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Why Making Digital Ads Should Be Your Last Priority

I don’t think it comes as big news or a surprise that advertisers are shifting their budgets to digital. Advertisers tend to apply a media mix based on where people are consuming content. As information and entertainment content consumption shifts to smartphones and computers, it makes sense that advertising follows. But what does it really mean to shift marketing dollars to digital? Should digital advertising spend equally match media consumption?

Hopefully not.

Toxic Congestion

If your experience with online advertising as a consumer is like mine, the digital environment is horrible. And we have ourselves—marketing and advertising professionals—to blame. The desire to match media spend to media consumption has led the industry to slap ads everywhere. This is why we have dozens of banner ads vying for attention on a single page session. (And pop-ups, pop-unders, expandable or floating banners that cover content, and autoplay audio and video ads.) Furthermore, as budgets have grown for digital ads, so has ad fraud. So not only is the environment congested; it’s also toxic.

But if consumers are shifting their content consumption online, and that doesn’t mean just making more digital ads, what should it mean? How can marketers align their communication and sales goals with this inexorable march by consumers to pixelated screens? The opportunity of digital is not just about the ads. In fact, making digital ads is last in the priority of shifting marketing budgets to digital.

This is what it really means to invest more of your marketing in digital.

Greater Intelligence

Harness the information that digital footprints create to get smarter about potential customers. There is a wealth of information created by digital activity. Marketers need to mine this treasure trove of data before creating a single ad, digital or otherwise. Use a social listening tool to understand the volume, sentiment, nuance, location, and audience characteristics of digital behaviors. Then, when you do develop advertising, it will be more targeted based on users’ behavior, interests, and location. We used social listening to make our creative for tennis client Babolat more relevant across the globe and right here in our backyard (or court, as it were).

User-Centered Design

Use analytics to understand consumers’ behavior on your site. Carefully and systematically, ingest and understand the analytics of the site-side behavior of your visitors. Where are they spending their time? How did they get there? What content are they consuming?

It’s very likely that your site can be improved and that the clues are in your analytics. Is your website responsive in a mobile environment? Are you delivering the experience that customers expect? Is the site organized with the customer, not you, in mind? What keywords are people using to get to your site? Do you have relevant content to match those searches? We created a new brand for our healthcare client Eviva, from advertising to a new site and sales collateral. Before we took up a pen, though, we studied current behavior on the client’s site to identify what was important for consumers considering bariatric surgery.

Faster Processes

If the intelligence gathering of the above processes has guided your communication strategy, now you can start creating digital ads. But you should explore and use tools that help you create those banner and video ads more efficiently. It’s not just Photoshop. There are new complementary technologies that will help the members of your creative group develop their work faster, and allow it to be updated faster, too. Similarly, there are technologies to help your data and media teams identify the atomic elements of the work that are delivering successful results. For our World Vision client, we targeted two completely new audiences, tested creative daily, and measured our new banner ads against sales and sponsorship data generated right from the client’s e-commerce engine. 

Better Optimization

Finally, it is cost prohibitive if you spend more time and money making ads than you do putting them to work and driving sales. By design, digital ads give you electronic feedback on performance, and you can study those results to make iterative improvements. You can segment your creative and media strategies and place small digital bets on them. Invest in the winners, and deconstruct the difference between the winners and losers so that the next batch of work is even smarter and performs better. To halt traffic declines for our Mexican quick-service restaurant (QSR) client Taco Del Mar, we developed short social videos, identified those that resulted in higher customer engagement, and put the winners on TV.

Going Digital

Without me knowing anything about your business, I can still tell you what digital tactics you should be investing in: search, mobile, video, native, and social communications. And depending on the audience and objective, yes, even those pesky banner ads.

In conclusion, you certainly should shift marketing resources to digital. But that doesn’t mean doing more digital advertising. It means harnessing the knowledge that digital traffic provides and creating smarter strategies to reach and engage your customers.