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Master the Art of Media Buying: The Ultimate Guide to Win the Ad Game

May 18, 202314 min read
Marharyta Kaplia
Marharyta Kaplia, Head of Content, AdTech Expert
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In this day and age, simply making ads does not guarantee a successful brand. Competition is rife, and consumers are spoiled. That is why ads have to be placed strategically — at the right time and context, in front of the right audience. That is where the “media buying” concept enters the marketing mix.

Consumers, on average, spend 3 hours and 27 minutes a day online. However, given the millions of options out there, they tend to have a low attention span when browsing personal ads or web content.

Competing to get a slice of that attention can be extremely hard for businesses, and sometimes organic promotion is not enough. Media buying is a quicker way of distributing the brand message to the right audience via broad-reach channels.

Whether you are a newbie that knows nothing about media buying or a business from an e-commerce store to a web design company, that wants to sharpen its skills here, this guide will help you get your media buying strategy on the right track. In this article, we'll give you as much as possible to fill the media buying knowledge gaps.

What is Media Buying: Demystifying Definition & Objectives

Media buying is the process of purchasing offline or digital media space to run advertisements. It is similar to balancing on the tightrope: as a media buyer, you need to identify the channels that are the most relevant to the target audience at the right time for less money. So, you have to be somewhere in between.

When all these stars are aligned, it is possible to assume that the campaign might be successful.

How this success is measured will depend on the brand's goals, which could be:

  • To increase conversion rates, for which retargeting ads can work well;
  • To improve brand awareness, if a brand can’t achieve it by search engine optimization or as an additional acquisition channel;
  • To get sign-ups for an event or product launch, for example, with the help of pay-per-click ads on social media.

Media buying is a lot like investing in real estate — you hire any of the suitable media buying companies to negotiate for the best deals on newspapers or magazines, radio or TV channels, social media space, and other types of media “real estate,” or you do it on your own — if you are confident — with your own ad tech stack for in-house media buying.

What are examples of media buying? It can be:

  • digital – purchasing ad space on websites, social media platforms, and search engines that are used by the target audience;
  • out-of-home – buying space on billboards, public transit, and other public places;
  • television – purchasing airtime on TV networks during specific times of day or during particular programs that are popular among the target audience, etc.
media buying examples

The Process of Media Buying

Now be ready for the tritest remark, which banality doesn't diminish its importance. Before implementing media buying, start with a goal. It's the bread and butter people often ignore, but it gives direction and helps not to waste resources.

Your goals could range from driving more page views and improving conversion rates to securing more leads or installs. Once you've identified your objective, your media buying journey will typically follow these steps:

  1. Media buying strategy. Start by setting the budget, defining your target audience, and deciding on the metrics you'll use to measure your campaign's success.
  2. Media planning. It’s time to choose the channels for ad placement, pick the right creatives, and agree on the campaign deployment schedule.
  3. Media placement. This key phase in media buying involves negotiating with publishers or using media buying software to bid on the inventory.
  4. Data collection. Here, your software collects the publisher's data and tracks the performance of each media buying campaign.
  5. Data analysis. During this stage, your media buying team access campaign results and analyze the collected data to make future decisions.
  6. Optimization. Finally, you either apply auto-optimization algorithms based on your goals or manually optimize each media buying setup.
media buying process

When fine-tuning your media buying strategy or adding more creative assets to your campaigns, you’ll need to repeat these stages.

What is a Media Buyer in Marketing?

Media buyers are the main protagonists in the media buying show. They are here to marry the company's marketing goals and target audience, supervising the whole process on top of this. Their role involves judicious strategizing and negotiating to make the most of the brand's ad budget.

Media buyers negotiate inventory slots with the networks, WCAG-compliant websites, print channels, and other platforms they want to show the ad. They also monitor how the ad is doing and make necessary tweaks to optimize campaign results.

What Are the Types of Media Buying?

There are different types of media buying to choose from, each with unique best practices. Let’s shine some light on the most common categories and compare them.

Direct vs. Programmatic Media Buying

First, let’s outline the two most distinctive approaches to media buying: direct and programmatic.

A direct media buying process involves ad buyers and publishers buying and selling traffic through personal negotiation — just as it is done on radio, TV, or print advertising. So, this type of media buying focuses on the placement: “Where do I want to place ads?” rather than “Who do I want to reach?”

What is programmatic media buying, then, you might ask? This automated approach relies on real-time bidding (RTB). This process takes less than 100 milliseconds, allowing for swift ad spaces, where the media buyer asks, “Who do I want to reach?” rather than “Where do I want to place ads?”

percentage of buying ads programmatically

It is like a silent auction powered by AI. Brands specify the target audience, set CPMs & other placement preferences and let the algorithm make the right match.

In programmatic media buying, ad buyers and publishers buy and sell digital ads through demand-side platforms. It automates the process and requires minimum human intervention for securing an ad space. On the flip side, publishers use a supply-side platform to list their inventory on the ad exchanges.

This is how the programmatic media buying process happens:

programmatic media buying

With a programmatic approach, ad buyers can access reports, edit data in real-time, and tweak campaigns without direct interaction with the publisher.

Full-Service vs. Self-Serve Media Buying

Full-service media buying is just as it sounds. Here, brands delegate campaigns to launch, optimization, and sometimes even creative design to a third-party agency. This approach can save you time but take away control over where your traffic comes from.

Self-serve media buying means handling it all in-house. Here the brand hires an in-house media buying team and often develops or buys a technology that gets them covered on the tech side. Thus, you cut down your budget by removing middle links and taking charge of your campaigns from start to finish.

What is the Difference Between Media Planning and Buying?

Media buyers and media planners work closely together, but their roles are distinct. In a nutshell, media planners develop the initial strategy, and then media buyers place the ads to obtain the right traffic.

What is Media Planning?

Media planners research the market to understand the target audience better. Based on this, they set marketing goals and budgets. To do it the right way, they answer the following questions:

  • what type of content do the audience prefers (blogs, videos, etc.);
  • which channels do they use to access that content (social media, search engines, etc.);
  • when are they most active on these platforms?

Having this knowledge at their fingertips, media planners choose the right channels for each ad and set budgets on each ad/channel.

How is Media Buying Different?

Media planners mostly do the preparation job, so media buyers can efficiently define the audience or placements while launching the campaign. Media buyers use these media plans to connect with salespeople at the relevant channels and negotiate about placement, price, and timeframe.

They can purchase placements using various platforms. These could be ad networks like Google AdSense, SEM platforms like AdWords, demand-side platforms for programmatic media buying, or ad servers for direct deals.

Media Buying vs. Media Planning: Comparison Table

Media Planning Media Buying
Prepare and present the plan after conducting market research Focus on developing long-term relationships with stakeholders
Transform the plan into a buying brief Negotiate about placement, price, and timeframe
Focuses on consumers behavior and industry trends Execute the media buying campaign
Influencers consumers in the marketplace Optimize campaigns for optimal results

Why is Media Buying Important for Brands?

Media buying is much more than just paying money to get ad space. It's about building meaningful relationships with media channels to secure the best slots, increase conversions, and maximize ROI.

Disclaimer: media buying doesn’t guarantee success by default. It’s just one part of advertising, sharing the same goals of attracting leads and making more sales.

So what is the difference between advertising and media buying t Advertising is the broader term standing for product, brand, or service promotion to generate interest, engagement, and sales. At the same time, media buying is one of the means of that promotion.

If done right, media buying campaigns may bring you the leads of your dream. Granular targeting enhanced by unique data points coming from publishers allows you to refine your buyer persona as precisely as possible.

Programmatic media buying offers unlimited supply especially if you use a white-label DSP that allows custom traffic source setup.

programmatic ad spend statistics

All-in-all, media buying is important because it allows you to promote your brand quickly and have an instant effect, unlike content marketing, which works for the future. However, these advantages manifest only thanks to a well-crafted media buying strategy and proper optimization.

How to Build an Effective Media Buying Strategy?

Although media buying may seem complex, it’s actually an opportunity for brands to be inventive, creative, and dynamic. So let’s uncover what are the key components of a successful media buy plan.

If you are thinking of taking this route, here is how you can get started:

Focus on Your Creatives

No matter what media buying platform you use, your ad creatives must be of top-notch quality and deliver the right message at the right time to the right people.

Collaborate with your creative team to craft outstanding assets and tweak them if needed to match the specific context, environment, or audience.

To see whether your tweaks help you achieve goals or not, A/B test different ad banner sizes before the campaign launch. There is a plethora of banner sizes, and you might have shivers because of this number and variants of their placement. But Epom got your back here with an insights-packed ad banner sizes report, so use that knowledge wisely.

Understand the Media Buying Software

If you want to be a big-league brand, a basic grasp of the tech behind your media buying efforts is essential. It is critical to have at least a basic understanding of the technology that powers your ad placements. For instance, you should know how to use ad tags or understand the concept of header bidding.

Also, it’s important to understand how ad server use placements of any direct publishers and automate manual work. Advanced ad servers enable you to organize all your partners in the first place and prioritize your banners with the help of targeting, etc., helping to launch and manage massive and deeply-targeted advertising campaigns on mobile and display.

Not just conversion value and data are a must for the success of your advertising business. The way you treat your customers is on this decade's agenda; for that, you might want to use a strong customer relationship management system on top of platforms for media buying.

Consider Budget-Saving Tips for Programmatic Campaigns

In programmatic media buying, the success of your deal depends on optimization. For instance, Epom DSP features algorithms like bidding autopilot (other platforms can call it differently), which allows you to set bidding rules and multipliers for a particular campaign.

Epom DSP bidding autopilot

It allows more efficient use of ad spend, as bids are adjusted on a per-impression basis to maximize the likelihood of conversion while minimizing cost.

Save even more money by setting up your own media buying platform. Using a white-label DSP, it is possible to save even more money by avoiding middlemen. You also become a rightful platform owner by customizing it and adding brand colors and logo, saving money on developing the platform from scratch.

white-label DSP saves up to 30% month

Also you can try the CPC bidding model in a DSP – that will help to increase performance as paying for click implies the users visit your website.

Consider Customers Insights

The growing number of digital consumer touchpoints and their higher demands for advertising quality and authenticity has raised the bar for media buyers and planners.

A staggering 22% of internet users now block ads due to their annoyance or irrelevance, highlighting the importance of tailored ads that speak directly to consumers' interests. The rise of ad-blocking software signals that users are not merely ignoring irrelevant ads but actively taking steps to avoid them.

ad blocking statistics

So, how do you make ads that won't get blocked by grumpy users?

  • Use native advertising. It's like camouflage for ads – they blend right in with the website content, so users won't feel like they're being ambushed by pesky ads.
  • Apply in-game ads. If you're looking to target gamers, this is the way to go. It's like a sneak attack – users won't even realize they're being advertised to until it's too late.
  • Consider video ads. They're like the movie trailers of the advertising world, and users are often willing to watch them in exchange for some sweet, sweet content.
  • Think about sponsored content. It's like a secret mission – you provide users with valuable information in exchange for their attention, and they won't even realize they're being advertised to.

Remember, even with these less intrusive ad formats, some users may still block them with ad-blocking software. But if you choose the right kind of ads, you'll have a better chance of getting through to your audience and avoiding the dreaded ad-blocker.

Gather Bidstream and Contextual Data for Better Targeting

Demand-side platforms allow you to collect bidstream and contextual data, which can complement your behavioral targeting data set.

Bidstream is information transmitted from the publisher to the advertiser's DSP. This type of data is the lifeblood of online advertising and is transferred imperceptibly just before a user accesses a web page. This data does not require user consent, so most SSPs automatically gather data like location, inventory specifications, and device details.

So publishers can use bidstream to obtain some unique data that potentially can be collected from the website, for example, a unique ID of the bid request, website information, ad-specific data (website domain, ad format, ad size, ad destination, name and version of the ad mediation partner, bid floor, etc.).

Gathering contextual data also doesn't need user permission and is linked to the page's content rather than user behavior.

There are three main source categories for contextual data: third-party businesses and organizations, customers, and things. Here are examples of the contextual data you could extract from each type:

Businesses and organizations Customers Things
Economic/market changes Past buying behavior Asset and inventory management sensors
Weather Preferences Kiosk interactions
Traffic Milestones Context-aware promotion tools
News Location GPS tools
Events Delivery trackers

With Epom DSP, you can request bidstream data export, process it using a business intelligence tool, and create custom audience segments to launch a more specific targeting.

AI in Media Buying: It's No Joke

It’s important to keep up with the trends, and AI is the first on the list. Here's how AI is currently being used in media buying:

  • Audience targeting: AI processes large amounts of data to identify patterns and behaviors enabling better targeting.
  • Ad placement: AI analyzes ad performance and user behavior data to optimize ad inventory. For example, an AI algorithm can determine the best time of day to show an ad or the most effective placement for a specific type of ad.
  • Best bit identification: AI evaluates bidding data to determine the optimal bid for a specific inventory slot based on user behavior, ad performance, and budget limits.
  • Ad creative optimization: AI analyzes ad performance to tweak creative elements, such as image design details or messaging, to improve engagement and conversion rates.
  • Fraud detection: AI gathers ad traffic data to detect and prevent fraud, such as bots or click farms, which can skew campaign results and waste ad spending.
  • Predictive analytics: AI processes and analyzes historical data to predict future performance and inform campaign strategy, helping advertisers make data-driven decisions about where to allocate their ad spend.

Overall, AI is gaining significance in media buying. It allows advertisers to optimize their campaigns and reach their target audience effectively, making their campaigns more sophisticated.

Wrapping Up on Media Buying

Media buying is the magic that brings your ads to life and puts them in front of the right people. From planning to buying, it's a wild ride that requires some serious marketing mojo.

Media buying can be expensive, but it is extremely profitable if done correctly. The quality media buying process is highly nuanced and focuses on acquiring the optimal ad space for maximum conversions; it is fine work.

With a solid media buying strategy in place, you can slay the competition and drive some serious results. Just remember to set clear goals, get to know your audience like your BFF, and keep tweaking and testing until you find the perfect formula.

Ready, set, media buy!

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