The Programmatic Globe: Benelux

Our head of Global Advisory Services goes deep on the state of programmatic and e-commerce in the Benelux.  


The Benelux region (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) has been a strategic focus for Sociomantic since the early days of our business. We set up shop in Amsterdam back in 2011 to better serve marketers across these markets. However, we quickly realized that Amsterdam’s office can only stay a geographical hub—when it comes to strategy, a wholly different approach was needed for each market. And thus, we launched our Belgium operations mid-2105 to help build out our presence in this market while our Dutch team continue to serve advertisers in the Netherlands.

Here is what we have learnt of the state of programmatic in these two markets over the years, and the trends we expect to see in the future:

Similar, Yet Different

Located in the heart of Europe, the Netherlands and neighboring Belgium are relatively small countries by landmass, but in terms of population density, they rank among the highest in Europe. It’s also worth noting that “small” isn’t necessarily indicative of diversity. Belgium alone has three official languages (Dutch, French and German), which can be challenging for advertisers—but it also opens the door for worldwide entrants. As such, the business atmosphere in both countries is very international, and any globally-minded firm with local presence always have the possibility and advantage to conduct meetings in English, if preferred.

With English being the Internet’s historical language, and given both countries’ advanced web infrastructure, e-commerce advertisers in the Benelux region have a good chance for success. However, marketers must note that a digital gap that still exists. While the Netherlands has an Internet penetration of over 96 percent—one of the highest in the world—Belgium lags behind with 85 percent Internet penetration.

Remarkably, the Netherlands is one the countries leading the charge in smart device penetration—136 percent, meaning the country boasts more smart devices than citizens. Excluding tablets and focusing solely on smartphones, the Netherlands still leads with 81 percent smartphone penetration (a rapid growth from 72 percent in 2014), and only 44 percent in Belgium, despite its m-commerce growth rate of 21 percent in 2015.

Programmatic First vs. Late Adopter?

The Netherlands is considered a programmatic-first country globally. It was also one of the first markets to launch a local supply side platform, Improve Digital. The programmatic trade of digital inventory is at a high: nine in 10 publishers sell between 10 percent and 100 percent of their inventory programmatically.

At first glance, Belgium might seem a step behind the Netherlands in adopting programmatic. However, Belgian publishers are migrating ever more towards programmatic. Over the years, according to Ekos Global, Belgium has become one of the fastest-growing Internet markets worldwide, with a market size of $5.6 billion and 25 percent e-commerce growth in 2014, surpassing the Netherlands’ 10 percent. By the end of 2014, the amount of impressions running in Open RTB (an industry standard protocol for programmatic trading) has reached 10 billion—half of the inventory available in the Netherlands today (roughly 20 billion impressions). Having witnessed this rapid growth, we can only anticipate further developments in programmatic, bringing Belgium closer to the Netherlands’ programmatic pace. This movement however, might not affect the dynamics on the supply-side, given that the Netherlands is a crowded space of tech players like DSPs, SSPs and trading desks, whereas Belgium is a more agency-oriented market.

When considering the demand-side (advertisers) of these markets, further differences can be highlighted. Because local and international players populate the Dutch market, you will find major European companies, including online pure players, with a Netherlands headquarters next to strong brick-and-mortar companies with local brand names. Meanwhile, in Belgium, there are only a few large-scale advertisers, mainly because it is a cross-border market for e-commerce. Thirty-three percent of Belgians are cross-border shoppers, purchasing goods from abroad: France, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and the US.

What Our Local Experts Say

Yori Klaassen Bos, Sociomantic’s Commercial Director Benelux, sees the Netherlands as an established e-commerce market, where advertisers are open to leveraging their CRM data for online marketing, working with specialists along the full purchase funnel. Although performance is still key to success, service plays an important role in the overall results, especially since performance and branding budgets are coming closer together:

“We see that e-commerce and marketing departments are working more closely together, resulting in budgets being combined and campaigns becoming better aligned with data is being shared, leading to significant improvements in overall results.”

In Belgium, the situation is almost reversed: programmatic is mostly used by agencies, and therefore there is often a thorough procurement process in which relationships and service comes before performance. In this sense you could say the Belgian programmatic market is still driven more by relationships rather than opportunities presented by technology. But this might very well change due to the rapid growth we have seen in e-commerce: “Belgium is an exciting market opportunity, as it’s really adapting quickly to programmatic from both the publishers’ side as well as the advertisers’ side.” said Laurens van der Laan, Sociomantic’s Business Development Director for Belgium.

And looking towards future? If e-commerce in Belgium continues to grow at this rate, we can expect marketers to open up to advanced programmatic solutions for desktop and mobile, bringing the state of the industry to parallel the Netherlands’.

Want to learn more about using programmatic display to drive sales growth and customer loyalty in the Benelux? Be sure to reach out to our Amsterdam team or sign up for our newsletter here to get the latest market news delivered to your mailbox.

Check out previous posts in the Programmatic Globe Series:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. France
  3. Turkey
  4. United States
  5. India
  6. Russia
  7. Brazil
  8. Germany
  9. Poland & CEE