Bid Management Platforms - Choosing The Right Technology, When They’re Needed & How They Work

Bid Management platforms can be a powerful tool for paid media teams running performance marketing activity at scale. In this piece we will look at some of the considerations about when, how and why you should consider adding a bid management platform, as well as taking a very quick overview of three of the main options.

JOSH DUGGANby Josh Duggan 3 July, 2020

Bid Management platforms can be a powerful tool for paid media teams running performance marketing activity at scale. There are a number of options on the market, all of which offer different capabilities that you may or may not need. The decision to use one is not a small decision - they can take a significant amount of effort to set up and you will certainly notice the cost on your balance sheet. This is not in the same bracket as a feed optimisation tool we’re talking about here - the most expensive versions can cost as much as adding an agency to your marketing costs.

Below we will look at some of the considerations about when, how and why you should consider adding a bid management platform, as well as taking a very quick overview of three of the main options.

What is a Bid Management Platform?

Also known as a campaign management platform, a bid management platform allows you to manage all or some of your digital marketing channels in one platform. These channels can include Google AdWords (including Search Ads, Shopping, YouTube, GDN and Remarketing), Bing Ads, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu and so forth. Typically there is automation and reporting capability in order to help you manage day to day aspects of running performance marketing campaigns.  

What does a Bid Management Platform do?

There are typically three aspects of a bid management platform:

  • Campaign Automation and bulk management

If you are running performance marketing for a large FMCG or e-commerce company, you may well be faced with the challenge of daily changes in product range, availability and pricing. It can be very difficult for individuals to keep on top of this and next to impossible when you then layer in multiple countries, ad platforms and channels. Typically you will be able to create a feed (or use an existing one) that a bid management platform will then use to create or pause campaigns based on a set of rules that you have decided during the set up phase. This includes tracking settings and copying them across channels where necessary, including Google to Bing.

However, campaign creation is only part of channel management - you also need to be able to adjust bids. We’ll look at marginal bid adjustments below, but there are also times where you may want to grow your share of a whole category (for example, gardening products in Spring). If your account runs to thousands of campaigns and keywords, making these bid adjustments can be tricky, especially when you have to replicate multiple times. Bid management platforms will help with these bulk changes, and with other types of wide scale actions such as changing creative.

Bid Automation and Budget Management

The proprietary technology at the heart of bid management is how it manages bid levels for you. If you are using Google AdWords, you already see this to some extent with the options on offer. For performance marketing, you will typically be optimising for impressions (share of voice), clicks or conversions (be that leads, downloads or monetary transactions). The basic level of bid automation is very similar to what AdWords does - you pick a metric, set a target and then the bids will automatically adjust to try to make each adgroup / product / campaign hit that target. It’s quite straightforward but can be effective when you want to move everything in the same direction quickly (for example, you may want to maximise your impression share over the Christmas shopping period).

However, having large scale campaigns does give an advantage as well as just complexity - it gives you more data to work with. For this reason, bidding software offers an option known as portfolio bidding or portfolio optimisation. In this case, you group together large numbers of objects that function in a similar way. For instance, you may want to put all of your Google Shopping spend into one portfolio. You then set an objective for the portfolio - maximise conversions for a given spend or ROI, increase efficiency while retaining revenue, attract new customers - and the software will share data between all the objects in the portfolio in order to optimise output. This isn’t just bid optimisation - this also includes budget assignment, so if you want to spend more or less you can do it at a portfolio level and not worry about deciding which campaigns deserve more or less.

It also means that you can think more strategically about what you want to achieve - because bid management platforms allow you to import data that isn’t necessarily tracked through Google Analytics or website tracking code, you can do things like import product margin data and optimise to maximise profitability or import customer status and lifetime value and target new customer acquisition.

Reporting

If you are working at a scale that needs a bid management platform, then you will already know how difficult an exercise preparing performance reports is. Because all of your data is in one platform, and bid management platforms allow you to tag campaigns in numerous ways (eg, ‘Lawnmowers’, ‘Garden Equipment’, etc) you can quickly create both top line reports and more detailed views that allow you to get on with the more important part - analysing and explaining performance and making changes on the back of that.

Do I need to use a Bid Management Platform?

Not every company needs to use a Bid Management Platform. Given that they tend to be relatively expensive and require work up front in setting it up, it’s something that it’s better to err on the side of caution when making a decision. Typically, though, if you meet most of these criteria it is worth at least considering your options

  • operate in multiple territories and / or platforms

  • The scale of each account is too great for one person to review and take action on in a day (eg, if the person responsible for US search is not able to manage all the changes needed on their Account in one day)

  • Your business changes product price / range / availability on a regular basis

  • The profitability of your performance marketing is sufficient to cover an additional cost

How do I choose the right Bid Management Platform?

As with all major decisions like this, it’s worth setting up an internal request for proposal document so you have a basis on which to make a decision. While it’s unlikely that these large software companies will create bespoke packages and interfaces for you, it is very helpful to be able to state what is a requirement, what is a nice to have and how much you are looking to spend. 

They will often have different levels of subscription, eg, Search Only, or Search and Social, so you want to give their sales people the opportunity to demonstrate the parts that most closely match your requirements and to recommend the right package for you.

Examples of needs you have might be:

  • Covers the channels you use, not just Google or Facebook (eg, do you use Baidu in China?)

  • Shares audience performance data between different platforms

  • Can take bespoke data and combine with first party measured data

  • Can integrate third party data / audiences

  • Can cope with multiple currencies

  • Has options for e-commerce platforms like Amazon or eBay

  • They have good relationships with development teams at major platforms (this is important if you have a strategy of being early adopters of beta programs and you do not want this to be impeded by them not being integrated with the platform)

  • Strong development pipeline

  • Ease of onboarding

  • Type of account management (eg, contact centre, individual account managers, etc)

It’s also very important to talk to existing clients, both those recommended by the providers and those whom you might know through your network. Providers will often give a best case view of onboarding or how a platform performs, so it’s very important to get a real life view from teams actually using the tools. 

How much does a Bid Management Platform Cost?

This, of course, will vary a lot given how much you spend, how many different packages you are buying into, the length of your contract and the level of your support. Most will have two cost schedules - a subscription cost, which is the minimum you will pay on a monthly basis, and then a payment based on a percentage of media spend, which typically kicks in once it becomes greater than the monthly minimum but declines in percentage cost the more spend you put through the system. Again, scale helps make this a cheaper proposition. Typically you will end up paying somewhere between 0.5% and 2.5% of media spend, though numbers higher or lower than this are not unusual. 

When making a decision on what you can afford, you should consider this cost versus what you expect to gain from it, either in terms of efficiency (cost per click or in terms of headcount), ability to scale or in advanced management capability. It’s tough to assess this accurately before you get it up and running, so it’s worth asking this sort of question when you talk to current clients during your consideration process.

What is the best Bid Management Platform?

There isn’t one exact answer to this - each platform has different capabilities and may match better or worse to what your requirements are, which is why it’s recommended to work out what you need first and then investigate the solutions second. However, there are some broad brush comments that we can make about the main three platform options:

Google Marketing Platform

Google’s own offering obviously integrates very well into their own marketing stack, including Analytics, Audiences, Merchants Centre and YouTube. The interface and terminology will be familiar to you and your team.  However, you may have reservations about putting all your spend through just one provider, and as it’s Google, you are at the mercy of their not-always-stellar account management team.

Marin Software

Marin have good working relationships with Facebook, Amazon and Bing as well as Google, which allows them to integrate campaigns in a way that Google cannot. Using audiences across Google, Facebook, Amazon and Bing opens up a lot of possibilities for smart bidding strategies. 

Additionally, because it’s not Google, you are not at the mercy of Google introducing a bad bidding tool - you can build a version of dynamic search ads using a product feed without losing control of what you are bidding on.

Kenshoo

As well as enterprise level campaign management, Kenshoo also has local search options for smaller scale businesses, which is worth looking at if you want to leverage ads in Google Maps or your goal is primarily to drive footfall in an area or number of localities. Again, not being part of Google confers advantages and disadvantages.

Conclusion

Bid Management platforms can be a powerful tool to help you manage and scale marketing activity, with the added benefits of such things as detailed and integrated reporting. These platforms do of course come with additional cost so it’s important to consider if you are ticking some of the key aspects outlined above in order to drive additional value and to ensure you are getting the best out of what these platforms have to offer.

JOSH DUGGAN
Josh Duggan
Josh is a Director at Vervaunt and he runs the paid media offering. Josh has worked for a host of large media agencies and has managed paid campaigns and strategies for some of the biggest brands in the world.