Credit: MarTech Today
Our industry has made impressive strides in the past few years when it comes to understanding audiences and finding individuals across their customer journeys. Unfortunately, in the process, marketers have an over-prioritized distribution over creative. As a result, the right audiences are being reached, but advertisers are doing so with the wrong creative.
It’s high time for marketers to bring their creative optimization into alignment with their sophisticated audience targeting solutions. To do so in the most efficient manner, our industry needs to learn from the recent advances – and setbacks – in audience targeting and the systems that support it. Only then can we truly add the right message to the right time, right place and the right person.
The path to audience portability
The past decade’s programmatic revolution has moved so swiftly that it’s been hard to keep track of the most important acronyms at any moment. But whether it’s a DSP, DMP, CDP or another platform, the evolution of ad tech has all been heading in one direction: toward a better understanding of audience identity across browsers, platforms and devices.
The need to manage audience insights became apparent quickly during the programmatic revolution, especially as buying endpoints proliferated beyond the duopoly. Early on, although each buying platform in the market was able to give a useful performance and optimization insights on audiences being targeted within their walls, the usefulness of those insights were limited in a cross-channel, cross-device world.
Middleware that can give marketers a centralized view of their media buys across different platforms has become a necessity in today’s digital landscape, especially as brands look to more directly own their relationships with their customers. Progress is still being made in the realm of audience targeting and identity, but there’s no doubt that we’re light years ahead of where we were just five years ago.
The problem is that while the industry was obsessively improving its ability to gain a centralized view of audiences and improve media buys based on that view, everyone forgot to account for creative into the centralized optimization process.
The creative catch-up
Marketers can tell a lot about which audience segments performed well in which environments, but they still can’t factor in creative as a dynamic variable affecting outcomes. They assess the performance of a campaign based on reach and distribution, but they fail to provide consolidated input around which creatives were performing best (or worst) at the various stages of the customer journey.
That’s not to say that marketers aren’t engaging in the process of creative optimization. The problem is that their efforts are entirely siloed, just as audience optimization once was. If marketers are executing buys with Google, they can go into Google Campaign Manager to configure and personalize creative based on performance. But if that media is a part of a broader campaign – which it usually is – this process must be managed separately across every platform. There’s simply not a good way to optimize creative across a multi-platform campaign and to develop the same kind of portable intelligence about creative that marketers have with audience intelligence. The result is a lot of extra work and missed opportunities for optimization across the entirety of a campaign.
Creative across the journey
A significant part of ad performance has to do with the effectiveness of creative, taken in context with the frequency and context of its application. Marketers today need the same level of creative intelligence centralization that they’ve increasingly come to expect for their audience intelligence – and, importantly, these two layers of insights need to inform one another.
Creative optimization in a cross-platform, cross-device world isn’t just about A/B testing different visuals and messaging for a certain type of ad unit and then using the winner across a larger media buy. It’s about understanding the performance of different creative assets at specific touchpoints throughout the path to purchase. An ad unit that performs well at the bottom of the funnel is unlikely the same piece of creative that will perform best at the top. And a unit that doesn’t perform at any part of the funnel will be hard to weed out without a multi-touch attribution approach to creative optimization, and most importantly, done holistically across their buys. Only then can marketers control for frequency as well as performance.
Brands today need to be able to own, grow and redistribute the intelligence that they build around their creative. As such, it’s time for our industry to apply the same level of rigor and innovation that it has been pursuing in the audience targeting space to its creative optimization efforts. Without the latter, the former can only go so far.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech Today. Staff authors are listed here.