Digital needs to grow up in 2017

When TV ratings started to dip a few years ago the online industry were quick to trumpet their own growth in comparison. But in a reversal of fortune it is digital that is now under the scanner as critics have highlighted fundamental issues with measurement, viewability and fraud.

From just $3.13bn in 2012 to $6.8bn in 2016, digital media has been growing very quickly at an approximate annual growth of 20%. But just as the onset of adolescence is often accompanied by troubled times and accusations of misjudgment, digital has become a magnet for criticism from all quarters in trade media. Although I am a digital specialist I think the channel needs to stop projecting itself as the new kid on the playground, with the shinier shoes and gear and take a hard look at itself.

In my personal opinion there are six deliverables that are reasonable for a marketer to expect of an established media channel. The six are in no particular order: Audience reach, Costs transparency, skilled workforce, improvement in customer experience, marketing effectiveness and robust measurement. In this post I use these six parameters to assess the current challenges that digital as a channel faces and offer possible solutions for consideration.

  1. Delivery of audience reach:

“Is the advertising reaching my audience”

The challenge: Digital tactics like search and social reach more than 80% of the population but not all reach is good reach. This is especially true in digital where media is largely bought and sold in impressions. If an impression is non-viewable, fraudulent or appears on a brand-unsafe website the reach delivered is actually undesirable. Viewability in Australia stands at 49.3%, Ad blocking at 27% and ad fraud amounts to $120mn locally. If you were an advertiser you’d be understandably worried about the worth of your online investment.

The solution: All stakeholders in the digital ecosystem should agree to 3rd party and independent auditing measures. Associated technology and verification costs must be shared as in the long run viewable and verified impressions will lead to advertising reaching the most relevant consumers and better financial outcomes for all.

2. Transparency in costs:

“I want to know what I’m being charged for”

The challenge: The increasingly complex digital media ecosystem has simultaneously increased the cost of delivering online interactions (paid and owned) to consumers across the web. As a consequence apart from inventory costs there are now fees for data, technology, measurement, ad serving and campaign personnel that must be accounted for. With the rise in costs comes the danger of misappropriation and suspicion by marketers that they are being skimmed.

The solution: Media agencies should be proactive in disclosing the composition of their service fees, and any business relationships or investments in sub-contractors that they recommend to clients. On the buy side marketing bodies like the AANA should collaborate with the supplier side to prescribe guidelines that are fair and take cognizance of how digital actually works. Nothing will be gained by pushing suppliers into a race to the bottom.

3. Skilled workforce and education:

“How do we up-skill everyone in digital”

The challenge: Digital is a relatively new channel so there aren’t many experienced practitioners. I cringe when I read inaccurate claims and comparisons made by online publishers because it only exposes the naivety of the industry. You cannot compare a video view to average viewing time on TV or claim incremental reach using two separate measurement panels.

The solution: We need digital specialists to understand marketing and traditional media so they broaden their viewpoints. At the same time C-Level marketers and anyone with a traditional media background has to up-skill quickly because all media is soon going to be traded digitally. I’d like to see more digital leaders impart their time to organisations like N-Gen/MFA5+ and deliver guest lectures at educational institutions. For more on this refer to my older post about how to combat the digital skills shortage.

4. Improvement in customer experience:

“How can I transform my business digitally”

The challenge: The focus is always on media and brand websites but digital is much more than these two touch points. Increasingly all our go-to channels are digital with the lines blurring. Consumers don’t think of brand touch points as digital or traditional. They just want to solve a problem, take an action, get information etc. Apart from websites, bad ad experiences are equally disruptive with consumers citing annoying/intrusive ads (64%) as the top reason for using an ad blocker software.

The solution: Brands need to consider their consumers worlds through a 360 degree lens, and make every interaction simple. The focus should always be on leading the consumer quickly through the purchase funnel. Think Uber, Netflix, Apple, Google all brands with great UX that consumers keep coming back to. Beware of being sold technology solutions that market themselves as the panacea to all your problems. Map out your ideal digital experience workflow first and then tender out the project to find the best vendor to deliver your vision. Advertising formats that disrupt the online experience must be discontinued and the IAB’s L.E.A.N ads guidelines adhered to.

5. Robust measurement:

“Are we only counting what we can measure instead of measuring what counts”

The challenge: Until recently metrics from Google, Facebook and some other major publishers were not audited by the MRC. This is now changing and more 3rd party vendors are being accredited for independent measurement validation. The problem is that we get too many metrics for digital but most are meaningless and only befuddle those who receive them. There are also multiple vendors each with different counting approaches. Imagine if television had 4 accredited rating companies who calculated a TV rating point differently.

The solution: Media agencies and advertisers have to band together and use their collective investment might to demand auditing and validation. We need consistent definition of units like video views. Let’s bring in some rigor by mapping the role of channels and metrics to relevant stages in the consumer journey rather than looking at them in isolation.

6. Marketing effectiveness:

“Is my online media driving marketing ROI”

The challenge: Online specialists focus on media and operational metrics like clicks, impressions, views which are important for efficiency but not as important as metrics that actually matter to marketers. A good marketer cares only about metrics such as brand favorability, sales, profit or future sales indicators like net promoter score. Also in Australia only 4.9% of retail sales are done online so connecting online metrics to offline sales is an important requirement.

The solution: There is no holy grail or silver bullet for the above challenge, but astute marketers can implement low cost tactics to estimate the online to offline effect. Simple solutions like using online coupons (Facebook Offers) that can be redeemed offline and location data (beacons) to track offline visits from online ads can also be used effectively. Our team recently used the Google Adwords Store Visits feature to measure the impact of paid click ads on automotive dealer visits. In addition there are other options; short-term (brand uplift studies) and long-term (multi-touch attribution and econometrics) that should be invested in to provide indicative guidance for future investments.

In summary there must be acknowledgement that digital has issues and needs to address them quickly. But the way forward is not to cower down or lash out but to implement solutions proactively. The impetus must also come collectively (and proactively) from the constituents of the industry. It’s time for digital to display some grown up behavior.

Posted in Digital, Opinion

Better online ad experiences hold the key to combat ad-blocking?

00022

Another week another report on the disastrous impact ad-blocking could spell for digital publishers future revenue. It appears that everyone is out there blaming ad blocking companies for this apocalypse or creative people for creating bad ads instead of taking a hard look at themselves. The simple fact is consumers have punished the industry for taking their attention for granted.

My personal view is that just as advertising is the price you pay for bad products, ad blocking is the price you pay for bad ads. Ad avoidance is not a new consumer behaviour – we’ve always tried to avoid advertisements (on TV) and had the option to vote with our remotes.

Yet Television has survived because you don’t see the same ads repeatedly in one viewing session, they are generally of a better quality and there’s a limit to the number of ads per break. I think the online industry ought to have shown similar restraint when the floodgates opened in the last decade and revenue started to flow into online media.

The online display model has an inherent flaw because CPM is the currency, which makes delivering impressions a priority. This pressure has led to bad practices like invasive ads, pop-unders, poor frequency capping, auto-play pre-rolls, pop-ups, overuse of bad re-targeting rules etc. that have driven customers to ad blockers.

On the other hand publishers like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn are thriving and not just because they can exert more control within their walled gardens. Their ads are standardized (no jumping pop-ups or jarring animations), fit seamlessly within the content stream and are innovative (Canvas, carousels) etc. Not surprisingly these are technology companies that do user experience well.

I agree that Adblocking is a serious issue – one that could kill off small independent publishers whose only income stream is advertising and maybe even bloggers who rely on Adsense revenue (Fark). That’s not good for content, writing skills and society in general. Also because ad-blockers are dumb and rely on filters-lists, they can inadvertently block content and less disruptive ads as well. It is also unfair that some ad-blocking companies run an ‘acceptable ads’ program and make money by charging publishers to be white-listed.

Publishers have hit back by restricting users with ad-blockers and in some cases demanding micro-payments to continue accessing content. I am personally skeptical that all of those ad block users are going to take the trouble to unblock sites when they could simply find the same news elsewhere or worse still find a way around the restrictions.

The initiative I am most positive about is from the IAB which has started its L.E.A.N.ads program to address ad blocking. Bad ads – and I mean the experience not just the design have put publishers in the predicament they are. While ad blocking primarily affects the sell-side i.e. publishers selling inventory, media agencies need to find solutions because we need strong publishers with quality content so we have great environments to place our clients ads.

I think as the ones who understand consumers best we need to get on the front foot with leading our clients and creative agencies on better creative. Better ads for me are those that are personalised with user information, optimised to the screen they are presented on and relevant to the contextual environment.

The solution is for all stakeholders to come together and develop a strategy that wins back the attention of online users. I’d like to see some consensus around how many and how those impressions are served on a page. Secondly let’s invite consumers to give the industry feedback and vote on existing formats by level of intrusiveness and usefulness.

This may result in fewer ads but more loyal and returning users who reward the best online experiences with their attention, thereby helping publishers secure advertising income and funding for content.

Posted in Digital

Marketing Technology – The big questions

In my first post on Marketing Technology a few weeks ago, I touched on the growing importance of this space and the building blocks while creating a tech stack.

Today I’d like to tackle three related questions I often find my clients on the marketing side challenged by.

  1. What marketing technology do I need?
  2. How do I choose marketing technology for my business?
  3. Who should be making these decisions, me or my agency?

The answer to the first question depends on the problem you’re trying to solve which will differ based on your core business challenges and your digital maturity. The crew over at Growthverse have produced a simple to understand visualisation that covers 800+ martech solutions, allowing you to choose by need area. Marketing technology covers many functional areas like Analytics, Paid Acquisition, Content Management and Data.

Which brings me to the second question, how do we go about choosing once we know the options. I’d like to advise caution first – many organisations look on new technology as a silver bullet to solve all their troubles. In reality marketing isn’t that complicated, but a poor understanding of customer journeys misleads marketers into finding quick fixes. As consumer confidence gets hit by world events and harsh economic realities and product parity grows, brands can only differentiate and win on Customer Experience. Technology and relevancy of creative enhance customer experiences but cannot substitute poor ones.

“You’ve got to start with the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE and work back toward the technology” – Steve Jobs

So back to that second question, here are a few considerations while choosing marketing technology irrespective of category:

  1. Customer Experience – Will it deliver on my digital vision and the ideal digital customer experience I’ve drawn up. If you have neither of the above on paper kick yourself and stop wasting time evaluating technology. Technology is only an enabler, it cannot precede strategy. A clear Customer Experience map will define your priorities, the key digital touch-points and influential channels. This will in turn become the beacon that helps you define your needs.
  2. Future Roadmap – Ask prospective vendors for their product roadmap over the next 12 months. Platforms must evolve as consumer behavior and marketing evolves and the best ones constantly invest in R&D to do so.
  3. Transparency – This entails a clear understanding of all upfront and ongoing fees associated with use of the platform. In the current landscape technology platforms may be part-owned by media or advertising entities, who in some cases may be re-sellers making a commission on leads. You always want to know that you’re getting neutral advice that is in your best interest first.
  4. Scale – Is the platform scalable i.e. if your business expands can the technology still meet your expectations. As your marketing program matures you will find yourself entering new geographies and incorporating new channels. The ability of the platform to scale depends on whether it has secured partnerships with other vendors and anticipated its clients future requirements.
  5. Support – An obvious one but most challenges arise during and just after implementation which is when the need for troubleshooting support is crucial. Beyond this stage, marketing technology should always be self-serve so that your in-house or agency people can manage it themselves rather than rely on a remote team regularly. Beware of vendors offering managed services to get over the line – this should raise red flags about poor UX.
  6. Compatibility with existing technology – This is usually my bugbear. I hate it when platforms and technologies don’t play nice with each other across vendors. While there is merit in using a unified stack, sometimes the best ad-server, campaign management software and inventory provider for my needs, don’t belong to the same vendor. The technology just has to work without the end-user having to mediate and identify fixes themselves.
  7. Targeting – The role of martech is to target new prospects or existing customers at the moment of highest receptivity. Ensure your technology can do this. If its a DSP, can it buy into all the biggest ad exchanges or if its a CRM system can be segment your audience for tailored messaging. Marketing automation software must be able to personalise content and serve dynamic creative.

And finally to the third question – how do we do the actual evaluation. In my opinion, this should be entrusted to experts and always the people who are going to be regular end-users. Ensure your entrusted expert can produce an exhaustive list of evaluation criteria they followed before giving you a recommendation. Steer clear of anyone simply forwarding you the vendors sales collateral. Do your own research by referencing reports from Forrester and Gartner who produce evaluations in multiple categories. Over at websites like G2 Crowd and TrustRadius you can read independent reviews and comparisons by real users.

I hope these two posts have shed some light for those of you currently in charge of marketing team technology decisions. This space is only going to get more complex in the future and I look forward to engaging with others on this topic and discussing your own experiences.

Posted in Digital

The CMO’s starter guide to building a Marketing Toolbox

Marketing Tech Toolbox

The last 12 months have witnessed an influx of Marketing Technology vendors, from large marketing cloud solutions to specialist (e.g. retargeting) vendors into the Australian market. Investment in marketing and customer service software locally was forecast by Gartner in March to double to 1.8bn in the next five years. But more options usually means more frustration for CMO’s already burdened by increasing responsibilities including managing end to end customer experience. Their new challenge is now wading through the Marketing Technology Landscape to find solutions that will solve their most pressing business needs.

However while expensive marketing cloud and enterprise campaign management platforms may suit the top end of town, for most marketers a step by step build is a more advisable and practical approach. As many experts have cautioned, strategy should always precede technology not vice versa. When technology decisions are made without due diligence the outcome is the marketing departments equivalent of tech-debt.

My own experience as brand manager taught me that a good starting point was to begin with a few fundamental pieces. These basic tools still answer the CMO’s everyday digital questions while a designated expert scopes out the technology required to deliver on the digital functions long-term vision. Even if as CMO, you have a digital agency on roster, access to the basic tools allows your team greater agility to act without losing time or costs.

  1. Web analytics – Gives you an overview of where your website visitors are coming from and what they are doing on your website. The Google Analytics free version is adequate for most websites and quite simple to set up.
  2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – Consolidates and organizes prospect and customer information into a common database. Invest in a robust solution – many organisations are currently struggling to access historic data stored in outdated systems or in multiple incompatible databases. This is an area you don’t scrimp on so research well and read a lot of reviews like this one by ZDNet before choosing.
  3. Email Management – Communicate with relationship segments created in your CRM system in #2. For ease of use and the variety of templates on offer, Mailchimp is a good starting point.
  4. Creative software – Reduce agency revision costs and time by quickly editing images and document templates for social media and online publishing in-house. Free editing software is readily available online but a subscription to Adobes Creative suite (Illustrator and Photoshop at a minimum) is advisable if you can afford it.
  5. Competitive search monitoring – Big or small, search is an important channel for every marketer. Keep tabs on other advertisers, your own organic/paid search traffic and search landscape changes using the Adwords Keyword Planner and the free version of SEMRush.
  6. Paid advertising tools – Free tools include Adwords Editor and PowerEditor, that allow marketers to independently monitor and fine tune performance of their Google and Facebook campaigns.
Tagged with: ,
Posted in Digital

Five marketing implications for a multiscreen world

photo-1438109519352-a52c41243c1a

The recent Q2 2015 Australian Multi-Screen Report – from Regional TAM, OzTAM and Nielsen, underlines the trend in declining broadcast TV viewership and a consequent rise in viewing on other screens. In this review I enumerate five key stats and their implications for marketers.

Finding: TV still accounts for 88% of video viewing, with 90% of this live broadcast

Implication: TV still rules all video screens

Linear TV alone has the ability to aggregate large audiences upwards of 900mn within a short window. This proposition has and will always be attractive to brand and retail advertisers who need to quickly build reach for a new product launch or tactical message. This is why sports properties are grabbed for huge sums and reality TV shows are often flagship properties for television channels. Unlike online video which is silent and skippable, TV offers an interruptive audio-visual combination to a captive audience which is better for message delivery. Apart from building awareness through TV spots, savvy advertisers can also use TV properties as a platform for deeper audience engagement through program integration and off-air activations.

Finding: Multiple screen ownership and usage is on the rise

Implication: Tell campaign stories across screens

The learning for marketers is to create video content that is consistent across screens and seamlessly continues the narrative. Storytelling tactics include targeting people who saw your Facebook ads with a follow-up ad on Instagram or, retargeting people who saw one of your videos on YouTube with videos that continue the story. Through the power of programmatic technology at my company ZenithOptimedia we are syncing our mobile video ads to appear at the same time our own brand spots or those of our direct competitors air on TV.

Finding: 12% of viewing is on non-TV connected devices

Implication: Adopt dynamic advertising formats native to each screen

As linear TV viewing dwindles and viewer’s time-shift, the ‘hero’ 30 sec brand commercial in ad breaks is no longer the only format to focus on. TV ads need to be more than they’ve always been and offer elements like mobile interactivity (Shazam) as well as supplementary online content (extras, behind-the-scenes). As vertical screen usage rises, video assets now have to be created separately for this different orientation. In online environments, ads autoplay often on silent mode – the creative needs to have prominent branding in the first 0-5 seconds before users have the option to skip or a view is charged. In our experiments we are seeing strong interaction rates with formats like Innovid and YouTube shoppable ads.

Finding: Younger audiences migrating away from broadcast TV to other screens

Implication: Follow young age groups to the platforms they spend most time with

Increasingly younger audiences are tuning out of mainstream media and into video content delivered by new media outlets like VICE and Buzzfeed. Similarly, YouTube content creators have huge social and cultural clout among their many followers and generate millions of views via their channels. Marketers need to carve out of their television commercial production budgets to tap into these influential channels in order to resonate with future generations.

The concept of waiting months for a new series in the US to air locally is alien to the next generation of adults as is waiting a week for subsequent episodes. In this era, Netflix and pirate sites aren’t the enemy – they have merely served changing consumer demand for immediate choice and binge watching.

Finding: Television is increasing being used for other purposes (up 2:24 yoy)

Implication: Don’t over-focus on content at the expense of placement

While a lot of the focus has been on content, how Australians set up their entertainment has also changed. OTT and streaming devices like Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV are increasingly becoming common in our homes and content creators will have to ensure their integration into the major distribution platforms. Currently these platforms lack content that TV viewers desire but once they do we may well be accessing content via apps on our television sets instead of switching channels on a remote. Marketers need to follow the path of savvy marketers who have trialed new opportunities like Honda’s Honda in-program integration with US program Community or Redbull who developed their own bespoke channel.

Summary:

For true cross-screen campaign management, there needs to be consensus on a common currency at both the buying and evaluation stages. The ideal scenario for any marketer is to have campaign reporting on audience reach (and duplication) across all the screens that a piece of content was run. This would include linear TV, subscription TV, connected TVs, game consoles and all online devices irrespective of the type of buy being direct, self-managed or programmatic. The challenge is three-pronged; finding a robust way to measure usage across devices, reworking historical trading practices and most importantly bringing competing parties to agree on the common currency.

In the future a video strategy will no longer be about creating one video and then distributing it across every screen in the same form. Programmers and content creators will aim to deliver content that is available on-demand on every screen. The media companies who come out in front will be the ones who transform their business models to rely on multiple content monetisation and distribution streams. And those organisations that solve the total video measurement conundrum and prove cross-platform evidence of success will win the lions share of brand dollars from advertisers.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Digital, Online Video

Google launches new features for mobile shopping moments

Overnight the search giant announced a suite of features to make shopping easier than ever once a product is discovered via its search results. Mobile conversions have lagged desktop primarily because of poor mobile navigation and conversion experiences.

This has resulted in smartphones being used to research and compare, before the final purchase is made on laptop/desktop or in-store. The new features enhance the search results by bringing all the tools a user needs to purchase into the search results page. Presumably the move by other competitors (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc.) to launch buy functionalities in recent months has stirred Google into its own Buy version.

POG - Under Armour The most compelling feature is called Purchases on Google which allows users to pay for a  product using a Google checkout process. Here’s how the Adwords blog describes the process:

When a shopper searches on mobile for a product such as “women’s hoodies”, she may see a  shopping ad with ‘Buy on Google’ text. After clicking the ad, she’s taken to a retailer-branded  product page hosted by Google. Checkout is seamless, simple, and secure, thanks to saved  payment credentials in her Google Account.

Other features include expanding Product Listing Ads, two new shopping cards in Google Now  and the ability to directly link to retailers apps from their shopping ads.

All these features will be a boon for retailers who lack the time and resource to overhaul their  current mobile landing pages. The added functionality doesn’t appear to cost advertisers any more but will certainly entice them to invest more in mobile search on Google in future.

 

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Mobile, Search Marketing / PPC

What the Federal Budget means for the Digital Industry

Federal Budget 2015 digital industry

Last weeks Federal Budget announcements contained some important implications for the Digital Industry. The Digital Mantra blog outlines some of these here:

The 2015 budget proposes a reduction in tax rate by 1.5% for small businesses (<$2mn) and an immediate tax write-off for individual assets that cost less than $20,000 apiece. This will provide a fillip to small businesses that increasingly turn to digital for visibility and automation. Tech start-ups that are a sub-set of the small business community may also benefit through these incentives.

The budget attempts to deter families (via penalties) from accessing both government and employer parental incentives adding to the burden of families already struggling with childcare costs. More needs to be done to facilitate the re-entry of highly experienced digital women back into the workplace. An industry synonymous with long hours and that already struggles with high churn rates and a shortage of talent must work with the larger business community to find work-family life balance solutions.

Eligible start-ups can now offer employees share options that will be taxable only at sale. Start-ups can now use this as a sweetener to attract talent and also as a motivator to retain existing employees.

Changes to tax laws mean anyone on a working holiday visa will now have to pay tax from their first dollar earned, rather than their first $18,200 of earnings being tax-free. Many overseas digital specialists are usually on these visas when they first join Australian companies, a situation that works well for both parties. Local companies can fill vacant roles quickly and the candidates get to audition their skills in the hope of getting a permanent work sponsorship before their working holiday visa runs out.

New tax initiatives for startups were announced, specifically around crowdfunding. $7.8 million over four years will be spent getting the Australian Securities and Investments commission to work up and implement a new regulatory framework for crowdfunding money raised by startups. This is a step in the right direction and will hopefully offer a simplified yet more varied funding landscape for start-ups.

The above piece is of a general nature only reflecting the personal opinion of the author and must not be construed as professional financial or tax advice.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Digital
%d bloggers like this: