2020 Is the Year Advertising Strategy Rebalances Its Scales
The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on consumers, businesses, and society has prompted a strategy and operation overhaul among today’s marketers. Where should I invest my budget? What messaging should I adopt? How should I redesign my product experience? In aggregate, we are seeing an acceleration of advertising strategy evolutions already underway from the pre-COVID period in response to overall marketplace developments over the past year.
As a recent Forrester report articulated, “We’ve overfunded technology and underfunded creativity.” To ignite healthier industry growth and higher ROI, marketers must shift a portion of budgets out of technology and into creativity — prioritizing customer experience versus “tech for tech’s sake.” While technology advancement has delivered greater efficiency and effectiveness in marketing, there is an increasing and outsized emphasis on broad-stroke technology implementation over strategic problem-solving. As technologies like cookies fall by the wayside and marketers reorient to the new normal, the elevation of creativity over blunt technology applications will drive the next wave of growth.
The post-COVID acceleration of industry trends, such as the rebalancing of technology and creativity — in parallel with various shifts in consumer interest, consumption and culture — are shaping a new world. Brand marketers must adapt and be agile in adapting their marketing operations in order to realign with consumer change. That change is to two areas where technology bubbles have formed, and in which we have seen extreme over-reliance, over-investment, and misuse.
The Bubbles That Will Burst
The barely visible writing on the wall has now been scrawled in bold when it comes to the following areas.
- Brand Safety Filters. In today’s digital world, over-dependence on restrictive filters in the name of “brand safety” risks compromising audience reach, quality, and scale. These tools are abused and often wielded like chainsaws rather than scalpels. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this prevalent problem to the forefront: Too many brands are wholesale blocklisting COVID-19 related content through filters, missing opportunities to align with the relevant, brand-safe content their target audiences seek. Brands must stop over-relying on blacklists and instead craft more-nuanced brand suitability guidelines.
- Audience Data Targeting. In addition to becoming more strategic when restricting the content and context in which a brand’s ads appear, we’re also seeing a massive shift from over-reliance on audience targeting in 2020. New privacy regulations and Google’s move to eliminate third-party cookies from its Chrome browser have forced the industry’s hand, but the global pandemic has shown why the shift from audience targeting back to contextual targeting is a necessary course correction versus inconvenient requirement. Audiences and their needs, the pandemic reminds us, can shift dramatically in short order. Targeting ads according to content and context is a long-proven way of reaching prospects and customers with current, clear interest in given topics, at the moment when that topic is most top of mind.
Areas That Demand Renewed Focus
As the pendulum swings away from areas of previous over-reliance by marketers, strong storytelling and deeper customer relationships will assume center stage. Here’s where marketers should turn their focus to achieve greater balance within their efforts and organizations.
- Consumer Behavior Shifts. The pandemic has accelerated consumer behavior shifts toward activities like e-commerce and teleconferencing — behaviors that won’t recede when the virus does. It’s incumbent upon marketers to prioritize deep understanding of significant, ongoing consumer behavior shifts and their impact on brands long-term.
- Next Normals in Culture and Consumption. Beyond high-level behavior shifts, marketers must also seek deeper understandings of how consumers’ content consumption is shifting, both short and long term, as a result of culture changes stemming from the pandemic. For example, while consumer interest in COVID-19 news spiked in March, we have seen this initial spike decline and evolve. Consumer consumption of content in verticals including food and drink, home and garden, and health and fitness is seeing a sustained resurgence.
- The Post-Cookie Ecosystem. Finally, as COVID-19 accelerates the rebalancing of the technology and creativity scales — and those of audience and context scales — marketers must enhance their focus on the transition to a cookieless world. Beyond audience targeting, this transition represents a fundamental change in the industry approach to frequency capping, attribution, measurement and more. These are big changes that require a collaborative approach that redefines best practices and ensures the next normal in digital marketing is one that rebalances the “right person” and “right time and place” imperatives marketers have long recognized as essential for strong brand activation.
The 2020 digital landscape — shaped by long-coming developments like the demise of cookies as well as sudden shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic — represents an opportunity for marketers to return to their roots.
Let’s bring art back to science, and stories back to data-driven insights. The winning strategy will be the one that prioritizes balance and value exchange over short-term gains.
Chao Liao joined Nativo in 2017 and currently serves as VP of Solutions and Activations, managing the ad operations, analytics, content and strategy of Nativo’s managed service business. Chao is passionate in the art and science of marketing through technology, having previously served as VP of Partnerships at Snaps, Senior Director of Brand Strategy at YouBeauty.com, Chief of Staff at Buzzfeed and Chief of Staff at AOL. Chao earned a BA in Mathematics with a minor in Music from Trinity College-Hartford in 2011 and enjoys playing tennis, the piano and the organ, and traveling.