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The Importance of A/B Testing Social Media Formats

Why A/B test social media platforms? Why not just use the latest social media innovation for your next campaign? The answer is simple: Social media has evolved. If social media isn’t static, why should your advertising be?

Social media advertising is showing increasingly clever and complex creatives to viewers. In this sudden format influx, how does an advertiser, or brand, know which version will interest their intended audience? Just because a new format has hit the scene, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for your brand or relevant to your message. A/B Testing allows advertisers to wade through the clutter to determine the best format, and course of action, for that brand. A/B testing isn’t flashy, it is simple, unbiased, empirical evidence of what works (and what doesn’t) for your audience, giving you the best possible ROI.

The Domino Effect: Campaign Success Through A/B Testing

A/B testing ensures you’re using the creative that gets the best interaction with your service or product, vastly improving your campaign performance.

  • Better Interaction: You’re presenting the customer with what they want to see, not what you think they want to see.
  • Reduced Bounce Rates: Better interaction reduces bounce rates, and increases conversion rates, because people are staying on your page longer.
  • Reduced Cart Abandonment: A/B testing can also significantly reduce instances of cart abandonment, which continue to plague eCommerce retailers. A/B testing helps determine the underlying causes, and shows brands how to reconfigure their sites to improve the chance of purchase follow through.
  • Risk Reduction: A/B Testing also reduces risk to your brand by allowing you to test out a new landing page or website overhaul safely before committing time and money to something that isn’t responding well with users.
  • Education: A/B testing educates brands about their end users. They learn, and then understand, what visitors really need and want from brands. It takes the guesswork out of offering a better experience to them.
  • Experience Improvement: It improves the user experience by adapting to changes, such as adding in a certain function to make navigation easier, or removing an extra step that was a barrier to purchase. Problems that aren’t always evident can be revealed by A/B testing.

How to Make it Less Confusing

A/B testing can be a bit overwhelming with so many options available. How do you get accurate test results when faced with so much data, and so much to choose from?

The key is to not test too much at once. Think about what you want to achieve, and the messaging you want to get across and go from there. For example, focus on your call to action button, so that you aren’t overwhelmed by other external factors that could potentially skew results. Focusing on fewer variables also allows you to easily pinpoint what’s not working. If necessary, run more tests to check other areas, but work in batches, focusing on one or two things at a time. You can run tests on anything, from images, text, videos, to dynamic creatives to see what works and what needs tweaking.

Using A/B Testing for Charlotte Tilbury

We recently helped UK makeup retailer, Charlotte Tilbury to better understand how ad formats were affecting their overall KPI’s on Facebook.

Using A/B testing we were able to prove the value of different formats to Charlotte Tilbury’s bottom line. We tested traditional link ads against Facebook’s Offer Ad format, which instills a sense of urgency using a timer countdown to the offer expiry date. It also dynamically populates the ad with the number of customers who have already claimed the offer.

The A/B testing revealed that Charlotte Tilbury’s audience responded with a 20% higher CTR to the Offer Ad over other formats. The Offer Ad drove 48% greater revenue than traditional link ads, and was 30% more efficient.

This is just one example of how brands can leverage A/B testing to get the best possible insights as to where to put their time and money when it comes to creatives that offer the greatest ROI.

Learn more about our social media capabilities here

#5MinuteDigital: 5 Minutes, 5 Questions, All Digital with Ben Parameswaran

Current Occupation?
Programmatic Account Executive

Favourite thing about digital marketing?
It is always evolving! Constant growth in this field keeps you on your toes and brings new ways to achieve success with a client. It can push you out of your comfort zones at times, but ultimately that is a good thing.

Favourite aspect of your job?
The obvious answer is the variety of clients that I have handled in the few weeks I have been here.
It’s a hands-on sort of job that gives you room to try out ideas for various campaigns.
Coming from a completely different background, it has been a great challenge.

Why did you choose NMPi?
The people I met during my interview process and my team. Everyone was busy, but not uptight; you aren’t micro-managed. Progress is completely determined by your effort, I love that!

What projects are you working on now?
Between training sessions I’ve been helping build campaigns, create reports, and attend meetings with a number of different clients.

Transparency: Marketing’s New Currency – Part I

In part I of our two part series on transparency in advertising, we look at the recent demand for transparency from brands and consumers, who is affected, and what needs to be addressed.

The term ‘transparency’ has been bandied about the advertising industry for years but will take on exceptional importance in 2017. After a dismal year plagued by fake news, fake news ads, algorithm blunders, improper metrics attribution, security breaches, and an unwillingness to quickly act on hate speech, marketers will feel the backlash from disillusioned consumers fed up with murky tactics and feeble apologies.

Advertisers are more concerned than ever with where their ads land with regards to ad fraud, viewability, and brand alignment, i.e., is this the image we want associated with our brand? We’ve seen large brands begin to take action as public opinion has forced their hand. The threat of financial loss has finally caused brands to mobilise and do something about transparency, or risk losing future business.

Who is Affected?

In short, everyone. Politicians were not the only casualties in 2016’s trust fallout, social media brands, agencies, and marketers were also caught in the fray, and will continue to pay the price for missteps in the coming year.

Brands were recently taken to task for (unwittingly) appearing on sites that are deemed controversial for their political views. Advertisers are being asked to be aware of their social and political footprint, to be accountable for where their ad dollars land, and for stepping up and admitting any wrongdoing. Brands that don’t comply are swiftly, and publicly denounced. The Twitter account,  Sleeping Giants, names, shames, and call outs brands for appearing on hate sites and right wing publications such as Breitbart.  Sleeping Giants’ campaign has witnessed unparalleled support as consumers quickly jump behind their initiative and boycott brands that show ads on these sites.

Even as brands cry foul and claim surprise that their ads have landed on such sites, saying ‘we didn’t know!’ is no longer an acceptable excuse.  Advertisers are expected to know where the company logo lands.  Consumers have moved beyond just being happy with ‘great low prices’ and ‘excellent customer service’. Shoppers have higher expectations and want to feel good about where they spend their hard earned cash. They want to be assured that they aren’t supporting a potentially harmful organization that runs contrary to their political beliefs.

In early February, Procter & Gamble rolled out a transparency charter, adopted MRC standards to implement third party verification, and created ‘transparency contracts’ with its suppliers. If suppliers don’t conform to P&G’s new policies, they simply won’t do business with them. The announcement sent shock waves through the industry, but also saw many other brands immediately follow suit.

More recently, large brands like Lloyd’s, McDonald’s, the Guardian, and the UK government have pulled their advertising from Google amid concerns of their ads showing up beside terrorist content. Brand safety is now top priority and the reprecussions for inaction are swift and severe. These aren’t small companies, they are major players that will impact Google’s reputation and revenue.

But is this really surprising? It is no coincidence that this has occurred alongside public outcry over corporate accountability. With grassroots campaigns like the one initiated by Sleeping Giants, companies can no longer hope to sweep social and political issues under the rug. Their feet are being held to the fire ,and announcements like P&Gs, no longer seem ‘revolutionary’ but more ‘reactionary’, in a climate where if brands do nothing, they can watch their revenues fall as consumer vote with their feet and shop elsewhere.

Fake News

Fake news has not only plagued social media and Google search, but has been a bane to brands and advertisers as well. In addition to landing on hate and extremist websites, brands have seen their ads land on dubious “news” sites. There is an industry wide crisis now with fake news generators selling ads on fake news sites via programmatic. According to The Drum, marketers aren’t always sure that ads won’t end up on these pages, ‘due to the automated nature of programmatic’.  The problem is also that controversial sites, like Breitbart,  are part of the Google Display Network. Even more problematic, according to Marketingland, is that ‘Google has no publisher policy against sites running fake news stories’. Although Google claims to be combating fake news, and hate sites, a lack of strong policy indicates this is nothing more than lip service.

Ad Fraud

An attack by Russian hackers in late December 2016 shook advertisers across the globe. The hackers made between $3-5 million USD per day with fake clicks on video ads. This was digital ad fraud of an unprecedented scale, by creating fake domains, they managed to trick  algorithms into displaying their most lucrative ads on these dummy domains instead of legitimate websites. Bots were deployed to click on these ads and supposedly “watched” 300 million video ads per day. What is disconcerting is that this ploy was so well thought out that they managed to bypass traditional anti-fraud detection measures, causing massive losses for advertisers.

Fake Metrics

Another pressing issue that rattled brands and advertisers was the revelation of the fake metrics scandal that rocked Facebook from September to December 2016. The social media giant came clean about incorrectly reported video metrics that miscalculated viewing times by counting views of only three seconds, thereby skewing reporting by as much as 60-80% according to Publicis.  Then, between September and December, another three blunders surfaced, leaving publishers and advertisers questioning the veracity of claims being made by Facebook, and platforms like it.

Stay tuned for Part II of our series on Transparency soon…

Ignorance is Not Bliss: Steps to Protect Your Brand from Bad Advertising

There has been a recent spate of articles calling out brands whose ads have appeared on political websites, sometimes event inadvertently funding terror or hate groups.

This should never happen. So how has it been happening?

Brands are paying a lot of money to have agencies place ads for them and since this issue keeps cropping up, something is clearly broken. Accusations have been levelled at YouTube, unscrupulous advertisers, and shady programmatic advertising practices. So who is really at fault and what should agencies be doing about it?

Why This Happened

This issue became newsworthy as the line between brands and politics became blurred during the recent US election. The ripple effect has become a tidal wave, and brands are being affected globally as consumers are taking cues from the US and aligning their shopping habits with their personal and political beliefs. A pair of jeans isn’t just a pair of jeans anymore, who made them? Who owns the company? Where is the company’s money going in the political arena? All this matters to consumers now.

Public opinion in a heated political climate can make or break a brand. Advertisers have been quick to react to their customer’s political leanings by donating money to certain causes and groups, boycotting merchandise, or taking a stance on government policy.

Who is Responsible

Many brands have been caught off guard when their image has been tarnished by appearing on sites that don’t align with their political or brand beliefs. Sleeping Giants, a Twitter account that names, shames, and encourages consumers to call out brands for appearing on hate sites, has witnessed an unprecedented following. Consumers have been quick to condemn and boycott brands that are found wanting in their political leanings. The claims of ‘we had no idea’ ring hollow when ads appear on Neo-nazi websites or under ISIS videos. Brand managers, advertisers, and agencies are expected to do their due diligence before the company’s logo appears on a terrorist or hate group website. There has been plenty of hand-wringing and finger-pointing, but the truth of the matter is, from a programmatic viewpoint, it’s preventable.

Prevention

The underlying issue is that RTB programmatic buys an audience, and it’s easier to reach people where they appear online rather than targeting specific sites. There is also the problem of fraudsters pretending to be legitimate sites and bypassing Google’s controls, but in the majority of cases, it’s simply down to inventory that has yet to be classified, or a site not declaring their URL. Where advertisers can run afoul of their clientele is that by not bidding you could lose up to 30-45% of your inventory options. Unknown inventory isn’t always the proverbial ‘bad guy’, it’s just uncategorised. Google isn’t able to keep up and categorise every single site by the time bidding occurs, and not all sites have adequate content to be classified.

Even given the speed at which programmatic buying and selling takes place, there are steps that can be taken to make sure your (and your clients) are protected from landing on dubious websites. Tools exist that provide pre-bid ad-verification, which intercepts the auction, and, based on data passed during the ad call such as, the publisher’s ID, the site ID, or publisher’s site URL, will prevent the buyer from bidding all in a matter of milliseconds. This also taps into third party ad-verification providers who have databases of unsafe sites that are constantly updated, doing the heavy lifting for you so that you don’t have to manage the process manually.

DoubleClick also contains preventative measures to protect clients from ending up on nefarious sites. DoubleClick categorises websites when they receive ads and can quickly scan the site for words or URLs that are problematic. It also will exclude categories of websites when problems are found.

If All Else Fails…

Post-bid, if your ad slips through the cracks and lands on an unwanted site, ad-verification partners can help by preventing your ad from showing. This means that while your ad still lands on the page, it will serve a white box that protects the brand’s ad from being seen by users if it detects unsafe content. While this is far from perfect, since the client is still paying to end up on this site, the good news is that their brand is protected from being inadvertently associated with something that in this climate could, quickly and negatively, impact their reputation. Finally, advertisers and agencies can be more proactive by creating exclusion lists which they are consistently reviewing and updating.

The Future of Programmatic Advertising with Kristina Kasalova

Programmatic Account Manager, Kristina Kasalova, recently spoke at the Global Academy of Digital Marketing’s (GADM), “Evolution of Programmatic” hosted by AppNexus. Alongside industry experts, Kristina discussed the future of programmatic by exploring the ways in which it’s evolved over the past five years, and useful stratgeies for brands to implement for the changes that lie ahead.

What do you see as the biggest barrier to programmatic advertising at the moment? And what is being done to progress past this?

Programmatic has become mainstream now which means a lot of simplifications and misunderstandings of the term are present among new users. There is still some misunderstanding that programmatic, or even more so, RTB, is an efficient but somewhat dodgy way of getting performance out of your display activity. For others, while this notion is no longer case, see programmatic as a singular answer for everything without understanding the underlying principles. Programmatic is a very wide term nowadays and we need to be clear about it, especially when someone is new to the concept.

Programmatic buys have evolved radically in recent months and we are now able to use them with confidence across all stages of the customer journey – awareness, research, branding, remarketing and re-engagement. All of the above use programmatic as a principle, however the execution is different, and it is the key to understanding the variability within the industry, and to finding the option which best suits your marketing goals and business objectives. A crucial piece is to understand the variety under the term “programmatic” and learn a bit about differences between the options.

What really differentiates programmatic today from programmatic 5 years ago?

A couple of years back, programmatic meant audience buys across sub-par quality inventory, using standardized flash creatives and broad data segments. Fortunately, this is no longer the case – first and third party data is much richer now, and allows us to target even niche audiences at particular stages of their customer journey. We can target from discovery, through research, and the consideration phases, all the way up to re-engagement, and keeping brand loyalty.
Inventory quality has improved significantly in only 2-3 years. This was driven both by publishers, who became savvy about opportunities of programmatic (preferred deals or programmatic guaranteed can be as profitable as traditional direct buys), and ad exchanges, who stepped up and started to monitor and filter poor inventory in their marketplaces. It was also picked up on by advertisers and agencies who started to use brand safety and viewability verification tools and hence, created demand for better quality inventory.

Creative options have grown as well, partially driven by wider use of an HTML5 format, although this was initially semi-forced onto advertisers by major players in the industry. HTML5 is more transparent and offers less heavy loading than flash files, which gives advertisers the opportunity to use more engaging and high-impact formats with embedded videos, or additional features (surveys, galleries, microsites, etc.). Publishers are also more open to accept various ad size formats through RTB, which provides more options for their creative ideas. Altogether, this means that is it easier than ever to create engaging ads in various formats.

Where do you think advertisers should really be spending their time and energy when it comes to their campaigns?

Data and creative. Marketers need to know their target audience and that’s when the owned data come in handy. Even advertisers who have little to no experience with display advertising almost certainly have data which can help them understand what their audience likes, and how to reach them more effectively. Insights from Google Analytics, from transactions on the site, PPC activity, or their CRM database, all of these can be used to inform the initial targeting profile or even multiple profiles. The initial statistics from existing data can be used in campaigns, tested and refined further with additional insights on user preferences and behavior. Using the data will help brands become more relevant to audiences and spend their budget more efficiently on the vast scale of inventory available in display. At later stages you can look into using third party data or build a custom data model through a data management platform, but always make sure you know what your goals are in terms of the data you have, want to collect, and need, for more refined targeting.

Think of creative as an online shop window. In many cases, users know nothing about the brand or product being advertised, hence, it is important that the creative is engaging, trustworthy and relevant for them. The relevancy is related to targeting and data to a high degree, but engagement and trustworthiness are the design factors. Creatives should prepare users for what they can expect on the website, and from the product or service. An interesting ad is more likely to spark attention and engage users, creating the desire to explore the product further. This only works if the ad is trusted. If the ad is not deemed trustworthy, why would they bother to come to the site and convert? So although flashy ads can spark attention, think about whether this is actually sending the message you want to the customer. As in a brick-and-mortar business, you might not get second chance to talk to the same user and convince them about your product, so having a trustworthy creative is crucial.

How can advertisers use data more effectively?

The most efficient use of data comes from a clear understanding of the objectives you want to achieve and being aware of the options available to you.

Knowing your goals will guide you through the definition of what data you need and also how to go through the journey of accomplishing it. Being aware of the options on the market will give you edge when thinking about actual implementation and help you find the best solution for your brand. This means that you should know what data you have readily available  and also know how to use it to achieve your goals.

For instance, if you want to know what customer segments buy what type of product in your eShop, you most likely know what items are sold together, and what day of the week and time of day works best, how many times they come to your site before completing a purchase, how they came to your site, and many other details. Your site analytics might even give you an estimate of the demography of your site visitors. All of this helps paint a picture of your audience. Once you put all this information together, it will be easier to identify the missing parts of data which will help you refine your strategy. Some of the missing data might be available to buy from 3rd parties, others, you will need to gather yourself through testing. This is a continuous process as your company goals and audience evolves.

Download the presentation slides here: Recalculating Creative Trajectory

Want to know more about 2016’s trends? Download our mid-year review