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Four In Ten Advertisers Use Self-Serve Ad Portals. But They’d Rather Buy From A Marketing Expert.

Self-serve ad portals have grown in popularity as a way to attract advertisers with small budgets that aren’t worth chasing with account execs – the so called-long tail advertisers. But there’s much more to this group than meets the eye. New research shows self-serve portals aren't their preferred way to buy media and they plan to spend 14% more on local advertising than buyers who don’t use these platforms. They also appear to be a ripe target for media packages that include radio and digital ad components.

In its annual survey of 2,459 local businesses, Borrell Associates asked how respondents buy their advertising. More than three in four (76%) said via email with a local media seller, 55% in person, 55% over the phone, 43% through a self-serve ad buying portal, and 21% via a mobile app. Zeroing in on the last two groups, which Borrell VP of Research Corey Elliott calls “portal peeps,” you might think of the “long tail” of advertisers. Yet Borrell’s survey of local marketers paints a different portrait of this ad buying segment. When compared to those who don’t use self-service at all, “portal peeps” had slightly more gross revenue, 21% more employees and were slightly younger with an average 15 years in the business.

They also bought more types of media – about 5.9 different kinds – compared to 4.6 for the others. And they buy more digital. “They’re bigger, younger, buy more and buy more digital,” Elliott said on the latest episode of “Corey’s Local Marketing Minute,” a video series from Borrell. “It doesn’t sound like the end of that long tail, does it?”

At 58%, the ad type they’re buying the most often on a self-serve platform is social media, followed by search engine management (34%). No other media type scored higher than 13%.

But while these buyers are using self-serve platforms, it’s not their top choice for ad buying. Asked which way they the prefer to buy, 39% said via email with a sales rep, 21% said in person, 8% over the phone, 25% on a self-serve portal and 4% over an app. “That means over two thirds would prefer in-person contact – even if it’s email with someone answering,” said Elliott. “These self-serve people are saying they would prefer to talk to somebody.”

And here’s the big takeaway for radio: When a radio rep pitched digital along with a radio package to self-serve portal users, 70% of the time it was bought. The same holds true for other non-digital media, including cable (65%), TV (74%) and newspapers (80%).

All of this suggests talking to portal peeps “might be a good thing,” said Elliott, noting that they plan to spend 14% more on local advertising in 2021, compared to non-portal people, and they also plan to spend on digital services. And when asked about the No. 1 thing they want out of a local media rep, the top answer was marketing experience. Said Elliott: “They want that interaction, they want your marketing expertise.”

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