Global digital advertising spend hit $178bn last year, according to IPG’s Magna. This year, internet ad spend is even expected to overtake TV ad spending.
Today, around $500bn is being spent on global advertising per year. Yet, fast-forward to a world where all media are digital media, growing fast, and it is not hard to imagine the overall pie growing to a total $1,000bn.
But what if all of this money was not spent but, rather, invested?
What is the difference? Let me explain.
Making sense of it all
Data has always been the fuel for the media train.
TV ad buying is based on panel measurement, newspapers sell ads by readership; that’s how inventory is priced and sold – with a highly inexact, analogue science.
In digital, we enjoy far more precise data with which to measure and price our ads – in fact, we are drowning in it.
We now have access to high volumes of complex data which can provide insights into anything from browsing behaviours, online actions, social media interactions and interests.
Everywhere in the western world, ad tech companies, digital agencies, marketing departments and e-commerce companies are scrambling to find data miners, data scientists, data analysts, statisticians and developers to make sense of it all.
Moving from media “spending” to media “investing”
Much of this intelligence – and the many technologies we now use to buy and sell – has been deployed at the targeting point in the value chain, that effort to buy the right inventory at the right price to reach the right user.
The problem with this approach is, this intelligence is not producing insight.
Today, what the industry is deploying is merely data processing – curating, cleansing, aggregating, segmenting.
We may think, with all our fancy new tools, that we have created a new advertising industry with new ways of working. But, really, we have simply applied data to the old way of trading, a one-dimensional and linear approach in which so much effort is put in before the buy and the eventual execution is regarded as the end of the journey.
When you let your ad go out in to the wild, you may glean an understanding of its performance at the immediate campaign level, but, if you don’t reinvest that knowledge in future campaigns, you will leave vital clues on the table.
I call this missed opportunity “insights-based marketing”.
Insight is about turning the cookie-cutter advertising approach in to a constant feedback loop.
Upon completion, the results of every campaign should be injected back a marketing department for next-step decision-making, briefed to agencies for further creative generation, and additionally shared with media buyers for ever more precise future targeting. It’s quite evident to see that a complete shift from media “spending” to media “investing” is occurring.
Why is the industry not fine-tuning its trading to produce perpetually actionable data points that continually optimise client work in this way?
Creative, media, marketing, research departments, agencies and clients have been following disparate agendas for many years.
To benefit from insights, these media operators will have to work together in a new way to answer the deeper questions marketers are asking themselves: “Who are you, where have you been, where can I find you, what are you looking for, why do they need this and when do you need it…”
Turning outcomes in to insights can provide the answers. Yet getting to insightful planning is not just a human problem – to get smarter campaigns, we also need to make some structural fixes.
Some of the data collection methods used out there, frankly, are no longer fit for purpose. Take gender data, for example – very often, that data point is self-declared by users and comes from email addresses or other non-verifiable sources, a highly inaccurate method.
Likewise, monitoring for brand sentiment in consumers’ social profiles has now been discredited by the realisation that users project themselves, and companies, in slanted ways online.
And let’s not even mention the polling companies, whose antiquated methods are now getting the outcomes of major votes like Brexit and Trump seriously wrong.
The importance of customer searches
Where, then, can marketers turn to glean the data that can really be turned in to insight? Look to search.
Consumer searches show who people really are, by revealing their interest and their intent. Searches are not normative or attitudinal, they are individualised and behavioural. Search is a space where consumers are unintentionally projecting their real life.
However, search alone is not enough. Semantics also need to be considered and applied. It’s not because someone is actively searching for a Ferrari that he plans on buying one straight away. We also need to look back on their data string to pinpoint an accurate intent.
For example, perhaps they may have just searched for a personal loan, or for a Ferrari driving experience.
If insights are to become the new thread uniting marketing and media, we can say that search will become its new currency, and search intelligence its new exchange.