25 years later, how the internet has changed advertising
Kristina: What changes in the digital ad space have most surprised you over the past 25 years?
Wes MacLaggan, SVP of Marketing, Marin Software: Over the years, due largely in part to advancements in ad technology, advertisers have become more focused on the customer and more aware of the journey between awareness and conversion. It’s not necessarily surprising, more so exciting to watch as marketers continue to get smarter about what ad formats and channels to leverage for each part of this journey–or what combination of cross-channel efforts led to the ultimate conversion Their strategies are constantly evolving as technology advances and new formats are introduced. With emerging technology like visual/voice search, chatbots, machine learning and AR, we have a lot to look forward to in the next 25 years.
Kristina: How have digital ads impacted businesses? And do you see this as a positive change?
Brendan: There’s no doubt digital advertising has changed the game for businesses. Advertisers are funneling ad dollars into the system to make sure their ads reach the right audience, but ultimately, most of that money is not going into the hands of the publishers and content creators. While today’s digital advertising industry has arguably had a positive impact on the advertiser side — with the ability to target and track consumers, albeit saddled with fraud overhead — the digital advertising ecosystem is actually a place where publishers lose money to platform operators, and where consumers suffer from poor experience and lack of privacy.
Wes: Today, the ability to track and prove performance is even more valuable, and even more challenging, as advertisers increasingly leverage many different channels–like search, social, and eCommerce–at one time.. As these channels become more siloed, marketers can no longer rely on publisher tools for attribution and conversation metrics–it’s like allowing Facebook and Google to grade their own paper. Instead, the smartest marketers turn to third-party providers to understand and optimize performance and get a holistic, cross-channel view.
Kristina: What changes might we see over the next five years?
Brendan: Consumers are becoming increasingly privacy-aware – whether due to high-profile breaches, new regulations or recent investigations into privacy practices of companies like Facebook and Google, or based on their own experiences and research. This awareness will undoubtedly continue to grow, encouraging major players to make changes. We’ve seen this already with Facebook’s Off-Facebook Activity tool, which allows consumers to manage browsing data, and Google’s simpler controls to block cookies (which require user action, so are seldom used). While these privacy-protecting solutions are welcome, they won’t solve the issues plaguing the web. To truly preserve consumer privacy, companies need a privacy-by-default approach.
Wes: The rise of Amazon as an ad platform has blurred the lines between search, social, and eCommerce, which will undoubtedly continue to shake up the ad industry. A huge chunk of product searches now begin on Amazon, for example, while Facebook and Google have invested heavily in eCommerce formats like Shopping Ads and shoppable posts. Despite the rise of eCommerce, search will continue to play a big role in the coming years. Last quarter, search volume grew 13% year-over-year and CTRs continue to increase, while CPCs decreased. The opportunity to engage more effectively with consumers at a lower cost–in combination with the introduction AI-driven technologies like Responsive Search Ads and automated bidding–advertisers will continue to flex search across their global campaigns. it will be interesting to watch how this evolves, especially as more privacy regulations emerge over the next five years.
Kristina: As more and more consumers buy online, how do brands need to change what they’re doing to compete so that they find and engage with the right shoppers?
Brendan: Companies need to realize that consumers are becoming more concerned about where their data is going and how it is being used. If businesses cannot find ways to implement privacy-first approaches, users are going to go elsewhere. Keeping a competitive advantage will soon depend upon how the business uses, protects, and respects personal data, and upon how transparent they are about it.
Wes: One of the most important things to understand is the function of a particular ad format on a particular channel and its role in the customer journey. There are so many formats emerging–from Stories to shoppable posts–and each one is designed to reach audiences at specific points in the journey. Google Shopping Ads, for example, are designed to move buyers from the consideration phase to conversion. Understanding these nuances, as well how these various ad formats can work together in a cross-platform approach can help marketers avoid a siloed strategy and will propel the business ahead in a competitive market.
It’s also important for brands to realize the value of their own data – whether it’s from a CRM, or it’s products sales or inventory data. Marketers can be much more effective with their ad campaigns when they leverage both first- and third-party data. Leveraging both categories of data allows them to be aggressive when they expect good returns, and to pull back when performance is dipping. This type of strategy also provides an opportunity to scale campaigns more efficiently – a key component to remaining competitive.