Media Buying: What Is It & How Does It Work?
Media buying is the backbone of every company’s marketing strategy. This essential piece of the puzzle is what gives a business its edge in its respective industry, and is essential as well for connecting that business to its audience.
But what is this mysterious force? How do we define it? And, most importantly, how do we make use of its bounty?
There’s no need to worry, though! The mysterious force isn’t nearly as mysterious as you think. Besides, we’re here to unravel that mystery for you!
Media Buying: What Is It?
Media buying is the process of procuring time or space slots in various types of media in order to run ads.
That ad on your TV between your shows – that’s the end result of media buying. Ads on your favorite website – media buying. Ads on your radio show, or in the newspaper – you guessed it, media buying.
Advertisements are all around us. Typically, a person living in the US is exposed to 4.000 to 10.000 ads per day! Half the time, we don’t even recognize the brands that are advertising their products, but they’re there all the same, and we see them all the same.
This is, of course, the result of media buying. You see, media buying isn’t just buying time slots, it’s also creating strategies for displaying those ads, as well as creating content that caters to the target audience.
But more on that later. First…
Media Buying: What Types Are There?
We must discuss what it is that these media buyers actually buy. Media has become an integral part of our lives, and knowing the ins and outs of those media channels can help us greatly in forming strategies for those particular channels that will attract the biggest followings.
Considering around 307 million people in the US are online in one form or another, online media buying is one of the major branches of this venture. Online media buying takes place in many environments, including buying PPC ads on websites, placing ads on social media, etc.
With the rise of online content and media marketing, media buying is increasingly focusing on that aspect of its craft. This is because the online landscape offers advanced ways of tracking metrics, allowing for better and more accurate ad campaigns that reach a wider audience and generate far superior ROI.
TV buying is the OG media buying type. It simply involves buying time slots within programs in order to run ads. This is often a much more involved process than online media buying, as it requires meeting with executives to negotiate prices and the like.
Be that as it may, TV still remains a powerful media channel for ad placement, especially considering that the average person in the US spends almost 3 hours watching TV every day. Furthermore, this is a sharp decline from 2020, when the average time spent in front of the big screen was around 213 minutes.
Out-of-home (OOH) is also one of the mainstream media buying channels from the times before the internet, but it is still very much used today. OOH involves buying physical media slots, such as billboards, posters on buses, and those ads you see on the side of a bus station.
Some other examples include buying ad space on the big screens on stages at live events and displaying ads during sporting events.
Radio is yet another media channel that offers time slots for running ads. Though not nearly as popular as the online channels or TV, it is still useful, especially for those that don’t have the budget for bid wars with the big boys.
Finally, printed papers are still popular even today. Though most newspapers and tabloids have online versions of their physical prints, they still produce a vast number of physical copies, so running ads in the papers can still be quite useful, especially if you’re targeting the locals (especially useful for brick-and-mortar stores) or a very specific niche (like cosmetics, for example).
Buying the Media
But, how do you actually buy a piece of media? How do you go about securing time/space slots, mechanically?
Here, we will introduce you to the concepts of manual bidding, direct buying, and programmatic bidding.
When it comes to manual bidding, various agencies bid for a slot by declaring what they’re willing to pay. The agency that bids the most wins the slot.
This type of bidding is very common in digital marketing, and it often eliminates (for better or worse) the middle man. In other words, the agencies are battling each other for a direct link to their publisher.
When it comes to direct buying, the term becomes very self-explanatory. When buying directly, a media buyer contacts the representative of their publisher in person and then opens negotiations pertaining to the time slot and the ad. This is a very common practice when it comes to the more traditional channels, and requires extensive networking.
Finally, there is programmatic bidding/media buying. Programmatic media buying involves AI bidding and making purchases on its own, on behalf of its agency.
This type of media buying is gaining in popularity, especially because of the rise of automation and its use in modern marketing strategies.
With more powerful software comes the ability to analyze an increasing amount of data, which enables agencies to create better marketing strategies and create smarter, faster AI.
The way this is done is through direct-side platforms. You see, a publication will use a direct-side platform to open bids on slots, and the AI, programmed by an agency to target specific websites and audiences, places a bid on the slot as soon as one is opened.
Lastly, it is important to note that top media buying agencies and in-house buyers are proficient at all of these buying methods.
As we said, TV and print are still powerful media channels, and, in order for an agency to bring success to their client, they have to be able to navigate all of the channels we mentioned above.
Now that we know how to buy and where to buy from, it’s time we…
Create Our Own Media Buying Strategy
Finally, the time has come to apply our media buying knowledge. After we’ve learned what channels we can buy from and how to buy, we need to create our own strategy based on these few factors.
Identify your objective
The first thing we need to do is identify our objective. What are we trying to achieve by buying certain pieces of media?
When it comes to that, there are a number of objectives to consider. Maybe we’re a brand new company trying to get exposure. Or, perhaps, we already have an established brand, and we’re looking to capitalize on that recognition. Or there’s a seasonal event coming up of which we’re looking to take advantage.
Ultimately, whatever our goal is, as long as we have clearly identified it, and are sticking to it, we stand a much better chance of having a successful campaign, than if we go in blind and throw things against a wall hoping it sticks.
Gather and analyze the data
This is the most important part of creating a marketing strategy.
Data is the most powerful tool a marketing agency has at its disposal. With data, we are able to recognize patterns and trends in the market and make accurate predictions for the future, allowing us to create strategies that are well ahead of their time, and extremely successful.
This is where media planning comes into play. Media planning is a concept separate from media buying, yet so closely tied to it that one cannot exist without the other.
Media planning, in essence, is the process of creating a media buying strategy. It concerns itself, primarily, with gathering and analyzing data on consumer behavior, market trends, media channel popularity, and consumer tendencies toward particular channels.
All this data, once analyzed, becomes the driving force behind your marketing strategy. Without the means to collect that data, you will be struck (metaphorically) blind, deaf and dumb, and you won’t be able to create a successful strategy.
Execute the strategy
The final step, of course, is executing your strategy.
If you’ve done a thorough job on the previous two steps, this should, by far, be the easiest step to enact. However, actually securing slots can be trickier to do in real life than on paper.
Mostly because you’re hampered in your execution by your budget and your competition. Due to the cutthroat nature of marketing, you must carefully consider your budget, as overspending will quickly lead you to ruin, and your competitors, as finding your way around bigger fish is crucial for any company’s success.
One final note: the best strategies are the ones that are repeatable. If you have a strategy that works, be sure to document it, as companies that are documenting their digital marketing strategies are 313% more likely to be successful than those that do not.
And, there you have it, a complete guide to media buying. As you’ve seen, the entire concept is not as complicated as it may sound at the beginning. However, to master it, you still have to be shrewd and very knowledgeable when it comes to media channels and marketing in general.