All-star advertising on a small business budget
Placing a 30-second advert in the Super Bowl costs about £4 million. A billboard in Times Square might run you between £1-2 million for a month. Even placing a simple spread in a popular magazine will typically start in the tens of thousands.
For a long time, we’ve accepted that the only businesses capable of advertising in a premium context (trusted, established brands with massive reach) are multinational corporations.
But that’s no longer the case
As the internet has fundamentally changed every aspect of our lives, it has also had an unprecedented impact on the advertising marketplace. For the first time, small businesses - from tech scaleups to local corner stores - can run adverts in publications as varied and established as The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and more. And most importantly, they can do so with budgets starting in the tens or hundreds of pounds, as opposed to thousands or tens of thousands.
The obvious question is: how? Up until now it hasn’t made financial sense for premium publishers to spend any time on low-budget, so-called long-tail customers. Placing an advert is a manual process involving a sales team and plenty of back-and-forth between advertiser and publisher; and the more time and effort required, the bigger the costs shouldered by the publisher. Better for them to focus all efforts on attracting, managing and retaining large corporate accounts.
However, one important innovation in adtech changed the status quo: self-serve advertising. The concept is simple: much like buying products online, a self-serve platform automates the ad buying process. It removes the human sales team from the process, allows the advertiser to access it whenever they want (not just during working hours), and reduces costs on the publisher side. Those savings allow them to cater to much smaller budgets: suddenly it becomes profitable for publishers to serve small-to-medium-sized businesses, who in turn get access to a level of premium advertising previously unheard of.
Here are some of the biggest reasons that small businesses should adopt self-serve advertising.
Self-Serve Saves Time and Money
The advertising industry has not been immune to the revolutionary shift facilitated by automation, and self-serve advertising has become an increasingly popular option in recent years. This is because both sides of the advertising equation - the platform owner or publisher who has advertising to sell, and the advertiser - have had a great deal to gain from embracing self-serve, albeit for different reasons.
For advertisers, but particularly small businesses, time is a precious commodity and anything that enables companies to complete the same task faster is automatically a no-brainer. When it comes to advertising, this is exactly what self-serve platforms do - they enable advertisers of all sizes to build advertising campaigns in a fraction of the time it would take to go through a publisher’s sales team. Via self-serve, advertisers can upload assets, set budgets, choose who to target and pay for the whole thing, without needing to send a single email or make a single call.
Then there’s the cost-saving aspect. Publishers that don’t offer self-serve advertising need to employ larger workforces to manage campaigns which, as a result, means that the cost to run the campaigns is higher, as the publishers’ overheads need to be covered.
For small businesses, innovation in self-serve tools has meant that advertising has become much more affordable. This is because by adopting self-serve, publishers are able to free up their ad ops teams and automate much of the administrative leg work that would typically need to be run through a sales representative.
The traditional, or managed-service, advertising world also has a major transparency issue that leads to increased costs. Publishers who sell advertising through big tech platforms will generally find that much of their potential revenue is lost to fees from middle men in the process - for example, media agencies and trading desks - who the publisher has little involvement with. As a result, it means that publishers without self-serve platforms typically have very high minimum spend requirements which, if you’re a small business with a more modest budget, means you’re immediately priced out of the market before even speaking to someone on the phone.
Self-serve solves this by effectively creating a direct link between the publisher and the advertiser, meaning that there is no middle man and, consequently, these high barriers to entry are lowered drastically - not to mention the benefit of your data not being passed through multiple third parties.
This has had a dramatic effect in terms of democratising advertising, opening up new avenues to small businesses and enabling them to reach audiences that were once off-limits - and levelling the playing field between startups and big corporations in the process.
Reach Highly Targeted Audiences
When it comes to advertising, it’s all about the audience. Businesses need to know who their audience is, where they are and what platforms are the best ones to use if they want to get in front of them. It is possible to achieve granular levels of targeting through traditional managed-service advertising models, but the price is often very steep and going through the publisher’s sales team can be extremely time-consuming and require a lot of admin from both parties.
Through self-serve, small businesses can reach highly targeted audiences without having to fork out exorbitant amounts of money. With everything built into one platform, bespoke self-serve solutions enable advertisers to target consumers on an extremely precise level, with the ability to target the publisher’s audience according to segments such as location, age, interests, or even behavioral metrics. This ability to precisely hone in on exactly the consumers that a business wants to target ultimately forms a big part of the value proposition of self-serve for small businesses, who rely on being able to reach the right people, and for whom advertising is often a luxury, not a given.
There Are More Publishers Than You Think
When we refer to ‘publishers’, the immediate thought is publications, whether that’s physical newspapers, or digital-first content platforms. And in part, many of those offering self-serve platforms are exactly those kinds of publishers, such as Hearst Magazines and Bloomberg Media Group. But the options for self-serve platforms are far greater than those offered by ‘traditional’ publishers and small businesses should be aware of the options they have available to them.
The self-serve boom has seen many platforms that you may not consider to be your typical ‘publisher’ open up their advertising inventory in ways that were once imperceivable. Organisations such as Roku, Philips and Tripadvisor, as well as user-generated content sites like SoundCloud and TikTok, all have self-serve platforms that enable businesses of all sizes to advertise to the audiences that matter most to them.
More and more publishers across many different mediums are building self-serve platforms and, for small businesses, knowing who these publishers are will be key to the success of any advertising endeavour. Not only can self-serve save time and money, it also provides a direct route to audiences that were once inaccessible - and it’s only just the beginning. The world of advertising can be daunting for small businesses, but with self-serve becoming more and more common, the opportunities are there for the taking.