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What Is Programmatic Media Planning and Buying?

A Guide to Programmatic Media in 2023

Programmatic media planning and buying can be a lot to grasp, but it’s a necessity for successful digital marketers going into 2023. Asking “What is media planning?” or “What is media buying?” opens the door to understanding the most effective 21st-century marketing.  Our programmatic media guide will provide the overview you need to understand these processes and the role they play in a successful marketing campaign. With so many people immersed in so many different types of media today, the options are seemingly endless. We spend so much time online, it’s no wonder that programmatic digital advertising is booming — digital ad spend is expected to exceed $330 billion worldwide soon. 

So, how can companies make the right decisions when it comes to sharing their message with their target audience? Let AudienceX help shed some light on the media planning and buying process.

Table of Contents:

Features of Programmatic Advertising in Media Buying

Media buying primarily involves procuring media space and time to run ads. It also involves monitoring ad performance and adjusting the strategy as needed to optimize your ad campaign’s performance — this involves a good deal of strategizing and negotiating to maximize your advertising budget. 

So, what is a media buyer? And what does a media buyer do? In its simplest form, a media buyer’s role is to get your message to your target audience.

Objectives of Media Buying

The goals of buying media are to take your ad creatives and get them in front of your target audience in the right context at the right times and in the best formats — the result should be a successful ad campaign. How you measure success will depend on your goal. Maybe it’s to improve brand awareness or increase conversion rates. Whatever the case, strategic media buying can help you get there. 

Think of media buyer agencies as real estate agents. Newspapers, television networks, radio stations, social media sites, online magazines, and more are all types of real estate. Media buyers find the best properties for you and negotiate to buy these properties. Instead of building apartment buildings or houses, you’re building your brand. 

The Media Buying Process

The media buying process can be broken down into a few key steps:

  1. Strategizing: Most of the strategizing that goes into an ad campaign is part of the media planning, rather than the media buying process. However, media buying strategies are also critical for success. Media buyers must determine the best path forward for delivering great results within the budget they have. They may determine the general mix of media types they will go after and other details of their plan before taking action.
  2. Identifying the best media outlets: Once media buyers have a game plan to work with, they can begin to put their plan into action. The first step is to identify the various media platforms they would like to advertise on. This could include a mixture of traditional media — like print, radio, or television — along with digital media, or it could be focused solely on digital platforms. The media buyer will send a request for proposal to each of the media outlets they want to work with.
  3. Negotiating and buying: Next, media buyers negotiate with the media outlets to determine the best price before officially purchasing the ad space. In the case of online advertising, much of this process is automated and doesn’t involve traditional negotiations. Still, media buyers must make strategic decisions that will result in your ads running in the best places, at the best times, and for the best price.
  4. Launching the campaign: Next comes the campaign launch — this is where your ads begin to appear in various places based on the media buyer’s decisions. The media buying company should immediately start evaluating the campaign to make sure your ads are performing as they should.
  5. Monitoring and optimizing results: As the campaign continues, media buyers should continue to monitor results, so they can optimize your campaign. They may have to make some adjustments once data starts coming in to ensure the best results possible within your budget. Detecting problems early and finding better ways of getting your message heard is critical to the buying process.

Challenges in Digital Media Buying

When it comes to digital media buying, the process comes with many advantages over the traditional model of contacting individual TV stations, billboard owners, and more. However, digital media buying is still prone to certain challenges, such as:

  • Brand safetyIf one of your ads appears on a site or alongside content that consumers would consider inappropriate or harmful in some way, this can do damage to your brand’s reputation. Media buyers must stay vigilant to keep brand safety issues from affecting your company. 
  • Ad fraud: One of the most significant issues with online media buying is fraud. For instance, ads could be placed on ghost sites — like sites or apps that don’t really exist. Other examples include pixel stuffing, where your ad appears imperceptibly small, ad stacking, where ads are layered on top of each other, and masked URLs, where your ads appear in unexpected places online.
  • Lack of transparency: Another challenge in the current world of digital media buying is the lack of transparency. Because the digital media buying process is far more complex and is harder to trace than traditional media buying, some parties involved in ad buying use this to take advantage of companies.
  • Disjointedness: A problem that can affect media buying of any kind is a disconnection between the planning of the campaign, the creation of the ads, and the media buying process. By integrating these various aspects of your ad campaign, you can enjoy more cohesion in your strategy and possibly better results.

Advancing Technology  in Media Buying

As technology has advanced, one of the most significant changes to media buying has been the emergence of the programmatic ecosystem. Programmatic media buying is a means of automating and streamlining the logistics of advertising online. Like the stock exchange, transactions happen in real-time. In this case, however, the transactions are between media buyers and publishers.

One of the best things about programmatic is that it allows you to focus your ads more specifically on individual impressions rather than buying out ad slots as you would with traditional advertising. Media buyers use a demand-side platform (DSP), a type of media buying software, to facilitate the buying of ad impressions across various ad exchanges through one interface.

Choosing the Right DSP 

A DSP plays a crucial role in digital media buying, so choosing the right DSP should be a top priority for any programmatic media buying agency. Some factors to consider include:

  • Reach: The reach of a DSP’s inventory is essential. However, most of the well-known DSPs have very similar levels of reach, so this may not be the most important factor. Also, keep in mind the quality — not just the quantity — of the DSP’s inventory. 
  • User-friendliness: You should also think about how user-friendly the DSP is. How efficient is it? How flexible is it? Are you easily able to navigate it and tailor it to your preferences, or does it feel clunky and confusing?
  • Support: As with any type of software, support is also a critical factor to consider. You may want to note how frequently the DSP undergoes updating. Also, note how long it takes the DSP company to respond to your requests for technical support.
  • Data: DSPs can partner with third-party data providers to help you reach your target audience. Look for a DSP that offers the data you need for your campaign. Can you easily target your audience segment through the DSP?

Take a look at this post to learn more about factors you should consider when choosing a DSP for your campaign.

What Is Media Planning?

While media buying does involve strategizing, the bulk of the strategizing belongs to the media planning process. This strategizing is based in research — data-driven ad campaigns are more likely to get you the results you’re after. Media planning is essential to the process of getting your message out there.

Objectives of Media Planning

Media planners perform market research to hone in on the right target audience. They must also establish a budget and determine their goals within that budget. 

So, what defines a successful campaign? This may include a certain number of impressions or conversions, but overall, the objective of media planning is to create a blueprint for success. The media planning process doesn’t necessarily stop once media buyers take over. Media planning can continue to ensure an ad campaign follows the plan and to make any changes needed to achieve the campaign’s goals.

The Media Planning Process

The steps to successful media planning are as follows:

  1. Researching: In some cases, a company will already have solid data on their target audience, which can be used to inform ad campaigns. If this data doesn’t already exist, media planners will gather the data they need to understand the target audiences and the market as a whole.
  2. Establishing goals: With the market research done, the next step is to establish the goals for the advertising campaign. What is the ad campaign meant to achieve? The more specific the objectives, the more focused your campaign can be.
  3. Strategizing: Strategizing is an essential piece of media planning. Media planners will consider the best ways to achieve the campaign’s goals. Part of this will involve considering which types of media are best-suited to the campaign. Will it be a mix of traditional and digital? Will it be all digital?
  4. Budgeting: Budgeting is another vital piece of the process. Media planners must work with a company to determine budgetary restrictions for an ad campaign. The right budget is one the company can afford, and one the media planners believe will be enough to achieve the campaign’s goals.
  5. Evaluating results: Once the baton is passed to the media buyers to put the plan into action, media planners can still play a role in assessing results and ensuring everything is in line with their strategy. They may find areas that are falling short and need to re-strategize to fix these issues.

Challenges of Media Planning

Media planning comes with its fair share of challenges. The sheer number of ways advertisers can reach people today can be overwhelming. With traditional advertising, it can be as simple as paying to have your ad played during a show you know is popular with your target demographic. With digital media, however, advertising can be far more targeted — this is advantageous to advertisers, but it also means the process is more complicated. To capitalize on this niche-type advertising, you need to understand your target audience inside and out. 

As the world of digital advertising continually evolves, staying on top of trends and changes is another challenge facing media planners. To create strategic plans, they need to have a thorough understanding of the current world of advertising and how to plan a campaign that will reach and resonate with your target audience.

Budgeting will always be another challenge. It can be difficult to determine how much to spend and how to allocate that spending across various media channels. Media planners must know how to plan a campaign in such a way that the company gets a positive return on their investment.

The Differences Between Media Buying and Media Planning

You will often hear the terms media buying and media planning used in similar ways. These tasks may even be conducted by the same agency or internal team, which can further blur the line between them. Media planning and buying should be closely integrated to create a cohesive, successful ad campaign. 

That said, we can make a distinction between these two tasks. Media buying and media planning are two separate pieces of the advertising puzzle. One way to understand the difference in media planning versus media buying is to see media planning as more of the strategy element in a campaign and media buying as the means of implementing that strategy. 

Both processes are integral to a successful ad campaign. When you skip the planning stage and launch straight into buying, you are not likely to optimize your spending or your results. You cannot limit yourself to just planning — you need to put the plan into action.

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