(Digital) Audience buying (used interchangeably with programmatic and self-service buying) has been around since the early 2010s, however it still remains a complex concept. It goes well beyond the typical contextual targeting tactic, which targets consumers based on assumed content consumption but, actually targeting consumers based on their internet browsing behavior and beyond. Within the past 10 years, as technology continues to advance, the mechanics of purchasing digital media has too. Participating in and observing the progression of media buying has been quite the ever-evolving adventure.

Most of us are aware there are two ways of buying digital media – either direct IO or through self-service. Direct IO is the most common way to purchase media. You buy media with a specific partner that aligns with your brand’s KPI (key performance indicator) and target. The KPI is what the client would like to achieve or measure and the target is based off the research conducted on the brand’s consumer behavior. This way of purchasing media is based on the assumption that the brand’s targeted consumer is consuming content on a specific site; however there is the notion that brands may be targeting consumers that are not associated with their audience.

The other purchasing approach is audience buying. As mentioned, audience buying is purchasing consumers based on many factors, but most commonly, their internet browsing behavior. Audience buying still aligns with the brand’s target and KPI, however it applies specific guidelines of who the brand wants to target on a wider scale of sites. By layering audience segments, the brand is no longer limited to just their partnerships with a site; it now has the ability to extend its reach to other sites, garnering new audiences and views.

Let’s dive a little deeper, why is this important to know?

As products have become more readily available online, consumer purchase behavior has changed. In fact, technology usage has grown so drastically that there are few non-users today. At least four in five Americans own at least one mobile device; that number continues to grow. These users are known for staying connected. Millennials spend at least 12 hours a day consuming connected media. With people consistently staying connected and utilizing various media platforms, brands have the need to adapt to these new trends. More data than ever is being recorded due to the fact consumers are online shopping, reviewing products, and searching more diligently to what is relevant to them. With more data, brands can garner stronger insights, understanding their consumers to target them more precisely.

Consumers are getting smarter and data monetization is becoming more common knowledge. They are not afraid to voice their opinions to brands and have been more engaged with ad placements. In a 2019 Forbes article, contributor David Doty revealed that consumers do like personalized ads and it shows that brands are understanding the importance of relevancy. Doty (2019) argues that personalized ads are much better than random ads that are applicable for the person viewing the content. He also mentions a Salesforce study result showing, “more than half (51 percent of marketers say they’re more mindful about balancing personalization and privacy than they were two years ago.”

Although privacy is a concern, consumers, just like you and me, still continue to stay connected.

Technology advancements are giving control back to brands, and some brands aren’t shying away. Again, brands used to rely on publishers to place their ads on the site based on content relevancy, now brands have the ability to target their own consumers based on actual data. Think about the audience profile, adult 21+ who are looking for a home. Instead of placing an ad on a home improvement site, a brand can specifically target an adult who is 21+ and looking for a home across the web. The opportunities becomes more infinite. The brand gets to target who they want, with more scale and more control of spends transparency, fees, streamline of operations, and improved measurements.

Taking it a step further, perhaps the brand has their own CRM database and can target their consumer using first-party data. These consumers could potentially be someone who has purchased or has the intent to purchase; regardless, the consumer is interested in the brand. Brands have the ability to create audience segments based on this data and target them with specific messaging. This is powerful and very impactful for the consumer and the brand.

So, should brands be thinking about shifting to an audience buying approach?

The short answer is yes. Brands should be thinking about this and a lot of brands are. The 2019 Magna Programmatic Report estimates that there will be a +14 percent growth in audience buying by 2023. Additionally, the report estimates that by 2023, programmatic adoption will be approximately 3/4 of total display and video spend on both mobile and desktop platforms.

Internet consumption is not declining. As technology grows and consumers become more aware, it is important for brands to rethink their online media strategies. With the direct-to-publisher buying approach, although proven, there’s a missed opportunity to spend dollars on a brand’s specific target. Through audience buying, a brand will know they are reaching their actual consumers. Execution may seem more complex, however, with new capabilities in measuring media and understanding the various data points, there is a space to offer consumers a more pleasant ad experience.