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How to plan effective digital marketing campaigns

With the constant proliferation of new media channels and technologies, content consumption patterns have radically changed. Each channel offers a different interaction model with the users, and as a result, we live in a (media) world where a given metric takes a different meaning depending on the publisher. Let’s take for example video views: Facebook counts a view when at least one pixel is visible for 3 seconds (without sound), YouTube after 30 seconds of play time, Snapchat 1 second, and many publishers still could count a view when a video is playing below the fold.

We live in a (media) world where a given metric takes a different meaning depending on the publisher

In this reality, it’s clear to understand why content’s ability to drive results is so dependent on the medium. Content is still king, and probably the biggest driver of success, but the digital advertising landscape is a parliamentary monarchy.

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The creative agency Zulu Alpha Kilo brilliantly shows the pain of pain of planning across channels (click to view the video)

In spite of this, creative and media agencies are often briefed at the same time, and the creative development process starts before having a rough understanding of the context in which is going to be used. Understandably, the channels with the highest amount of spend, reach, and visibility, are prioritized in the creative production process, but these channels are often the most simple ones (both in targeting and formats). Media and creative development keep moving in a siloed manner, until the last few weeks the agency rushes to figure out how to port an idea developed for an out-of-home billboard to a banner, and how to cut down a 60 seconds TV spot for a 15 seconds pre-roll.

Content is still king, and probably the biggest driver of success, but the digital advertising landscape is a parliamentary monarchy

Digital campaigns don’t perform well when developed with an approach tailored to the offline world, because storyline development for a 60 seconds TV spot is fundamentally different from the one of a skippable pre-roll, and a design made for print may not transfer well in a 300×50 mobile banner

In the offline media world, where formats are constant across the board, a rough indication of the channel mix is enough to allow the creative agencies to work independently for most of the campaign planning process. In the in the digital space instead, creative and context are so interdependent, that we need to change the campaign planning process to deliver something that will resonate with the user.

Four steps to successfully plan digital campaigns

1- Start with an insight on the user

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HBO GO Awkward Family Watching
SS+K and HBO dramatize the worst parts of watching shows like “Girls”, “Game of Thrones,” and “True Detective” with your parents in a new campaign to promote the company’s on-demand streaming service, HBO Go.

Don’t get married to the medium, publisher, or technology until you have found an insight on your target users that will allow you to address the needs in a different way. Today we live in a constant state of information overload, where everything is tailor-made and on-demand. Users will only react to what intimately speaks to them, so you need to be different.

HBO did this egregiously promoting their HBO GO app: they could have taken the classic approach “Download the new HBO app to watch our shows on the move” but, instead they created a series of ads showing the benefits watching Game of Thrones without your parents.

Now I know how to speak to my audience…

2 – Find the best medium to deliver that message

Media is nothing but a medium. When you and your creative agency have figured out a way to tap into an insight in an innovative manner, leverage technology to be relevant at the right time. I felt bad for Bayer when earlier this year they plastered NYC with billboards advertising of Claritin, in one of the coldest and pollen-free April in many years. On the other hand, Kleenex is using a data feed to increase digital media spend in areas where there is a spike in flu-related search queries, or there is a rise in pollen level.

Now that I know how I’m going to reach them…

3 – Develop creatives tailored to that medium

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Google Magic Banner 2.0
The Weather Channel API provides weather information for the Magic Banner 2.0.

Users are bombarded by ads all day every day: to break through, you need to make sure your message is relevant to what the user is doing at that precise moment.

The Magic Banner 2.0 we developed in my old team to promote the Google Search app, is a clever way to deliver a very relevant message: the banner was using 23 pieces of dynamic content which leveraged contextual signals like time of day, weather, and location to always be relevant.

Now that you have their attention…

4 – Build a narrative

I know what you are thinking: “this level of sophistication at scale requires significant amounts of time and money”, but one of the advantages of changing the campaign planning process, is that you don’t have to do something unique in every channel.

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Android Rock Paper Scissors Banner
Android – be together not the same

Rather than trying to drive a 10-points awareness lift in a population of 10 million users, you could target a population of 4 million users, and take them further “down the funnel” to increase consideration and intent.

Ad sequentiality is a great way of doing so: the Android banner on the right will probably not make much sense on its own, but if you have seen the “Rock, Paper, Scissor” ad, seeing it around the web keep your top of mind awareness high. Although the fragmentation of the digital media ecosystem and proliferation of “walled gardens” doesn’t make things easy, companies should try to build a narrative with their audience by re-targeting users exposed to an awareness ad, with a subsequent message that explains why that product is perfect for them.

Final consideration – Measure holistically

Users (and yourself), continuously move between websites, apps, and email, forming their opinion slowly over time. It is best not to consider the different channels in isolation, but relative to their contribution to the customer acquisition process: a particular banner may not drive a significant lift in “intent”, but may allow users to convert at a lower CPA. If that’s the case, the real value of that ad will be measured by the increased reach and efficiency achieved by the campaign.

In summary

The best advice I can give to marketers planning (digital) campaigns, is always to take a consumer perspective: put yourself in the shoes of your target audience, think how they live their lives, and how you can reach them with a message that can add something to their day.The biggest sin in (digital) marketing is thinking that every opportunity to reach your target user is a good enough reason to serve an ad to them, but this logic only leads to annoyance and the use of ad-blockers.The biggest sin in (digital) marketing is thinking that every opportunity to reach your target user is a good enough reason to serve an ad to them, but this logic only leads to annoyance and the use of ad-blockers.

Think about the right opportunities. Getting users’ attention is a value exchange, you need to give something back: this could be entertainment, knowledge, or a solution to a problem they are facing right then and there. If the only thing they take away from your ad exposure is learning about your product, or the information not relevant to the context, you haven’t contributed to the value exchange, and users won’t react to your campaign in the way you’d like.

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