The Digital Ad Campaign: A View From the Inside

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The Digital Ad Campaign: A View From the Inside
The Digital Ad Campaign: A View From the Inside

Running a digital ad campaign is not a matter of guesswork. 

The craft has been around for a while. We know it is possible to reach an identified market segment and actually know who clicks on the ad and know what they are buying.  The outcome of a digital campaign is knowable. But how do you build one?

The art, craft and science of building an online ad campaign are elements that have to be juggled, synchronized and managed. There is a core of best practices. All agencies seek the same outcome. How to get there varies from firm to firm.

Focus on the journey or the destination?

Ruckus is a small agency based in New York City that specializes in mid-sized clients. Before undertaking a campaign, the firm maps it out in its entirely, treating it as a funnel, says Ruckus CEO Josh Wood.

Looking at one client — an internet-based service for booking massage therapists on an Uber-like platform — the chain to conversion would start with search; then a digital ad; followed by e-mail; leading the consumer to social media, and perhaps to an event where they could try the service out. “You look at the entire chain. If any part of the chain is broken, your conversion is exponentially less likely to become a sale.” Wood says.

Balancing the many elements of a digital ad campaign sounds daunting, but what makes it work is a consumer-centric approach. “These things work naturally together.” says Parker Noren, senior director for programmatic strategy and optimization at MediaMath.

Starting a campaign requires a sit-down with the client — and access to their sales data . “A lot of data can inform the targeting of the campaign,” Noren says.

The next step is to develop a propensity model — what are the things the customer base has purchased in the past and how likely are they to purchase what you are selling?  The other model is a “lookalike" model — identify  people who share the characteristics of your likely buyer, and seek them out.

“Once you understand what the core objectives are, the next piece is which platform is best suited to that objective.” says Greg Rivera, VP of sales east for Vibrant.  “Make sure the brand is ready to take full advantage of that platform.” In this case, a platform is the target audience and the key performance indicators used to measure the effectiveness of the campaign.

Vibrant focuses on three types of audience data — demographic, behavioral (who visits where), and contextual (targeted consumer content).  Ideally, explains Rivera, they use all three. The challenge is that each audience segment is a layer, adding complexity, and breaking down the audience into smaller chunks. Working with ad tech partners to sift through the data allows the marketer to add layers, but increase the size of the audience — thus avoiding the segmentation trap.

Measure Twice, Act Once

Ads for print and traditional TV rely on approximation — getting the ad to the right magazine or show should get your message across to whichever defined group is consuming that content. Digital is far more exact. You know who clicks on the ad, and you can follow their clicks wherever they go in the Internet.

“Digital channels allow different ways to measure the ad for results and online sales,” says Mark Torrance, CTO of Rocketfuel. Attribution is not just click data. Clicking on a banner ad is probably the easiest example of attribution, but it is vital because you can find out how many sales — or conversions — an ad generated.

Google Doubleclick is the largest player compiling this click data; Facebook Atlas is another. “Google cookie ID knows if a user saw the ad, clicked and converted,” Torrance says.

Data vendors like BlueKai, and Datalogix will build lists of people in  certain demographic categories for resale to marketers based on those clicks. You can cross-check the lists against Google Doubleclick to confirm which ads get credit for making the sale, Torrance explains.

In the end, it still comes down to putting the right ad in front of the right eyeballs. Digital marketers have the data about the audiences they want to reach and where they can be found. The process of choosing where to advertise— and how much they are willing to pay for that placement — happens faster than the blink of an eye. “Transactions happen at such a fast rate that no person can make a decision,” Torrance says.

There are 25 ad exchanges serving up about 200 billion offers daily. The decision to bid for a bloc of ad space is made in about a tenth of a second. The advertiser offering the highest bid wins the space. In some ways, this resembles computerized stock trading on the NASDAQ, Torrance observes.

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