Digital ad spend has started to dominate marketing budgets across industries. Since 2010, digital ad spend has enjoyed positive growth, typically growing about 20 percent year over year. As digital ad spend continues to expand, marketers have been put under increased pressure to show that these initiatives are actually yielding concrete results for their company.
This is partially due to a justified fear of ad fraud among company leadership. A recent study found that ad fraud accounts for one out of every three dollars spent by digital advertisers. These fraudulent digital ad placements can come from a source simple as a click-bot, to deception as expansive as an entire fraudulent website. Ad fraud doesn’t just waste marketing budget, either – it also has an unfavorable impact on long-term marketing strategies due to faulty conclusions.
As a result, stakeholders are demanding that marketing teams optimize ad spend for greater results while reducing instances of fraud. Recent trends reveal three key ways that stakeholders may approach ad spend in the coming years, including placing an emphasis on transparency, creative messaging, and long-term brand building.
Transparency is a concern that’s risen to the forefront for both ad buyers and vendors. However, organizations can solve many of their transparency concerns, such as improper measurement and poor accountability, by looking inwards and eliminating biases at their source.
When looking for areas where bias exists, consider brand lift studies. When organizations conduct these brand tracking initiatives internally, these studies often show an improvement in brand image. This is for two primary reasons. First, the team conducting the study may have an inherent bias towards showing their own success – after all, it’s what everyone in the organization wants to see. Second, these teams may be monitored based on vanity metrics with a natural propensity towards growth - such as likes or engagements. Unfortunately, these vanity metrics are not very useful when compared next to realistic, outcome-based KPIs.
Internal accountability conflicts can be solved by asking your agency or marketing team to walk through a few campaigns each year that didn’t perform well. Good, transparent marketers will see this as an opportunity to show what they learned from underperforming campaigns. However, less savory marketers may claim their campaigns have been flawless – while ignoring their campaign’s largest flaw being an incomplete method of measurement. Resolving those concerns can be done via training, third-party verification, or in some cases restructuring your marketing teams with personnel that value transparency first.
Keep in mind that attaining a transparent approach to ad spend isn’t easy – especially with multiple platforms being needed to buy media placements and run campaigns. A truly transparent approach must use efficient, proper measurement that occurs at the person-level. For example, try assigning a cross-device identity to consumers that interact with your campaigns. This will help eliminate data silos caused by today’s consumers viewing media on more screens than ever. With 96 percent of US adults owning a smartphone, more than half owning a tablet, and almost 80 percent watching television daily, a consistent cross-device ID helps assure marketers that they’re not reaching the same person too many times.
This benefits your organization by reducing waste in the marketing budget – but it also shields targeted consumers from receiving repetitive messages that ultimately harm the campaign. Once this waste has been identified, that portion of the budget can be reinvested into reaching customers on a person-level.
Focusing Media Spend Optimization Efforts on Creative
It’s well understood that marketing technology is important for success. However, too many marketers have been hyper-focusing on technology at the expense of creative efforts. Stakeholders are beginning to understand that a hardline, logical approach doesn’t lead to long-term sales in the same way that an emotional connection can. This is likely why over the years, brands that cut their creative budgets to focus more on technology have seen adverse effects, such as declining share value. In today’s marketing environment, striking a balance between creativity and logic is paramount.
Organizations must look at their application of marketing technology through a new lens. Marketing technology is great at identifying where consumer habits are changing, but many businesses are playing follow-the-leader instead of resolving consumer concerns by leveraging data creatively. For example, “skip the line” was a novel idea in the food service industry about a decade ago – now, it’s so passé that even the hospitality industry has their own adaptation by allowing users to skip check-in and enter their room using their mobile device. Implementing functional improvements like this is great for keeping a safe pace with competitors – but, mimicry will not create a unique brand experience on its own. Instead, brands should focus on using their marketing technology to solve problems in novel, creative ways.
Focus on Long-Term Brand Image – Not Short-Term Sales
When purchasing ad space, a brand’s long-term image is typically overlooked in favor of short-term sales. This is a significant mis-step for many brands. Organizations need to understand that sales lifts are not the end-all-be-all for marketing campaigns. Instead, marketers must enact campaigns that drive long-term revenue while understanding that these campaigns will not always immediately impact sales - even if they eventually are a resounding success. Let’s take a look at two examples where successful long-term strategies won’t affect short-term sales:
- Luxury Brands – Luxury brands typically need to spend years building their brand image before they can gain the reputation needed to make a healthy volume of sales. If luxury brands focused only on making sales in the short term, it would ultimately devalue their product.
- Seasonal Brands - For brands that experience a torrent of sales in specific timeframes, it’s critical to position your brand correctly ahead of time. Take flu relief medicine for example – most people get infected with influenza in the winter or early spring. However, this doesn’t mean brands should neglect advertising during the summer and fall. Instead, it’s beneficial to have a few campaigns running year-round. This way, when flu season finally rolls around, the brand will be top-of-mind for consumers seeking instant relief.
It’s important for brands to measure their image over time. Brand lift studies are popular for this – but as indicated earlier, these studies aren’t always reliable, especially when conducted internally. Even if these studies are measured using external insights, they are typically conducted with surveys that provide a cash incentive. This means marketers are surveying people who are simply motivated by earning money, which can lead to a conflict of interest, or inaccurate data in general.
Instead of relying on inaccurate methods of measuring brand lift, measure and periodically test the quality of data you receive from any sort of market research. Then, drill down into how your brand image has changed at a person-level. For example, a general insight from a brand lift study may be “the brand experienced a 3 percent lift in brand awareness.” Unfortunately, an insight like this isn’t especially useful. What if more people are aware of your brand, but none are in your target audience? Instead, drill down into granular data to determine what specific demographics were affected. This way, your brand can make the best impression possible on the highest value customers.
As stakeholders become more aware of ad fraud and vanity metrics, marketing teams must expect some critical changes in how they utilize ad spend. Primarily, this will revolve around ensuring that you’re able to get data from transparent sources, and then present it to leadership teams with the same transparency. However, don’t forget about the importance of focusing on long-term brand initiatives, which often include using insights derived from marketing technology in a creative way.
In the end, it’s important to ensure your ad spend initiatives are executed with purpose. By understanding both the journey and the end goal of your marketing campaigns, your organization will please stakeholders with well-informed campaigns.