a significant online opportunity many direct marketers.

For a direct marketer with a customer list, Simpli.fi will connect you with a third party firm who can match the names and addresses of your customers and known opt-in prospects to their online browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer or Apple’s Safari). The third party firm will a) remove personally identifiable information (called “PII”), and b) append to your customers or known prospects their browser ID. (To emphasize: personally identifiable information is removed from your list during this process. Codes are assigned to your list so that no names can be tracked back and the user’s privacy is maintained).

The result? Your ads can appear online to your customers or known prospects. 

“Typically, around 50% of a direct mail list can be matched to online browsers,” says Frost Prioleau, CEO at Simpli.fi. “This enables advertisers to communicate with their known prospects through online display advertising across a wide range of web sites, enhancing their brands and driving incremental sales.” 

Programmatic marketing and RTB works like this: 

  1. Programmatic marketing is where you establish automated business rules (who is targeted, and with what ad) so you can quickly and efficiently target your most valuable prospects and prospective customers. 
  2. This targeting enables you, the marketer, to serve your prospects and customers with digital banner advertising.
  3. Programmatic marketing is a strategy, or a marketing process. RTB is the tactic that enables programmatic marketing methods to work.

Banner ads are often indiscriminately shown on websites. The goal of programmatic marketing is to eliminate wasted impressions. You only want your ad to be shown to users who have, based on prior online behavior, indicated a likely interest in the category of the product you’re marketing. Through sophisticated tracking systems, in just milliseconds a bid is processed (based on prior web behavior and other attributes) and the ad served in “real time.” 

How does RTB enable programmatic marketing? 

  1. Ads are served to people based on online surfing. A person using a search engine with the keywords “Cancun vacation”” is known to be searching for these topics. Those individuals will see ads on certain websites (even those websites that aren’t in the travel business) related to the search terms they just used. These are search retargeting ads. 
  2. Another powerful feature of RTB is when an individual visits a site and moves on to other places on the web. When that happens, the user sees ads related to a site they just visited. Those are site retargeting ads.

But RTB and programmatic marketing offers the third hidden opportunity for direct marketers that I just described to have ads served to customers, even if they didn’t search for terms related to your business or visit your website. 

Looking at this another way, it means that whenever your customers or known prospects are on websites that show banner ads, your ad will be shown (or served) so your customers and prospects can click to a landing page with an offer reserved for them. You can even split versions of ads so customers see one ad, linking to a landing page for them, or you can use a different ad for opt-in prospects with a landing page and offer for them.

This is a significant hidden advantage of RTB and programmatic marketing for direct marketers.

Ads served to your customers or known prospects can be more powerful than only retargeting for the simple reason that a current (or former) customer will be reminded of your company every time they’re surfing websites that accept ads. If you have been marketing to them by direct mail, email, or other channels, this is one more opportunity for you to be on their radar screen when they may be researching competitors, or have simply reached the tipping point decision to get more information or buy.


Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.