Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Seven steps to becoming a conversational advertising expert

By Dan Jones, Commercial Director, Cavai

Hung up on technology, scared of life without cookies and easily wrong-footed by changing consumer trends, digital advertisers face an increasingly complicated life on a number of fronts. But as I recently talked about at the Salamandra UK Tech and SaaS Multimedia Marketing Meet-up, conversational advertising has all the attributes to be the contextual, cookieless, mid-funnel tool advertisers are looking for.

Let’s examine the challenges with which advertisers are confronted at the mid-point of 2021.

1.    Tech needs creativity

Look up a definition of ad tech and it’ll tell you about systems of advertising analysis and management, about efficiency, accuracy and control. Programmatic targeted advertising allowed brands to believe that they barely needed creativity at all, but technology can’t do all the work on its own – especially in the imminent age of greatly pared-back data capability.

As a result, creativity is coming back to the table for every wise brand, and if it isn’t, it will be soon. Creativity is, and always should be, at the heart of advertising. To future-proof their marketing, brands need to make their ads arresting, compelling, traffic-stopping and beautiful – and conversational ads can be any and all of these.

2.    Don’t leave your cookieless strategy until the last minute

If anyone needs to be told that the third-party cookie is on the wane, then it is probably too late for them. But even those who know exactly what’s coming may well admit they haven’t entirely devised their post-cookie strategies yet. The best advice is for us all to integrate cookieless methods into campaign planning now, not just when we really have to. Contextual is the great white hope of the post-cookie world, and conversational mechanics – allowing brand and consumer to explore and qualify their interest in each other – are among its sharpest tools.

3.    Rethink the online channel in the mix

We’ve all been briefly taken in by reports of designated mobile phone lanes for distracted walkers. They inevitably turn out to be promotional stunts, but they point to a genuine truth: people aren’t looking where they used to look – whether that’s billboards, bus shelters or conventional TV –  instead they’re looking at little screens. From a brand perspective, that means a key focus of online is now to gain attention – which is a major shift for those who still associate online with bottom-of-the-funnel work. Now, the onus is on building discovery and education strategies, which require interactions more nuanced than just a one-way display ad.

4.    All components of marketing, including tech, should be customer-focused

There is a sense, as the old models come tumbling down, that not everyone has fully grasped what led them to fail. The problem was, advertising deployed the brilliant technology at its disposal for the benefit of the advertiser, not the consumer. The result was consumer alienation and a broken model. But if marketing and technology were to put consumers back at the centre – their privacy, their voices, their needs, their experience – that would be a good step into a more consensual, agreeable future.

Our perspective is that conversational advertising – contextual, cookieless, built to facilitate deeper, interactive connections between brands and consumers – is one solution to these problems.

5.    Don’t tell consumers what they want – ask them

Well-known marketing thinker Mark Ritson articulated this one: if you want to know what consumers want, why not just ask them? In the traditional advertising scenario, brands risk becoming bores – always telling, never asking. By asking consumers a question instead of just telling them something, brands become more relevant. Conversational advertising answers not only this call, but the call for context and qualification in the absence of cookies. Yes, it calls for creativity, and for brands to work harder to imagine and pre-define the conversations they would like to have, but the potential rewards of a genuine exchange of information are huge.

6.    When you talk to consumers, take care to listen

A conversational campaign we built for Hewlett-Packard, running from pre- to post-lockdown in three stages, asked consumers what features they were looking for in a laptop. Whereas pre-lockdown tastes had favoured a lightweight chassis and all-day battery life, harassed, locked-down consumers prioritised mute buttons and webcam kill switches. Post-lockdown respondents, however, didn’t simply revert to their old settings but ticked a longer list of priorities, including all of the above. It makes perfect sense, but now we know it for sure. So for those wondering what we’ll do without cookie-driven insights, think of the possibilities of conversational ones.

7.    Better mid-funnel strategies mean better-qualified buyers

Mid-funnel is the place where brands can really influence their consumers. If we combine creativity and contextual relevance, we can deliver really cool, engaging ads using conversational technology, focusing on that discovery and education phase. As a result, we can create much more readily disposed or predisposed consumers on the purchase and consideration front when they finally click to buy or go to a relevant shop.