Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Rob Webster: Five trends since lockdown marketers need to know about

Rob Webster is Founder of Canton Marketing Solutions. He’s worked in the adtech industry since 2001 and is NDA’s monthly adtech columnist.

September 2020 may go down in history as one of the most exciting and important in the roughly 25 year history of online marketing. My contact network are all reporting a big uptake in activity from advertisers who are looking to improve their readiness for a post-Covid world.

The evolution of working conditions from home may dominate a lot of discussions and rightly so. Yet a huge part will also be about changing marketing planning, technology and operational structures to fit the need of the time. On a personal level I am looking forward to spending time with clients, partner company and friends in the industry to plan a way through a period of huge change and uncertainty.

I am sure the same many marketers will be in the same boat and for them it is important to understand the following trends that make the challenges today quite different to 6 months ago.

Content is King

Since lockdown it goes without saying that more and more purchase journeys start and end online. Adobe reported a 55% increase in online sales from the same point in 2019 to now. The consequential fight for attention online has been fierce with prices for many keywords in search and rates in social networks climbing as can be seen by the increased market share Google, Facebook and Amazon are reporting and the performance of their share price.

Simultaneously these same giants have been putting ever more emphasis on quality content (in the form of search page ranking and access to traffic). Consequently it is more important than ever for brands to have a successful content strategy to be able to compete for valuable online attention controlled by these giants.

Consent is Queen

Publishers were definitely faster than advertisers in Europe to install consent management platforms. This is because failure to do so could lead to them being unable to monetise their advertising. Advertisers have put more effort into gaining consent this year and these efforts are about to become turbocharged.

On the other side of the pond, in response to the CCPA policy in California, Facebook will only allow advertisers to use data from their sites if they can show consent. There are 30 states in the US looking to follow the CCPA and where Facebook leads more platforms will surely follow. This is happening at the same time as regulators in Europe are looking to more stringently impose GDPR regulations and the latest version of the consent framework is launched aiding consent controls.

Where previously consent platforms could be a liability for ecommerce sites, threatening usability and onsite conversion rate suddenly they can become a massive asset allowing advertisers to use more data than their competitors if they can get the consent process and value exchange right. Suddenly then gaining consent is a key part of the marketers armoury.

Publishers continue to lose Traditional IDs

On September 15th the latest Apple iOS update will bring the much talked about changes to IDFA essentially forcing both Advertiser and Publisher apps to have user consent for targeting and measurement. Quite how momentous this is was revealed last week when Facebook announced this would hit Facebook Audience Network (FAN) revenue 50% on iOS and may even cause Facebook to stop their data being used on other publishers’ apps.

This comes after publishers are already not able to use traditional IDs (cookies) effectively on Safari and Firefox browsers and many publishers are struggling to find a replacement for these IDs as has been widely reported this week. Publishers need to urgently start looking at some of the new options (see Connected TV) if they are to compete with the giants.

This change has less impact on Google, Facebook and Amazon as they use login-based first party data for targeting and attribution. Indeed such changes will likely only accelerate the dominance of the three walled gardens as well as snapchat, twitter and TikTok over traditional publishers.

Some publishers are fighting back by building out first party ecosystem of their own as we shall see in the next section.

Connected TV has become the most progressive channel

Anyone on furlough for the last months may have missed the transformation in how TVOD ad campaigns are run. Using first party data platforms (see my column last month) TVOD is the most ready part of the ecosystem for a cookie less future.

What is more Broadcast VOD also shows publishers that solutions are possible that do not touch the silicon valley giants. By operating off logged in users and on networks that whilst connected to RTB are effectively walled gardens Channel 4 and ITV particularly are able to lead the way, forming their own cookieless ecosystems allowing Audience Targeting and Measurement.

Where these companies start you can be sure the other TVOD publishers will follow. This is also a template for how large publishers can operate on the Web and In App too. I encourage marketers to reach out to the players in this space and get ready because this could be the model all data driven marketing operates from in years to come. Clearly the financial markets agree as the technology companies in this space are able to make successful raises in this trying time and are right now the darlings of the industry.

A revolution in Web Analytics

Traditional Google (and Adobe) setups no longer own Web Analytics. This may come as a surprise to many marketers who see them everywhere but a quiet revolution is under way. Part of the challenge has been that such systems are being blocked by browsers and ad blockers meaning they no longer report on all a clients data. Another is the need for server to server and first party tracking in order for clients to get ready for a first party data driven world.

I realise there are a lot of buzzwords here and there is a lot of nuance in this space. However the net result has been advertisers upgrading their setups using Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) and new technologies such as SnowFlake (a cloud data platform) and SnowPlow (a open source analytics system). Despite sharing the first half of the name these growing technologies are not related though they do both enable Advertisers much more control of their log level user and customer data.

This upgrade in technology and methodology has seen progressive advertisers take a quantum leap in how they understand their users and their data. It also opens the door for more advanced machine learning and AI systems to be used controlled by the advertiser directly for tasks such as personalisation, media optimisation and attribution.

Marketers will quickly need to look at how to take advantage of this and ensure their brands are not left behind – which will likely involve closer collaboration with IT and legal (a subject for another post).

What does it all mean

These trends whilst all different have a few common themes. Firstly that tough times have only made Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple more powerful. Secondly, TVOD is highlighting that publishers and the independent ad tech sector need to look beyond these giants to survive and thrive.

Far from fighting against walled gardens, publishers and ad tech need to ape them and use the power of their own content and audience to create their own powerful ecosystems. That will mean many of them collaborating to attract users, scale and ad liquidity.

Marketers meanwhile need to adjust rapidly to the fourth era of online marketing. A privacy first world or connected ecosystems in which content and consent are Kind and Queen and data the ecosystems/kingdoms gold.

Perhaps gone a bit over board with the analogy there but its an exciting time to be working in marketing. Hopefully see you all in Soho soon.

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