To Deliver Great Advertising, Stop Focusing on the Digital Media Solution Flavor of the Week
There are plenty of times in the ad industry where talking heads have put single factors on a pedestal to proclaim it as THE key issue to solve. As the argument goes, mastery of said factor will bring accountability, transparency, and/or measurability to digital media, thereby busting open the ad spend floodgates. Right now, the industry is obsessing about ad blocking. Before this, the topics du jour were viewability, ad verification, and so on and so forth. Note that none of the aforementioned problems have been solved. So, instead of obsessing about every “new” issue and treating it as an existential threat before moving on (header-bidding anyone?), how about we master the basics of great advertising?
The crux of the problem is that single metrics don’t deliver great advertising results. Let’s take the example of viewability and pretend that every campaign you run is 100% viewable. Fantasy, I know, but go with me. Does viewability itself actually deliver business outcomes for a brand? Does 100% viewability increase sales? Perhaps, but if your creative is off the mark, I’d argue that viewability could actually harm your brand. An irrelevant ad is an irrelevant ad, viewable or not.
This is the truth about advertising performance – it is not one dimensional. It’s because the target – the consumer – isn’t either. Consumers (aka human beings) are open to advertising experiences that connect with and engage them as humans. This is why everyone goes gaga over Super Bowl commercials and why campaigns like Real Beauty by Dove and Friends Furever by Android go viral. Since people are open to brand messages, our industry has every opportunity to deliver advertising that performs. All that is required is that the ad be memorable, relevant, consistent and timely. So how do we get there?
As a company tasked with driving performance for our customers’ campaigns, we approach this challenge by looking to the five pillars of performance in advertising – audience, channel, execution, exposure and response. This multi-dimensional approach addresses the most important aspects of any marketing initiative. Through this lens, viewablity is considered in the context of exposure and alongside other factors and metrics such as frequency, quality and customer lifecycle. Take a look at these pillars to see how you can apply them to boost your performance.
Audience – who are we trying to reach and are they the right audience?
Although marketers may have an idea of their audience based on current customer profiles, an advanced way of thinking is identifying customers that marketers may not have considered targeting in the past. Marketers should integrate different sources of data to create a robust view of prospects. It’s also worth critically evaluating a marketer’s data. For example, just because a brand has a big Excel sheet with IP addresses tagged as “moms” doesn’t necessarily mean those users are actually moms. Similarly, travel marketers may know who the users are that are flying to San Francisco this month because they already purchased a ticket, but marketers may not know who is going to travel next month. It is absolutely possible that first-party data won’t be as valuable as data from other sources.
Channel – where do you want to reach your audience?
Audiences spend time on different devices, media environments and sites. Marketers should observe how their customers and prospects behave as they move through different digital channels. Some will be more effective or more engaging for different target audiences. Marketers should discern the ‘halo’ channels from the engagement channels – knowing which platforms are most likely to get a response and where customers spend time and interact with a brand. This kind of knowledge has empowered brands such as United to make major business decisions such as allowing rebooking of flights via Twitter. This intelligence will show brands how to properly leverage each unique channel for their marketing.
Execution – how are we buying the audience and media, how much will it cost, and what do I show?
Buying techniques vary for procuring digital media. Direct orders, programmatic direct and RTB have been prevalent. There’s also the cost of ad units to factor, where bigger units mean bigger impact, but also mean bigger budget. Using more data for targeting increases CPMs (and can also limit scale if targeting parameters are too specific). And, as I mentioned earlier, ad creative is important so marketers need to tailor the messaging where each interaction with the consumer is impactful. With CRM and DMP technology, marketers can create sequential contact streams based on users’ previous exposure and/or past behavior. Per comScore, ad quality influences sales four times more than the media plan. Marketers need to minimize waste, target accurately (with engaging creative), and mix media channels and buy types. Blending these factors is important, which is why marketers spend a lot of time on campaign execution.
Exposure – what kind of engagement do you want your brand to have?
It’s critical to understand what kind of delivery frequency (repetition builds reputation) is the most effective for different customers. Marketers also have to evaluate whether or not ads are viewable, how long consumers spend with an ad, and how attention is measured in general. Other important factors are types of ad units to use and the quality of exposures (e.g. ad served alongside professional-grade content, during a mid-roll vs. post-roll). Adding to the challenge is the importance of exposure that’s precisely coordinated with the sales/buying cycles. For example, the ad shown to someone just starting their automobile research should be different from an ad for someone way down the purchase funnel (where a weekend discount offer served with high frequency on every site the user goes on might be enough to effect a purchase).
Response – did the campaign achieve the outcome you wanted?
The proper optimization for certain outcomes (and measuring them) will vary per campaign. For example, optimization for direct response (where a click will typically do) will be different from a branding campaign. If the desired outcome is an offline purchase, a marketer has to find out what measures lead to those purchases. Is it a store visit, scheduled appointment, or something else? Furthermore, performance measurement doesn’t necessarily stop at the end of a campaign. Quality leads can result in customers with a high lifetime value because he/she purchases more later on. A marketer has to ensure that business value from the campaign is measured properly, whether it’s in real-time or the future. A marketer can put a lot of rigor in media planning, buying and execution, but if they have the wrong KPI, the campaign will be wasted.
Rarely can a marketer focus solely on one or two dimensions to create great advertising. Great advertising practitioners can evaluate a brand’s desired outcomes through the lens of the pillars of performance to come up with the appropriate solution. By listening to a brand’s needs, a marketer can create a multi-faceted advertising program that ties together the right tools, techniques and methods to maximize performance.