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A mobile strategy is a must for advertisers in digital age

karl-heberger-coumn-sigA report was recently released by eMarketer that analyzed how U.S. consumers spend time with various types of media. The average time spent with almost every type of media was down from last year. The average American adult is spending less time watching television, listening to the radio and reading magazines. The only media channel they are spending more time with is mobile. Of course, if you’ve ever observed people eating in a restaurant, this should come as no surprise. I’m amazed when I see people having a conversation and actually making eye contact.

eMarketer estimates that U.S. adults spend three hours and 43 minutes on mobile devices each day. According to research from Deloitte in 2018, the average smartphone owner checks their phone 47 times per day. Wait, that doesn’t seem right. The research also found that 18- to 24-year-olds check their phones 86 times per day. OK, now that makes more sense.

It’s no wonder that advertisers are shifting their media spend to target consumers’ smartphones. It’s estimated that in 2020 advertising spend on mobile devices will surpass the spend on all traditional media combined. This is an incredible shift. For decades, advertisers invested more dollars in television advertising than any other medium. Next year, it’s estimated that TV will take just 23.5% of the total media spend in the United States. If you were wondering why every network now has their own digital streaming service, that’s the reason.

Advertisers in 2019 need to have a mobile-first strategy. The good news is, there are two companies that own the mobile experience, and both offer advertising solutions. The bad news is, there are only two companies that own the mobile experience and control the mobile advertising marketplace.

Facebook and (Google parent company) Alphabet own seven of the most used mobile apps. Facebook owns Instagram, FB Messenger and Facebook. Google owns YouTube, Google Search, Google Maps and Gmail. According to a recent survey conducted by comScore, each of these apps is in the top 10 that millennials say they can’t live without. One could argue that this is not necessarily a good thing for consumers, but for advertisers this provides some specific advantages.

  • Two advertising platforms can be used to place ads across all seven of these apps, Facebook Business Manager and Google Ads. Once you’ve learned the systems, you can run and manage highly targeted ads with various ad formats reaching a wide variety of consumers. Warning, though: It does take some expertise and experience (more on that later).
  • Advertisers can run ads with virtually any budget. If you have a credit card, both Google and Facebook will happily accept any amount of money you’re willing to donate, I mean invest.
  • There are ad formats that work well for building your brand (YouTube and Instagram) as well as driving direct response (Google Search and Maps).

Of course, all of this power concentrated in the hands of two companies is dangerous. The federal government is posturing that they are finally going to take action. Advertisers should be wary as well.

First off, these systems are complex. But that doesn’t stop Facebook and Google from constantly encouraging small businesses to set up campaigns. On Facebook, they send messages within the platform that encourage businesses to “boost” their posts (put advertising dollars behind them). Google sends out $25 credits to businesses encouraging them to “get started.” The problem is, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s very easy to waste money in these systems. Ads are sold in real-time bidding (RTB) environments instead of at standard rate card costs. If you aren’t familiar with how to achieve high quality scores with your ads, the systems charge you a premium. No wonder they encourage people with no training to run ads.

More importantly, because two companies control advertisers’ ability to reach consumers on their mobile devices, we all have to play by their rules. They are constantly creating new advertising products and changing how we set-up, target and manage advertising campaigns. With every new scandal, targeting parameters within Facebook Business Manager disappear only to return with a different naming convention down the road. Google is changing their search engine results page to include information that people can access without clicking any links. This has given rise to a large percentage of zero-click searches. This phenomenon is detrimental to companies hoping to derive site traffic from search engine marketing.

Advertising on mobile devices can be extremely effective. It has the potential to reach a large audience through a channel where they spend hours each day, plus it’s a highly personal and intimate environment. In my experience, mobile users engage with ads on their smartphones at a high rate. I guess sometimes it’s more interesting than looking up at the person sitting across from you.

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

Four limitations of Google Analytics

karl-heberger-coumn-sigGoogle Analytics is a free service that allows marketers and website owners to track users’ behavior on their websites. It can tell the story that is so critical to understanding how to improve the performance of a site—specifically, who is visiting, how they got there and what they did. When I say “who” I don’t mean name, address, Social Security number and mother’s maiden name, but with all the recent talk about digital marketing and privacy, I could see why you thought that.

Google Analytics is awesome. So awesome that over two-thirds of the top 100,000 websites in the world are using it. That’s according to BuiltWith, a website that tracks what software is used on websites across the internet.

Google Analytics is also free and, sometimes in life, you get what you pay for. There are a number of limitations that can skew the data it collects. While it’s a tool I recommend every one of our clients use, it’s important to understand these limitations when using the data to make decisions about marketing campaigns and website enhancements.

Limitation No. 1: Recording bot and spam traffic.

Not every machine that loads your website is being operated by a person. There are many bots that are constantly crawling websites for various reasons. Some are nefarious and some are not. Either way, these bots can skew data significantly. We recently performed a thorough analysis for a client with multiple sites and found that bot and spam traffic made up between 10 and 20 percent of recorded visits. Spam—it’s not just for inboxes anymore.

Bot traffic is harmful for analysis because it uses websites very differently than typical users. Bots often only load one page, which misrepresents pages per session and conversion rate metrics. Fortunately, custom segments can filter this traffic out. If creating filters for specific types of web traffic isn’t your passion in life, a marketing analytics professional can help.

Limitation No. 2: Time on site.

Time on site is a metric that is always under reported by Google Analytics. When a user loads a page, the exact time that page loads is sent back to Google’s servers. When the next page is loaded, that time is recorded. Google then does the quick math to determine how long the user was on the first page. This works perfectly well until a user reaches the final page. How long do they spend looking at the final page? Do you know?

That was a rhetorical question. You don’t. Google doesn’t either. Without another recorded time to measure the difference, the time spent on the last page within a session is not calculated —and therefore not factored into time on site. That’s why for every user who only looks at one page, time on site in Google Analytics shows zero seconds. That would actually be very hard for a user to pull off. You’d have to have a very quick mouse finger.

Limitation No. 3: Measuring all users.

Google Analytics works by loading a snippet of javascript code on each page of a website. When the page is loaded, the code sends a long string of data back to the Google servers to be processed. Not all browsers allow javascript code to run. On top of that, Google Analytics uses cookies to track information from a user’s browser. Cookies can be blocked by web browsers and ad blockers.

Recent privacy laws are throwing an additional monkey wrench into the situation. When the EU enacted GDPR last year, web owners were forced to give their users the option to disable cookies. Some site owners are keeping cookies off until users opt-in, leaving large numbers of visits unrecorded.

With the limitations of javascript and cookies, not all users are tracked. Based on this information, a smart analyst (like me) might tell you not to use Google Analytics to track hard numbers. Instead, look for trends over time to measure success.

Limitation No. 4: The need for customization.

Many website owners and marketers place Google Analytics code on their website then high-five themselves in the mirror because they’re “crushing it.” Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning of the set up. In order to run the most important reports available, you’ll need to set up goal tracking. You’ll also need to set up event tracking to measure interactions with non-HTML content like PDF downloads, video views, and form submissions. Google Analytics doesn’t know what you want to measure, it’s important that you customize the tracking to fit your needs.

I’ve often heard that in marketing the most effective word you can use is “free.” So use Google Analytics on your website because it is free. But understand just how much awesome that price will get you.

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected].


For digital marketing support, deeper is better than wider

web-sig_karl-heberger_We’ve all heard the saying, “jack of all trades, master of none.” This might be used to describe your neighborhood handyman who is often helping people out with various home improvement projects.

When you have a serious home renovation, however, you don’t call Bill from next door. You need specialists who can get the job done right. My wife and I recently had the pleasure of having our kitchen ripped apart and put back together over what turned into weeks on end. There were problems around every corner, like the duct work running up and down the middle of the wall we wanted removed. Each time we were faced with a challenge, we brought in a specialist to help us solve it. Our house became a popular hangout for HVAC, plumbing, flooring and electricity professionals.

Everyone understands that the plumber is not the person they want hooking up the electric or installing the countertops. These are all specialized skills that take years of practice and learning to understand and perfect. Specialists are important because they can find ways to solve complex problems. They can do this because they have a deep understanding of their area of expertise. Unfortunately for my wife and me, the HVAC specialist’s expertise meant our kitchen remodeling project would be on hold during his extended vacation.

As digital marketing continues to evolve, we find that there are many different areas in which individuals are gaining deep expertise.

At the heart of any digital marketing initiative is a company’s website. In order to create and maintain an effective site, there are different skillsets that need to be tapped. Designers and user-experience experts will make sure the site is visually appealing and easy to use. Programmers are needed to make sure that it functions correctly and consistently across various platforms and devices. IT professionals are needed to set-up hosting, maintain security and make you feel inferior. A really good one can do all three simultaneously.

Digital advertising introduces a whole different set of needed skills and expertise. At the core there needs to be an understanding of media planning and buying. Then, within each channel, there are several technical and functional challenges. Google advertising requires a combination of keyword research, bidding strategies, ad copy development, landing page best practices, and account structure know-how. Social media sites each have their own platforms buyers can use to set up and run advertisements. Display advertising and video ads are often purchased through ad technology platforms that allow programmatic buying. Programmatic buying is vastly complex. Many large agencies have created whole departments or subsidiaries containing programmers, buyers and data scientists in order to effectively target and engage prospects with advertising.

Content marketing has grown considerably over the past few years. The advent of Google and other (lesser) search engines has shifted the balance of power from the seller to the buyer. As a result, marketers are now developing content to draw potential customers to their web properties to engage with articles, videos, whitepapers, infographics and more. The marketer can drive leads and establish thought leadership, while the buyer is armed with the information they need to make an informed buying decision. This is a tricky area, because to be effective content needs to be good and easy to find. Achieving both is a challenge. Because of this, content marketing requires design, search engine optimization, research, copywriting and video editing skills, to name a few.

Once content has been developed and begins to capture leads, marketing automation campaigns can be developed to nurture prospects and effectively generate sales-qualified leads. The process of marketing automation can be extremely effective because it connects specific pieces of content with prospects who have shown an interest in related information. It’s also complex. Platforms such as HubSpot, Marketo and Pardot are powerful marketing automation tools that require months and years of training and practice to master.

The analytics that are generated from each of these digital marketing activities ties everything together and is yet another specialty within digital marketing. Transforming data into actionable insights requires data science and business intelligence skills, not to mention database management, data visualization and coding capabilities.

At Mason Digital, we’ve set up separate departments for development, advertising, content marketing and analytics. This allows us to staff our company to provide clients with deep knowledge and expertise in digital marketing, whether they just need a website or require an integrated digital marketing campaign. Whether your company is looking to accomplish your marketing objectives with internal staff or an outsourced firm, make sure that you’re tapping resources with deep expertise and not generalists with limited knowledge. Even if this requires tearing everything apart and rebuilding it, it might be worth it. Take it from me, our new kitchen is awesome!

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proceed with caution: self-serve advertising platforms

web-sig_karl-heberger_In recent years, the largest digital advertising companies have made a push to attract more small businesses. If you’re a business owner, you’ve probably received postcards in the mail with a $25 credit for Google advertising or been advised to “boost” your Facebook post to maximize performance. The adtech giants have made advertising on their sites and within their networks extremely accessible. Advertisers can set up and purchase advertising with self-serve platforms available for Google, Bing, Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter, LinkedIn and others.

These platforms have become powerful systems for advertising. From the Fortune 500 to the dry cleaners on Main Street, Google and Facebook give companies an opportunity to directly reach and engage current and prospective customers.

With this power comes an increasing level of sophistication. With every update, new features are added, furthering the complexity and the level of understanding needed to create optimal advertising programs. Google’s advertising platform is one of the most sophisticated systems ever developed. The real-time bidding mechanism has been expertly developed and refined over the past two decades.

Every time a search is performed on Google, there is an auction to determine which ads appear and where they appear on the search engine results page. Which advertisers will appear is first determined by factors involving the search query itself. What keywords were typed into the search box? Where is the person who is searching located? What type of device is she using? What time of day is it? What has she searched for and clicked on in the past?

After these and many other factors are determined, Google makes the ad space available to every advertiser interested in appearing for that search query. Which ads show up and where they show up are a result of two factors – the amount the advertiser is willing to pay for the click (the bid) and the quality score the advertiser has been given for that specific search query. These two numbers are multiplied together; the ads are placed in order of highest to lowest (with the eighth ad representing the cut-off for appearing on the first page).

Quality score is a number between 1 and 10 that is assigned to each keyword an advertiser chooses to bid on. This score is determined by analyzing three key factors – the quality of the ad copy, the quality of the landing page, and the historic click-through rate for that keyword. Advertisers who don’t understand how this bidding system works are susceptible to over-paying for clicks. Google will call out how much you need to bid to appear on the first page, but it doesn’t call out the role that quality score plays in this.

Facebook has a similar scoring system that determines how much an advertiser will pay for advertising. Ads with low scores are charged a premium or might not run at all. While the system is set up similarly, the way the quality score is calculated is completely different.

How quality scores are calculated and how they factor into the cost of advertising in these systems is just one example of the complexity involved. Both platforms have been evolving for years to increase the functionality and opportunities available to advertisers. With each update, another level of complexity is added to the system.

Even advertisers who are highly skilled and experienced setting up and running ad campaigns likely don’t have the ability to effectively analyze the data that these systems provide. Statistical analysis is a highly technical skill, and analyzing marketing data is a specialty within this skillset. The biggest problem is that there’s too much data. Advertisers who lack digital marketing experience and sophistication will often focus on metrics that aren’t important in achieving their marketing and business objectives. In a previous column, I examined the misguided practice of optimizing digital marketing campaigns based on click-through rate (CTR). Also, measuring metrics that matter (like conversion rate or cost per conversion) requires technical set-up that in many cases isn’t available “out of the box.”

While small businesses control a growing percentage of the dollars spent on digital advertising, the major adtech companies are doing their customers a disservice by promoting their self-serve options. I’ve had numerous conversations with new clients who have told me that they tried paid search or social media advertising and that it “didn’t work.” Not all digital advertising campaigns are created equal. Companies interested in taking full advantage of the opportunities to reach and engage prospective customers online should either commit to extensive training or work with a partner well versed in the strategy and technical know-how needed to be successful. Even with the $25 credit, trying to run your own free advertising could prove costly.

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

Good marketing requires provocative, risky approach

web-sig_karl-heberger_We live in a world that is overcrowded and frankly cluttered with advertising and marketing messages. Yankelovich, a market research firm, has estimated that a person living in a modern U.S. city is exposed to over 5,000 advertising messages per day. A few of those exposures take place during the rare occurrence that someone looks up from their smartphone. Add in the conventional wisdom that the average attention span is declining and you’ll find that we, as marketers, have our work cut out for us.

Reaching the right person with your marketing message is still important, but that alone will not be effective. Our brains are wired to retain a limited amount of information. Thankfully, we no longer need to remember our friends’ phone numbers. That fact, coupled with the ability to Google state capitals, has freed up over 70 percent of my brain’s hard drive space.

Still, getting onto the short list of messages a person will remember can be difficult. To break through the clutter, marketers need to craft a message or story that’s provocative. By provocative, I mean it makes a person in the target audience stop and think. It shouldn’t be offensive, but it should elicit a reaction.

Think about some of the recent advertising campaigns that have stuck with you. A few years back, in the midst of a massive sales decline, Domino’s Pizza decided to reinvent themselves. I’d be willing to bet there were a few executives who weren’t on board with implementing a self-deprecating marketing strategy that admitted their product wasn’t very good. However, it was honest, it was different, it was provocative and it really resonated with consumers. After all, their pizza crust shared an unsettling number of characteristics with cardboard. Since the new campaign launched, Domino’s has opened hundreds of new locations and profits are soaring.

I’m personally impressed by Domino’s shift in messaging strategy because it was risky. Admitting their pizza was inferior could have fueled further backlash against the product if it hadn’t been executed so well. The risk here was calculated and important: If they had only said that they improved their pizza, it would have easily gone unnoticed.

Another example of a risky marketing campaign was launched by Dos Equis in 2006 when they introduced us to the most interesting man in the world. They were faced with declining beer sales coupled with low brand recognition. Rather than compete with bigger brands for a slice of the imported beer market, they chose to speak to another audience altogether. They targeted people who prefer cocktails to beer and positioned their product as a sophisticated cocktail alternative. Hence the catchphrase, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

Marketers can sometimes unwisely think that that the more people they target, the more success they will have. Dos Equis proved that success can be achieved by more narrowly defining the audience. According to the company, U.S. sales increased each year between 2006-2010 and it’s been estimated that sales increased 22 percent over a period when imported beer as a category fell 4 percent.

On the flip side, a recent initiative by Pepsi is using the opposite strategy. During the 2018 Super Bowl they unveiled their new campaign in which they declared that Pepsi is the soft drink for every generation. Talk about casting a wide net. It’s often said in marketing that when you try to speak to everyone, you speak to no one.

The only reason the Pepsi campaign stuck out to me is because I’m a marketing professional who was appalled that they spent millions of dollars to say that Pepsi is the drink for everyone ever. In my humble opinion it was even dumber than Mountain Dew’s puppy-monkey-baby spot from a previous Super Bowl. And that’s saying something.

Digital marketing provides the unique opportunity to test marketing communication strategies. Web pages can be changed instantly, and so can Google text ads. Facebook makes it easy to rotate different ad copy and images within the same campaign. Marketers should test provocative messaging to see if it cuts through the clutter and drives action.

This opportunity to test is a great counter to the detrimental practice of marketing by committee. The more people who are involved in the final decision, the less likely you are to create a truly risky and provocative marketing campaign. If you can’t get buy-in from key decision makers, you might be able to convince them to test. And if you can’t convince the powers that be to test provocative messaging, you might want to look for a marketing position at a different company.

Word of advice: I’d stay away from PepsiCo.

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

Click-through rate outdated as the best metric for judging ad success

web-sig_karl-heberger_Since its inception, digital advertising has been graded and evaluated by a metric known as click-through rate (CTR). This metric is calculated by the number of times your ad is clicked divided by the number of times your ad is seen.

Depending on the type of advertising you’re running online, CTRs can range anywhere from .05% to 10% or higher. It’s a pretty widespread. CTRs have more range than Adele—and because there are so many different rates in which users are clicking on ads, marketers often use CTRs to determine success. This is a mistake. Click-through rate is the wrong metric to use.

There are many different reasons that users click-on ads. If it’s a banner ad on a smartphone, the click might be a result of what is often referred to as a “fat finger.” This is a click that happens by mistake and is pervasive on small touchscreens. If the ad is in social media, the user might have been enticed by an image that they were drawn to. For paid search ads on Google, a user might click the link without knowing it’s an ad trying to sell them a product.

We’ve come a long way as an industry over the past 20-plus years. Digital marketers should no longer be concerned with whether someone clicks on their ad. What’s important is what the user does after they click. If 100% of the people who click on your ad leave your website after spending just a few seconds on a page, these clicks did not provide any value to your company. Seems obvious—and yet digital marketers are still evaluating performance using CTR as the key performance indicator.

While it’s tempting to associate a user clicking with their interest in your products or services, we’ve found that there’s often a negative correlation between CTR and conversion rate. Conversion rate is the percentage of users who take a specific action once they’ve landed on your website. This could be downloading a white paper, making a phone call, or purchasing a product. Really, it’s any action that converts to a sale or takes a step that could potentially lead to a sale.

It makes perfect sense. Optimizing for click-through rate is all about getting more people to click. Optimizing for conversion rate is all about getting the right people to the site, those most likely to act. These two concepts often work against each other. Unless the offer is something that appeals to most users, like a sweepstakes entry, only certain people will take the action a marketer is tracking as a conversion.

More than any other tactic, CTR is used as a success metric in paid search advertising (Google AdWords). This is misguided. When running paid advertising on search engines, advertisers only pay when someone clicks on their ad. Trying to get as many people to click as possible should not be the goal for this type of campaign. If anything, you want to qualify the people who click. Use ad copy that only entices people who are ready to take an action.

The best metrics to determine success are conversion rate and cost per conversion. The latter is all about return on investment (ROI). I’ve worked with ecommerce sites that have very small margins. If the average profit from a sale is $8, we need a cost per conversion that is at minimum less than $8, if not significantly less. Otherwise we’re effectively draining cash.

When calculating the cost per conversion, the click-through rate is not a factor. The more important metric is the cost per click (CPC). Because clicks on Google AdWords are sold in an auction-based bidding system, digital marketers have a lot of control over how much they will pay for clicks. Once a predictive conversion rate has been established, the maximum CPC can easily be calculated to provide only profitable conversions.

Granted, there are times when CTR is an important metric and one that should be analyzed. Maybe you’re testing different offers or different messages. Google AdWords can be an extremely effective platform for testing taglines and incentives. When you want to see what gets people to respond, CTR is a metric that can and should be used to learn what works best.

For digital marketers like myself, the beginning of time only goes back as far as the 1990s. In our world, the click-through rate metric has been around for all of eternity. While I think we should continue to measure it and understand it, let’s all agree that the days of using this metric to determine success are in the past. Digital marketing success metrics should tie directly to business success.

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

Some semi-bold predictions about advertising trends in 2018

web-sig_karl-heberger_It’s that time of year. The time when columnists decide they should predict the future. They write a list of things that will happen in the next year with very little evidence or rationale. In the title of the column they use phrases like “bold predictions” or “trends to watch” in order to hedge their bet. The articles are great for columnists because they don’t need to expand very much on any one topic. All they need is a trace amount of knowledge on each subject.

Why should I be any different than all of those other columnists who use their December columns to wax poetic on predictions that may or may not come true? Besides, it’s a tried-and-true technique that’s evident by the fact that you are reading this right now. So let’s do it!

Bold Prediction No. 1: More of the same.

Are we in an industry that is reaching maturity? The year of mobile has come and gone. The year of ad blocking is behind us. We’ve now entered into the duopoly era. According to eMarketer, Facebook and Google command over 77 percent of all digital advertising dollars. This will continue into the foreseeable future.

I was recently researching mobile app usage while developing an advertising strategy for one of my clients. The target audience is men and women between the ages of 25 and 34. According to comScore, a company that measures consumer behavior on internet connected devices, six of the top eight mobile apps used by this audience are owned by either Facebook or Google. Furthermore, YouTube (owned by Google) and Facebook are the top two apps for all smartphone users under the age of 55.

Both companies continue to have impressive growth as many other companies in the digital marketing industry are flat or seeing declines. There’s no reason to believe this will change any time soon.

Bold Prediction No. 2: The rise of Amazon in the advertising industry.

Amazon is very well known as the largest ecommerce company in the United States. They are also a major player in streaming media with Amazon Prime Video and cloud computing, storage and networking with Amazon Web Services (AWS). They are lesser known for Amazon Advertising Platform, their proprietary demand-side platform (DSP). This DSP can be used to place ads programmatically across the web, mobile, and video using purchase behavior data only available to Amazon.

Thanks to the Amazon Advertising Platform and the paid search placements that are sold on, the company is expected to increase their total ad sales 48 percent in 2017 to $1.65 billion according to a recent report by eMarketer.

Bold Prediction No. 3: Better online to offline attribution.

Thanks to the use of smartphones, there are companies that are now able to track where people are physically in the world using information from cellular, Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (GPS) networks, and Bluetooth. This allows marketers to track whether a user visits a physical store location after engaging with an online advertisement.

Our agency is currently tracking store visits using Google Adwords for a client that has over 1,100 retail locations. After a user clicks on one of our paid search ads, they are tracked for 30 days to determine whether they visited a store. This online to offline attribution allows us to determine the true return on investment (ROI) from advertising. It also has helped us understand how to maximize ROI for our client, shifting dollars to keywords and ads that are most likely to result in a visit to the store.

Google’s tracking system is so sophisticated it can even track someone who performed the search on their computer or tablet. There are over one million opt-in subscribers that help them double check the system and continue to make improvements to the accuracy over time.

Google is not the only company that is able to track online to offline behavior. Facebook is rolling out a similar product that will allow marketers to track the social networks’ users in the physical world after they are exposed to an advertisement.

In 2018 and beyond, more companies will roll out similar tracking systems. And Google is taking it one step farther. Back in May the company announced they will track how much money people spend in merchants’ bricks-and-mortar stores after interacting with an ad. Google has access to roughly 70 percent of U.S. credit and debit card transactions through partnerships with companies that track that data.

While I’m not normally a fan of predicting the future, these three predictions are almost certain to come true. Especially considering all of them are already happening. Oops, I guess I cheated.

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected]

P&G proves certain digital advertising is ineffective

web-sig_karl-heberger_Procter and Gamble, a company whose brands include Crest, Tide, Pampers and more, has long been the largest advertiser in the world. According to Kantar Media, they spend about $10 billion on U.S. advertising each year. Needless to say, when P&G changes the types of advertising they purchase, people take notice.

Recently, P&G decided to significantly decrease their digital marketing budget. In July it was announced that between April and June they had cut $140 million in digital ad spend. That last sentence is likely to cause a lot of my colleagues in the industry to ruin their shirt collars. But wait, it gets worse.

Not only did they boldly reduce their spending on digital advertising, P&G found that there was very little impact on its business as a result. They made the move because they felt the money was being wasted and it appears they were proven correct.

This was potentially great news for TV networks who in recent years have watched millions of media dollars shift from 30-second commercials to a variety of digital ads. You might think that for someone like me, who makes his living in the digital marketing industry, learning of this would have me filling out applications to drive for both Uber and Lyft. Not a chance. To quote the great Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?”

The fact is that they only cut one type of digital advertising—programmatic display—and I’m not surprised that they found it’s ineffective. Not all digital advertising is created equal. Programmatic display is a tactic our agency has been moving away from for some time.

First off, let’s define programmatic display advertising. A simplified definition is banner ads that are placed on web pages by computers. Specifically, ads are purchased using automated bidding on ad placement inventory in real time. When a user opens a web page, it takes less than a second to make that advertising inventory available to thousands of potential advertisers, sell it to the highest bidder, and then display the winner’s banner ad.

Programmatic advertising helps automate the decision-making process of media buying by targeting specific audiences and demographics. When used correctly, it can greatly reduce the amount of advertising that is shown to an audience the advertiser is not interested in reaching. This eliminates what marketing professionals often refer to as “waste.”

In the world of banner advertising, programmatic media buying has introduced marketers to a new type of waste. Robots. Just as the original “Terminator” movie predicted, it’s the 21st century and we’re battling robots. Granted, it’s not as dramatic or intense, but it’s definitely real.

According to an April eMarketer report, programmatic display spending will reach nearly $33 billion dollars in 2017. There’s a lot of money to be made in this business. Some people have figured out how to capitalize on the lack of transparency by running ads on pages that are being “viewed” by bot traffic. An internet bot, or web robot, is a software application that runs automated tasks on the Internet. For the most part bots serve very important purposes like indexing webpages for search engines. It’s important to note that they are not interested in world domination. Phew.

When bots are developed for malicious purposes, however, they can cause a great deal of harm. Not only can they load web pages and subsequently programmatic banner ads, they can even “click” on the ads. Because of this, the marketer is likely to increase the amount of fraudulent traffic they purchase, thinking that they’re reaching an audience that is responding to their advertising. This manipulation is effective. Some analysts have estimated that bot traffic is costing advertisers over $7 billion per year.

Even when ads do load for human beings, there are other issues that limit programmatic display’s effectiveness. Ads don’t always load properly, they appear on a page below the fold where they’re never viewed, or they appear on a page that is cluttered with other advertisements. The content that a person is viewing when an ad appears can also be an issue. P&G CFO Jon Moeller explained one of the other reasons for cutting their spending was that “ads were not being placed according to our standards.”

Programmatic display advertising involves multiple systems and thousands of publishers. Because of this, fraud is rampant. For our clients, we find that digital advertising is still extremely effective and reliable within closed networks such as Google AdWords, Facebook and YouTube.

Procter and Gamble is still spending billions of dollars in digital advertising despite the cut in programmatic display. They will continue to get smarter and refine their tactics, much like the robots did in the Terminator movie. Although I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

Effectiveness of search engine advertising receives too much credit

I am a digital marketer. I have been certified by Google for both their AdWords and their Analytics products. Not only do I do digital marketing, I love it! I don’t just drink the Kool-Aid, I make it at home and bring extra just in case.

That’s why it pains me to stare directly into the camera, exposing the fourth wall to the entire audience. Let me apologize in advance to my colleagues in the digital marketing industry; this article might make you think about adjusting your sales pitch.

The truth is, search engine advertising receives way too much credit. It’s just not as effective as your digital advertising team (or intern) says it is. As business owners and marketing professionals, we want to believe it’s working as well as it appears to be. “Finally,” we think, “an advertising tactic that’s measurable and provides positive ROI!”

Consumers have been trained to use Google as their starting line on the web. Even when they know a company’s domain name they prefer to perform a search for the company name (or even search the URL itself) using one of the major search engines. When they get to the site and fill out the online form, call the company’s phone number, or make a purchase, that last click from the search engine often gets the credit.

That isn’t to say search engine marketing isn’t effective. Advertising to the exact right consumer, at the exact right time, and in the exact right place is certainly a winning formula. Recent changes to the layout of the search engine results page have made paid ads even more effective. In their recent earnings report, Google showed a 52 percent increase in paid clicks in Q2 2017 year over year.

The problem with giving Google or Bing 100 percent of the credit for a lead or sale—what’s commonly referred to as “last-click attribution”—is that it doesn’t consider the other influencing factors that led to that specific search. A recent survey conducted by Millward Brown Digital found that 74 percent of U.S. consumers will frequently access a second screen device while watching live primetime TV.

The same survey found that 37 percent of respondents search the internet during commercials while 28 percent will shop online while commercials are on. A savvy marketer might run a television commercial that builds awareness and triggers a search, a PPC ad that reinforces the message and provides an incentive to click, and finally a cohesive and compelling landing page that converts the prospect to a customer or lead.

This is just one simplified example of why it’s crucial to have an integrated marketing strategy that’s able to reach and engage the target audience at each phase of the purchase funnel. Marketers who find success with their search engine marketing efforts are often tempted to shift funds into “what’s working”—only to find that these dollars produce a diminishing rate of return.

Overestimating search engine marketing’s results is most prominent when the people responsible for various marketing initiatives work in silos. It’s easy for digital specialists to show why dollars spent in traditional media and other marketing channels should be shifted in the absence of hard data. While tempting, that strategy completely ignores the importance of the multiple touch points that are often needed for successful marketing initiatives.

While multi-source attribution (assigning credit to each touch point) is still in its infancy, there is a strong push to develop smarter ways to assign value to each marketing tactic that contributes to a desired action. Even a basic Google Analytics setup provides assisted conversion, conversion path and time lag conversion reports. These can clarify how various marketing efforts are currently contributing to your marketing success.

Another opportunity is to track paid search performance over time and measure results while other marketing initiatives are employed. I recently reviewed results with a client who ran a local spot during the Super Bowl. We found that the paid search campaign achieved a 23 percent increase in click-through rate in February compared to January. This is likely a direct result of people seeing the TV spot and searching for related terms. Even when advertising isn’t the motivator to search, people using search engines are more likely to click on a result with a brand and message that is familiar.

The most successful marketing plans use a holistic and integrated approach. When paid search is used in conjunction with other marketing tactics, the paid search results will increase. If you analyze the results in a vacuum, they will be inflated. This is something I find is rarely discussed in the digital circles.

It’s important for us digital marketers to understand how digital fits into the larger picture. Especially if it’s a picture of Kool-Aid.

Karl Heberger is chief strategy officer at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm. He can be reached at [email protected].