Prepare yourself for changes in digital

Think you can keep up to date with digital marketing? You’re deluding yourself. The industry changes so fast that many marketers are being left behind.

alex tait

The speed of change in technology, marketing and channels is neatly illustrated by this year’s annual digital survey from ISBA, the UK advertising trade body. In it, some of the largest digital advertisers in the UK give feedback on two questions: what are the most important areas of digital for them and which trends do they plan to trial or roll out further in 2013? The answers to both show significant differences compared with last year.

The most prevalent issue to arise from the research is how organisations are structuring themselves internally around the fast changing digital landscape.

For example, there are numerous disciplines, such as social media, that would once have been the preserve of the digital silo but which now clearly need to sit right across the organisation if they are to be leveraged to their full potential. Think also of the number of organisations that have added positions with ‘innovation’ within people’s job titles over the past year.

Integrating teams

Clearly, all marketers need to have some understanding of digital marketing and how to execute their strategies through technology.

These marketers need to make sure the work of their specialist digital, general, brand marketers and technology teams is as integrated as possible if they want to make best use of areas such as inbound links or content development for search engine optimisation (SEO) or attribution in display media.

But ensuring that this kind of cross-company collaboration works effectively is made more difficult by the lack of digital expertise in leadership roles. Among the job realities marketers are likely to face in 2013 are restructures as organisations try to adapt to this situation and the external economic environment.

This year’s priorities for marketers seem more varied than those highlighted by the same research last year, when the major area for concern was how to comply with the ePrivacy Directive. Regulatory issues are interestingly absent from this year’s top 10 concerns. However, as ever, issues of regulation are not going away and as the amount of data available to advertisers rapidly increases and another major piece of EU regulation – proposals to revise the Data Protection Directive – comes closer, I expect these worries will show up a good deal more prominently on brands’ radars as the issue is discussed in Brussels during 2013. 

Exploiting new trends

A major new trend reflected in this year’s survey is the explosion in tablet and smartphone sales in 2012, as well as the obvious future potential of digitised traditional media such as Smart TV. Challenges relating to ‘customer experience’ in these environments, and the opportunities presented by ‘multi-screen devices’ are key areas advertisers are eager to exploit in 2013.

A constant preoccupation of brands is measurement and tracking, which over the past couple of years has consistently been highlighted by the research. This, of course, is nothing new for digital; whenever a new media or piece of technology comes along, advertisers need to be able to give it appropriate weight in their media plan and to measure its return on investment. The fact that ‘attribution modelling’ and ‘understanding the effect of digital and offline’ score highly is a demonstration that, as digital matures, there is growing recognition of the need to better understand digital measurement holistically within the wider marketing mix. 

Measurement standards

A related area where ISBA is campaigning for change in 2013 is the issue of measurement of ad viewability. How can we best measure viewable impressions across different environments? The problem we are looking to solve is that advertisers are paying for ‘served impressions’ rather than ‘viewable impressions’, when, for example, users may not have scrolled below the fold on a website to see the ad located there.

Of course, this issue has been bubbling away for some time. Back in 2011, the IAB US launched its 3MS initiative for ‘Making Measurement Make Sense’. Although the industry has yet to come up with the definition of a ‘viewable impression’, it is likely that at least 50 per cent of an ad will need to be in view for at least one second.

While the devil will be in the detail, it is hoped in the US that a new viewable impression metric will become a standard in the first quarter of this year. Is that over-optimistic? Maybe, but there has already been significant progress.

A number of players in the display space have committed to measuring ad viewability, including Doubleclick’s AdExchange, ComScore and Vivaki. The UK is likely to follow the lead from the US in establishing similar standards to 3MS; this needs to happen sooner ratherthan later to move the debate on.

Let’s hope that by the time this research is re-run in a year’s time, marketers are at least aware and better prepared for the further inevitable changes in digital over the next 12 months.

Alex Tait is Director, International Digital Acquisition at American Express and Chair of ISBA’s Digital, Data & Direct Action Group @astait



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