Media Spotlight: The Expanse of Digital

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Seen as the single biggest event to affect marketing during the past three decades, the mass adoption of the internet into everyday life has found companies using everything from email to social media to YouTube videos to try to capture eyeballs and engage customers online. Fast-forward to 2018 and the same drive is now being applied in the mobile world, where ad revenue soared to an all-time high of $36.6 billion in 2016 (up from $20.7 billion in 2015), and comprised more than half of the digital total of $72.5 billion spent by advertisers that year, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB). 

With no end in sight to the digital and mobile land grab currently underway, Zenith predicts that mobile internet use will account for 26 percent of total global media consumption in 2019, up from 19 percent in 2016. People around the world will spend an average of 122 minutes per day accessing the mobile internet via browsers and apps, the company reports, an amount that has grown from just 10 minutes a day since 2010.

But even with the increased attention on all things digital in the marketing world, traditional, broadcast TV remains the largest single medium by consumption time, averaging 170 minutes of viewing per day (compared to 140 minutes for the internet).

“We expect it to remain dominant for the rest of our forecast period,” Zenith reports, noting that the gap between TV and internet consumption will narrow from 30 minutes in 2017 to just seven minutes in 2019.

“By and large, TV is still king,” says Gregory Silvano, CEO at Mojo Research & Development in Lynnfield, Mass. In fact, he says even advertisers whose digital-only campaigns are doing well are looking to TV as a way to expand their reach and capture more eyeballs. Recently, for example, he worked with a company that had spent the prior eight months running digital ads, and that suddenly wanted to jump into the DRTV pool — despite its high conversion rates and order volumes.

“I was floored because I thought they were already doing TV,” says Silvano, chair of the DRMA TV Everywhere Committee. “Turns out, this was an entirely digital marketing campaign that was just absolutely killing it.”

As a whole, Silvano says digital advertising mechanisms like social media, pay-per-click (PPC), online video, mobile applications, and affiliate marketing have all become “much more effective” during the past couple of years. “When I look at what our clients were doing and how much money they spent on mediums like social media marketing a few years ago, it was basically a lot of money for very little result,” says Silvano, who sees social media’s audience targeting capabilities as one driver of better results.

“Today, we have campaigns where social media marketing is the primary driver of traffic and orders,” Silvano explains. “Some of that is because you can genuinely target your message and creative to, say, women who are 55 years and like country music. You can’t do that anywhere else.”

Creating video ads today now means creating an experience that makes
sense on a particular screen: from the largest 4KHD TV to a smartphone,
and everywhere in between. “How do we grapple with knowing that time is
being spent on a different-sized screen?” asks Horizon Media’s Sarah Baehr.

Optimize Your Strategy  

The last decade has seen a proliferation of digital advertising opportunities and a fair share of challenges put in front of companies that want to either go digital-only or combine it with an existing advertising portfolio. Content marketing (i.e., storytelling used to increase brand awareness), social media marketing (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), and search engine optimization (SEO) — both organic and paid — rank high on the current opportunity list. 

Other mechanisms that marketers are either experimenting with or already using successfully include search engine marketing (getting unpaid traffic via search engines like Google); PPC (the paid version of SEM); affiliate marketing (making money from selling other companies’ products to your own audience); email marketing; and mobile phone marketing and mobile apps. 

Calling Google AdWords the “800-pound gorilla” of the digital advertising world, Silvano says Facebook is Google’s counterpart on the social media side, followed by Instagram. “YouTube can be huge, depending on the campaign and the messaging/content,” says Silvano. “The question is, can you edit a video that’s engaging enough in the first five seconds to keep people from clicking away to something else?” 

For the marketer than can confidently answer “yes” to that question, Silvano says YouTube is delivering results. Unfortunately, because the barriers to entry and the costs associated with low-quality projects are both low in the online world, success rates aren’t always noteworthy.

“To be very good at digital marketing is a different ball of wax,” says Silvano. “To be effective, you have to go beyond just checking a box that says, ‘Do you do Google AdWords? Yes or No?’ and find ways to genuinely think through and optimize your strategy.” 

The Mobile Evolution

Sarah Baehr, executive vice president and managing partner, digital, for Horizon Media in New York, points to mobile optimization as a key concern for digital advertisers. “If you listen to the number of ads running on Facebook midstream, less than 25 percent of them are optimized for mobile, yet so much of that activity is running in the mobile environment,” she says.

And while mobile device screens are getting larger and more sophisticated, they’re still mobile screens that require different treatment than a laptop or TV screen.

“How do we grapple with knowing that time is being spent on a different-sized screen and creating experiences that are actually appropriate for those experiences?” asks Baehr, who sees audience targeting as another challenging point for marketers in the digital space. Finding an audience and knowing your targets is one thing, she says, but finding consumers who aren’t using your product — but who may want to use it — requires a different approach.

In some cases, companies overlook the latter in their quest to narrow their advertising to a specific market. “When marketers try to target too narrowly, some of the discovery mechanism could go away,” says Baehr. “There really needs to be a good balance between narrowing your targeting and being more personal with your messaging.”

Online video — particularly mobile —
is changing the way society consumes entertainment —
and, of course, advertising. In fact, mobile video
programming is becoming more social by the day.

Everything Is Digital

Pete Stein, New York-based general manager at Fullscreen Inc., envisions a time when “everything is digital, even TV,” and says that for this reason, digital is becoming more important than ever for marketers to embrace and do right.

“Digital has become a critical, influential part of the marketing mix,” says Stein. “And while TV still gets the lion’s share of the budget and is still very powerful, digital is more central when it comes to thinking about the customer experience, its influence on society, and audience behavior in general.”

As digital advertising has gained in prowess, it has pushed marketers to think in different ways, says Stein, who sees today’s companies looking more like “programmers” versus traditional advertisers. That’s because digital puts the consumer in the driver’s seat and gives him or her a lot more control over how that individual receives, consumes, digests, and reacts to content.

“A recent study showed that people are consuming 30 hours of video every week, but that only one-third of that is [delivered] through advertising,” says Stein. “Given how much control the consumer has, that reality is forcing the marketer to think about brand communications differently.

Calling that evolution both “challenging and exciting” at the same time, Stein says it essentially gives brands the opportunity to create content that consumers will love. Making that happen requires a programmer-like mindset and good segmenting and targeting tools. 

“When you look at social media, it’s 1,000 tactics as opposed to one giant tactic that you might use with a TV or print ad campaign,” Stein says. “That forces brands to decide where they really want to — and, where they don’t want to — participate, and to inject their voices into that conversation in order to define who they are and what they stand for.”

The Issue of Brand Safety  

As digital consumption continues to change and as new opportunities present themselves, Sean Peters, president of Zenith USA, says marketers are keeping an eye on the content that’s being delivered via platforms like Facebook and Google.

“Some of these partners in the market are creating a lot of individual content that is built by consumers, and not necessarily built by traditional publishers in the [usual] way,” Peters says. “As such, we absolutely have to make sure that we’re looking after brand safety.”

In online advertising context, brand safety refers to practices and tools allowing a brand to ensure that an ad will not appear in a context that can damage it. It’s an issue that more digital advertisers are paying attention to these days thanks to a plethora of high-profile cases (i.e., JPMorgan Chase’s pulling of its YouTube ads and massive reduction in online ad platform usage), and the fact that 78 percent of marketers believe the reputation of their brands has been harmed by the “unintended” placement of digital ads next to inappropriate content, according to a CMO Council study. 

Peters says Zenith is particularly diligent about making sure that ads don’t cross any brand safety lines while also providing solid returns on investment. “Ultimately, these things come together to ensure that a brand is in a positive environment and creating a positive consumer experience,” says Peters. “At the end of the day, you don’t ever want to have a potential customer alienated by your marketing in any way.”

To make that happen, Peters says advertisers and agencies should stop thinking about digital as a “channel,” and start looking at digital as being “everything we do, with less and less of a divide between it and any traditional media channel.”

Peters adds, “Digital is just an extension of the way that people are living their lives. For example, I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter who probably won’t ever understand the concept of ‘going online.’ For her, life will simply be lived online and connected.” 

The Road Ahead 

Baehr expects more digital advertisers to use data to optimize their creative platforms in an effort to drive more media through digital means. And as digital advertising continues to morph and expand, companies will also put a bigger effort into their mobile advertising strategies while developing more personalized experiences for their target audiences.

“Growth is definitely going to continue on the mobile side for us in 2018, with more attention being paid to where consumers are spending their time and how they’re consuming content,” says Baehr. “There’s still a tremendous amount of opportunity in digital, particularly when it comes to using thoughtful, relevant messages in a more personal way.”

As the digital advertising landscape continues to evolve, expect it to become even more ubiquitous and intertwined with any and all traditional advertising mediums. To capture the benefits of this evolution, Peters says companies should stop talking about their “digital plans” or “digital strategies” and instead focus on un-compartmentalizing the power of these channels.

In other words, rather than viewing digital as a single point of entry, focus more tightly on marketing, selling, and delivering a positive experience for your customers.

“Enabling that takes some reinvention,” says Peters, “and new thinking.”