We’ve Got it all Backwards (Guest Post)

IntendersDigital Display Can Create Customers, Not Just Close Them

The large majority of marketers put a ton of money into traditional marketing channels, using “branding media” to drive interest in their products. Later, they allocate digital budget for “scooping them up” with retargeting and other cookie-based targeting tactics. After all, “intenders” have already raised their hand digitally, making them easy to find. They already have expressed an interest in the marketers product by visiting the website, leaving something in a shopping cart, or just “looking like” the typical customer. In the classic “AIDA” funnel, the “Awareness” budget at the very top of the funnel rarely gets any digital allocation.

Maybe this is 100% backwards.

Television advertising is about creating enough buzz to drive customers towards Interest, Desire, and Action. TV, radio, and print do this fairly well at scale. Media is easy to buy, has mass reach, and relatively standard creative formats, which lower the cost of broadscale market penetration. But that is changing. Traditonal media is losing people’s attention, which is becoming increasingly divided between mobile, tablet, and desktop screens. Folks are using the DVR and Netflix to avoid marketing altogether, and forget about the kids. You have to basically trick them with “native” ads or actually produce a buzzworthy YouTube video to get their attention. That’s impossible to scale.

What about digital approaches to branding? Can you actually create customers in digital, rather than just scooping them up with retargeting and other lower-funnel tactics? The answer is yes…with the right way to measure. Cookie-based measurement will always fail to give the progressive marketer the right answers. Common issues (deletion, do-not-track, multiple-device, etc.) mean we can only see 30% of online conversions from a particular campaign—never mind the offline sales digital receives 0% attribution for.

What if we used the right metrics, which could reveal the real impact digital branding has on new customer creation? One of those metrics is profit optimization: the concept of understanding what a products optimal sales should be in one geo-targeted area. In other words, understanding how many ACME widgets are selling in Huntington, New York—and how many it should be selling, based on its profit potential. If you understand those numbers, even at a basic level, you can actually start to measure digital success and uncover the “invisible” digital customers you might have. They are the people you can’t see online—because they don’t actually exist (as cookies) yet.

It’s a pretty simple equation: more and more time is spent online. But more sales occur offline. Looking at the graphic above, the concept is to try and pull the digital line backward, and engage the customers you can’t see online, leveraging digital media tactics for branding. By taking a pure digital approach in discrete markets, and measuring by nothing but profit optimization, you will be able to quickly see the hidden power of digital branding—and start creating more customers with digital, rather than marketing to those who have already expressed interest in your products.

[This guest post was authored by christopher Skinner, and appeared on Econsultancy on 11.25.13]

Every Marketer Needs to See this Napkin

Recently, I had a cup of coffee and a macaroon with a guy named Christopher Skinner. Christopher has spent the last dozen years or so running a company called MakeBuzz after selling his old company, Performics, to Doubleclick. Lately, he has been keynoting some of Google’s “Think” conferences. Google likes what his company does for them—after using his software, marketers start to spend a lot more money on branded display. In other words, instead of just loading up on keywords and obvious AdSense display inventory, marketers are leveraging data that says digital display works to build a brand’s customer base. Without getting too specific, the software offers geo-targeted media recommendations that aim to optimize profits in specific areas—helping a company go from selling 100 widgets a month in Poughkeepsie to 150.

When I asked what the secret sauce was, I was surprised at the answer. Christopher drew me something on a napkin that looked like this:

Napkin

The problem, he told me was that marketers weren’t striking the right balance between branding and direct response, and focusing too much on capturing customers they already had. In other words, if your business was like a lawn, and the profits were grass clippings, most folks were spending too much time cutting and not enough time fertilizing. To get the grass to grow, you want to fertilize it (branding) and get plenty of new blades to pop up as often as possible. When you cut it (direct response), you want to do so in a way that ensures it won’t get burnt, and lose its ability to sustain itself. It’s a delicate balance between growing demand through branding, and harvesting those efforts through direct response.

Looking at his crudely drawn chart, the line represents reach, going from a single user to the entire population. Most marketers stop 20% of the way through, and put all of their focus on their customer base through search and programmatic RTB display efforts—using data to ensure they are reaching the right “intenders,” but missing the opportunity to create new ones through branding. On the far right (dotted line), you have all the potential customers that are addressable; these users are still “targeted,” but so widely that hitting them with messaging is fraught with waste. This is the digital equivalent of advertising to “the demo” on television. Sure, it creates demand for BMWs, but only a certain portion of the audience has enough dough to afford a 5-series.

The simple message that many marketers continue to miss—either by focusing way too much on DR, or over indexing on untargeted branded efforts—is that a balance is critically important in the digital marketing mix. While it sounds simple to find the right balance, it actually requires a strong base of knowledge to execute properly. This is what I mean:

  • Measure Differently:  Before you can understand the mix you need to achieve between branding and DR, you need to agree on a meaningful metric. Far too many digital campaigns are judged by three-letter performance acronyms that are proxies for success. Great CTR and CPA are positive signs—that you are doing all the right things to reach the audience you have already earned. They are poor indicators of your success in building new customers. Thinking holistically about your marketing efforts yields new benchmarks: If your company typically sell 200 widgets in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, why shouldn’t you be able to sell the same amount in San Francisco’s Nob Hill? In other words, how about using “profit optimization” as the primary metric? This requires a relationship with the advertiser that goes beyond the agency, and plenty of first-party data, which is why such simple yet effective metrics are not used frequently.
  • Spend More on Branding: Sometimes, what holds good marketing back is a reliance on known metrics. In another year, the banner ad with be 20 years old. While the banner ad ushered in an era of “measurability,” it also took marketers on a path to thinking that anything and everything could have its own success metric, and we went from a dependence on soft, panel-based, attitudinal metrics to today’s puzzling array of digital KPIs. Did Absolut vodka worry about CTR on its way to becoming the dominant liquor brand of the last quarter century? Or did they just design great packaging and put big beautiful ads on every magazine back cover they could find? At the end of the day, TBWA made a decent vodka into a great brand, and the only metric anyone ever worried about was case sales. They did it by spending LOTS of money on branding.
  • Find the Sweet Spot: Spending more on branding is obviously important for “growing the grass,” but not every product is one everyone can afford. While it made sense for Absolut to advertise to the broader population of adults in magazine, most marketers have a more limited audience and budget. Finding the sweet spot between branding and DR has a lot to do with knowing your potential customer and how they make purchase decisions. If you believe (as I do) that word-of-mouth is the most powerful medium, then it makes sense to apply as much granular targeting to a campaign—without restricting it with too much targeting data. Neighbors talk to and influence each other—and the Smiths and Joneses tend to chat on the soccer field about cars, vacations, and even the latest medical procedures. Your sweet spot is where you can faithfully blanket ads in a neighborhood or larger area that has a built-in predilection to purchase. It’s not a broad as city targeting, which wastes messaging on customers that can’t afford your products, and not so targeted as “intender” targeting, which limits your addressable audience to people who already love your brand.

Today, it seems like digital marketers are limiting their reach to their existing customers—spending lots of lower-funnel effort dragging “intenders” across the finish line, so they can attribute lower acquisition costs to their campaigns. Although the real customer growth is grown through branding efforts, most marketers are scared to open up the spigot and deliver large amount of impressions, and especially hesitant to migrate marketing to cookie-less mobile devices and tablets which are harder to target. But to grow customers, you need to introduce them to your brand—and find them where they live. When you water the lawn religiously, there is always plenty to cut.

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger on 10/7/2013]

The Hourglass Funnel Changes Everything

Hourglass_Branding_FunnelLately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hourglass funnel. Most funnels stop at the thin bottom, when a customer “drops” out, having made the journey through awareness, interest, desire and action. After the “action,” or purchase, the customer gets put into a CRM to be included in more traditional marketing outreach efforts, such as calls, e-mails, and catalogue mailings. In the past, marketers often thought about how to turn customers into advocates, but couldn’t figure out how to do it at scale. Companies that were really good at multi-level marketing, like Amway, didn’t have easy-to-replicate business models.

Today, the situation has changed. Social-media platforms give marketers tools to engage customers in their CRMs and bring them back through the bottom of the funnel, turning them into brand advocates — and maybe even salespeople. This is why Salesforce has been snatching up social-media companies like Radian6 and Buddy Media, while Oracle bought Vitrue and Involver. These platforms can help get people talking about your brand– and, in turn, you get to listen to what they have to say. These platforms also can help you understand what it takes to get your customers to move from liking your page to actively sharing your content and to actually recommending your products and even selling them as an affiliate.

The ad-tech revolution of the last several years has supercharged our ability to drive people through this hourglass-shaped funnel. But instead of enabling this movement, we have instead – for the most part — focused  on wringing efficiency out of reaching the customers we’re already very close to getting. For example, programmatic RTB makes it easy to bid on people in the “interest” layer, who behave like existing customers. Additionally, it’s a no-brainer to retarget those customers who have already expressed “desire” by visiting a product page or your website. And technology also makes it increasingly easy to invite customers already in your CRM to “like” your Instagram page, or to offer them incentives to “recommend” products through social sharing tools.

But what about the very top of the funnel (awareness) and the very bottom (advocacy)? Those are the two most critical parts of the marketing hourglass funnel, but the two least served by technology today. While we have tools to drive people through the marketing process more quickly or cheaply, technology doesn’t create brands or turn social-media fans into brand advocates.

However, the right strategy for both ends of this funnel can still boost awareness and advocacy by creating a branding vortex that is a virtuous circle. Let me explain:

Awareness

You can’t start a customer down the sales funnel without making he or she aware of your product or service. Despite all of the programmatic promise in display, technology mainly emphasizes reaching our known audience most efficiently. It simply hasn’t yet proven that it can create new customers at scale. That’s why TV still gets the lion’s share of brand dollars. Cost-effective reach, pairedwith a brand-safe, viewable environment, is what TV supplies.

In my opinion, the digital answer for raising awareness is starting to look less and less like programmatic RTB and more like video and “native” formats, which are more engaging and contextually relevant. Also, new programmatic direct technologies are starting to make the process of buying guaranteed, premium inventory more measurable, efficient and scalable.

Programmatic RTB advocates will argue that you can build plenty of awareness across exchanges, but it’s hard to create emotion with three IAB standard units, and there still isn’t enough truly premium inventory available in exchanges today to generate a contextual halo for your ads. New “native” display opportunities, video and tablet advertising are where branding has the biggest impact. Adding those opportunities to social tools, such as Twitter and Instagram, would help you leverage your existing brand advocates and amplify your message.

Advocacy

Great digital branding at the “awareness” level of the funnel not only helps drive potential new customers deeper into the sales funnel, but also can help engage existing customers. This amplification effect is extremely powerful. Old-school marketers such as David Sarnoff understood that folks make buying decisions through their friends and neighbors. He also understood that, when you’re trying to sell the next big thing (like radio), you have to leverage existing media (print). Applied to digital marketing, this simply means leveraging awareness media — TV, video and “native” advertising — to stimulate word-of-mouth advertising, which is still the most powerful type. By using Facebook and other social sharing tools, the effect of any campaign can grow exponentially in a very short period of time. This virtuous circle of awareness media influencing brand advocates, who then create more awareness among their own social circles, is something that many marketers miss when they lead their campaigns with data rather than with emotion.

Everything In Between

I’m not saying that marketers can simply feed the top of the funnel with great branding and ignore the rest. That’s not true at all; the middle of the funnel is important too. I think it’s relatively easy, nowadays, to build a stack that also helps support all the hard work that brands are doing to create awareness. Most large marketers reinforce brand efforts with “always on” programmatic RTB that targets based on behavior, and all brands employ as much retargeting that they can buy. Once customers are in the CRM, it’s not hard to maintain a rewards/loyalty program, and messaging to an existing social fan base also is relatively simple.

But marketers are making a mistake if they think that this kind of programmatic marketing can replace great branding. With so many different things competing for customers’ attention, capturing it for more than a second is extremely difficult, and the challenge is only going to get harder.

The Datalogix Effect

So what does all this mean for for ad technology? The best way to think about this is to look at the Datalogix-Facebook partnership. Datalogix’s trove of customer offline purchase data essentially enables brands to measure whether or not  all their social-ad spending resulted in more online sales. A few studies have pretty much proven that media selling soap suds on Facebook created more suds sales at the local Piggly Wiggly. In fact, ROI turns out to be easy to calculate, as well as positive.

This type of attribution seems simple, but I don’t think you can overstate its impact. It’s the way we finally move from clicks and views to profit-optimization metrics such as those offered by MakeBuzz. And this method of tying online activity with offline sales is already having a vast impact on the ecosystem. It shows, beyond doubt, that branding sells product.

Getting the attribution right, though, means that brands are going to have to care about creative and content more than ever. It means big wins for video, “native” ad approaches, and big tentpole marketing campaigns. If quality premium sites can be bought programmatically at scale, then it may also mean big wins for large, traditional publishers.

It also likely means that many retargeters, programmatic RTB technologies and exchanges could end up losing in the long run. Don’t get me wrong: These technologies are needed to drive the “always on” machine that powers the middle of the funnel. But just how many DSPs and exchanges does the industry need to manage its commoditized display channel?

As marketers realize that they are spending money to capture customers that were going to convert anyway, they’re likely to focus less on audience targeting and more on initiatives to create new customers — and turn existing customers into advocates.

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger on 7/31/13]

Does Driving Efficiency Drive Profit (A Contrarian View of RTB)

unicorn

Online display would be like this, if branding metrics took profit into account.

I’ve always loved the notion of programmatic RTB. As a data hound and an early adopter of Appnexus , the notion that advertisers can achieve highly granular levels of targeting and utilize algorithms to impact performance is right in my wheelhouse. Today’s ad tech, replete with 300 companies that enable data-driven audience segmentation, targeting, and analytics is testament to the efficiency of buying ads one impression at a time.

But what if driving efficiency in display actually does more harm than good?

Today’s RTB practitioners have become extremely relentless in pursuit of the perfect audience. It starts with retargeting, which uses first party data to serve ads only to people who are already deeply within the customer funnel. No waste there. The next tactic is to target behavioral “intenders” who, according to their cookies, have done everything BUT purchase something. Guess what? If I have searched 4 times in the last three hours for a flight from JFK to SFO, eventually you will get last view attribution for my ticket purchase if you serve me enough ads. Next? Finding “lookalike” audiences that closely resemble past purchasers. Data companies, each of whom sell a variety of segments that can be mixed to create a 35 year-old suburban woman, do a great job of delivering audiences with a predilection to purchase.

But what if we are serving ads to people that are already going to buy? Is efficiency really driving new sales, or are we just helping marketers save money on marketing?

It seems like online display wants to be more and more like television. Television is simple to buy, it works, and it drives tons of top funnel awareness that leads to bottom funnel results. We know branding works, and even those who didn’t necessarily believe in online branding need look no further than Facebook for proof. With their Datalogix offline data partnership, Facebook conclusively proved that people exposed to lots of Facebook ads tended to grab more items off of store shelves. It just makes sense. So why are we frequency capping audiences at 3—or even 10? I can’t remember the last time I watched network television and didn’t see the same car ad about 20 times.

The other thing that RTB misses out on is profit. RTB drives advertising towards lowering the overall cost of media needed to drive a sale. Even if today’s attribution models were capable of taking into account all of the top-funnel activity that eventually creates an online shopping cart purchase (a ludicrous notion), we are still just measuring those things that are measureable. TV ads, billboard ads, and word of mouth never get online credit—yet I believe they drive most of the online sales. Sorry, but I believe the RTB industry creates attribution models that favor RTB buying. Shocking, I know.

So, what is true performance and what really drives it? For most businesses, performance is more profit. In other words, the notion that a sales territory that has 100 sales a day can generate 120 sales a day. That’s called profit optimization. If I can use advertising to create those additional 20 sales, and still make a profit after expenses, than that’s a winner. RTB makes it cheaper to get the 100 sales you already have, but doesn’t necessarily get the next twenty. Getting the next batch of customers requires spending more on media, and driving more top-funnel activity.

The other thing RTB tends to fumble is how real life sales actually happen. Sure, audience buying knows what type of audience tends to buy, and where to find them online, but misses with frequency capping and a lack of contextual relevance. Let me explain. In real life, people live in neighborhoods. The houses in those neighborhoods are roughly the same price, the kids go to the same school district, the people have similar jobs, and their kids do similar activities and play the same sports. The Smiths drive similar cars to the Joneses, they eat at the same restaurants, and shop at the same stores. If the Smiths get a new BMW, then it’s likely the Joneses will keep up with a new Audi or Lexus in the near future. When neighbors get together, they ask each other what they did on February Break, and they get their vacation ideas from each other. That’s how life works.

What media most closely supports this real-life model, where we are influenced most by our neighbors?  Is it serving the Jones family a few carefully selected banners on cheap exchange inventory, which is highly targeted and cost effective? Or is it jamming the Smiths and Joneses with top-funnel brand impressions across the web? The latter not only gets Smith, the BMW owner, to keep his car top-of-mind and be more likely to recommend it—but also predisposes Jones to regard his neighbor’s vehicle in a more desirable light. That takes a lot of impressions of various types of media. You can’t do that and remain efficient. The thing is—you can do that and create incremental profit.

Isn’t that what marketers really want?

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger on 5/20/13]

Leveraging the Influence of Neighbors

Neighbors-family-guy-15674073-638-483Christopher Skinner sold a search marketing company called Performics to Google as part of its Doubleclick acquisition. He now runs a software company called MakeBuzz that is on track to spend almost $100 million in media this year. Clients include Google, Target, and Oreck.

Its premise is simple: People buy the stuff their neighbors buy. By starting wide with media that builds a brand halo and then, optimizing into specific geographic areas where buyers are found, MakeBuzz optimizes against profit only.

Most marketers are obsessed with reaching individuals, but Skinner’s concept is almost contrarian: Spend more media up front, target by neighborhood and city, and be completely media-agnostic. The MakeBuzz code guides the optimization process until profitability KPIs are met. I recently sat down with Skinner to learn more.

The CMO Site: What’s the big idea here?

Christopher Skinner: Most people online today can measure a brand, but they can’t grow it. The methods to measure are not the same as those used to grow. You need a different framework and nobody is talking about that online.

Digital media agencies today are being handed money — money from traditional budgets — and asked to perform and hit the business targets but they don’t know how because they’ve lived inside the efficiency world for so long. It relates to neo-classic economic thinking: What you can’t measure, just ignore it.

On average we increase media spend by six times or more because we install a framework and technology that justifies the complete customer journey. We tie marketing to the economics of the business.

The CMO Site: Is profit optimization real, or are you just adding some process to what should be the CMO’s primary KPI?

Skinner: Both. It’s real and it is a formalized process. The software shows you how to tip the scales in favor of revenue by spending the right amount on media directed to the right group of customers. It helps you achieve maximum profitability on a market-by-market basis.

The CMO Site: You take a rather contrarian view. Most folks are buying audience by the impression, but you carpet-bomb geo-targeted areas with impressions. Which method is right? Can they be used together?

Skinner: Hyper-audience targeting based on cookies will deliver incredibly efficient sales, but you’re not going to see massive volume from this. You’re not going to move the needle on the business. I wouldn’t call what we do “carpet-bombing.” We’re delivering a large volume of impressions to areas that have a reasonable volume and high density of the target customer. We are looking at real social circles and matching media to these audiences, down to small pockets when needed. This is going to get you a little less efficiency but a lot more sales — a lot more profit volume. And isn’t that what matters?

The CMO Site: So, if I find the right neighborhood for a certain type of vehicle, I should just buy lookalike neighborhoods. How does that scale?

Skinner: Instead of drawing circles around virtual groups online, we draw the circle around concentrated groups of people that we know are likely to be interested in what we help market. And the fact that they are influenced by each other — they see what their neighbors wear and drive and what kinds of phones they use — means they are more likely to be influenced by media that reinforces and re-suggests those choices.

Scalability is about testing your way in. Identifying high-value areas, testing media to discover your profitability, then scaling to similar areas.

The CMO Site: What kind of media works best? It would seem that the more granular the geo-target, the better the performance.

Skinner: You need media that addresses the entire customer journey, from early awareness branding media to direct response purchase phase media. Most businesses are fine with the direct response online media, but they are missing brand-creating media. Our methods do a really good job of justifying media that helps drive direct response. The earlier phase media tends be display, mobile, and video, but can also be search (SEM).

As far as geo-targeting granularity, as long as the density of our target segment is good in each area and we’re hitting them with the right media plan, it works great. Think of each step as a filter: 1) Choose the right segment, filtering out all the less valuable potential customers; 2) Choose an area they live in high in density and volume, filtering out the neighborhoods they don’t live in; and 3) Pick the media they’re likely to be engaged with, filtering out wasted impressions. You can’t pull this off without a platform and it will not work unless the manager has a fast and simple way to buy in.

[This post was originally publisher in The CMO Site, on 4/11/13]