Demystifying DSPs: What Exactly Is a DSP?

While they have been around for a while, demand-side platforms (DSPs) represent one of the most exciting, newly emerging digital advertising tools, having gained even immense traction with marketers over just the last couple of years.

But what is a DSP in the first place? And more importantly, how can you use such a tool to expand your reach and build your brand? Below, we’ll cover the basics of DSPs, explore how they stack up against traditional alternatives, and provide some tips for using them to their fullest potential.

What Is a DSP?

First and foremost, a DSP is a software solution that enables marketers to purchase ad inventory from multiple channels using a consolidated interface. You can think of it as a marketplace for online advertising slots. Instead of reaching out to each channel or platform, your business can use its DSP to compare various opportunities and pricing.

But that’s not all. A DSP also helps you purchase ad space through automation. In turn, you can make every dollar count and get your content in front of audiences who align with your target customer base.

There are DSPs dedicated to each category of online advertising inventory, including social media platforms, websites, and connected TV (CTV) streaming services. For example, a CTV DSP will offer ad space on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock, and other streaming channels. Instead of creating an account with each of these services, you can use your DSP to set up and manage a single campaign across all of them at once.

How Do They Work?

At their core, DSPs streamline the digital advertising process by automating the initial purchase of ad space. Making use of sophisticated algorithms, DSPs bid on ad inventory in real-time auctions, allowing you to purchase impressions quickly and efficiently. The process, collectively known as real-time bidding (RTB), happens in milliseconds as a web page, video, or feed loads.

When using a DSP, you’ll get to set up specific criteria, such as target demographics, interests, behaviors, and the maximum bid price for your ads. Once your campaign goes live, the algorithm will match these criteria against available inventories, placing bids on your behalf for impressions that meet your requirements. If the bid is successful, your ad will be displayed to the user, and your account will be billed.

The budgeting aspect of DSPs gives you total control over your spending. Once campaign spending reaches your set thresholds, the algorithm will stop considering your content or bidding on space, thereby preventing overspend.

DSPs vs. Traditional Ad-Purchasing

Traditionally, you would have to reach out to each platform owner to inquire about purchasing space on their medium, be it a website, streaming service, or anything in between. While you can still do business in such a way, the entire process can prove to be incredibly time-consuming and inefficient.

Take, for instance, what we mentioned about CTV DSPs earlier. If you wanted to run commercials on five different streaming providers under the traditional model, you would have to create five separate accounts and campaigns, monitor them, and consolidate the performance data for each channel. You would also have to set and manage a separate budget for each medium.

But now, thanks to DSPs, you can advertise across all channels using a single access point. Since the algorithm considers ad space on multiple mediums, you will be able to maximize your reach without taking on the burden of managing compartmentalized campaigns.

Tips for Using Demand-Side Platforms

A DSP can be a great addition to your digital marketing strategy. But it’s important that you use some established best practices to get the most out of your new tool.

Specifically, you should do the following:

Set Clear Objectives

First, clearly define what it is you want to achieve. Having a clear and measurable objective helps in selecting the right targeting options and bid strategies. And that ensures your campaigns are properly aligned with your business outcomes.

Use Advanced Targeting

The best platforms are loaded with advanced targeting capabilities, so make sure you use them wherever possible. Fine-tune your audience segments on parameters like geographic, demographic, and psychographic variables, for instance. Doing so will improve your ads’ performance by ensuring they are seen by those who are most likely to engage with you.

Monitor and Optimize in Real-Time

DSPs automate many aspects of paid advertising, but they aren’t set-it-and-forget-it solutions. Closely monitor your campaigns, pay attention to what works, and optimize underperforming assets to maximize your impact.

Improve Ad Visibility and Impact With DSPs

Integrating a demand-side solution into your marketing mix will increase your campaign control and transparency, allowing you to reach the right audiences at key stages of their journey. Explore DSPs and the benefits they provide to elevate the way you advertise.


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