What Marketers Need to Know From Ad:Tech San Francisco

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Early in my career as an advertising manager at a software company, we used a fax machine to place ad insertion orders. Guess what? Those are still in use at many companies, according to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who delivered the opening keynote last week at ad:techSF. It was just one of many inflection points for an industry that is rolling in dough but still playing catch-up with the pace of the world. And then there was the appearance of P.Diddy/Puff Daddy/whatever he’s calling himself today… (but we’ll save that for the end).

The Advertising Industry is Stronger Than Ever (But Still Inefficient) 

To begin with, the number of exhibitors at ad:techSF nearly doubled this year from 2013, a clear sign of growth in the digital ad space (worrisome though on how many companies had the words “spy” or “facial recognition” staring back at me from booth graphics).

eMarketer kicked off the event with some industry stats: Advertising is anticipated to be a $50B business in 2014—that’s a whole lotta media buys. And another huge growth spurt for the current media darling: native advertising: 73% of all publications have adopted some sort branded/sponsored content program. This popular method of advertising has ignited the flailing publishing industry with a model that looks here to stay (learn more about sponsored content here). Despite all the good news, manual inefficiencies still plague the industry (like the aforementioned faxed insertion orders), flying in the face of the digital world’s frenetic pace. Which leads to my next takeaway…

Advertising Needs Better Automation With the ‘Human Touch’

Convergence. Omni channel. Multi platforms. Cross screen. Second screen. Call it what you will, but they all mean basically the same thing—the all-on digital consumer viewing ads on multiple devices. Your potential customers might see an ad on TV and switch to a tablet, meanwhile someone else is viewing it on their phone. The problem is that media buys are transacted in silos so there are not accurate measures of ad performance. And purchasing inventory in separate buckets doesn’t allow for immediate insights into consumer buying  patterns either. Yes, there is real-time bidding but that doesn’t resolve the complex cycle to target, purchase, and analyze an ad campaign’s results in concert, and quickly. This has become a huge thorn in the ad industry’s side at a time of huge growth.

One solution is the potential of “one-stop shopping” for all of these cross-platform buys, but that too has a hitch: Armstrong argues that while there needs to be “programmatic advertising“, the best media buying decisions can only occur with “mechanization”—the human+machine working together. That means computing automation can go so far, but doesn’t have the human brainpower to soak in rich data and make smart decisions on the fly to test or purchase across platforms quickly, or even switch the ad plan altogether. No surprise: AOL will be launching a one-stop solution later this year, and I’m sure other media conglomerates and start ups alike will introduce new methods to attempt to conquer this issue. Either way, the ad industry is clearly thinking about the future and taking steps to resolve the issues.

The Sales Funnel is Disrupted by Digital and Mobile

With the all-on consumer, the traditional sales funnel has become more chaotic and unpredictable for brands and media buyers to navigate. Gone are the straightforward days of TV, print, and radio buys. Cross-platform viewing and buying continues to create disarray to the familiar consumer purchasing process. The Zero Moment of Truth when a person decides to pull the (sales) trigger can no longer be pinpointed in the classic linear path of awareness-interest-intention-purchase. To witness: People spend more time on their computing devices than watching traditional TV in their living rooms (right now the difference is about 2 minutes; in 2018, digital consumption is expected to surpass TV altogether). Add to that, mobile is poised to overtake desktop computers and exceed its usage by 2016. This also underscores the need to have an advertising “central command” to respond to buyers’ behavior quickly.

The Rise of Real-Time Marketing (and it’s Free)

Real-time bidding isn’t the only buzzword these days. Real-time social selling is all the rage too. One of ad:techSF’s smartest and most engaging keynoters was Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, who shared “secrets” of his company’s success in social marketing (though it appeared he was gently coerced into changing the title of his presentation for effect). Holmes gave examples of how brands can get in on the story of the moment (for no investment) by taking a nimble approach to their content marketing, as when Hootsuite released its version of the Harlem Shake immediately after the original went viral. It included both office staff and the adorable Hootsuite owl mascot (“Be the show, not the commercial”). Holmes also pointed out how companies can amplify and piggy back on an existing campaign, like the JCPenny #tweetingwithmittens, which won the Superbowl ad race with its social media stunt and enabled other brands to get in on the action (ironic given JCPenney’s poor performance off the social media stage, but that’s another story). Holmes also called for company marketing departments to build up their “newsrooms” (yes, folks, this is part of the “branded journalism” movement, it’s a real thing). And if you’re going to tell that story, do it, in Holmes’ words, with “heart.”

The Final Lesson: P.Diddy’s “Keynote” and What Not To Do

This one is easy (unfortunately): 1-Don’t show up 30 minutes late. It’s rude and disrespectful to your audience. 2-It’s best to know what conference you’re attending and why you’re there (side note: might not to tell the audience that you’re unaware of both). 3-Even if you’re asked lame questions by the interviewer, try to respond with answers that might make sense to the audience instead of vague, unrelated statements. 4-Product placement is OK but drinking and mentioning your alcohol-infused “product” the entire time? Not OK. 5-Swearing every other word (even for me, who appreciates some good sailor talk) does not add to your credibility, likability, or intelligence quotient. If you want to get the full effect of the uncomfortable and perplexed vibe in the room, check out the live tweets. 

But back to the good news: the state of the advertising industry has never been stronger, despite the challenges of yesterday’s inefficiencies and today’s complex media buys. The rise of the digital, always-connected consumer leaves a wide open space for brands and media buyers to take advantage of new opportunities to reach and engage them where they are, all the time, and in creative ways. It also means the methods ad purchases are constructed, measured, and responded to will require more sophisticated, converging levels of automation—but also knowing where those human lines should intersect. How that happens, we might not know until next year’s ad:techSF, but undoubtedly a bevy of ad revenue will provide breadcrumbs along the path.

Image: Hotel Marketing Strategies

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One thought on “What Marketers Need to Know From Ad:Tech San Francisco

  1. Wow, some interesting stats here – and PDiddy needs to focus on something else than himself.

    People spend more time on their computing devices than watching traditional TV in their living rooms (right now the difference is about 2 minutes; in 2018, digital consumption is expected to surpass TV altogether). Add to that, mobile is poised to overtake desktop computers and exceed its usage by 2016. This also underscores the need to have an advertising “central command” to respond to buyers’ behavior quickly.

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