In the rapidly changing world of digital marketing, perhaps nothing moves faster than paid media. The industry is an open fire hydrant of change, and only the most dedicated (or perhaps masochistic) of us choose to play in it. Every time a social network announces it is going public, the topic of a new advertising platform is close behind. Every year, online ad spending increases across the board. The amounts of demographic data, ad inventory and distribution methods are so vast and complicated that normal conversations about new retargeting capabilities tend to quickly devolve into conspiratorial conversations complete with obligatory Minority Report references.
So what is a marketer, or especially a business owner, to do? The simple answer is, of course, Google AdWords. Google is constantly expanding their already peerless AdWords platform to be simultaneously more sophisticated and easy to use, most recently via Enhanced Campaigns which were rolled out in late 2013. Many advertisers are content to let Google drive the bus, which is frankly not that bad of an idea – especially if you understand how to properly structure your accounts (which I have painstakingly outlined in great detail just for you, my cherished readers).
But for those of us that want a little more flexibility beyond AdWords or even beyond Google Display Network (GDN), there is a big wide world out there for you. Here are three of the most important trends you brave souls should be aware of in 2014:
1. All Your Favorite Social Networks are Now Ad Servers (except maybe Tumblr)
Facebook has gone to great lengths in the last year to encourage advertisers to spend money with them. They have made the Power Editor interface more user friendly, and introduced “Boosted Posts,” a service that has been much maligned by seasoned advertisers and for good reason. More recently, Facebook announced a new campaign structure for advertisers that is more similar to AdWords with the addition of “Ad Sets,” which function in the same way as Ad Groups in AdWords. All these improvements add up to more advertising dollars being spent, while the quality of the advertising remains relatively unchanged, or perhaps even diluted.Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn have all committed to “seamlessly” integrating native ads into their platforms, and third party ad servers such as AdRoll have made large amounts of money by positioning themselves as a centralized source for targeting each of these platforms.
2. Retargeting – I Did It All for the Cookie
It is at this level of connectedness that the conspiracy theories begin to set in. Cisco and IBM have been talking about the “internet of everything” for years now, pointing out that as more things become connected to the internet (refrigerators, cars, chairs), the potential to leverage the data to track user behavior will reach unprecedented levels. Taking a futuristic-seeming (but by no means extreme) example, retargeting technology could be used to serve you advertisements for milk when your refrigerator indicates you need it. Google has already launched its first foray into this world with its $3 billion acquisition of Nest, a smart thermostat manufacturer, in February.
With all of this data and all of these places to purchase advertising, it seems that the traditional media buyer faces an impossible task. And in reality, they do. Enter the robots:
3. Programmatic Display Ads & Real Time Bidding are the Present and the Future
That’s a lot of words, and most of them don’t make much sense to the average person. But really it’s just another way of saying that since there are so many different places to buy and so much data available, advertisers are relying more on automated systems to make their media buying decisions for them. Type in a few demographic parameters – say, women ages 25-40 in California who are interested in yoga pants – and let the machines enter into a real time bidding war every time such a qualified consumer comes online. Utilizing Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) that allocate all of this inventory into one place, advertisers can easily place bids based on these and a host of other parameters.
The idea is very similar to AdWords, which automatically generates a real time bid whenever a keyword is searched for on Google’s network, but instead with targeted audiences instead of search terms and a less restricted set of sites. Display ads have gotten a bad rap since the beginning, but as the internet becomes more image-centric, the ability of brands to reach consumers in a multitude of ways is becoming increasingly important.
In addition to programmatic buying, more tools are evolving to make display more ROI-focused. Advanse is a platform that enables advertisers to make changes to display ad copy on the fly. By taking Photoshop files from designers rather than finished Flash files, Advanse can insert a multitude of different ad copy and calls to action and measure the effectiveness of each combination. This cuts design time down significantly and puts more control in the hands of the advertiser.
These are just three of the more important trends to recognize when playing in the digital paid media space. Other important facets, such as the rapidly expanding world of mobile and micro video and the host of platforms that support them, are not to be ignored. If the pace of change makes you uncomfortable, well, that’s just the nature of the business. And if you are comfortable with your digital advertising strategy, you probably aren’t doing it right.