Mastering online marketing: maximising the potential of display campaigns

According to latest figures from ZenithOptimedia, 2015 is set to be the year that spend on internet advertising will overtake the combined newspaper and magazine ad spend globally.

With over 1 billion internet users globally, it’s no wonder that there has been a continuously growing appetite from marketers and advertisers to reach this online audience.

Increased investment within the online display space in particular has had a significant impact on the overall growth in this spend, not least because of the exciting innovations emerging within the industry – including the roll-out of new advertising formats from the Internet Advertising Bureau, in a bid to advance the sector’s mobile capabilities. Additionally, advances of ad technologies now arm businesses with better tools for online targeting, as well as the introduction of ‘rich media’ and interactive ad adverts which are more effective at attracting higher levels of engagement from consumers .

However the massive spurt in internet users, alongside the growing amount of advertising inventory available at marketers’ disposal – knowing how to effectively reach your target audience can be difficult. While employing a ‘spray and pray’ tactic – where advertisers issue a blanket of communications across a wide range of sites – may enhance brand awareness, targeting segmented end-users with relevant campaigns which result in a drive to action or a ‘click’, is inherently more valuable.

Achieving the coveted click however is becoming more difficult, thanks to the sheer number of advertising impressions reaching consumers across all digital channels. Inundated with increasing volumes of marketing messages, online users are likely only to respond to messages which are relevant to them – rather than act on a generic ad they may stumble across when browsing online.

Against this backdrop, businesses rolling out display campaigns should take the following factors into consideration:

Understanding consumer behaviour

While it is tempting to place your online display advertising on sites which attract the highest number of unique users, this is not necessarily the most effective way to reach with your target audience. We recently conducted research with YouGov that highlighted the types of websites consumers visit and the environments in which they are most engaged and open to advertising.

The results found that 92 per cent of consumers now visit sites relevant to their interests when searching for content on the web – the main reasons being that they regard these as reliable, engaging and trusted sources of information. Not only that, due to the personal connection they feel with special interest sites, the results shown that consumers have a more receptive mind set when visiting them.

Consequently users are more likely to pay attention to relevant ads that are featured on these sites – something which is true for 39 per cent of 18-24 year olds.

The results point to the need for businesses to take a specialist and targeted approach to marketing online – yet is an area that is yet to be mastered. Currently 52 per cent of consumers feel that the majority of the online adverts they receive are only occasionally or rarely relevant to them. In order to help improve this relevance, marketers must seek out and purchase the online inventory which best reflects their product or service offering – i.e. if you sell you sports equipment, then you should be ensuring your ads are hosted on sport specific inventory, such as sport blogs or websites.

Don’t over rely on technology

Technological innovations are undoubtedly playing a major role in making display campaigns more effective. For example, automated algorithmic and programmatic buying technologies – such as Real Time Bidding (RTB) – automatically serve the most relevant marketing to the most relevant consumer based on their interests, all in real-time.

This means, if a woman is looking at jeans on the Selfridges website; a Selfridge’s ad promoting a sale in women’s jeans could be shown on other fashion websites that the woman later browses on – something very difficult to achieve using a manual approach.

For advertisers, automated ad platforms help ensure budget is spent only on the most appropriate and relevant publisher sites, while at the same time, benefits publishers by ensuring their available inventory is fully utilised.

However, there are also certain drawbacks to these solutions. Algorithmic approaches lack creativity and are not always as compelling as other display formats can be. For example, promotions which make use of bespoke solutions, such as branded whole page take overs – rather than simple banner ads – can create more visual impact and capture more consumer attention.

Furthermore, purely technological solutions eliminate human judgement – something crucial when delivering online display campaigns. Problems may occur when automated technology platforms shift inventory without taking into account the appropriateness of each ad placement.

Imagine if you saw an ad from an airline featured on a news site which is covering an air disaster, this is probably the result of programmatic buying. The lesson here is if display ads are not proactively managed in advance and left solely to automation, they can end up on inappropriate sites and therefore risking brand damage.

Provide a seamless experience

With consumers being exposed to rising volumes of ad impressions, ensuring display campaigns are integrated into publishers’ sites flawlessly, creatively and cleverly, is essential. Not only this, but advertisers should also encourage publishers to provide users with the tools to maximise their digital experience – so users’ are more engaged with both the content and marketing present on the site.

This includes making sure that content can be consumed and easily shared over as many touch points as possible, as well as featuring more exciting advertising. This might involve hosting rich media ads, or ads which feature products catalogues, or even the use of gamified adverts – each which offer real value to the consumer and stands apart from standard banner marketing.

The array of publisher sites available to marketers means that sustaining a relationship with each may prove untenable. Therefore, working with ad agencies that are familiar with the complexity of the display market and who have the experience of rolling out dynamic online campaigns becomes increasingly important. By working with ad buyers and agencies that have close relationships with publishers makes it easier when encouraging them to adopt creative campaigns that fit and are delivered flawlessly.

In a climate of competition, but also great opportunity, businesses need to get a handle on which campaigns are most compelling to consumers and also identify which online properties are most effective when housing campaigns. By taking the time to think carefully about who you want to target, how and where you want to reach them and adopting a creative approach – which doesn’t rely on technology alone – will provide the initial steps to online display success.