No time for New Year’s puns – there is a lot happening on the digital frontier and marketers need to be prepared to ask questions. Critical thinking is the #1 tool in your toolbelt as we wrap things up and get ready for that fresh start in January.
The 2024 “to-do” list should include:
- Re-evaluating current vendors
- Staying vigilant with self-serve platform quality
- Thinking ahead on metrics that matter
Check Vendors Twice
Have your preferred vendors been naughty or nice this Q4? It is pivotal to address declining performances with urgency. My personal experience is that digital vendors tend to peak in performance for 1 or 2 years before I need to replace them with better options. This can be due to growing too fast (or too slow!), staff changes, or tech stack updates. Often these changes will not be addressed with advertisers, so it is up to you to check in on how inventory is accessed and vetted, as well as what viewability and fraud detection measures are in place.
- Request site lists and/or investigate which demand side platforms are being used. Prioritize vendors who run on whitelisted inventory and have direct relationships with publishers as this allows for higher quality control and brand safety. Be wary of inventory lists that contain a high percentage of made for advertising sites as this demonstrates poor discernment on the vendor side in terms of how users will be best primed to interact with ads.
- Ensure a viewability standard over 70% or ability to run only in inventory that is above-the-fold. Plenty of vendors are far behind on viewability standards and somehow not grasping that an ad cannot be impactful if it is not viewed. IAB’s current standard for viewability is for at least 50% of an ad to be in view for 2 seconds so you will want to ensure the bulk of your impressions are meeting that threshold.
- Ask what current checks and balances are in place for fraudulent placements or clicks and how make goods work should your campaign be affected. It is important to know what systems are in place to prevent wasted ad spend and how transparent your vendor will be if these systems fail.
- Get a refresher on how audiences are targeted and what sources are being used to capture that data. Think on how unique the targeting approach is and if the sources of data make sense. Vendors with unique propositions tend to perform better than those who are built off accessing standard inventory using standard data. Anyone can get DV360 access and set up standard campaigns, look for the unique value proposition to find vendors that really shine. Bonus points awarded for targeting with user consent baked-in as cookie deprecation is slated to start a slow roll out through 2024 and you will need to start sourcing vendors that are prepared to operate without accessing cookie-based data.
Keep Accountable with Self-Serve Platforms
Quality control and brand safety are my top concerns when working with self-service platforms, thus I have always been wary of platforms pushing automation features. I want to trust machine-learning to optimize and perform but in practice these automations have great difficulty grasping nuances and cannot be left unchecked. Be overly critical of suggestions and consider the worst-case outcomes before hitting that “Apply all” button.
Note for Google Ads most recommendations are focused to Google’s priorities as a tech company and what they want advertisers to be testing, not what is beneficial for your unique product or service. I recommend steering completely clear from automatically created assets and keywords lest you check your campaign to find a mess of illogical headlines being triggered by an untenable list of broad match keywords 😵😵😵
Extended networks are another feature to approach with caution due to the lack of transparency and controls. If you have a limited budget and are looking for wide-reach of a narrow target there is certainly a use-case for taking that risk, but for most scenarios I can guarantee clients will prefer to see their ads in a brand safe context. Meta has recently taken brand safety a step further and introduced inventory filters to allow more advertiser control over what type of content your in-feed and video ads appear next to, perhaps taking a strong cue from the disaster that is X on what not to do if you want to grow ad revenue.
Plan Ahead for Campaign Tracking
Media Mix Modelling has had a resurgence in popularity while conversion tracking has become less precise. This technique had typically been reserved for offline media measurement but now marketers are looking at the cause and effect of online tactics on a grander scale than last-click attribution to determine performance as privacy concerns have whittled down the precision of incoming data.
Now is the time to think on what metrics are really feeding into your marketing goals. Quality changes in web traffic, incremental lifts in conversion activity, and real-life business outcomes can all be mapped along-side tactics to determine what is moving the needle (hard metrics). Examining affects that support goals (soft metrics) can also be valuable, such as:
- Did display CTR increase with CTV ads in market?
- Did organic traffic increase with YouTube ads in market?
- Have overall sessions been more engaged with TikTok ads in market?
Examining cause and effect may require flighting your ad presence to measure changes. I promise you will find tremendous joy in uncovering unexpected relationships between your tactical executions, engaged user behaviour and business outcomes.
Additionally, do a workback on your tactical approach and what hard or soft metric each component is expected to deliver to feed into your marketing goal. Watching for your mapped out performance versus predictions will bring valuable insights into how each tactic plays into your overall approach. I find it helpful to communicate which metrics are being tracked as benchmarks with clients as this is also an opportunity to educate them on what you are measuring and why it is of importance in the scope of your media strategy.
Planning ahead on metrics that matter, keeping a watchful eye on self-serve platforms and evaluating vendors will keep your campaigns on track and delivering optimal results for the new year. Approaching all aspects of your digital executions with a skeptical eye maximizes your ability to make critical decisions. Stay curious and don’t shy away from asking questions, especially the ones you are afraid to know the answers to.