Don’t call it Performance Marketing

“Performance marketing” vs. “Brand marketing”

There is this weird distinction in the advertising industry between “performance marketing” and “brand marketing”, where the former usually refers to the highly-trackable, data-driven spend, where the other is awareness-creation, emotions-driving, hard-to-measure-impact kind of spend: the most obvious example of the two are SEM and TV advertising. Continue reading

Some thoughts on the ‘hot topics’ in digital advertising – January 2016

I just came back from the AdExchanger Industry Preview conference here in New York City, and while many of the presentations are still fresh in my mind, I’ve decided to write a few notes and personal considerations on the “hot topics” in the digital advertising industry as of January 2016.

  • Programmatic TV
  • Cross-device targeting, tracking, and measurement
  • Ad-blocking
  • Ad-fraud
  • New ad formats
  • Native Ads


Disclaimer 1: due to the ever-evolving, fast-paced nature of this industry, anything stated below may not be true in a few months, or even weeks.

Disclaimer 2: everything on this site is my personal opinion, and it does not represent the point of view of the company I work for etc. … you know the drill.

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Direct Response Marketing shows what is needed for Programmatic Brand Advertising

Over the past eight years, working in Digital Marketing, I saw the industry obsessing over many different metrics when talking about performance campaigns: CPM, CPC, CTR, and then finally focusing on more meaningful metrics such as CPA, ROAS, and profitability.

The reason why DR online marketing is a no-brainer nowadays is that, after years of debating on which metrics were meaningful, the right tools came along to take the guesswork and the heavy-lifting away from the people buying the media, and give it to machine-learning algorithms. Products like AdWords can automatically manage bids and placements to hit the desired cost per action, return on ad spend, or profitability.

Programmatic performance buying: the right bid for the right placement

This level of automation has come with incredible advantages to the industry as a whole. What used to be a very manual, slow, and tedious process, is now done by machines in a fraction of a second. Don’t get me wrong, true DR optimization is a very involved process, and that is why it is so hard to find real talent in this space: in my experience, I’ve seen only a handful of people doing it right and every expert you talk to has a slightly different way to go about it. Also, even when we reduce the complexity from the media buying process, there is still much to be done to optimize the creative and the conversion funnel. When deciding who owns the landing page or the creative development process, the debate often becomes political rather than tactical.

All this is possible in the Direct Response world because the relevant metrics are clear, the industry has reached consensus on what matters and machines can be leveraged to optimize the buying process.

Branding is not there. The industry talks about viewability, and there is not even agreement on what constitutes a viewable impression (e.g. for videos it could be a muted play for 3 seconds, or a full in view play with audio and video). But that’s just scratching the surface: if we were to draw a parallel for the DR world, it would be like asking that each ad should be clickable. It is not a measure of success, but the minimum requirement for even having a conversation.

I get it; it’s a vast and complex problem: publishers have been building their revenue models on different metrics, and asking them to switch suddenly is not sustainable for the industry. The work that many are doing in the space of “native advertising” is exciting, although there are still many technical and moral gray areas (e.g. advertorial).

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The SEM branding problem (that current technology can’t solve)

Search Engine Market (SEM) has a branding problem, actually two, and big ones I may add.

The first one is that companies don’t spend the significant amount of money in SEM for branding purposes. Even though everyone can agree on the fundamental principle that users go through asearch funnel” when making a purchase (i.e. broad generic searches at first to learn more about the product category, followed by specific ones to conclude the purchase), very few digital marketers would be willing to spend money inupper funnelclicks ; this because it is harder to quantify their contribution to the final transaction, but really easy to see their (high) contribution to cost.

The second one is that no one in this space is willing to pay for what they cannot measure directly. Since the dawn of SEM, every company, technologist, and professionals in the space, based their pitch on the fact that they could finally offer to the ultimate form of trackable marketing: “the TV era is over, now you can understand and track your real contribution of your marketing dollars to the cent“. And marketers started believing it, to the point that no one would give SEM any credit for its brand value: everyone know is there, but since you can’t measure it, no one is willing to pay for it.

Photo credit of MKFeeney
Photo credit of MKFeeney

And while companies are desperate to find ways to spend additional money to move the needle marginally in one of the key constituents of branding (awareness, recall, consideration, intent), SEM is getting none of that budget. Not only that no one can accurately measure the correlation between awareness lift and sales lift, but in many cases the branding impact is given on faith. Don’t you believe me? Let me know if the following sentence sounds familiar: “This is the year of mobile, you want to reach teens, but they are leaving Facebook in droves, teens spend an enormous amount of time on mobile devices, you need to buy mobile ads.” And you do, regardless of the fact that tracking mobile ads is still very hard, surveying teens is often not allowed, and registering a lift at 90% confidence level requires volumes that very few networks offer. Since the value is there in theory, it becomes acceptable to invest. It’s the most classic example of deductive fallacy.

Why have marketers no problem accepting a high degree of uncertainty with ‘brand marketing’, but pretend absolute measurability when buying SEM?

It’s like two brain hemispheres:

  • The left one, where SEM lives together with scientists and mathematicians, can’t conceive a world that cannot be measured, analyzed, and studied in all its components;
  • The right one,  where Branding lives with artists and free spirits, things are done because they ‘feel right’, and questioning this logic means not belonging there in the first place.

Put the two together and you will have the perfect picture of the schizophrenic brain of today’s marketer.

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What You Need to Know for a Successful SEM Campaign

What I’ll discuss in this post should be hard-coded in every SEM-expert’s DNA, but since I found that a lot of people out there struggle in approaching Search Engine Advertising with a true holistic view, I thought it was worth spending a few words on it.

The content of this post originally comes from a slide a created for a training. When I showed it to a few colleagues to have some feedback on my “theories”, one of them said: ”Wow! This makes look what we do so complicated that if you give this slide to a media agency, they could virtually charge any fee for their service!”.

As a matter of fact trying to embrace all the different elements that make Search Advertising campaign successful in one single slide (and keep it simple at the same time), is quite a challenge! Moreover I feel like I’ve never been blessed with a superior data visualization ability that some people have, and let’s face it… my slide is pretty horrible for the time being!

I’ll let you be the judge…


So if you think you are able to represent in a nice visual way what I’m going to describe in the next few paragraphs, well my friend… we are in business!

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