Digital Advertising Misconceptions – My Worst Nightmare

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I’ve held various Client Service, Customer Care, Account Management, and Client Strategy positions for nearly a decade. One might say I’m a CS Lifer. I speak with clients about digital advertising strategy five, and sometimes seven, days a week. I love hearing from my clients. (Really!!) They educate me, challenge me, pay my bills, and sometimes leave me scratching my head.

Misinformation spreads like wildfire out there, and my team spends most of their days combatting it. The most interesting (and sometimes most nauseating) takeaway is this: partners are making planning decisions based on those misconceptions and biases.

I decided to poll my team about the misconceptions they combat on a daily basis. While usually getting responses from them on internal notes not marked “URGENT,” “RESPONSE NEEDED ASAP,” or “HELP I’VE FALLEN AND I CAN’T GET UP,” is challenging, boy did the responses come pouring in on this one!

So, with that in mind, here’s our “In-No-Ways-Complete Guide To Fighting Misconceptions In Digital Advertising.” Or “INWCGTFMIDA” for short.

Misconception 1: Mobile doesn’t convert.

My friend, welcome to 2016. According to eMarketer, more than half of US digital buyers will make a purchase via a smartphone next year. Sure, certain verticals, like financial services, will still see higher conversion rates on desktop. But even when conversions are occurring on a larger device, small screen usage is surging. – i.e. your users are VERY active on mobile. Analytics tools, like a cross-device path-to-purchase report often show mobile as the most impactful influencer, even for larger purchases that are made on computers. With these tools you can use all devices in conjunction with each other rather than siloed. Do not fear quantifying your mobile spend!

Misconception 2: I need to know exactly where my ads are running.

No. You don’t. Programmatic can be trusted. Sure, we still hear noise around fraud and brand safety, but any bidding engine worth its salt will have optimization techniques to identify and protect your dollars from bots, aliens, naughty content, and so forth. I firmly believe identity is more important than context, anyway. If you know your ideal audience, can find them programmatically, and drive performance, do you really care which property they are visiting? Two-thirds of all digital display ad dollars (including mobile) are spent programmatically, and that will rise to three-quarters by 2017. It’s high-time we start trusting our algorithmic overlords. <—— a term I often use to feel more engineer-ish.

Misconception 3: You can’t measure user behavior across devices.

2015 was considered “the year of cross-device,” so I won’t spend too much time on this point. That said, many partners still discredit results because they cannot be measured via third-party systems, and instead rely on the old “spray-and-pray” technique. Seems pretty inefficient to waste impressions on what’s plausibly the same users over multiple devices. We’ve seen upwards of 30% higher conversions when connecting the identity of multiple devices to a single user vs deploying against a single-device strategy. Find a partner whose cross-device graph is accurate, scaled, and has been verified by a third-party. Bonus points if it’s backed by a solid platform to streamline your buying and measurement.

Misconception 4: View-through conversions have no value.

Let’s face it – consumers are tired of ads. They see them everywhere. My Mom is even sheepish to acknowledge what I do for a living (she tells people I sell iPhones). It’s no surprise users have stopped engaging with ads, which results in marketers’ frustration with clickthrough rates. However, tests have shown that, on average, you can expect 20% more conversions just by showing ads. Maybe you only give partial weight to view-through conversions. Maybe you have a smaller attribution window. Whatever you decide, ensure it’s given some value.

Misconception 5: In-app placements are crap.

When I say “in-app,” you probably think accidental clicks and gaming. Let’s start with the fact that 86% of our smartphone time, and 54% of our total digital time across all devices is spent in apps. Who cares if they’re playing games? There is an engaged audience on their phones. One of the ways to quantify performance is to look beyond the clicks and to actual conversions. When pulling exchange-wide stats, I can confirm a <1% gap in conversion rates for in-app vs mobile web inventory. So yes, accidental clicks occur, but that doesn’t mean you should disregard running in-app. Monitor downstream performance to ensure the environment backs out, but keep a diverse strategy in place.

Misconception 6: Creatives aren’t that impactful.

If anything can delay a launch, it’s creatives. That said, my appreciation for creative has mounted through the years. A recent campaign we managed performed twice as well when the call-to-action read “Download App to Save 75%” vs. simply  “Download App.” I’ve seen quick, easy changes to the call-to-action, colors, and message on a banner turn a good campaign into a grrreat campaign. I don’t consider myself cool, but it’s solidified after that statement.

Misconception 7: Non-viewable impressions have no value.

This could potentially be the heaviest debated topic of 2015. I want to reference a piece written by my colleague, calling to light the fact that not all media can be measured. Many partners call for 100% viewability, yet as an industry we haven’t even figured out how to make media 100% measurable. There are several reasons for this, such as mobile web placements that are measured but not seen, or mobile apps that suffer from unique SDK requirements. Caching is a whole monster in itself. Ads measured as in-view may not be, and ads that aren’t measured as in-view may very well be your best-performing placements. Regardless, “there’s no value in non-viewable impressions” is a blanket statement that ignores the nuances of measurability. (That’s my nice way of saying it’s a lazy argument.)

Misconception 8: All partners/tactics should yield comparable results.

Any good account manager will ask, “How are we performing compared to other relevant partners.” The keyword is “relevant,” because not all performance should be viewed equally. For instance, performance from your search tactics will likely not yield the same outcome as your social tactics, because search has such high intent. In the same vein that you cannot compare clickthrough rates on desktop as you would with mobile, you cannot fairly compare and measure all marketing tactics equally. The tactics are delivered in a different environment, with different assets, and with different measurement available.

Misconception 9: Last-touch attribution is still the best way to determine performance. 

This one kills me. Fortunately, we’re starting to see vendors release multi-touch attribution tools and time-decayed reports that assign conversion credit based on recency and ALL devices exposed to media. Last-touch methodology is so last year; there are companies whose “secret sauce” is swooping in with a crazy-high bid, right before a conversion occurs, to game this very methodology. Despite protests from our marketing team, I’d like to share my all-time favorite meme to illustrate this point. (Think of it as your reward to making it to the end of this article.) Don’t let the little girl run off with fish that belong to other bears.

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