NMPi’s Top Blogs of 2019

Here at NMPi, our teams love to share their knowledge and insights. Whether that’s through training or through blogs, they’ve got heaps of expertise to share. We’ve pulled together some of our favourite blogs from throughout 2019 – so check them out below and enjoy!

G|B|U of Super Bowl LIII

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest advertising opportunities available for US-based brands, and the price of just a 30-second placement is astronomical. In some cases though, it becomes apparent that brands spend their whole Super Bowl budget just on the placement, rather than the content within it. In this edition of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, we measured up some of the best and the worst ads from this year’s game. 

From Dates to Data: NMPi’s Love Island Prediction 2019

It’s one of the staples of a British Summer: beer gardens, Pimms, and Love Island. We decided to bring two of the things we love most in the world – data and reality TV – together to see if we could predict the winners of this year’s Love Island. Spoiler: while we got the result of the show wrong, we weren’t wrong overall. Make of that what you will.

Navigating the Top Search Tips for Travel

The customer journey has always been a complicated beast, but none more so that the journey to booking a holiday. In this deep dive, we looked into some of the best ways for travel brands to make the most of Paid Search. As we move into peak season, this might be a good refresher of some quick wins!

Meet BERT – Google’s Latest Updates

Updates to Google’s algorithm usually appear with no advance warning, but have a significant impact on how marketers handle their SEO efforts. BERT – introduced in late October – has been heralded the most important update of the last 5 years and marks a shift towards conversational search. In this piece, our SEO experts walk through what BERT will mean for the average marketer, and what we might able to infer about where Google is heading. 

Amazon: The Missing Piece of the User Journey

Amazon has become a hot topic for retailers these days as their market share grows and more and more budget is funnelled into Amazon Advertising. Peter Munton’s presentation from PI Live proved so popular that we ran his talk again as a webinar, and wrote up the notes for our blog. If you missed it earlier in the year, you can brush up now. 

And an Extra….

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention our, perhaps ill-advised, sequel to our 2017 General Election predictions that we released earlier this week. Using search data, we’ve predicted the outcomes of key swing seats and, thus, the election as a whole. At the time of writing, we don’t know how accurate we are – but if it’s anything like last time, we should be fairly close!

So that’s it! Our top blogs of 2019! What were your favourites, and what would you like us to blog about next year? Let us know on social media or in the comments below. 

G|B|U of Christmas 2019

Commutes are getting quieter. The air is getting colder. Offices are slowing down ready for the holiday break. Christmas is well and truly upon us once again; bringing with it a whole host of traditions. While matching pyjamas or a “top – secret” family recipe for Christmas cake might be your most treasured tradition, there’s one that I hold very close to my heart.

The humble Christmas advert.

Okay, maybe I’m overstating the fact, but it goes without saying that Christmas ads exist as a class of their own. Never am I, an advertising professional, more passionate about advertising than during the holiday season. 

They’re not all Christmas Crackers though, and so it’s time to bring back everyone’s favourite blog series: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. 

The King of Christmas

Like last year, I’d like to consider the John Lewis Christmas advert as a festive elite. As one of the UK’s most revered Christmas traditions, we can’t review it on the same scale as any other Christmas ads. However, unlike last year when I chose to keep it separate because it was a fairly disappointing placement, John Lewis’ 2019 ad is perhaps my favourite of the crop.

Perhaps I relate to Excitable Edgar too much. Perhaps I have too broad of a definition of what counts as cute. I don’t care, I would die for that adorable little dragon. Every time I see the Twitter ads that stemmed from the original tv slot, my face lights up. It’s good to see TV placements forming the basis of bigger campaigns on other channels – not something I noticed as much in previous years.

Beyond the main character, I also really enjoy the message of the campaign. Edgar has a big heart and is just misunderstood. His friend loves him regardless of his actions, and finds him the perfect gift to let him use his skills for good. A wholesome, cute advert. Just what the doctor ordered. 

The Good

As we’ve seen with John Lewis, you can’t go wrong with a memorable character. That’s why I have a soft spot for Joules’ Christmas campaign which features two of the features of my childhood: Wallace and Gromit. Christmas is a time for nostalgia, and there’s something incredibly warm and fuzzy about seeing those two getting ready for Christmas. If I’m honest, I will actively seek this advert out to help put me in the holiday spirit and bring a bit of joy to my day.

Another highlight is the McDonald’s ad, an animation which sees young Ellie playing with Archie the Reindeer after her older sister Jenny declines to join in the fun. When Ellie runs out of “Reindeer treats” for Archie, the family (including her older sister) go to McDonald’s for more – where we see the animation switch to real life and find that Archie… well I won’t spoil it. This story is all about finding the joy of Christmas, watching as Jenny finds that spark again after seeing Ellie playing and drawing. It’s incredibly sweet, and the art style is gorgeous. A definite winner. 

The Bad

Alongside our Christmas crackers must also come our Christmas turkeys and there really are a few this year. The Peloton ad has already become infamous and needs no additional comment, but there are plenty of others on my naughty list this year.

Usually, I like the Tesco’s Christmas ad. They’re alright, I recognise the background music, they’re a solid middle ground. This year, I really didn’t enjoy the story and found myself switching off within a couple of seconds. Time-traveling delivery drivers brought nothing exciting to the table. Part of me knows I shouldn’t really have expected much more, but I’m disappointed none-the-less. 

The top spot on my naughty list, however, is reserved for IKEA’s Silence the Critics advert. Grime Rapper “D double E” voices tacky knick-knacks, in the hopes to outline how easy and quick it is to order new furniture just in time for guests to come over. While it does achieve its message, it misses the mark on what Christmas is about: enjoying what you have, whilst surrounded by loved ones. 

I have explicitly told my mother not to tidy for my holiday visit. I don’t care if the house is a mess, I just want to see her, and I really don’t want her stressing about the “state of the living room” for the next week. If your family and friends care about your house’s decor, you don’t need them in your life. Bad messaging IKEA. Expect nothing but coal in your stocking this year. 

The Ugly

I’ve decided that, as Christmas is a time for celebration, I won’t be doing the “ugly” this time. Instead, I’m going to highlight the ones that made me ugly-cry by highlighting the charitable work that brands are doing this holiday season. 

First on this list is Heineken’s Brewing Good Cheer, an initiative now in its fourth year. The company hosts events in pubs up and down the country, with this clip focusing on the staff of a food bank, and the residents at a dementia centre coming together for Christmas dinner – and a few surprises. It’s a lovely reminder of the importance of local community as well as the services that can often for its backbone.

Then there’s the Age UK campaign “No One Should Have No One To Turn To”, which raises awareness of the loneliness that comes with old age following a bereavement, or should they have to care for a loved one. Christmas can be an incredibly alienating time for this generation, and the Age UK billboard campaign does an amazing job of shedding some light on these difficult circumstances. 

Christmas is the most magical time of year not just because of the snow and the presents, but also because I think it can show how we all pull together and support one another in times of need. It gives us that little bit of light in a world that can too often seem dark. As you can see from my commentary – that’s what I like the most in my Christmas ads.

From our office to yours: Merry Christmas. 

NMPi Predicts: Lib Dems Soak Up Labour Seats

A couple of years ago we wrote an article that finished a little something like this;

*DISCLAIMER – whilst we’re hopeful of being correct, thus acquiring fortune and numerous appearances on breakfast television, this is mainly in jest. Please read with a pinch of salt.*

The disclaimer was for a piece where we tried to predict the results of the 2017 UK General Election using Google search data. In the face of multiple polls suggesting otherwise, along with a handful of Twitter trolling, we predicted a Hung Parliament. 

Oddly enough, we ended up being right. 

Rather unfortunately, it turns out the amateur polling world isn’t as lucrative as we first thought. Buckets of cash and a visit to Holly and Phil’s sofa weren’t on the cards.

What did emerge, however, was a murmur of intrigue around the methodology our approach used. If it did indeed have legs, it would add an interesting and very different voice to the media circus. 

So, after our spectacular entrance to the political polling world, here we are with our, likely ill-advised, sequel. Let’s hope we’re a little more Godfather than Jaws. 

Finding the Swing Seats

Last time out, we tried to predict the result of every seat in the country by looking at search trends in key regions alone and extrapolating outwards. For this year’s effort, we took a more rigorous approach; going a floor deeper and focusing our attention at a constituency-level. 

Despite how much free time we may appear to have, completing such a depth of analysis across 650 micro-regions was beyond our comprehension. Try doing that during Black Friday. That’s why this time we decided to focus on potential swing seats only. Whilst we were correct with 2017’s end result, the addition of specific seat allocations to the mix will hopefully bring even greater accuracy, with all of our time and effort being spent in the granular details of key battlegrounds. 

Our first challenge was to define where these elusive swing seats lay. Rather than taking the easy route and asking someone, we chose the data-driven option (as we tend to do). 

Step one was straightforward enough. We took the results from the 2010, 2015 and 2017 elections and built a picture of the voting history for each constituency. Any seat that had swung during those last three events were included within our analysis. 

The next stage was to then look all those that were left. How do we calculate the potential instability of all remaining seats, some of which haven’t changed hands in over a decade? 

For this, we modelled the average seat swing for each party in every constituency over the last three elections. The fluctuations over time gave us an idea of seat volatility which we then applied the following formula to:

All those with a value below 1 were added to our list of potential swing candidates, leaving us with a total pool of 209 seats to go forth and predict using our latest algorithm update. 

The Formula

We learnt from our past efforts that the prediction formula should take into account three separate elements. The candidate in the borough, the parties themselves, and respective party leaders. 

We started by sourcing the previous months number of searches for every local candidate in those 209 seats from Google’s Keyword Tool. The number of impressions were considered their vote share. This was then weighted against searches for each party and party leader, leading to the following formula: 

What we ended up with was a value considered to be their share of the electorate’s vote in any given seat. Whichever local candidate had the highest share was thus predicted to be our victor. These numbers were then added to the seats unlikely to swing. 

Makes sense in principle, but how did it stand up in practice? Sadly limitations in search term data restricted our testing to the 2017 election only. The output however was extremely encouraging. 

Upon running the formula, we ended up with this:

A 4% margin of error, or a 96% confidence level. A positive sign for any pollster. 

We settled on our approach and applied it to the battle to come. 

The Prediction

In an election where almost everyone appears to be queueing up to lose, we have our winner. A very slender Conservative majority. Regrettably, not quite the bombshell that we landed with last time around. 

There are however three things that are very interesting. The first is the predicted performance of the Liberal Democrats. In a campaign where the whole notion of ‘tactical voting’ appears to have taken root, it doesn’t seem to have worked in the way that we had anticipated. Rather than reducing the Conservative majority, the Lib Dems are predicted a surge of seats from 21 to 35 at the expense of Labour; implying that anti-Brexit voters are sticking firm. This hasn’t been predicted to this scale anywhere else.

The second is the drop in seats for the SNP – a sign perhaps that the ‘indyref2’ campaign message hasn’t resonated with voters in the region? Whatever the cause, Nicola Sturgeon will likely see this as an opportunity missed if results do indeed end up this way. 

The final point to mention is some of the shock swings our analysis has revealed.

We have Sheffield Hallam switching to the Conservatives (following a slim Labour victory in 2017), Southport opting for the Lib Dems (after the 2017 Conservative victory), and perhaps most surprisingly Wimbledon moving into the hands of the Labour Party (a Conservative hold for over a decade). If the latter in particular were to happen early on in election results night, it could see pollsters scrambling to add a couple more notches of red to their bar charts.  

And there we have it. Phase two complete. Whether we’re hoisted aloft and buried in awards (like The Godfather II), or quickly forgotten and relegated to the annals of history (like Jaws II), only time will tell. All we do hope for is that we last a little longer on your screens than a picture of an ill child being waved in front of a Prime Minister. 

The Power of Uncertainty: Impacts of Brexit On Retail, Travel & Digital

Read Time: 5 mins

No matter which way you spin it, Brexit will undeniably have a unique effect on every vertical within British industry. Direct or indirect, businesses across the country will have to adapt to whatever unknown situation or agreement we eventually end up with – and that’s exactly the issue: the ongoing uncertainty.

The lack of public knowledge or clear political direction has resulted in a general sense of economic uncertainty. A slowing economy – or perception of a slowing economy – could have a significant negative effect on retail, travel and beyond due to changes in UK consumer intent and spending. Surveys conducted by the Bank Of England and the Treasury found that the UK’s private sector fell into a shock contraction in September of this year, with the blame placed on the economic stress of an ever-impending Brexit. After a similar decline in the previous quarter, the UK economy is thought to be slipping towards recession. If profits slump further, discretionary budgets will be the first on the chopping block for businesses, and the growth of the UK’s digital marketing sector might be threatened.

‘Failure to find a way forward could result in a delayed budget, weaker pound and lower growth forecast’  Larry Elliot – Economics Editor, The Guardian.

With the 12th December General Election looming, the outcome of Brexit has become even more unclear, leaving UK businesses with no guaranteed circumstances to prepare for. Leave or stay, deal or no deal, the waiting and decision-making is already having a tangibly detrimental effect to the economy.

Retail: Consumers, Staffing, and other potential problems

The retail industry has already suffered a slew of issues over the last few years. Problematic transitions to digital, rising rent costs and decreasing consumer brand loyalty are all systemic challenges that this industry faces. Unfortunately, the current forecasts suggest that Brexit isn’t looking like it’s going to alleviate any of these pressures.

The fluctuating decline of the pound means that retailers importing goods from the EU are facing rising costs and weaker margins, alongside strained access to labour – the retail industry employs an EU migrant workforce of over 170,000 according to the CBI. If retailers start to feel the squeeze, will they continue with increased investment in media and advertising?

Travel: ‘Open Skies’, but for how much longer?

One of the largest concerns for the travel industry is the future of the EU’s ‘open skies’ agreement that the UK has enjoyed since 1997, which allows any EU airline to fly freely between any member country. UK airlines such as Flybe and British Airways have been able to offer discounted fares and cheaper flights as a result, but for how much longer is yet to be seen.

Both British and European airlines have acted pre-emptively in the event this agreement is nullified, with EasyJet setting up a European subsidiary and Hungarian-based Wizz Air founding ‘Wizz Air UK’ to ensure operations wouldn’t be disrupted. In fact, Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi has said that he sees Brexit as an ‘opportunity’, in the hope that as competitors struggle to operate with new restrictions, Wizz Air can make the most of a gap in the market. Nonetheless, consultancy firm Oxford Economics has said a no-deal Brexit could cause a 5% fall in overseas travel and tourism trips by Britons in 2020.

What do all of these retail and travel changes mean for digital? Reduced media spend, supply chain issues and complex data laws will all inevitably shape the world of post-Brexit digital marketing.

Digital Media & Marketing – Are you as prepared as you think you are?

UK companies reduced marketing budgets for the first time in seven years during Q3 2019, according to the IPA’s quarterly Bellwether report. Stemming from a lack of confidence in the UK economy and consumer spend, marketing budgets across all verticals are being chipped away as businesses continue to hold their breath until a final Brexit relationship with the EU becomes clear.

No one can forget the omnipresent elephant in the room either – GDPR. There are many EU data laws that the UK would no longer have to abide by post-Brexit, but the UK’s new official status as a ‘third country’ throws up a number of pressing issues that are guaranteed to keep you up at night. The future legality of sending or receiving personal data from somewhere else in the EU is worryingly unclear – even storing data on servers hosted in Europe could be potentially illegal after a hard Brexit.

But, the highly adaptable nature of digital marketing makes it a frontrunner for continued investment, despite economic and regulatory concerns. In Q3, the Bellwether reported that digital (or ‘Internet’) was the only marketing sector that saw a net increase of firms reporting budget growth, aided by advancements in data management and an increasing prevalence of social media advertising.

Similarly, international trade in UK advertising services actually grew to nearly £7bn in 2017, an increase of 18% year on year according to the Advertising Association’s 2019 exports report. As Europe’s largest advertising market, the UK is in an advantageous position to capitalise on international advertising trade, with a focus on Asian markets as tensions between China and the US refuse to dissipate.

Takeaways

Ultimately, no one can provide definitive answers. As long as the UK remains trapped in the malaise of Brexit negotiations, confident predictions on the future of the industry are almost impossible. Successful digital agencies will navigate ambiguous data laws with agility and will be well-prepared for any potential trade restrictions through extensive planning and evaluation of access to new non-EU markets, especially at a stage where multiple eventual outcomes are still possible.

Despite the challenges, there are clear signs of strong growth in digital, and it’s up to agencies to translate this growth for other sectors struggling under the pressures of Brexit.

NMPignite Debates: The Future of SEO

Read time: 4 mins 30 secs

NMPi welcomed guests for our first NMPignite Debates event; a panel discussion all about the future of SEO. We were joined by Jennifer Hoffman (DeepCrawl), Joe Doveton (Binary Bear), Michael Bass (Marks and Spencer), Fred Maude (Incubeta) and Joe Comotto (NMPi) for a hugely insightful morning of discussion and debate.

It’s easier to forget that Google is not just here to serve us as marketers, but is a business of its own with its own goals and targets. As we watch how Google has changed over the last 20 years or so, building out their own properties, we can see how they have been driven by one singular goal: creating a positive user experience that answers search queries in the quickest and most effective way possible. 

Building an Entity

Our panel couldn’t agree on whether we should be considering Google as a competitor or simply as the landscape that we exist within. Regardless, with the changes that we’ve seen in the SERP, savvy marketers would do well to build their businesses and SEO strategies to provide that same positive user experience while circumventing Google.

The key to success lies in building a brand: you want users to remember you, the service you provide, and how you can help them answer their specific queries. We were spoilt by SEO and Google in the early days, but there is perhaps now an overreliance on Google to send us traffic. In building your brand, you’re able to reduce your reliance on generic key terms so that rather than searching for “flights to Belfast” and being served things like Google’s travel aggregator, a user would search “Expedia” or go direct to site, trusting the service and experience that they receive from Expedia to be able to help them with their query. 

One way that you can do this is by building an entity, as this is how Google is understanding not only brands but specific ideas, dates and concepts. While the idea of entities isn’t entirely new, it certainly deserves more recognition. Google not only understands things in terms of entities, but it uses machine learning to make sense of the relationships between them to serve better results in the SERP. For example, the entity “Meryl Streep” connects to “22 June 1949” by the relationship “has birthday”. In clearly establishing the relationships between entities that you own, you are able to signpost to Google what your brand is about, and the types of content that are relevant to your brand. 

Own the SERP

A subtlety that some of our panel have noticed is this shift away from Search Engine Optimisation and towards a full Search Experience. This brings both SEO and UX specialists closer together as we consider the user journey all the way from search query to conversion. First here is the rise of things like Featured Snippets and Zero-Click Searches, which provide opportunities for brands to “skip the queue” so to speak, and end up in that coveted position zero. While it isn’t as easier to measure interactions with these positions, they do allow brands to build up their brand awareness. On top of this, Structured Data is also playing a huge role in technical SEO strategies. 

If organic clicks are at a premium, it puts more of an impetus on brands to improve the landing experience in order to reinforce a positive user journey. This means working to reduce friction and increasing engagement, to name a few best practices. There are other examples of how UX or CRO can fit into SEO – such as site speeds, the length of content, and whether or not you are answering a user’s question – that can all be taken into account here.

Technology

To serve users the most relevant answers, Machine Learning and AI is gradually becoming more and more relevant within search; take the rollout of BERT as a key signal to this end. While it only affects about 10% of search results at the moment, the idea behind this particular update is to get consumers used to using natural language when searching, rather than talking in keywords. This certainly nods towards preparations for voice search which, despite being something of a red herring right now, is where we seem to be heading. For now though, BERT will be most relevant for the long-tail of the long-tail search terms; helping to understand the most complicated of searches. 

On the brand-side, automation is a growing trend for SEOs to help them become more efficient. Technology can also help to pull together and unlock the potential of all of your data sources – paid, organic, channel – to find the incrementality of paid search compared to SEO and vice versa. 

Takeaways

We are now in the death-throes of using search as a tactic for driving traffic; SEOs should focus on putting digital at the heart of all of their marketing efforts as we move into 2020. Our panellists ended the session by giving their single biggest takeaway for the year to come:

  • Build a brand, think about your content as an entity and how you communicate this to Google: don’t put all your eggs in one Google basket;
  • Effectively organise your data, as this will help you to make decisions;
  • De-silo your SEO so that it can work more effectively with PPC;
  • CRO is rebranding as experimentation, and this will be the year it goes mainstream;
  • Create positive customer experiences – at the end of the day, this is why they keep coming back.

The C-Suite Conversation

Read Time: 3 mins

Yesterday, CEO Luke Judge joined the line-up of high-ranking industry experts at The Drum’s Programmatic Punch to face off on some of the biggest topics in Programmatic right now. Alongside Anna Forbes, UK General Manager of The Trade Desk, Luke answered questions from Justin Pearse, Partner of Bluestripe, on some of the business trends within the programmatic industry and the challenges still to overcome.

Whilst the advertising industry, and programmatic display in particular, has never had the cleanest reputation, and Marc Pritchard’s speech last year called out the lack of transparency within the programmatic space, on this panel the tone was much more optimistic. 

A Murky Past?

It’s no secret that the programmatic display industry is complicated, and there is an overall lack of understanding about what goes on. The panellists, Judge and Forbes, agreed that Pritchard was right to call out those who were engaging in bad practises and to put out a call to action for the rest. However, they also rallied against some of the hyped rhetoric of the claims and sought to demonstrate that things aren’t as murky or even as fraudulent as some might claim. 

Unsurprisingly, trust surfaced early on in the discussions as a central challenge still to overcome. While trust between both the consumer and advertisers, and between advertisers and agencies, has improved over the last year, it’s fair to say that it is still a major issue within the industry. However, Luke highlights that this is exactly the way it should be. Trust should always be the number one priority for advertisers and the industry at large, as it allows change to happen quicker and more fluidly. 

This bleeds into the trend towards in-housing that has made headlines throughout 2019. The case for brands to in-house their digital marketing is not always a clear one, but the panellists argued that it doesn’t have to be a black-or-white decision. There are degrees of in-housing that brands can take advantage of and this is often where the sweet spot lies. Perhaps this involves owning the technology platforms, or the data that your agency are using; the specifics will depend on your brand’s unique needs. 

Crucial to this is a great agency partnership; one where the relationship has become integral. The best work can be done when agencies are able to work closely with their clients and become a part of the team, rather than something external. 

With the basics covered, advertisers can begin to handle some of the other challenges that might be on their radar. The main discussion point here? The quality of creatives and the overall user experience. GDPR has required explicit consent to cookies, but more often than not, those pop-ups are more annoying than the ads themselves, thus having a hugely negative impact on the overall user experience. 

Future-Gazing

There’s a lot to be excited about that Luke and Anna were looking forward to as we move into 2020. 

New formats for video through Connected TV will allow smaller businesses to lean in to video advertising, further opening up the video advertising space even on non-TV devices. On top of this, new opportunities are beginning to crop up as publishers begin to develop their own supply-side platforms, allowing advertisers to make specific creatives that are designed to talk to the unique placements; for example The Washington Post’s Zeus Prime. While this will require additional expertise in a space that is becoming increasingly specialised, it does unlock more personalisation options so as to continue to make ads as relevant as possible. 

For the C-Suite, there’s a lot to take away from this panel, but perhaps the biggest takeaway is the overwhelming sense of optimism that 2020 offers. From new platforms to new ways of working with clients, there’s a lot to take advantage of here for those who are ready to jump in.

 

You Can’t Spell Christmas Without CSS

Read Time: 6 mins     

The end of the decade is in sight and as the rest of the country avidly watches this year’s Christmas adverts, ecommerce businesses across the country are gearing up for what’s expected to be another sizable Q4 (despite the 2019 Brexit will-they-won’t-they and the December election). 

For marketers, the most wonderful time of the year is also the busiest – we’re managing more data, more products and more customers than ever. In fact, some recent research shows that more people are planning to take part in Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, leading to an estimated total spend of £7 billion (an increase of over 55% from last years’ £4.5 billion). 

If this wasn’t enough, there’s also the double-edged sword of Black Friday falling after payday this year. Although this sounds more exciting for marketers at first, it also means that sales could potentially be “stolen” from Christmas campaigns, putting a lot more pressure on a concentrated few days rather than the whole holiday period. Perhaps more so than ever this year, Black Friday will underline the success of a brand’s Q4 and, consequently, the success of the entire year.

Each year, we have to ask ourselves the same questions: how do we handle the competition when an ever-growing number of contenders are launching deals? How do we manage rising costs thanks to heightened competition? And how do we utilise our marketing channels to their maximum capacity to drive the results that will define success for the year?

All of these different pressures can add up, leading to one very busy marketing manager.

Whilst we can’t help with everything in a single blog post, what we can offer is some marketer-to-marketer advice on your Shopping campaigns. 

Shopping has been around for a long time, and the NMPi team has been helping retailers since its birth. So, with the introduction of biddable media’s youngest child – Comparison Shopping Services (CSS) – we can use our years of expertise to help you make the most of this channel this winter.

CSS operates in much the same way as Shopping campaigns, with vendors bidding to show their ads in the top five positions of the Shopping window. Techniques to improve Shopping campaigns are numerous and varied, so we’ve focused on two pivotal aspects of Shopping activity to help you increase your chances of listing above your competitors: budgets and feeds.

Budgets

First of all, if you’re not, make sure you’re using a CSS! Delivering your Shopping campaigns through a CSS provider means a 20% gain in efficiency, all of which results in the holy grail for paid media campaigns – better performance for less. Your budget will go further, which is particularly important as an Adthena report earlier this year showed that Google Shopping makes up approximately 82% of total search budgets, making this an important channel to capitalise on and to assign spend.

Additionally, increases in competition and elevated spends over peak retail season result in inflated CPCs, making it tricky to drive performance without overspending. According to recent research, bid prices in the apparel vertical in Great Britain grew by 16.7% over November and December of last year. With these soaring costs and rising numbers of rivals trying to stake their claim in the market, it’s important to allocate budget effectively to maximise performance over peak times. Additional investment / CPA increases can help to address this and drive further results. 

Feeds

Whilst you can pump spend into campaigns to drive performance, results will be underwhelming if they’re not accompanied by effective, granular targeting geared towards accelerating sales. Unlike PPC, it’s not possible to bid on keywords with Shopping campaigns or have as much control over products that are shown in the SERP. We have to rely on Google’s algorithm, which often prioritises price as the deciding factor for the product that wins the auction and is displayed. Ensuring that your feed set up is as detailed as possible enables you to influence which products you want to push to potential customers.

As brands promote their holiday stock, a quick way to prioritise these items is to insert the sale/seasonal name into the feed titles. For example, ‘reindeer jumper’ becomes ‘Christmas reindeer jumper’. This allows you to guide your campaign decisions based on seasonal key search terms. 

You can repeat this process across bestsellers, higher-margin products, new season releases, and other items you want to push throughout the year too. 

Successful strategies this season will incorporate performance data into their feeds to automatically optimise activity. Within the feed, there are five available custom label columns, and this can be populated with information that will enable Shopping campaigns to generate revenue, including metrics like AOV, ROAS and bestselling/sale items, which can all be used as a base for campaign decisions. If you’re able to push margin data into the feed, third-party Shopping partners using tools such as SA360 (like NMPi), can utilise this to maximise revenue – visibility of margins offers insights into which items can be pushed harder. 

On top of this, the feed data used for Shopping activity can also be employed when delivering cross-channel campaigns. Centralising your data, and using the same signals across multiple channels, can help with campaign decisions and drive optimum performance. Too often, retailers silo their data, resulting in poorer performance. If a user clicks through a Shopping ad for a brand’s bestseller, this information can be pushed back into the feed to make sure the next time the user is browsing, they are served a Display or Social creative based on their previous decision, streamlining the user journey. Other important signals to take into account include top performers, high priority and higher-margin items, seasonal products and price comparison.

Overall, the best campaigns this winter will be the ones that implement a combination of well-optimised feeds and carefully decided budgets, anticipating the rise in competition as well as pushing specific products. Picking your battles is key; there’s little use in pushing products that aren’t going to sell. Making sure that detailed feed labels are applied, and data is centralised, enables smarter bidding decisions when promoting items, and encourages a more cost-effective approach across all marketing channels.

Success over the holiday season is ever more intricate, requiring meticulously planned campaigns that both foreshadow and respond to user behaviour. Using previous performance data, and analysing YoY trends, enables you to estimate the expected outcomes of the coming year. NMPi’s 2018 analysis below shows key retailing dates and their impact on clicks and conversion rates.

With multiple dates to circle in the diary, it’s no wonder that the holiday season is the most frenzied time of the year for marketers. And with Shopping competition higher than ever this year, it is vital to give yourself the edge by being granular, using your data and optimising your feed.

To find out more about our thoughts of the retail sector, you can explore our deep-dive report on the State of Advertising.

To get in touch about how NMPi can support your Shopping and other feed-based activity, please send an email to [email protected].

NMPinteractive Workshops launched for Industry Partners

NMPi, by Incubeta, are excited to announce the kick-off of our latest workshop series, NMPinteractive. Hosted in our new Old Street office, these active learning sessions give our partners first-hand experience in the services we provide and how to use our solutions to benefit advertisers’ strategy. 

According to our very own Learning and Development Director, Caitriona Bennett,  “Active learning thinks not just about the content of a session but how it will be best absorbed. It requires participants to think deeply and to apply new concepts in meaningful activities. By applying this method we help our partners increase content knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.”

In our first session, we offered our partners at Awin the chance to step into the shoes of a digital marketing manager. Each team was asked to create a “2020 performance strategy” for a top UK brand. Before they got started, the NMPi team gave them an in-depth training session on Paid Search, Paid Social, Display and CSS, focusing on how each solution can be used to its full potential and create the greatest impact on brand performance.  

After just a half-day’s workshop, NMPi were impressed with the innovative strategies produced by Awin, leaving the Awin team with a full understanding of how NMPi services can be used to their full extent. 

“NMPi hosted both an engaging and insightful workshop for us this month, to enhance not just our knowledge, but our partnership as a Network & Agency. The presentations were extremely valuable for our Client Services team, and to finish off the day – playing the role as a Digital Marketing Manager was very exciting!” – Sapna Basi, Awin Global Account Manager

This workshop was the first of many innovative training sessions that we will be delivering to our partners. If you are interested in learning how to get your team involved in an NMPinteractive workshop,  please get in touch with our partnerships team. 

If you’d like a glance into life at the Incubeta office, check out our Facebook album for an office tour!

 

The Ultimate Shopping Set Up

In his latest presentation, Head of Performance Max Flajsner joined industry experts to discuss Google Shopping and CSS. Following discussions of Max’s presentation looked at how you can take your Shopping campaigns to the next level, and how a CSS can help you along the way. 

Laying the Foundations

First things first, it’s important to get the basics right, as it’s not as easy to control Shopping or CSS as it is to control your PPC. With Shopping you’re not able to choose which keywords you’re bidding on, nor can you control what ad copy you show i.e. which product gets shown. As such you’re immensely reliant on the Google Shopping algorithm when it comes to which products are showing and on which terms. It’s important to note that Google values price in its algorithm, so how can you make sure your best seller is showing and not your old cheaper sale deadstock?

The solution here is twofold. First, ensure you’re getting granular with your bidding, and not bidding flat across a big product set. This gives you more control; allowing you to bid higher on those best-selling products to keep them front and centre while pulling back on sale items to maintain a higher ROI. Then, use negative keywords and campaign priority to create a tiering system to make sure you’re winning on your key terms. 

As we move into Q4, it’s even more crucial that you consistently review the splits of your data; which demographics, geographies and audiences are performing? If you’re using an automated bid strategy, does this account for seasonality? Max made reference to a presentation made earlier this year, where Alex Haynes highlighted the phenomenon of the “Pyjama Panic Buy”. Over Cyber Weekend, we tend to see ROAS peaking from 11 pm onwards each night, as users panic that deals won’t be available the next day and so purchase just in case they miss it. Ensuring that your bid strategy takes this into account will play a huge role in your success over this time period.  

Sharing Data

Businesses today have access to so much data, but its often housed in a number of different places. In order to truly drive optimum performance from Shopping campaigns, we need to connect those data sources. Search and Shopping campaigns output tonnes of useful search query data, which can then be pushed back into the feed to boost impression share. Plus, 99% of advertisers are wasting spend on low stock and low margin advertisers. All of this data should be available, so once again it’s a case of pushing it back into the shopping feed to guide your campaign decisions. 

This works both ways – once you’ve brought insights from other channels into your Shopping campaigns, you’ll need to use your Shopping data to fuel even wider decisions. Someone clicking through a Shopping ad for your best seller is worth more to us than the person clicking through your deadstock. With tools like SA360, you’re able to add dynamic parameters to every clickout based on how well the product performs. These audiences can then be used across all other channels. 

CSS can also give us lots of data on how products perform in a competitive environment. When you push that information back into the feed, it can help you to decide which creative to use on Display or Social. Finally, all those search queries driving performance in CSS should be shared with your other teams as well; for example, using the highest performing search queries to build custom intent audiences for Display.

Getting Creative

Sometimes, we as marketers can have an inflated sense of self-importance; believing it’s the little changes we made to a campaign that drove the big uplift in performance. In reality, this was likely caused by something that was completely out of our control. In short, we aren’t as in control of our campaign performance as we might like to think. 

There are ways to harness some of these outside forces though, which will help you to make the most of these unexpected uplifts. For example, sports brands would do well to incorporate Fantasy Football APIs and match schedules into their feeds and bidding strategies in order to make sure they’re pushing the right products at the right times. Garden Centres or plant stockists should factor in the seasonality of their products when deciding how to split the budget, while clothing retailers might want to consider the weather. 

There are lots of opportunities for retailers to make the most of CSS platforms, especially in time for the holiday season, but like any channel, you cannot run it in silo. The most successful strategies will incorporate not only information from other digital channels, but pull external data into the feed – The Ultimate Shopping Setup is one that is communicative, and creative. 

Amazon: The Missing Piece of the User Journey

At PI Live this year, Peter won the public vote to speak at the conference – and with Amazon such a hot topic this year it’s no wonder why. As we move into a key retailing period, his presentation provides the perfect overview of this newly evolving channel. 

The Rise of Amazon

A Feedvisor study from March this year highlights that two-thirds of US shoppers typically start their search for new products on Amazon; showing just how far the ecommerce giant has permeated into consumer habits. For contrast, only one-fifth of respondents used a search engine like Google, and only 3% looked on another marketplace. It comes top for vendors too, with nearly half of Amazon’s US vendors and sellers selling exclusively on Amazon; accounting for between 80-100% of their total business ecommerce revenue.

Unsurprisingly, we’re also seeing digital spend on Amazon Ads climbing. In 2018, Amazon saw YoY growth of 123% while this year’s forecasts suggest YoY growth of 53%. Driving this growth is the size of the audience available on the channel, all primed and ready to purchase. With over 200 million users a month in the US alone, retailers are able to chase some strong performance and ROI. 

Understanding User Behaviour 

Amazon offers an easy, efficient and familiar user experience, with a built-in feedback loop that keeps users coming back for more. This has ingrained the channel into the mindset of consumers, making it the primary destination for product searches. However, it’s important to understand its place within the user journey, especially with relation to the other ecommerce giant – Google. 

When it comes to Brand – related searches and Generic searches, Google comes out on top; with most users preferring to do their research here. Amazon instead dominates on specific product terms – as this is when they are at a much higher propensity to buy. Conversion rate is also much higher on Amazon, again reflecting the purchasing mindset, even if CTR tends to be much higher on Google. 

Creating a Less Siloed Channel

Amazon itself is notoriously siloed as a channel, but there are a number of things you can do to effectively enhance your performance. 

Amazon is very similar to other paid search channels, which means that you can share data across channels to optimise your performance. For example, you can analyse search queries and patterns across platforms to discover new keywords for your campaigns. 

With access to heaps of data from Google, you can use this to better inform bidding decisions on Amazon. This would allow you to utilise cost and conversion data from different channels to improve ROI on a multi-channel level. 

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, you’ll need to find an effective way of measuring your performance in a holistic way. One option here is to use Amazon Attribution to measure how user behaviour differs from your website compared to Amazon. This allows you to see patterns such as where users prefer to convert and how they behave between the two purchasing options. 

Amazon provides a huge opportunity for retailers, especially as we move into Q4. This is the perfect time to get to grips with this highly lucrative channel. To find out more about making the most out of Amazon, join Pete on 13th November for his upcoming webinar, covering more practical tips for your campaigns.