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There are a few tests we like to run when it comes to testing display creatives, inventory, and buying strategies for our B2B clients. Two of the higher-level tests that we like to run, which can be run fairly consistently throughout a campaign, are:

  1. Comparing the performance of programmatic vs. direct buys
  2. High-impact creative vs. standard banner sizes.

Both tests together provide a simple way to determine where to shift resources during the campaign, and to help with future planning.

Programmatic vs. Direct Buys

Once the target audience has been selected, we can reach it through programmatic buying or by going to a publisher for a direct buy. Both options have their advantages.

Programmatic buying, especially buying targeted inventory through exchanges, allows us to cast a wider net among sites while trying out different targeting, all for much lower cost than direct buys. The upside to direct buys is that you get guaranteed inventory on sites you want to be on (where your audience presumably is), and there are generally more options for custom creative execution or just larger formats that are otherwise difficult to obtain at scale through exchanges. This is even more important for B2B as there are many trade publications with limited inventory, but the right audience these placements are hard to buy through whitelisting and targeting on open exchanges, but whitelisting and open exchanges offer guaranteed inventory to buy.

High Impact Creative vs. Standard Banner Sizes

This leads us into the second test – high-impact creative units versus IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) standard sizes. No matter your goal, whether direct response or branding-focused, this is a worthwhile test both to understand where to shift budget, and also to help your creative team maximize efficiency by identifying for them what works and doesn’t. Does the extra cost of high impact units outweigh their benefits? Does it make sense to run a lot of regular-sized banners when the goal is to increase brand awareness? These are the types of questions that these tests will help you answer.

Finally, when we piece this together, we really end up with one test – where do differently sized creative units work the best? Does it make sense to buy premium, high-impact inventory on industry-specific sites, or does it make sense to try and target this audience with standard banners through a programmatic, real-time bidding strategy? Or is it vice versa?

What We’ve Discovered

There are a few consistent takeaways we have found while running these tests. The first is that high-impact units tend to increase brand lift more than standard banner sizes. The second is that it’s incredibly difficult to get enough inventory through direct guaranteed buys on industry-specific sites to come to a statistically significant solution – especially when you factor in frequency caps as well as shorter campaign duration. Many times your insertion order will be a combination of both standard sizes and high-impact units, which leads to my last tip: If possible, test your standard banners through programmatic buys before committing significant dollar amounts to specific concepts or imagery for direct buys. While not the perfect apples-to-apples comparison, it will help you see which creative units have higher engagement rates than others.

Because of the specialized nature of most B2B campaigns, testing self-selected audiences through industry publications versus the contextual, keyword, or 3rd-party audience targeting available through your DSP is the perfect test to combine with your regular creative testing practices for both direct response and brand awareness campaigns. This way, you can ensure the best message is being put in front of your target audience in the best format through the best buying strategy possible.