Sunday, February 1, 2009

Now appearing at a browser near you - online advertising 3.0

Despite all the advances in digital marketing, the process by which online ads are produced is still manual for the most part. And, once these ads are placed they are largely static; if updates are needed (e.g., if the ads are not performing well) some level of human involvement is required.

This situation is changing thanks to process and technical innovations that now allow advertisers to serve and update their online ads dynamically (i.e., automatically) by leveraging a combination of predefined business rules, real-time data, algorithms and pre-developed creative assets. The financial and strategic benefits from these innovations, while not yet fully realized, will be huge for the $28+ billion U.S. online ad market.

The next wave – more efficient production = reduced costs for marketers
The amount of time and money that will be saved by these innovations cannot be underestimated: web designers and developers no longer have to build by hand every online ad unit to every size; and agency media managers no longer need to send scores or even hundreds of ad units to web site publishers.

In terms of marketing effectiveness the impact of these innovations will change the game for online advertising. Advertisers can now do complex, multivariate testing and deliver custom, just-in-time creative that is more relevant and targeted to specific marketing situations.

Automating multivariate testing
Advertisers can now test a conceivably unlimited number (easily into the hundreds) of banner creative configurations to identify the combinations of elements (messaging, imagery, call-to-action, etc) that deliver the best results. Previously, this level of testing was highly impractical since the effort needed to create the number of banner versions to generate statistically relevant test results made it cost prohibitive; in most instances costs simply out-weighed benefits.

More relevant, effective and efficient online ads
This is where things get interesting. Marketers can now deliver much more relevant and targeted ads to consumers by combining customized, just-in-time banner creative with a variety of data about their target consumers, including:

  • Geography
  • Prior online behavior
  • Their stage in a multi-step shopping/purchase decision process
  • The editorial focus of the web site where the ads will be placed

Here are some examples of how these innovations are being used to deliver more relevant online advertising:

Sequential messaging – banner ad messages change based on where a consumer is in a multi-step shopping/purchase decision process (this is especially useful for highly considered purchases like automobiles, health insurance, etc)

Contextual messaging – banner imagery and messaging change based on the editorial theme of the site where an ad is running (e.g., personal finance, sports, travel, etc) to increase contextual relevance

Geographic targeting – here ads are customized with messaging or imagery that is relevant to a specific state or region of the country

Real-time targeting – ads can also be updated with real-time information (e.g., sports scores, time of day, weather) using live data feeds to create timeliness or a sense of urgency

While many of these online targeting approaches were previously available the ability do it dynamically wasn’t. So the next time you see an online add that is uncannily relevant to your unique situation it probably isn’t a coincidence. Some people may think this level of targeting is spooky. Personally, I prefer this over the alternative – like seeing ads for Brilliant Blonde Shine Shock hair treatment on my Yahoo! Mail sign in page.

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