What Is a DSP? Your 3-Minute Guide to Demand-Side Platforms

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

If you work in digital marketing, you’ve almost certainly heard the term “DSP.” But what is a DSP, anyway? And why should you care?

Let’s start simple: A DSP is a “demand-side platform.” Per Wikipedia, it’s:

“A system that allows buyers of digital advertising inventory to manage multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through one interface.”

So, there’s your definition. If you’re good, see you later!

(But you probably want to learn a little more about DSPs, so let’s dive in.)

Featured Image: What Is a DSP?

It All Starts with Inventory

Ultimately, to run digital ads, you first need inventory – spots to actually place your creative. Getting it is called “buying media.”

Inventory is offered by ad exchanges, like Google’s Doubleclick. (There are a ton of them.) You can get placements all over the connected world, including:

  • Native ads, that look a lot like content
  • Display and banner ads
  • Digital television (called “connected TV”)
  • Video pre-roll

A DSP is a layer on top of that ad exchange. It automates bidding, and offers granular targeting.

Think of it this way. The Google Display Network is an ad exchange. You can buy inventory directly from it. But targeting is rudimentary, and you can really only buy from one network.

Sure, for example, you can use GDN for retargeting, or building a lookalike audience. But that can easily fall apart in B2B advertising. Why?

Because the ad exchanges are broadly meant to target consumers, not specific markets and industries. That’s where programmatic comes in.

Programmatic Advertising

DSPs are cool because they also allow you to do programmatic advertising. The DSP uses third-party data to better target the right types of B2B users. 

Much more targeted than Google can give you. You can still use their inventory, but the targeting is worlds different. You’re buying smarter.

How Do I Get Started With DSPs?

Some DSPs are directly available to companies and agencies, but others will treat it as media buying-as-a-service. Here, you give them targets and creative input, and they run the campaigns day-to-day and report back. 

It’s really however you want to run with it.

Will DSPs Break the Bank?

It depends. There are DSPs that do the basics with no minimum spends. (We’ve used one for geofencing for an $8 CPM, for example. You can run a campaign for, like, 40 bucks if you want.) 

On the other hand, minimum budgets can go up to $100,000 in monthly ad spend to access some of the big guys.

Most DSP costs fall somewhere in the middle. You’ll pay more than buying direct from Google, but it’s not usually way higher.

tl;dr: What Is a DSP?

A DSP, or demand-side platform, adds functionality to digital advertising. It lets you use data, automate bidding, and work across multiple platforms at once.

Is a DSP right for you? It all depends on your market and your budget. If you’re running one or two basic awareness campaigns, it might not be worth it. But if you’re a serious B2B digital advertiser, check them out.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.
Adam graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 2007. He grew up in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, just miles down the road from Altitude's headquarters in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.