B2B Display Advertising: Targeting the Exact Groups You Want to Reach

Online display advertising for B2B can put your commercial message on the computer, smartphone, or mobile device of specific people within specific companies. It can even narrow your audience to individuals at a chosen level of seniority in certain job functions at targeted company locations.

This capability is extraordinarily powerful. It also has some noteworthy limitations.

To understand both the power and limitations of targeting online display ads, it’s helpful to understand how the technology works – at least at a high level.

That’s the purpose of this article. How does ad-targeting technology work? How precise is it, and what’s the “magic” behind it?

We’ll try to answer those questions without getting overly technical.  

Advertise to people you can’t otherwise reach

Imagine that you desperately want the attention of senior manufacturing engineers at 3M’s plant in Menomonie, Wisconsin. You want to show them a new process that could save millions of dollars in manufacturing fuel cells.

But your technology is new, and your company is not well known. You don’t have a fortune to spend. The plant switchboard blocks your calls. The engineers you want to reach are not active on social media. They’re not listed in LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator. And you have no contact names or email addresses.  

Two years ago, few marketers wouldn’t have thought to use online ad targeting to reach and engage these people. But now marketers should consider the possibility.

With fast-evolving online ad technology, you can place an online banner ad aimed exclusively at senior 3M manufacturing executives at Menomonie. You don’t need to know their names or other contact information.

Find your precise audience

If your company practices account-based marketing (ABM) or account-based sales development (ABSD), online display advertising can be one of the most effective ways for you to reach key people in important accounts.   

You can target your ads with laser-like precision. You can advertise to people in regions, specific locations, or sometimes even groups of buildings at a specific location within an account.

You can even advertise to individuals when you know only their title, their job function, or their level of seniority.

Take it a step further. In North America and parts of Europe, you may also be able to deliver your ad message to people who have visited the website of a partner or competitor.

Personalize your message to an uncanny degree

Some very new technologies – less than a year old – also enable you to personalize your ads to a degree that advertisers could only hope for last year at this time.

With this new technology, you can serve ads with one message to manufacturing executives and another message to process engineers at the same plant.

And you can do all this at a cost-effective CPM (cost per thousand) or CPEA (cost per engaged account.)

Target by IP address or by cookie data

Precision targeting and personalization are possible thanks to two different but complementary internet technologies.

One technology uses IP addresses to target accounts by location. The other targets individuals by analyzing the cookies stored in their web browsers.

How targeting works by IP address

Every computer on the internet has a unique address, called an internet protocol (or IP) address.  Your IP address enables the internet to deliver your email and other communications to your device instead of to others.

Printers, routers, and a fast-growing number of other devices also have IP addresses as the Internet of Things becomes pervasive.    

Companies and other organizations typically own blocks of IP addresses. They assign these addresses to internet servers. And any traffic that goes to the internet through these servers bears the IP address of that server.  

When an employee communicates from a computer at a work location, the link most likely occurs through a corporate IP address.

One possible exception is remote employees – people working at non-company locations, such as a hotel, a customer site, or a home office.

People at these remote locations may communicate with their corporate systems through a secure “tunnel” such as a virtual private network (or VPN) connection. Or they may communicate through a local internet service provider. I’ll say more about reaching these people in a moment.

The IP address is a series of four numbers separated by periods. It looks like this: For more about how IP addresses work, Microsoft provides a helpful article here.   

In its bare numerical form, an IP address is not very helpful to advertisers.

How data services link IP addresses to other identifiers

Third-party data services come to the rescue by identifying who owns which IP addresses.

They compile data from multiple sources to create what can be a detailed profile of an IP address owner. They then sell this information to companies such as Kwanzoo.  

IP addresses often lack precision

Sometimes a data service may be able to say only that an IP address belongs to particular company.

For companies that operate in more than one location, that information isn’t very helpful to marketers.

It would probably make a big difference whether an IP address belongs to, say, IBM’s headquarters in Armonk, New York, or other IBM locations Poughkeepsie, Rochester, or dozens of other locations.

At a more precise level of detail, a data provider may be able to specify that an IP address for IBM’s Armonk campus includes laboratories rather than administrative offices.

With that level of detail, you can place an online ad in more or less the right “neighborhood.” And some of the right people are likely to see it.

But that level of targeting is probably still not precise enough to create ads that are personal enough or relevant enough to cut through the clutter of other online display ads.

Corporate IP addresses reach only employees at company locations

Besides lacking in precision, IP address targeting can’t reach employees who use the internet from non-corporate locations. So you can forget using IP address targeting to reach IBM employees who work from a home office or another remote location  –  unless they’re connected through a VPN.  

Nor can you use IP addresses to target employees after work hours or when they use the web through a smartphone or tablet device.  

Cookies enable more accurate targeting     

That brings us to the huge value of cookies for targeting online display ads.

Cookies enable you to place a specific ad on as little as a single online device, based on the web surfing behavior of an individual user rather than the location of a server.

Used in conjunction with IP address targeting, cookie-based targeting offers unprecedented levels of precision within certain geographies.

It works well in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and parts of Western Europe.    

How cookies work

As you visit various websites, many deposit coded information into your web browser. These bits of code, called cookies, record which web pages you’ve visited and what you did while you were there.

Cookies are helpful because they enable a website to recognize you when you return.  

If you stop shopping before you’ve checked out on Amazon.com, the site remembers where you left off. It saves the items you had placed in your shopping cart. When you return, it sends you back to the same place where you quit.

Oracle BlueKai standardizes data formats for cookies

Kwanzoo works with a service provider called Oracle BlueKai, which operates as part of the Oracle Data Cloud.

Oracle BlueKai operates an “Audience Data Marketplace.” which runs on what they call their Data Management Platform.

Oracle BlueKai’s audience data comes from more than 40 specialty third-party data providers, who together have access to massive amounts of data. Oracle BlueKai aggregates and analyzes the data contained in cookies set by these participating data providers.

To consolidate data from such diverse sources, Oracle BlueKai curates what they call a “taxonomy of data.” Their taxonomy classifies and organizes data in a consistent structure. It establishes an association between an individual user and the user’s organization or account.

When Oracle BlueKai receives new data from a provider, they first resolve the identities of individual users. They then link new data from a provider to any other data they’ve previously accumulated about the same users.

Oracle BlueKai’s Audience Data Marketplace contains more than 250 million identified contacts with links to the most likely employers of those contacts. Today the Oracle Data Cloud has access to more than a billion cookie-based contacts, plus IDs for mobile devices.

Aggregated cookies provide a bonanza of data for ad targeting

Cookie by cookie, data providers supplement the Audience Data Marketplace by adding more information they’ve collected about each user.

As data providers upload their data to the Oracle Data Cloud, Oracle BlueKai consolidates and aggregates it with cookie data from other providers in the network.

Each cookie contributes another small tile to what Oracle BlueKai organizes into a rich mosaic of data. The provider’s contribution adds another facet to a 360-degree view of some subcategory of users.  

The Oracle Data Cloud accumulates data from billions of cookies. From this consolidated data, they create an elaborate, detailed classification and categorization of users.  

Cookies make it possible to target individuals without knowing their identity

Privacy laws make it illegal to sell information that links online behavior to the identity of individual users. But in the United States and other countries, it is legal to collect and consolidate anonymous cookie data.   

In compliance with the law, Oracle BlueKai’s data never identifies individual users by name. Instead, it enables marketers to establish correlations between accounts, roles, occupations, and behaviors. The presence of certain cookies implies the interests and values of individual users.

Ad servers look for IP addresses and cookies

As an ad technology platform, Kwanzoo places ads by following a series of logical rules. Kwanzoo serves specific ads in response to specific conditions:

  • For an IP-targeted display program, Kwanzoo shows an ad if a user’s IP address is within the range of a targeted account. Kwanzoo buys an ad placement to reach this person when she browses the web via this IP address. Kwanzoo serves Advertisement A.
  • For a cookie-targeted display program that focuses on job title, Kwanzoo shows an ad if a person’s web browser contains a cookie associated with the profile of targeted individuals in an account. Kwanzoo buys an ad placement and serves Advertisement B.
  • Some of the people who see Advertisement A or B will visit the marketer’s website. When they do, the website may place a retargeting cookie in their browser. When Kwanzoo sees this cookie, Kwanzoo buys an ad placement and serves retargeted Advertisement C.

When enough good data is available, combinations of such display and retargeting rules and strategies enable Kwanzoo to target ads with uncanny precision.

Cookie-based targeting also has limitations

Both IP-based and cookie-based targeting rely on the completeness and accuracy of available data.  

As you would expect, data sets get smaller as you target more tightly focused subsets of a population.

In addition, cookie data is often sparser in countries outside the United States, Canada, and the UK. That means fewer cookie targets are available in other regions such as Germany, France or Australia. The availability of targeting cookies also declines steeply in regions where the Oracle Data Cloud’s reach does not extend, including Asia Pacific (APAC) and Latin America (LATAM).      

Bottom line? Your targeting capabilities are most precise in countries where third-party cookie data sets are bigger and more complete.

Kwanzoo offers a free Account Coverage Report, which highlights the extent of account coverage you can expect as you plan a display ad campaign.

Here’s a quick recap of the workflow:

  • You provide a list of the accounts you want to target.
  • Kwanzoo evaluates the number of IP addresses and cookies available for the accounts and individuals you want to reach. Kwanzoo makes recommendations based on geographical reach, targeting options, etc.
  • After evaluating your potential reach, you may choose to refine your targeting strategy.
  • When you’re satisfied with your targeting strategy and your potential reach, Kwanzoo walks you through a budgeting and engagement modeler. It tells you in advance how your projected costs break down for technology, media, creative, and so on.
  • When you have approved the costs, advertising volume, program goals, and creative, the Kwanzoo platform then works with demand-side platforms and ad networks to recommend appropriate venues for your ads.

This is the second in a multipart series on display advertising for ABM. The next post will explain how Kwanzoo works with ad networks and data providers to deliver online display ads to the accounts and individuals you’ve targeted.

About Dave Vranicar

Dave is founder of Redwell B2B, a company that provides consulting, coaching, and content-creation services at the intersection of Sales and Marketing. Redwell’s goal is to help business-to-business companies accelerate revenue growth by helping Sales and Marketing work together as members of the same agile revenue team. Most of Redwell’s clients are tech firms that engage in complex sales involving multiple decision influencers. Content created by Redwell supports both inbound and outbound prospecting, including social selling and account-based marketing and sales development.










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