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Digital advertising tips in the face of Covid-19

The panel explored how marketers can navigate the pandemic, embrace agile digital solutions, and come out of the crisis stronger

It is a matter of course that when a downturn rears its ugly head, the first budget to be slashed is marketing. But Covid-19 hasn’t been just any old downturn. Unlike a ‘normal’ recession, this time around, consumers are still largely consuming and interacting with brands. And while sectors such as travel and retail have cut spend, most have recalibrated their marketing to suit the circumstances, with varying degrees of success.

With more people spending more time at home, digital marketing, complemented by a resurgence in linear TV, have grown ever-more fundamental to driving sales and brand-building as well as driving dormant, more traditional customers, to digital.

But even prior to pandemic the adtech industry was suffering from systemic issues: transparency, accountability, the dying third-party cookie, and an overreliance on walled gardens, to name but a handful. Covid-19 has shone a bright light into dark corners of the industry, accelerating the need for change as budgets diminish. So, what’s a marketer to do to ensure long term success?

As part of the Drum’s Can-Do festival, marketers came together on a virtual stage to discuss how to navigate the pandemic, develop your marketing strategy, embrace agile digital solutions, engage with existing customers and come out of the crisis as a stronger brand. Here’s three of the best from last week’s panel titled ‘What marketers need from adtech in lockdown’, in partnership with by Adform.

Don't miss this brilliant panel, watch it here.

Invest, invest, invest to help drive better supply chain transparency

It is estimated that only around 50% of an advertising budget makes its way to the publisher, with the rest taken by tech tax, DSPs, trading desk fees, and the like. Transparency and accountability issues have dogged the adtech sector long before the pandemic arrived. But when your budget is being slashed, wastage is no longer an option.

“We're constantly, quite rightly challenged over where the budget goes and over effectiveness,” says Peter Markey, chief marketing officer at TSB. “So, we're going to need more and more certainty over the level of confidence in our investments, where they're going, and the return on those as well”.

Philip Acton, country manager UK and Benelux, at Adform, agrees, adding that out of the remainder of that 50%, 15% goes to an unknown delta – “which is to say, nobody knows where that budget has gone.” Adform’s end-to-end ad tech stack can help, he says, by closing the loop on integrating media planning, buying, optimisation and reporting across both the buy and sell side.

“What we're trying to do is fix that supply chain transparency,” he says.

“We have relationships with both advertisers and publishers as well, meaning that our partners can cut down on the number of suppliers taking a cut of the ad budget in return for their services and less chance of any hidden costs by reducing the volumne of adtech partners. In addition, we are also working with industry bodies like the IAB gold standard, JICWEBS and initiatives such as ads.txt or sellers.json to drive better supply chain transparency across the board”

Context is king for consistent user experience

For years, marketers have utilised third party cookies to seek audiences and tailor their messaging. This will change online marketing by 2022, following Google's announcement that it will phase out the third-party cookie on Chrome browsers.

Issues around collecting data, due either to regulatory compliance or the demise of the cookie, have led many to tout contextual advertising – focusing on the context in which users see an ad, rather than targeting specific audiences. For brands not wanting to appear next to stories of pandemic death and doom, this resurgence of contextual has come at a useful time for content marketing.

“More and more people are actually focusing on the context of the inventory,'' Acton says. “Whether that's page-specific context or whether it's looking at things like private marketplace deals with publishers. So, we have a pre-agreed idea of what we're going to run on some pages now that we have a particular type of context.

“It's not ideal,” he adds, “but actually, we have to remember that the demise of third-party cookies is also in some ways a lot better for the end user. And that's what we want to have – a consistent user experience, as well as not just being good for the advertisers themselves”.

TSB’s Markey adds that the latter is ‘increasingly important’ in the context of reaching people during an extraordinary event such as Covid-19. He offers the example of the TSB app and website, where ad placement is based on first party insights:

“It’s a pretty obvious point, but we see the most effective activity based on the insights we have already: on how people are using their account and how we can best help in terms of the service we can provide for that audience.”

Listen and learn

If reaching people at the right time in the right context has become more important than ever, then so too has the message a brand puts out. “Three quarters [of consumers Adform spoke with] said that they wanted to make sure that the brand messaging was helpful in this ‘new everyday’, but also that it was a reassuring tone... “being helpful without looking like you were exploiting the situation was key”, says Acton.

He explains now is the time for brands to being sympathetic to the challenges of their consumers and leverage dynamic creative to update and amend messages to show how they are supporting their customers through these uncertain times.

The reason why, perhaps, there’s been no shortage of formulaic, carbon copy creative over the last several months. Balancing brand building with direct response has been a huge challenge of course, but here TSB has had success through social listening and consumer research.

“Over the last 14 weeks, when we've had some new ads running in the new style, with creative in line with Covid-19, it’s been really good to understand how those are working, because it has been quite difficult to pre-research those before putting them live, because of the speed of working. We’ve sort of learnt as we've gone along. And it's been really powerful,” says Markey.

Acton likewise touts a ‘test and learn methodology’ for a digital marketing strategy. He concludes: “We’re seeing a lot more people use our dynamic creative platform, because that allows you to create audiences and then deliver content at scale and see what's working and what's not. And I think underpinning that with looking at the data and analysing it and seeing where you should invest your budget is key.”

Brands that view this opportunity to communicate relevant messages around their products and services to their customers and target audience will see real success once the world gets to the other side of this crisis.

Watch the brilliant panel here.

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