Is digital an effective mass market medium?

Digital media are fast becoming dominant in brand marketing but can they deliver long-term effectiveness as well as short-term results, reaching both the masses and targeted audiences?

The amount of data available to marketers using digital channels is immense. But while digital is lauded for its ability to allow brands to reach the right consumer, at the right time, in the right environment, the question remains whether it is an effective medium for mass marketing.

Digital channels are often accused of making marketers think too narrowly in their activity, meaning they sacrifice reach and long-term growth for narrow, short-term metrics.

Brands have become more acutely aware of this trade-off since the publication of Byron Sharp’s book ‘How Brands Grow’, which suggests marketers should replace targeting with “sophisticated mass marketing”.

Last year, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard confirmed the company was moving away from targeted Facebook advertising after calling its approach too “targeted and narrow”. P&G, however, insisted it was not planning to cut its total investment in Facebook and would continue to use targeted ads for some products, such as selling nappies to expectant parents.

Meanwhile, Mars’s former global CMO Bruce McColl has asserted that he is “not a great believer in targeting”, adding that the company’s target is “about seven billion people sitting on this planet”. Speaking at the Advertising Research Foundation’s conference last year, he said: “Our task is to reach as many people as we can; to get them to notice us and remember us; to nudge them; and, hopefully, get them to buy us once more this year.”

Both statements would indicate that the brands are following Sharp’s recommendation to “continuously reach all buyers of the category” and move away from standard segmentation and targeting if they want to grow their business. It is often not digital that springs to mind when looking to reach people at scale.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – We should thank Byron Sharp, not attack him

Stay visible

Aviva’s brand communication and marketing director Pete Markey says there is a “sweet spot” of people the insurer wants to reach, but argues that if a business becomes too narrow, it will not be visible to customers.

Instead, he suggests the best segmentation is one the entire business can use that goes beyond targeting to focus on the experience the brand wants to give the audience.

“I see a role for broader segmentation, but I also see a role for smaller, microtargeting. It’s not one at the expense of another,” says Markey. “I’ve seen segmentation that works and doesn’t work. The danger is if it becomes the exclusive property of the marketing team, the rest of the business isn’t that interested. If you can’t use segmentation, it very quickly loses its credibility.”

IPA director of marketing strategy Janet Hull believes the natural progression is towards personalisation, driven by the rise in data generated by digital and social media.

“The insight you get from data you can then expand on, starting with the individual. That approach gives you more nuance, so you can serve creative work that works and improve the quality of advertising online and offline,” she adds.

Brands can use targeted marketing communications to deliver personalisation, which drives increased engagement and conversion rates, according to the IPA’s Social Works Personalisation guide published in March. However, the report acknowledges that strategies designed to increase brand relevance should always be balanced with campaigns that drive reach through mass marketing.

Targeting en masse

When The Economist wanted to increase brand awareness and drive subscriptions, it targeted a group of people labelled the “globally curious”, modelled on its database of existing subscribers. Despite being targeted, this was by no means a niche group, with The Economist estimating the number of globally curious people was close to 73 million.

“If a brand is to solve an awareness challenge, then reach is important, but we don’t conduct reach campaigns just for the sake of it. There will always be a longer-term goal and everything we do has a KPI to it,” explains Mark Beard, senior vice-president of digital media and content strategy at The Economist.

“We need to make sure everything we do is driving some kind of interaction and [can] help us convert more people to subscribers,” says Beard

This was the approach taken by The Economist for its digital marketing campaign ‘Raising Eyebrows and Subscriptions’. The aim was to provoke the audience by serving them content they couldn’t ignore in order to demonstrate the relevance of The Economist’s journalism. The idea was to give people “their own epiphany” by offering content that compelled them to subscribe.

Part of this strategy involved placing ad units on articles the globally curious target group were already reading, which showed them a hopefully more interesting article authored by The Economist team.

The success of the campaign was highly measurable, generating 5.2 million clicks and 64,000 new subscribers worth £51.7m in lifetime revenue. The campaign, which won a Gold Cannes Lion last year, continues to run and has evolved to include an element of video.

The discussion is moving beyond reach to ‘attentive reach’, which takes into consideration more than just viewability.

Gerald Breatnach, Google

“We don’t really run campaigns in our digital department,” says Beard. “We don’t talk about campaigns, we talk about always-on activities and initiatives. With digital you can be short term, but it is possible to be long term too.”

Mondelez International’s digital and social media manager Pollyanna Ward is an advocate of operating an always-on digital strategy, which feeds into a wider campaign across TV, experiential and outdoor.

“For us in FMCG, we need to reach everyone. There’s no one specific audience. For us, the priority is always going to be reach. So you might have an always-on strategy where you’re planning things for an entire year and you might continuously pump out a brand message on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

“You can change that in real time and push out core brand messages at times when it’s relevant, meaning you don’t need to do continuous targeting all year round. Then shorter-term digital strategies are key with the big activations to get people buzzing and when they’re aligned with your PR, experiential and TV you get results a lot quicker.”

New measures of effectiveness

Concerns continue to persist over how effectiveness should be measured in the digital age. Facebook fuelled the fire last year after revealing a number of errors in the way it measures audiences, admitting it overstated for how long users watch videos on its site by up to 80%.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – Facebook should hang its head in shame for measurement errors

This, in part, led P&G’s Pritchard to launch a searing assessment of the industry’s “murky” supply chain in January, blaming the “antiquated media buying and selling system” for its inability to cope with the technological revolution.

Last month, meanwhile, WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell urged Facebook and Google to step up and “take responsibility” for measurement errors and ad fraud, arguing the major digital players are “clearly not doing enough”.

Yet despite these concerns Facebook’s revenues continue to soar, rising 51% in the fourth quarter of 2016 to $8.8bn (£6.9bn). So as brands appear unlikely to move ad spend away from the platform, it is more important than ever to find new effectiveness metrics.

Dixons Carphone’s commercial marketing director Jonathan Earle suggests one method is to add bespoke codes to track customers who purchase as a result of seeing an advert on Facebook or YouTube.

The discussion is moving beyond reach to ‘attentive reach’, which takes into consideration more than just viewability.

Gerald Breatnach, Google

However, if marketers want to drive sales, he argues there are digital channels that deliver much stronger results than social media.

“If the metric is to get as many people thinking about us as possible, then social has a clear role to play, but if you want to drive sales, that’s where pay-per-click comes in,” he explains.

“If I had £100 to spend on a marketing campaign and my sole aim was to drive sales, I would just use social to drive awareness, consideration and conversation as there are better channels to drive the final sale.”

Earle argues that pay-per-click (PPC) is the most measurable marketing channel, serving content to customers that matches their organic online search terms. The team can then track that traffic from the click-throughs all the way to conversion and order value. The PPC activity takes between seven to 10 days to maximise, says Earle, who advises marketers to be clear upfront about what it is they want to deliver.

At Google and YouTube, the response to measurement issues is to offer free tools like AdWords and brand lift surveys, as well as third-party viewability verification.

“The discussion is moving beyond reach to ‘attentive reach’, which takes into consideration more than just viewability,” explains Google brand planning industry lead Gerald Breatnach.

“We tend to think of this in terms of ‘WAVE’ – measuring watch time, audibility, viewability and engagement. Marketers not only need to know how many views a campaign has generated, but the unique reach of the campaign and the average watch time. Ultimately, these campaign metrics need to link to sales results,” he says.

READ MORE: How to drive digital effectiveness on a shoestring

Defining success

Understanding that success looks different on each channel is crucial to accurately measuring effectiveness and in the digital landscape there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

“If I wanted to make an impact with the younger generation,  I would be looking to see how effective Snapchat is at delivering impressions, but when it comes to different channels I would be looking at the view-through rate to see if we have made an impact,” Ward explains.

“If the view-through rate shows they only watched 10 seconds of our 30-second ad, then did we land our product message in that time? Or have they watched a pretty piece of creative, but we’ve done nothing for brand linkage and brand awareness?”

Reach is important, but on its own it isn’t good enough.

Mark Beard, The Economist

Google’s Breatnach agrees it is a mistake to think all digital channels work in the same way or only equate to “tightly targeted” performance marketing.“Online video advertising on YouTube, for example, has the potential to offer attentive reach and deliver long-term brand results,” he explains.

“Search is naturally targeted to audiences further down the purchase funnel. Programmatic has the potential to deliver both mass reach and sophisticated targeting.”

Peugeot’s marketing director Mark Pickles appreciates that to measure digital effectiveness you need absolute clarity about what you want to achieve.

“For a new product, the primary focus is likely to be on reaching mass awareness within the identified customer segments. Whereas with an established product, often the place for digital is to convert existing awareness into some form of action – what I call a ‘nudge’ – which pushes the consumer a little closer to us,” he says.

“Clearly, the metrics for these two campaigns will be different and so will the media optimisation rules. Setting a campaign that is optimised to generate hard sales leads is likely to fail when it comes to reaching enough eyeballs, particularly as our programmatic algorithms quickly seek out targeted prospects.”

The Peugeot marketing team generally sets several secondary objectives and a primary objective, which Pickles emphasises it is important to be realistic about.

He says: “If I was to set the primary objective of a campaign action as ‘how many sales can I directly attribute?’, I’m likely to under-value the secondary deliverables. A campaign might sell a few cars, but generate sufficient awareness and action that translates to results outside the campaign metrics.”

Hull argues that it is fundamental for marketers to understand the difference between what they are doing for the long term and their brand activation objectives.

“You also need to make sure you’re getting the right investment for the KPIs that you’re setting, because there’s no point setting KPIs and then not putting the right amount of money behind them,” she explains.

“Some of the clients have been saying that they have been under spending relative to the promise they have made on what they’re going to deliver. We also need to get the languages to match up. New media brings a new vocabulary and new forms of measurement, but you have got to know how they relate to the other forms of measurement.

Holding your nerve

Armed with the ability to optimise 24 hours a day, seven days a week marketers now have the opportunity to tweak campaigns in real time.

Aviva uses econometrics and attribution to measure effectiveness, combined with its brand impact index, which investigates brand health. Markey argues that marketers cannot afford to ignore the opportunity to optimise.

“The idea that as a marketer you can be asleep at the wheel is so wrong. To push a campaign out and hope it works or do campaign evaluation at the end would be insane, lazy, suicidal,” he says.

“For me, when you start any activity you need to know how you’re going to measure it throughout and consistently go back, using neuroscience to refine activity.”

However, when exploring real-time optimisation marketers must resist the temptation to make knee-jerk decisions, which take them away from their original KPIs.

“When you’re spending money on a campaign that’s aimed at trading and selling, and you say ‘I want to sell 20 of this thing and I only sold three’, you can pull that money and put it somewhere else,” says Markey.

“When you’re trying something new, it’s much harder and you have to hold your nerve. You need the levers, but you need to know when to pull them. There are many examples of campaigns that are a slow burn. There is an expectation that when the new campaign has launched, sales will double tomorrow, and we all know that’s rarely the case.”

It is not what you track, but what you choose not to track that’s important.

Mark Beard, The Economist

The Economist’s Mark Beard agrees that it is very easy for marketers to fall into the trap of tracking everything on a digital campaign just because they can.

“It is not what you track, but what you choose not to track that’s important. We track two things predominantly – the number of prospects we’re bringing in and how many subscribers we’re generating as a result of those prospects,” he says.

“There are many other KPIs we could have reviewed as the campaign went along but the danger these days where much of marketing is done via machines, is if you give the machine the wrong KPIs to optimise you won’t get the results you want.”

This is where human input plays a vital role, says Beard, ensuring the right KPI is chosen at the outset and setting up the artificial intelligence to operate at its optimum.

In a world where optimisation can happen at the touch of button, it is more crucial than ever for marketers to set out with a clear appreciation of their KPIs and then design their digital activity to deliver as part of a holistic strategy.

Have you created campaigns that delivered reach and awareness, as well as targeted sales? Why not enter them in our Masters of Marketing Awards? Deadlines close 1 May.