Advertising is an adaptable beast. It must be for a company to survive, as even science suggests. Consider Charles Darwin. When proposing evolutionary theory, the fabled biologist never said the expression “survival of the fittest.” Leon Megginson best paraphrased Darwin’s views as, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
The popularity of personal computers, the creation of the Internet and World Wide Web, and the rise of mobile technology have disrupted the way consumers find and buy products and services. Businesses that effectively adapted to these changes have thrived in this brave new world, a key area of which is advertising. Print, television, and radio ads are still around and likely won’t disappear anytime soon. But businesses must spread the word across multiple channels, increasingly building online customer touchpoints because that’s where the customers are virtually hanging out.
We’re going to dive into the six of the most popular developments and trends to discover what’s working. Along the way, let’s take a look at how much companies are spending, and what types of Return on Investment and other positive benefits they’re achieving as a result of their online advertising efforts.
Wait—before we talk omnichannel marketing, we need to get something cleared up. Omnichannel and multichannel are not the same things. BigCommerce explains the concept of multichannel retailing as “the practice of selling merchandise on more than one sales channel,” noting that the practice extends beyond a website and into “marketplaces, social media, and comparison shopping engines.” It can also include direct mail and physical location marketing practices.
Under that overarching multichannel concept comes omnichannel marketing. Here, the focus shifts from the channel to the consumer. The goal is to streamline the overall (“omni”) effect across multiple channels (both physical and online), so that as customers move from one channel to another, they receive a consistent brand experience.
Customers purchase a single product from either a physical store or a digital one. However, they may engage with the company selling that product in both realms. Coldwell Banker Commercial states that 99% of US consumers buy from physical stores. Meanwhile, Statistica notes that by 2021, 230.5 million Americans will be shopping online. Of online buying options, most consumers choose between buying from a web store (owned by the brand selling the product) or an e-commerce marketplace like Amazon, eBay, or Etsy, which all sell items from numerous third-party brands. So come along as we take a short hypothetical journey…
A Sample Customer Journey
Customers often traverse through multiple channels to make a single purchase. For instance, a person might be scrolling through their Instagram feed and see an ad for a pair of shoes. The ad catches their eye, but they’re busy so they make a mental note to check into the item later. Later comes, and they type the brand name into Google’s search engine, then select the Shopping results option.
Now Google displays multiple buying options—the brand’s web store as well as Amazon.com and Famous Footwear. Each has a slightly different price, and the shopper goes to each site to confirm. Then the shopper also sees that the brand has a physical store close by in town. Oh, and there’s a Famous Footwear outlet at the local mall! In total, they’re confronted with the brand on seven different channels (Instagram, Google, the brand’s web store, Amazon.com, FamousFootwear.com, plus the physical stores for the brand and Famous Footwear! Seven channels…and that number isn’t atypical. In fact, six is the average, up from only two touchpoints 15 years ago.
They proceed to the web store to review details for the shoes and then select to buy a pair. Now the product resides in their digital shopping cart, waiting. The customer pauses. Last time they bought shoes online, they were too big. Maybe they should drive to the mall tonight and try the shoes on? They close their phone, get distracted, and forget all about it. Little do they realize, the company is a master of omnichannel marketing, and it sends them an email reminder of their pending purchase…along with a discount offer or some other incentive to close the deal.
And so it comes to pass that the person buys the item, and then notices the brand’s ads pop up on a routine basis whenever they’re on their devices. Because now that brand has their info, has established the connection, and is ready to grow the relationship. To do that effectively, a company must ensure that departments responsible for different channels are talking to each other, building and utilizing a cohesive messaging strategy that conforms with the brand’s identity at every touchpoint. That message must also be appropriate to the brand’s current relationship status to the customer.
Sounds like a lot of work? It is! But the Return on Investment makes it worthwhile.
Aspect Software released the results of a study demonstrating that companies using omnichannel marketing reach “91% greater year-over-year customer retention rates” than their competition. Customers have gotten used to that seamless omnichannel experience, and have come to expect it. Those companies that can deliver are winning the battle for hearts and minds (and pocketbooks).
Unfortunately 51% of surveyed businesses aren’t able to keep up with the technology and thus can’t compete with their rivals who are ahead of the curve. The more they fall behind, the more revenue they lose, and the less they can afford to play catch up. The dire results? Customers slowly drop by the wayside.
Gather ‘round now to hear the woeful tale of K-Mart. Legend has it K-Mart was once one of the nationals’ leading retail stores. Its long and fateful crash started in earnest when it filed for bankruptcy in 2002, soon after the budding rise of mobile commerce.
In-store, shopping at K-Mart was nothing to write home about. The brand didn’t offer the customer experience of rivals Wal-Mart and Target. Meanwhile, K-Mart for too long ignored the opportunities conveyed by the Internet, while the competition was doing its homework and experimenting with new-fangled online ideas. As the retail behemoth’s sales started to grind down, it got caught in a bind. No longer able to stop the bleeding, it soon lost access to its own suppliers. The end was nigh at that point. In a move of desperation, the equally-troubled Sears combined with K-Mart, hoping to forestall the downfall of both through a doomed joint venture. Instead, the move doubled the problems and crashed the companies.
Wal-Mart, meanwhile, watched and learned, and today is on the forefront of omnichannel marketing (having spent $1.2 billion in e-commerce revamps). Doug McMillon declared the brand’s mission clearly. “We will be the first to deliver a seamless shopping experience at scale,” McMillon said, continuing, “No matter how you choose to shop with us, through your mobile device, online, in a store, or a combination, it will be fast and easy.”
Since we’re on the topic of Wal-Mart, it’s time to transition to another hot online advertising trend, known as geo-fencing. Wal-Mart is the master of this relatively new technology, which erects a virtual fence about a geographic area as defined by a company. When a customer crosses that digital boundary, their GPS location-enabled smart device picks up applicable ads, such as a discount coupon at a local restaurant.
As you might have guessed, there’s nothing to stop a business from establishing a geofence around their nearby competition in an effort to redirect traffic. Burger King famously did in 2018, with the short-but-sweet “Whopper Detour” campaign. The week-long mobile conquest stunt offered a one penny Whopper to anyone within 600 feet of a McDonald’s. Whopper Detour worked like a charm as 1.5 million customers downloaded the app needed.
According to PCMag, Wal-Mart was on the forefront of this tech, using it at 4,300 stores long before others ever heard of it. They took things a few steps further, by mapping store interiors, empowering shoppers to use a mobile app and quickly locate which aisles items are in. The app also displays popular deals and directs customers to them easily.
When it comes to prices for geofencing marketing, Thumbvista notes it’s all about volume and features. Roughly speaking, costs can range from $4 up to $14 CPM (Cost Per Thousand Impressions). Digital Logic cites a $2,000 monthly minimum spend for “optimal results,” and goes on to state that Simpli.fi demands a $10,000 to 20,000 monthly spend for large clients. Is it worth it? It is if implemented strategically and creatively. Just ask Burger King and Wal-Mart!
Outstream Video Ads
Video is taking over the Internet. This is no surprise to anyone who surfs the web, which is most of us. A Nielsen poll points out that 64% of marketers “expect video to dominate their strategies in the near future,” according to The Guardian. Why? Because video gets the job done. It’s infinitely flexible and gives companies a powerful tool to intrigue and excite customers, prompting them to take action. The adage of “a picture is worth a 1,000 words” means that a minute of video equals 1.8 million words.
Anyone who reads content on their mobile device is well-acquainted with videos embedded on the pages they’re scrolling through. Recently readers have probably noticed a new development—video ads that play without clicking on them. These outstream video ads are crafted to play automatically when the unit is at least 50% visible on the screen, and to pause if the reader scrolls past them. They’re built to play without the use of a video player (i.e. an embedded YouTube video), and exist independently of other video content. In other words, outstream video ads aren’t ads that play before, in the middle of, or after a publisher’s video content; technology has freed these ads from that old constraint.
Some users question the functionality of outsteam videos, claiming their ads continued to play even when not in the customers’ view. That may be a conspiracy theory, or it may simply have been the result of an occasional glitch. If true, such glitches throw off performance metrics…something companies rely on to determine ad effectiveness. However, this problem of outstream videos not working right is hard to prove.
Meanwhile, research by MarketingLand suggests viewers “actively watch outstream ads for 25 percent longer than other types of video ads.” Their study also asserts that outsteam offers a noticeable “percent lift in brand awareness over other video ad formats.” Stats like these ensure businesses will continue to experiment with outstream video ads. Luckily there is no shortage of agencies standing by to help them get set up fast.
Per eMarketer, a whopping 77% of agencies stated that this new outstream format will be very important for clients in the coming era. With lingering memories of K-Mart haunting their dreams, business owners who don’t want to get left behind are getting onboard rapidly. One marketing agency, Xaxis, notes their customers are now spending up to 20% of their digital video ad budget on outstream.
There’s no doubt that video, both in-steam and outstream, can easily be worth the investment. Consider Dr. Squatch soap, which had a 0.98 ROAS (return on ad spend) in both 2018 and 2019…but with their award-winning YouTube and Facebook ad campaign, had roughly 50 times the volume of spend for the latter year and 300,000 new customers. Meanwhile, the cost of producing videos has shrunk dramatically over the years, with professional outsourced production starting at around $1,200 and in-house costs averaging less than $5,000 including equipment purchase.
Of course, many do-it-yourselfers don’t spend nearly that much. Some grab a digital camera, mic, and basic editing program for their laptop and that’s as technical as they get with it. Consider the Dallas Zoo. An employee used their phone to record a gorilla splashing around in a kiddie pool. Someone synched the video to the song “Maniac” from the film Flashdance and voilà. Thus was born “dancing gorilla maniac,” a viral video picked up by news stations which served as an inadvertent ad for the zoo.
Humans have no patience anymore, which is why Google never stops trying to keep us happy. Shoppers in particular are known to be a finnick lot, willing to abandon any page that isn’t delivering instantaneously. One new Google initiative to appease them (and businesses that market to them) is the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) Project.
The tech giant describes it as an “open-source HTML framework that provides a straightforward way to create web pages that are fast, smooth-loading and prioritize the user-experience above all else.” AMP pages load faster, mitigating bounce rate and keeping users on the page, and they can be used on other platforms including Twitter to offer a native feel.
Of importance to advertising, AMPs can also display safe, “lightning fast” ads known as AMPHTML or AMP ads. Faster ads on faster pages? What’s not to love? All this speed adds up to more visibility and better click-through rates, boosting performance and bottom lines. The stats are pouring in to back these claims up.
According to Time Inc. VP Kavata Mbondo, their AMP ads were 13% more viewed than standard ones, with “corresponding improvements in CTRs and eCPMs.” Volkswagen reported a 48% boost in CTR for an AMPHTML running on an AMP page. Eric Shih, Teads’ Global Senior VP of Business Development, notes that average completion rates are ~15% higher, and that clickthrough rates increase as much as 200% with AMP ads.
Other than loading six times faster and performing significantly better, what other benefits do AMP ads offer? Plenty, according to Amp.dev! To name a few:
- Dynamic, ready-made ad templates that can be edited with no coding experience, with a wide choice of editors and developer tools
- Better performance monitoring capabilities
- More control over the end-to-end experience, because other parties can’t modify your assets
- AMP ads are safer and less vulnerable to malware
- Optimized AMP ads are easier on device batteries
- Fast AMP ads lead customers to fast AMP webpages
- AMP is a simple, “turnkey solution” able to support traditional ads, as well as AMP ads
- Support through AMP Project’s growing network
- The ability to quickly adjust pages and ads to increase viewability rates
All of these APMHTML ad benefits equate to better Return on Investment than traditional ads, but that’s not all. Indeed, as Google’s AMP Project Product Manager Vamsee Jasti notes, they “translate to better advertiser ROI, publisher revenue and overall better user experience.”
In today’s high tech world, automation is everything, so why not put it to use in your advertising? From email to social media ads, automation cuts down on manual repetitive tasks and frees up personnel to focus on other work. The trick, as with anything, is proper implementation.
Hubspot compares automation to tending a garden. In a nutshell, the concept is that customer leads are seedlings to be carefully nurtured into paying…plants. Well, you get the idea. The point is that the focus must be, from the beginning and at all times, on the customer.
Automation, you see, doesn’t produce customers on the other side of some funnel; it grows them. Whether we’re talking B2B or B2C, marketing automation done right can help form relationships with buyers and take care of them at every stage. To understand how this works, let’s examine how it doesn’t work.
Marketing automation doesn’t work if there are no leads to start with. All the bells and whistles won’t mean anything without leads (to quote Moss from the film adaptation of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, “It’s the leads. The whole thing is the leads.”). Hubspot sums it up succinctly, noting that while many marketers try to squeeze more from existing leads, “their competition is figuring out how to get more out of the 99.99% of the market that’s still out there.” The takeaway? Use automation only when you’re ready for it.
Once you have sufficient leads, you’ve got to have a comprehensive strategy. For example, simply triggering a few emails isn’t going to cut it in today’s over-spammed era. Content must feature value and have purpose. For this, the company must actually know and understand those leads, those living, breathing persons on the other end. Who are they and what do they need? This is where the nurturing comes into play, and you can’t nurture something if you don’t know what it needs to survive and thrive. Lead behavior and interactions must be studied to custom-tailor automated responses that can direct future behavior and interactions.
Automated marketing isn’t just about email and contact lists. Other features include capturing information via forms and landing pages, asking qualifying questions (i.e. how did you hear about us? What attracted you to our brand?), lead management systems (aka customer acquisitions management), and associated lead nurturing/lead scoring capabilities. Automation can also empower businesses with handy ad campaign reporting and analytic tools, as well as Customer Relationship Management system integration.
What about B2B? Converting B2B customers is tough, and for such businesses the focus might be less about lead development and more about lead management and long-term CRM. Thus, spend should be allocated accordingly. No matter which type of business one operates, marketing automation can provide invaluable benefits at an affordable price.
Most vendors offer monthly subscription rates that allow access to their cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). These usually feature either a tier or “per contact” plan option. With a tier plan, customers get a set level of features and set range of contacts. High-end plans offer extra functionality such as advanced platform integration. Per contact plans are also monthly plans, based on the number of contacts (with a minimum of 1,000 in most cases). Paid upgrades add additional features like a dedicated IP address, priority customer support plans, and consulting and training. More costs to consider include the initial implementation and onboarding (which may or may not be included with the price).
As far as getting hard pricing information, some vendors require customers to request quotes, but others provide upfront pricing on their sites. Here’s a sample, to give you an idea: Hubspot lists Starter packages at just $45 a month. These start at 1,000 marketing contacts and offer features to:
- Attract audience attention (i.e. landing pages, ad management, live chat, conversation bots, and forms)
- Understand leads (i.e. contact website activity, list segmentation, and email health insights)
- Engage leads (i.e. email marketing, ad retargeting, form follow-up emails)
Professional Hubstop plans currently start at $800 a month with 2,000+ marketing contacts, and offer features to automate marketing, increase online discoverability, optimize conversion rates, and generate customized reports. Hubspot’s Enterprise plan runs $3,200 a month with 10,000+ contacts. This advanced plan allows for team and brand management, platform extension, and advanced reporting.
While we’re on automation, we should bring up chatbots! Chatbots can save both companies and customers a ton of time. Though they are not without critics, chatbots are becoming far more popular as people get familiar and comfortable with the technology. Meanwhile, that tech continues to advance, making chatbots more engaging, more sophisticated, and more cost-effective than ever before.
Facebook revealed that 56% of consumers prefer messaging over calling for customer service needs. That adds up to over 2 billion messages between consumers and businesses—per month. Clearly businesses need to automate as much of that as possible, so chatbots have been developed to rise to the task and replace human agents for at least parts of those conversations.
But chatbots, used to their full capacity, can do so much more than simply play substitute for softball questions. As Sprout Social notes, they’re able to generate leads and revenue, too. By asking end-users the right questions, smart chatbots can learn about the customer (or potential customer), find out the issue they’re messaging about, discover where they live and work, and elicit other data useful for sales teams.
Chatbots also contribute to a better overall user experience, working day and night to tirelessly guide customers to the information or services they need. They don’t get bored, angry, or frustrated, meaning there’s reduced potential for a customer-customer service agent interaction to go sour.
According to Chatbots Life, one of the primary ways to use chatbots for advertising is through “branded content bundled natively” as bots. Native advertising, as we know, is “a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.”
An example of a chatbot bundled natively: a chatbot named The Hospitality Advisor, which paired natively with an article that referenced a hotel discount. The chatbot was there to complement the content and answer questions.
Another example: a chatbot called the Investment Advisor coupled with an article on insurance plans to ask readers questions and determine their risk profile, then suggest plans (and, of course, display a timely Call To Action).
If all these ideas sound exciting, then brace yourself for sticker shock. All this intelligent software doesn’t come cheap. According to Apex Chat, there is a wide range of pricing options, with larger companies spending in excess of $300,000 for a customized program. Premade chatbots can also be purchased and integrated, with pricing around $40,000. When GoHire needed a chatbot, it used a third-party “bot-building framework” and paid $41,000 (noting that “the bulk of the cost is monthly.” Apex adds that companies may only need to spend $500 per month).
Meanwhile, there are basic, programmable open source chatbot options like Microsoft Bot Framework available for free. These are fine for those who have the skills to dive in (or who want to hire a freelance developer to do some customization work). Upwork lists several international chatbot developer profiles, with hourly rates ranging from $35 to $175. A simple, open source chatbot may only take a few hours to customize, making the ROI virtually guaranteed and the upfront risk negligible. Comm101 features an extremely useful Chatbox ROI Calculator that allows users to input current contact center team numbers, annual chat volume, anticipated growth.
Final Thoughts on Online Advertising Trends
Determining ROI is always difficult, and as Content Marketing Institute notes, sometimes businesses fail to factor in “non-financial gains including audience growth.”
For example, a big ROI for Burger King’s Whopper Detour was the sheer number of customers who downloaded their app. BK not only spent money on the campaign, but also gave away thousands of burgers for a penny! However, in the plus column, counted in the ROI is the fact that they managed to redirect countless people away from their main rival while simultaneously establishing a direct link to those customers via a smartphone app.
This generated an untold number of return customers who discovered they prefer the Whopper over the Big Mac. How can Burger King calculate the number of meals those new customers will buy over the course of their lifetimes? Or the meals they’ll buy for their children, who may also grow up as loyal BK lovers? Hard to tell, but one thing is for certain—by investing in an innovative strategy to get people to at least try their products, they’ve saved on other types of advertising that wasn’t getting the job done.
Businesses who are willing to take the initiative and embrace changes will reap the rewards online advertising can produce. Those who are afraid to take a chance are actually increasing their risk by not doing so. As ice hockey star and coach Wayne Gretzky put it, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” If you’re looking for great courses on digital marketing – look no further than BoldFounder.com.
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