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Why 2018 Needs to be About the Customer Experience

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Despite ad blocking adoption slowing to a crawl, more than a quarter of Internet users are predicted to avoid digital messaging entirely. Invasive and interruptive formats are the common-sense cause behind this growth, and that can affect not only those responsible for creating and placing your digital ads, but also can seep into the brand identity itself. When a brand’s ads irritate or prevent consumers from quickly accessing the content that they are looking for, it contributes to erosion in brand opinion. Thus, it comes as no surprise that there is a downward trend in brand loyalty among classic brands, and an upward sense of trust for new brands who, among other things, are prioritizing the customer experience — from website delight and unique packaging to thoughtful ads and ad placements.

At the Digiday Agency Summit in October 2017, Accenture’s Glen Hartman shared a thought that really resonated with me. “Brand promises are perceived by consumers through their experiences — that is the new creative.” It begs the question, as a brand, how do you want to appear to your consumers? Is it better to appear as a thoughtful, courteous, and collaborative force? Or rather as an inconvenient, inconsiderate, and garrulous one? Smart brands understand that the former choice wins. Below are four ways to align your brand:

  1. Prioritize Ad Frequency Optimization: When it comes to the number of times you reach a consumer with an ad, less is typically more. But each brand, and many times specific products, have an optimal number of exposures over x period of time needed in order to drive x KPI. The only way to effectively manage frequency across multiple publishers is through programmatic.The alternative is setting up frequency caps by publisher across your direct buys and constantly monitoring how many ads have reached your audience in silos. This isn’t how correct buys should operate. You can control the number of ads delivered across premium environments using programmatic PMPs and Premium Guaranteed deals, as well as supplemental buys across the exchange, while appearing on only the best sites. Brands shouldn’t overshare.
  2. Don’t Buy Placements on Non-Premium Websites: While programmatic has completely changed the way we buy, sell, and think about ads, brands are still being convinced that programmatic is synonymous with the long tail. This shift is imperative because brands “buying a cheaper publication in lieu of (a premium environment) … signal(s) to customers that their brand (is) cheap and, thus, probably inferior.”Targeting was once thought to be King, but it isn’t — content is. A part of the consumer experience with your brand includes the site on which its ads are running. To assert yourself as a premium brand, brands should choose to run on premium content.
  3. Run Better, not Bigger Ads: Among the “most disruptive ads” are some high impact units (pop ups, prestitals, postitials, full-screen scroll overs, and large sticky ads). That’s not to say all high impact is bad. While no organization has come forth with any units that are optimal for the consumer experience, Omnicom Media Group does have preferred partners with ad formats that respect the customer experience while still making an impact, and generally speaking, these are native, native-similar, and in-stream video units. Because these require customization are more expensive than banners or IAB standards, many clients are hesitant to spend money on them. But media is, or should be, an investment, not an expense. Brands should invest wisely in the vehicle that they choose to reach customers.
  4. Align Messaging with Safe Content: It is clear that brands should confirm that their agencies are using inclusion lists, blacklists, and third-party verification technology to ensure alignment with safe content. However, there is a time and a place for everything, including personal beliefs. I had the pleasure of hearing Greg Andersen of Bailey Lauerman speak, and he drove the point home that the role of the agency is to bring forward an understanding of complex America.The role of the agency, as well as the brand, is not to instill its employees’ own ideals into messaging that should reach and influence Americans who have different values and beliefs. This is increasingly important as brands continue to alienate consumers because they take a side. Sometimes, it is important to take a stance, but sometimes it can appear too political. Brands should mostly remain neutral.

Fortunately, the industry is working to ensure a better experience with the following initiatives:

  1. Coalition for Better Ads: With 60% market share on desktop and 59% share on mobile, Google Chrome’s actions largely affect the advertising industry. The next update for the browser will automatically block the 12 most annoying ads to consumers, per the Coalition for Better Ads. This means brands and their agencies should be auditing existing creatives to ensure those formats are not running, and should remove them from future strategy.
  2. Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP): Safari, Apple devices’ baked in and default browser, now limits the use of cookies for retargeting to 24 hours, and deletes cookies from users on a site if they have not returned within 30 days. Data more than 30 days old is typically stale anyway, so this feature should assist brands in maintaining the freshest data. It appears that a 24-hour limit on retargeting might be on the short side, but again, is a helpful tactic to prevent ads from following people around the Internet for items that they have already purchased.

Overall, brands need to apply the same thread of thoughtfulness to how they operate for consumers beyond advertising, and create better experiences through mobile and desktop websites, apps, social media presence, and email marketing. This is the way to halt ad blocking, see an improvement in brand loyalty, and drive more sales.