Most customer journeys start the second a new user clicks on your ad. That is… if you can get them to click your ad!
We sat down with David Rodnitzky, the founder of 3Q Digital, an New York City-based growth marketing agency, and Anne DiNapoli Block, SVP and Head of Communications at creative agency Trade School to hear their perspectives on how the paid media landscape has changed since the pandemic and how their clients are shifting to more customer-centric advertising strategies.
Here’s what they had to share on how brands can combine performance marketing, customer experience, and ai analytics to understand complete consumer journeys – from the moment a user clicks on your ad, arrives on your website, and, ideally, moves all the way to checkout.
What effect has the pandemic had on media spend and strategy this year?
Anne DiNapoli Block: Marketing has intrinsically changed. We saw every big-box retailer across America dissolve Black Friday. Brands offered savings during all of November and for the first time ever, we were not pushing to drive that influx of in-store traffic the day after Thanksgiving.
Last year, many of our clients invested in getting an early start on holiday gift-giving inspiration, building online experiences that drive that eCommerce, and growing the role of the influencer. Some of that is because of the production challenges that COVID has poised brands. We used to be able to do shoots in less than four weeks, but now there’s a lot more planning and nimbleness that has had to go into ad production. On the media side, that’s meant looking at different types of units to drive what we would have historically thought of as inspirational and more upper-funnel reach strategies. It also means looking at how to create a more collapsed funnel strategy so that we can really create a storyline on-site and ensure that the experiences our clients are building lives cohesively across the board.
Every brick-and-mortar brand investing in developing that inter-connective experience by defining how their in-store and online experiences work cohesively together.
With digital consumption up so significantly, the new normal is here to stay. I don’t see that shift back happening. Trends across the media landscape right now show that there is this deeper immersion, especially in mobile commerce. I think now it’s a matter of every brick-and-mortar brand investing in developing that inter-connective experience by defining how their in-store and online experiences work cohesively together. That will help brands identify where somebody is in their DXP journey and know exactly what to serve them the moment they land on an experience.
David Rodnitzky: During the pandemic, I’ve seen companies optimizing for macroeconomic trends and not microeconomic trends. There has been a lot of reactive behavior from companies based on news that’s happening. When the pandemic first started, we had clients outright pause spend. People said, “The sky is falling, pause spend!” but I would say in the last three to four months, we’ve had clients increase their spend aggressively as the stock market recovered and, as it turns out, the sky hasn’t fallen!
But, I’m not sure that either of those approaches is the right answer. I think the right answer is to look at and act based on your metrics. For those companies that had paused spend early on, had they looked at their numbers, seen their conversion rates remained unchanged, and noticed their competition had paused their spend, they would have realized their cost per acquisition was lower and they had a huge market share opportunity. They would have been in a great position. A lot of people came back and tried to achieve that, but it was too late. The answer is to look at your data and adjust in real-time.
The answer is to look at your data and adjust in real-time.
How have you seen media budgets shift as a result of the pandemic?
DiNapoli Block: The role of brand continues to be really strong, the reason for that being it really continues to build consumer trust, especially during these more uncertain times. There’s a lot of different ways to do that and it’s important to note that the tactical execution of brand has shifted. You might need to change which channels that you support brand on, or really look at how audience data and first-party data could be layered into some of those strategies to help you be more effective. Those are the larger shifts that I have seen.
The role of brand continues to be really strong, the reason for that being it really continues to build consumer trust, especially during these more uncertain times.
When it comes to focusing on channel selection, the biggest takeaway from 2020 that we’ve seen is the Facebook boycott was an interesting time. We just did a huge competitive audit across many different verticals for one of our clients. It was interesting to see there are a lot of different challenges not only with social injustice, but also the shift in consumer privacy. I’m curious to see what that owned data strategy could look like, knowing that some of our brands are trying to build their own walled gardens with their data so media exposure pumping into their data sets is becoming increasingly important. I do think the long-term effects of privacy may start changing social media significantly.
Rodnitzky: We did a survey of 1,000 CMOs back in July and one of the questions we asked was, “Where is your main concern: top of funnel, bottom of funnel, or post funnel/upsell and retention?” We found most CMO’s top concern was actually top of funnel followed by retention followed by performance marketing or bottom of funnel. I think that you can interpret that in a couple of different ways. Firstly, it helps people feel more confident around their direct response marketing. It’s much more quantifiable and easy to understand. You could also interpret it as, during the pandemic, being on-brand and maintaining a lift and preference with consumers is really challenging and requires a lot of pivoting.
We also asked people “Who do you most want to hire right now?” We found that there was a pretty low interest and prioritization in hiring media buyers and coders, which is another way of saying the soft and hard sciences aren’t in demand. Interestingly enough, the area that was most in demand was data and analytics. Those are the people who understand hard science, but can turn it into soft science. When you look at this intersection of brand and performance marketing, that’s where analytics become particularly important because you can understand the full conversion funnel and attribute credit appropriately.
Brand marketers have to understand performance metrics and performance marketers need to understand brand storytelling. Data is in the center of that.
There’s no longer a business case for CMOs to throw all their money into brand and then win an award in France and say,” Look, this worked!” There has to be a data-driven component to everything you do. Brand marketers have to understand performance metrics and performance marketers need to understand brand storytelling. Data is in the center of that. I have seen a change in the way people are thinking about the intersection of performance and brand because of digital experience analytics.
What are the most common mistakes you see clients make?
DiNapoli Block: Across the board, we see that brands don’t have someone or a process in place to do a lot of dot-connecting. You need one person dedicated to your online experience, optimizing where media should even drive to be more effective, and ensuring you’re not using duplicative messages and audience sets.
Oftentimes, we have brands compete against themselves in some of the biddable environments with their own data sets. You need a careful balance when you have up to 50 different campaigns and messages in-market. That goes back to the infrastructure of your data and analytics, how you’re tracking customer exposure across their many activities over time, and how you’re identifying a customer when they land on your experience. Where have they come from? What are they looking at? What have they been exposed to over time? What actions are they taking? Being more informed on all of these touchpoints and which campaigns you have in-market can help you prioritize certain messages for certain audiences.
Rodnitzky: If people don’t buy-in to the concept of testing and user experience at the top, it will never trickle down anywhere. I think that unfortunately there are a lot of CMOs that say they are in favor of testing but, ultimately, believe in testing some things, but not others.
I think that unfortunately there are a lot of CMOs that say they are in favor of testing but, ultimately, believe in testing some things, but not others.
If I had a magic wand to stop inter-office politics, I would let you know. At the end of the day, everything has to come from the top, as everything relating to culture does. If the CEO and CMO don’t really believe in being agnostic and instead believe in what their favorite employee thinks is the right decision, you’ll never get anywhere.
How can performance marketers partner with on-site teams to build a better customer experience?
Rodnitzky: Many years ago, I worked for a legal website that allowed people to search for lawyers through the site. The lawyers were paying the company thousands of dollars a month to be listed. We had a big yellow banner on the front page that said “Find a Lawyer,” but our DXP software told us it only had a 0.5% click-through rate. Instead, visitors were clicking on all these blue links on the side of the page. We did live user testing with CS Live and realized people were going right over the yellow banner to use a blue link because they thought it was an ad. We thought the flashy yellow button would get everyone’s attention, but in reality, people were avoiding it to go to the little blue links.
We changed that banner into blue text links that said “Here are some useful resources if you’re looking to find a lawyer” and by not being market-y and instead focusing on user experience, the click-through rate went from 0.5% to almost 8%. It was a massive success for the business.
DiNapoli Block: The role of content as we know it is really changing. Brands are becoming publishers and taking more prevalent roles in providing customers with the inspiration and education that leads to conversion.
What advice do you have for performance marketers trying to create more customer-centric advertising campaigns?
Rodnitzky: My first piece of advice is to avoid the HiPPO, or the highest-paid person’s opinion. It’s very easy to have the CEO come in and tell you that you need to have flying toasters on your site and that’s the only way to drive conversion, but, everyone’s opinion is just an opinion.
Avoid the HiPPO, or the highest-paid person’s opinion.
The second piece of advice I always give people is from a guy named Chris Goward who wrote a book called, “You Should Test That: Conversion Optimization for More Leads, Sales and Profit Or The Art and Science of Optimized Marketing.” No matter what suggestion someone has for conversion rate optimization, his answer is to say, “You should test that.” That ultimately is the essence of conversion rate testing. If you can create a process where you’re rapidly and intelligently creating a testing methodology: isolating variables, coming to statistical significance, finding a conclusion, determining the success of one test, and moving onto the next one. Do that as fast as you can and you’ll be successful.
One of the things I tell clients all the time is, “If you do one conversion rate test a month for 12 months, you’ll probably have a 20% lift in performance.” It almost doesn’t matter what it is, just do it. It’s amazing how many clients or just companies, in general, don’t do that.
This interview is an excerpt from a recent Contentsquare event, “CX Talks: Candid Conversations about The Intersection of CX and Media.” To watch the full event and hear even more ways brands are building customer-centric advertising campaigns, click here to watch the event on-demand.
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