Conversions Are the Key to Programmatic ROI in B2B Demand Generation

Programmatic advertising has been a staple of B2B marketing for decades, and it remains an affordable way to get potential customers’ attention and begin a deeper conversation. But in the results-driven world of demand generation marketing, knowing that a user clicked on your ad is just the beginning.

You need to know what the potential customer did during their visit to your site; how they interacted with your content in other channels; and how that activity helps drive deeper engagement. Those insights begin with identifying and tracking conversions that result from that initial click.

In this post, we’ll look at ways programmatic advertising platforms have evolved to provide the key conversion-based insights needed to fuel your B2B demand generation strategy. We’ll also discuss some tactics and best practices for incorporating programmatic into your multi-channel campaigns.

Conversions, Defined

First off, let’s define what we mean by “conversion” in the context of a comprehensive demand generation strategy:

A conversion is any action by a user that is an important step in their customer journey.

Most often, marketers think of this as a form-fill or other action that initiates a first-party relationship with the customer. But at the high funnel, you might define a conversion as  substantial play-through time on an explainer video, or a session that includes three or more pageviews.

Other possible conversions include:

  • Non-form fill downloads
  • Engaging with an interactive graphic
  • Social follows and shares
  • Clicking on a CTA
  • Viewing a specific URL

So, really, a conversion is any desired outcome for the campaign tactic you’ve employed. The deeper in the funnel you go, conversions will become more substantial – webinar registrations, whitepaper downloads, etc. But the definition of a conversion is always contextual to what you are trying to accomplish. Simply put, it’s a win.

Conversion Rate Is the Real Story for Programmatic

In demand generation marketing, conversion rate is the meaningful standard for measuring the success of all your channels and tactics, including programmatic. Broadcast advertising metrics like views and even click-through rate (CTR) have depreciated in value. A click is largely meaningless if the user doesn’t meet your ideal customer profile (ICP) or fails to engage with your message.

Most research puts the conversion rate (CVR) on B2B programmatic at about 3 percent, with that win rate skewing much higher for search-based placements. That’s compared to a relatively low click-through rate of about 1 percent across the entire sector. Most analysts attribute this to B2B’s years-long shift away from wide branding to more targeted audience segmentation and personalized content offers. When you do find an in-market, ideal customer profile (ICP) fit who is willing to click on your ad, they are actively looking to learn more. And that conversion is what is going to drive revenue.

And, as you might expect, programmatic ad platforms now offer numerous ways to track user behavior after that initial click and optimize your future campaigns based on that data.

DSP Conversion Tracking Codes

The most flexible and data-rich tool for tracking the success of your programmatic ad budgets are conversion tracking codes, which most of the leading ad networks offer via their Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) where you manage all aspects of your campaigns.

You simply add the code (also called a tag) to your site, either manually or through a tag manager service. The code typically is a piece of JavaScript, and it varies from DSP to DSP. Here’s an example of what it looks like for LinkedIn.

<!– LinkedIn Insight Tag Code –>

<script type=”text/javascript”>

_linkedin_partner_id = “XXXXXXXXX”;

window._linkedin_data_partner_ids = window._linkedin_data_partner_ids || [];

window._linkedin_data_partner_ids.push(_linkedin_partner_id);

</script>

<script type=”text/javascript”>

(function(){var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0];

var b = document.createElement(“script”);

b.type = “text/javascript”;b.async = true;

b.src = “https://snap.licdn.com/li.lms-analytics/insight.min.js”;

s.parentNode.insertBefore(b, s);})();

</script>

<noscript>

<img height=”1″ width=”1″ style=”display:none; ” src=”https://px.ads.linkedin.com/collect/?pid=XXXXXXXXX&fmt=gif” />

</noscript>

<!– End LinkedIn Insight Tag Code →

When a user clicks on an ad served by the platform, the tracking code drops a cookie for them on your site. This cookie then reports back to the advertising platform that the user has completed a form or other site event (like viewing a video). This information can be used to optimize your campaign parameters/ICPs to drive more conversions, or to credit the activity for any eventual revenue from the customer (this is often called click-through attribution.)

It’s important to note here that the conversion tracking code lives only at your site, and so is considered a first-party tactic, a generally accepted practice within privacy regulations. First-party conversion tracking is not affected by the general push to get rid of third-party cookies entirely.

Many DSPs offer other ways to add conversion tracking to your campaign (for example, LinkedIn also has an API and a manual process to upload conversion info from your site analytics program), but we’ve found that simply installing the conversion tracking code is the easiest way to activate this functionality.

The Power of Conversion Tracking Codes

Tracking conversions with site code from a DSP offers unrivaled data customization and flexibility.

With tracking codes enabled, you have access to:

Dynamic Audience Parameters: Depending on the audience segmentation abilities of the DSP, tracking codes can pair conversions with demographics, firmographics, technographics and other first-party behaviors. This data can be used for content personalization, to refine your audience segments for the next programmatic run, and to route segments to new campaign branches.

Event Tracking: Tracking codes allow for the tracking of specific events, such as form submissions, video plays or downloads. Depending on the DSP you are using, you can set these events directly within the campaign manager or import them from your analytics software.

Integration with Third-party Tools: Most ad platforms offer turnkey integration with marketing automation tools, giving you a 360-view of the prospect’s behavior across all your channels. You can also wire a conversion to trigger an outbound sequence or other next step in your demand generation strategy.

Advanced Attribution: Knowing the specific source of a critical conversion, at any stage in your funnel, allows you to more accurately attribute revenue to budget and drive higher ROI. The most common attribution models for programmatic are first-click and last-click, but again, you can assign value to any engagement event in the customer journey.

Note that conversion tracking codes do not support view-through attribution, which relies on a third-party tactic to begin the attribution flow at the point where a user simply sees an ad, whether or not they click it. View-through is employed by some marketers, but its value is limited.

Other Conversion Tracking Methods

Conversion tracking codes are, in our opinion, the best way to track the actionable value of  programmatic advertising campaigns. But there are other tools in the market that provide some of the same benefits, or can extend your insights into customer engagement even further.

Conversion Tracking ‘Pixels’

You will often see the term “tracking pixel” used more or less interchangeably with tracking code, as we have described it above. Tracking pixels do offer some of the same benefits, but there are key differences you should be aware of as you design and implement your B2B demand generation strategy.

Technically speaking, “tracking pixel” typically refers to a tiny, transparent image that is embedded in either your site pages or within the creative that is served for a display ad. However, some DSPs do use the term “pixel” to describe very small JavaScript snippets.

On your own site, pixels are considered first-party and can be used to track some conversions, typically when they are embedded in a thank you page for a form submission.

When they are embedded in ad creative, they act more as a third-party data gathering source. The advertising network can use them to track ad views and for retargeting to a specific user’s browser regardless of the site they are viewing – which is really the reason most users don’t like third-party cookies.

Tracking pixels are not as customizable as tracking codes in terms of the data they can gather, and they may be subject to some privacy regulations if they are employed as third-party intelligence. However, there is some gray area there, since pixels don’t gather as such personally identifiable information (PII) as third-party cookies, which are definitely on the way out.

Again, you may see a small tracking code casually referred to as a tracking pixel when reviewing the features of a DSP. Just know that when employed on your own site, tracking pixels are a fine (but limited) way to gather conversion data. And you want as much of that intelligence as you can get.

UTM Codes and Analytics Events

You probably are already tagging your outbound marketing mails with UTM codes so you can see at a glance how the different channels of your campaigns are contributing. (If you need a little background information, this primer at SimpleMachinesMarketing is a good place to start.)

UTM codes can also provide an additional data layer for programmatic that you can access via your own site analytics. Just be sure to include the codes on your target URLs when you set up campaigns in your programmatic DSP. In combination with key site events in your site analytics platform, UTM codes enable you to match the traffic source to conversion and any number of other desired site behaviors.

Many leading DSPs offer turkey integrations with Google Analytics and other platforms, pulling all this data together. And if you have an analytics expert or data scientist on your team (and we recommend that you do), having this additional layer of behavioral intelligence supports almost unlimited insights into your customers’ purchase journeys.

Best Practices for Programmatic in Demand Gen

To drive the highest ROI for your programmatic campaigns, adopt these conversion-centric best practices.

Conversion-Based Success Metrics

As we said earlier, CPC and CTR have become greatly devalued as performance metrics in B2B demand generation. You need to know what happens after the click.

There are a number of conversion-based metrics you can employ to measure the success of your programmatic campaigns, but the leading ones are:

  1. Conversion Rate: This is the most direct measurement of campaign effectiveness in driving desired user behavior and actions. SImply divide the number of clicks by the number of conversions, and multiply by 100.
  2. Cost per Conversion: Divide the total campaign cost by the number of conversions. If this number is higher than you have budgeted, but your conversion rate is still high, you probably have an audience segmentation or targeting problem. Narrow your lists and see if you get the same number of conversions.
  3. First-click Attribution: Knowing that a programmatic buy began the conversation with the customer is the best way to measure the ultimate ROI on your spend. This ultimately allows you to map conversions to booked revenue, which is the only hard-and-fast way to justify the spend. If you find that conversions are not resulting in booked business, you need to take another look at your purchase journey models (see below.)
  4. Engagement: Be sure to include time on page, session views and interactivity with site content in your conversion and source quality evaluation. Engaged users make good customers.

Constantly Review Your Purchase Journey Models

This may seem like a non-brainer, but conversion data is the best guidance for what’s working in your models for all your channels. Review your flows and campaign strategies at least every six months, and use your programmatic data as a benchmark of your analysis. Remember, knowing what doesn’t work is as important as knowing what does work when it comes to modeling, so even your lowest-ROI programmatic tests can add a lot of value here.

Use Programmatic Where It Drives the Most Meaningful Engagement

Here at Bython, we run programmatic campaigns most often at the high tracts of our programs, when we are trying to extend the reach of our offer or test new audience segments. Of course, we also have a database of 61+ million contacts who we can contact through numerous outbound and inbound channels, so we have a lot of options across all tracts.

Your own use model may vary. Do keep in mind that programmatic is not always the best way to drive (or even support) a conversion. A recent report showed that the ROI on PPC/SEM ads, while still healthy at 36 percent when smartly targeted, lags well behind email and other channels. But sometimes you simply don’t have an email address. Test and optimize your campaigns to find the most effective tactics.

Conversions Are the True Payoff for Programmatic

B2B demand generation is always a balancing act between representing your brand in a positive light and driving engagement that turns prospects into customers. Tracking conversions against key purchase journey events is essential for proving that your programmatic campaigns are having maximum impact and driving meaningful ROI on your B2B marketing budget.

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