Incubeta Ignite: CSS and Shopping Landscape

Read Time: 3 Mins

As a CSS Partner, the BuyBye team works closely with Alberta Zatta of the PerformanceX team in Google; the dedicated CSS account managers. We were delighted to have her join us for “The CSS Opportunity”, and to give us an overview of the Shopping and CSS Landscape. You can find the slides from her presentation here.

Over the last few years, we have seen a rising number of agencies who have developed their own CSS propositions to add to their growing lists of services. With a wide range of programmes for merchants to choose from comes an even wider diversity in the ways that CSSs can treat your data, leverage your current account setup, or open up new accounts for you. Our suggestion is to reach out directly to the CSS teams to understand their specific benefits, and the implications of working with them. Below is a closer look at some of the most common operating models, but you can find out more in this article.

Typical Operating Models:


The CSS creates a Merchant Center and a Google Ads account on your behalf and then gives you access to these accounts, so you can manage your feeds and campaigns yourself. The pricing model will depend on the agreement you have in place, but typically the CSS will charge a fixed-percentage markup on the CPC paid in the auction. You’ll get direct access to reporting through the Merchant Centre and Google Ads, and the CSS may also provide additional reporting on campaign performance and associated cost. 

Managed service

You provide your product data to the CSS and they take care of the rest. They will create a Merchant Center and Google Ads account on your behalf, optimise the feed, upload it into Google, and manage your campaigns. Some CSSs may also use your product data to generate leads from other channels.

Google invoices the CSS for the clicks on the ads they place on your behalf, and the cost depends on the outcome of the auction. The CSS will then charge you depending on the payment model you have agreed on. 

The CSS typically provides reporting on their performance, as well as the associated cost. You wouldn’t usually have access to the Merchant Center and Google Ads accounts, but you may have access to the tools the CSS provides. 

Hybrid models

Hybrid models combine aspects of both managed and self-service models. For example, a CSS may manage and optimise your product data feed, while you run the campaigns yourself, and vice versa. Or, Google may invoice you directly for ads placed by your CSS – which might suit you if you manage your campaigns yourself. In this case, the CSS would invoice you separately for their services.

Always check with the CSSs themselves to find the specific benefits and consequences of working with them. For example, some CSSs are able to opt in to placing Shopping ads on the Display remarketing network and beyond.

Incubeta Ignite: The CSS Q4 Opportunity

Read Time: 3 mins

With Christmas, Black Friday, and the post-holiday sales, it’s an overstated but vital fact that Q4 is the biggest opportunity for retailers in the year. With consumers getting savvy with planning their shopping, Alex Haynes takes a look at how you can use CSS to boost your reach – and hence your revenue – throughout the season. You can find the slides from Alex’s presentation here

There’s a lot to be on top of during Q4, so as you prepare your campaigns and activity for this highly lucrative periods the first thing to be conscious of is the key dates in the calendar. 

There are two points of note that should be on your radar: the Brexit Deadline – which is still fraught with a lot of uncertainty – and the November Pay Day, which is before Black Friday for the first time in several years. The impacts of both dates are still uncertain, but retailers would do well to consider the implications as they plan for the quarter.

Cyber Weekend

The Rise of Research

Our focus will specifically fall on Cyber Weekend – looking at the trends that have formed over the past few years that you can take advantage of. Interest in Black Friday has grown steadily over the last three years, but how this interest is reflected in searches has shifted. Research now plays a much bigger part in the user journey; with consumers spending more time looking up deals ahead of time to make sure the brands they’re after have the deals they want. This then translates into the decline of Black Friday terms being searched on the actual day.  

The Pyjama Panic Buy

Cyber Weekend is host to a unique purchasing habit: the Pyjama Panic Buy. At 11pm every night during this period, we see ROAS spike. This is likely due to people worrying that the deals won’t be available the next day, and quickly placing an order before midnight. With it being so late, consumers are likely in their PJs – hence “the Pyjama Panic Buy”.

Together, this tells us two things:

  1. Consumers know what they want before they start browsing.
  2. They often need something at that very moment.

Using CSS to Make the Most of Cyber Weekend

While these trends have brought in a unique set of challenges, CSS provides a unique way to tackle them.

First, CSS allows you to be the best at the bottom. With new CSS formats, you can communicate any offers, highlight what they are, and allow customers to click through to the right product page all through the same interface. This becomes incredibly beneficial as it takes away the browsing element of finding offers, making it easier for consumers to identify the products they like at the price point they want. When you’re getting your feed set up, make sure you’ve optimised to Black Friday terms so that you have a better chance of showing during this period, and use machine learning to ensure you’re serving the exact right product when it counts. 

When it comes to beating out the competition, CSS offers a number of opportunities to get one up over your rivals. With cheaper CPCs, you have much more bidding power within the auction. On top of this, CSS providers can often work alongside your in-house teams or primary agency to take over more of the SERP; pushing out competitors and delivering incremental revenue by supporting your current coverage. 

Finally, CSS can give you the flexibility to pick the moments you want to push. Make sure your budget doesn’t run out before you hit peak periods like Pyjama Panic, and be open to the flexible CPAs available on the performance model.

Incubeta Ignite: M&S and Shopping

Read Time: 2 mins

M&S have been working on Shopping for 3 years and, like many retailers, they’ve had their share of challenges when it comes to setting up and maintaining the channel. In a highly insightful presentation, Samira Hassam talked us through some of the challenges M&S has faced and how they’ve managed to get around them.  You can download her slides here.

The Volume of Inventory and Multiple Data Sources

Marks and Spencer have a sizable product range, with over 100,000 SKUs per region. In order to create their feeds, data has to be extracted from 3 entirely separate internal systems. To make sure this information is kept up to date, the systems in place must be able to handle scale whilst also being agnostic to format. 

Stock Availability and Sell Through

Stock availability is often a challenge, especially for Shopping. During promotional periods such as sales and campaign launches – for example, Holly Willoughby Loves – stock often sells out, and it’s often difficult to overlay stock information with sell-through. Using floodlight data in SA360, M&S and NMPi have developed a method to determine how quickly a product sells through, allowing them to advertise effectively by setting rules based on this information.

Establishing Core Sizes

It can be incredibly frustrating when a customer clicks on an ad for a dress that they’ve fallen in love with only to find that the only size available is an XXL. In order to get around this – and create a smoother advertising experience – establish your ‘Core Sizes’ by working with your online trading team. If this information differs by age group or gender, you can also set stock rules based on the demographic.

Promoting Profitable Products

There comes a point where it stops being profitable to promote sales items. Similarly, there will be products that you naturally want to prioritise because they have the highest margins. Using custom labels to give yourself control over the higher-margin products can greatly improve your profitability. Working with internal stakeholders is vital in order to get the sign off you need to implement this strategy with your agency. 

User experience on PDP’s on mobile 

Be mindful of the experience on your Product Detail Pages, as we often see a high bounce rate off these pages due to a poor experience on mobile. Customer navigation capabilities from PDPs on mobile aren’t as simple as they are on desktop, so it’s hard for a customer to get back to the category page. To combat this, M&S added related links to these pages to help with the navigation. 

Incubeta Ignite: The Future of BuyBye

Read Time: 2 Mins

The Comparision Shopping Service landscape has transformed nearly beyond recognition in the last 18 months, and the changes are set to continue for the foreseeable future. NMPi’s Shopping expert, Fred Maude, gives us his predictions for BuyBye and the channel as a whole. You can download Fred’s slides here

The More Things Change

Despite the turbulent changes that lead to the rise of CSSs, they have done nothing but cement the status quo. Go back 10 years, and the search space is dominated by Paid Search Publishers driving traffic through bridge pages. 100% of traffic to a brand’s site would come through these pages.

With Comparison Shopping, only 0.012% of traffic from a CSS ad goes the Comparison Shopping site. The other 99.9% of users go directly to a brand’s site. This means that 99.9% of your users are choosing the same path that they would with Google Shopping, so your campaign delivery is all-important. 

This means that, as a brand, you need to be selecting a Shopping partner who is able to deliver Shopping excellence.

How do we React?

To deliver Shopping Excellence, there are 4 main levels where you can optimise your shopping campaigns: Audiences, Feed Optimisation, Product and Search Term. In terms of your audiences, using granular audience overlays to pinpoint the exact person you want your ads to reach will not only deliver a better experience for your user, but will also allow you to make the most of your ad spend. Ensure that you’re splitting out your inventory so there’s only one product per ad group, which will allow for item-level bidding. 

Lots of things can feed into your BigQuery data, for example:

  1. Price Comparison Services like BuyBye can provide product comparison data.
  2. Market Monitor; a bespoke NMPi tool which allows us to compare your prices to your competitors at a search term level. 
  3. You can use Client Data to bring in Margin and Stock Level Data, or Floodlight data to highlight site-wide product performance. 
  4. Affiliate Performance allows you to draw on Product Performance, while Campaign Performance data not only gives you the products that are performing well, but the search terms that are driving performance.
  5. With all of the product-specific data pulling into BigQuery, you can also layer external sources like Amazon data, Weather data, and even data from the Premier League to shape your campaigns. 

With 99.98% of journeys staying the same as how they were before the introduction of CSS, investment into technology will allow you to deliver the Shopping Excellence that is needed to convert customers in the new – but not so different – landscape. 

A Day in the Garden

Read Time:2 Minutes

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the horticultural industry isn’t one on the forefront of digital marketing, but online garden centre You Garden is a great example of how you can grow your business to new heights, simply by placing the consumer at the heart of everything you do.

From its founding in 2011, You Garden is now projecting a 2019 turnover of £17 million. So how have they gone from start-up to Amazon’s biggest living product provider across all of Europe – without shipping anything outside the UK?

One of the key secrets to their success is that the team are all over the data, all of the time. There’s a simple rule that Peter ensures the business sticks to: if you can’t track it, don’t do it. This allows the team to see what marketing activity is working, what isn’t, and highlights important areas of improvement – and the You Garden team get those updates every single day. 

On top of this, the business is a masterclass in building long-lasting customer relationships. From the moment a customer comes to site, You Garden makes sure they know exactly what to expect. When a product is sent out, they provide all the information needed to make sure consumers know how to take care of the plant – as well as an incredibly responsive customer service team on hand to provide quick responses to any issues that may arise.

In terms of their online efforts, the team knows the power of “basket abandonment” reminders – encouraging users to finish their shopping – and they spend a lot of time tracking hotspots on the website and optimising accordingly. In making the online experience as slick and as intuitive for their customers as possible, showing just how crucial the Path to People really is.  


Building a Customer-First Approach

Read Time: 3 minutes

In Claire’s day-to-day as NMPi’s Head of Biddable, she often hears clients ask how they can develop a customer-first approach but what does this actually mean? Claire phrases it as an approach that guides the customer through their journey with relevant content to deliver your desired action. This, however, is still easier said than done, so here are some of her top tips for building a Customer-First Approach. 

Understanding Your Audiences

The first step in any customer-first approach is to understand your current customer. What demographics do they tend to fall into, what is their favourite brand or product, what is their price point, and when are they most likely to shop? Each of these questions helps you to build a picture of your current customer from the ground up, allowing you to perfect your messaging for returning customers. 

Once you’re happy with who your current customers are, the next stage is to expand your customer portfolio and consider who you want your customer to be. Research is key here to ensure your goals are realistic, that you’re performing on at least a similar level to your competitors, and that the value these new customers will bring in compares to your current portfolio. A simple example here is that your targets for new customers shouldn’t be the same as your targets for returning customer.

Review and Readjust

With your audiences set up, it’s time to review your channels to set yourself up for an omnichannel approach. We know that a “typical” customer journey involves a huge chain of touchpoints, so we know that a customer-first approach requires an omnichannel approach. While this might be more difficult to achieve due to the way your company is split out, communication will be your saviour. Make sure you are passing all of your learnings between channels to ensure that your activity reflects the complex nature of the customer journey. 

After all of your research on your current and ideal customer, you know exactly who they are and what’s important to them. So, why not call out some of these things in your messaging? If you know their price point is £100 or lower, don’t show them any items that are more expensive. If a specific campaign is targeting women aged 18-22, use female-led messaging and focus on the things that are important to them like next day delivery. If you know they only shop during promotions, don’t waste your spend on them throughout the rest of the year. 

Keep Moving Forward

So, you know your current customer and your ideal audience. You know what they like, what is important to them, and you’ve developed an omnichannel approach that is set up to send the right message at the right time. If you think your work is done, though, you’d be mistaken. 

It’s not enough to set up a customer-first approach and leave it, you can never stop exploring your customer. Times will change, your product offering will change, and your audiences will almost certainly change. Claire’s most crucial piece of advice is to never stop exploring your customer – their needs and wants will change quicker than you’d think.

Lastly, be clear on what you can maintain and what you can scale up. You might think you can handle a highly-granular and incredibly personalised approach now, but is this something you can keep up? How about when your customer base grows? Keep your segments tight enough to give a customer what they want, but big enough that they’re still manageable. 

But most importantly, come up with your own definition of customer-centric that works for you and your business. Whether that’s simply segmenting new and returning customers, or creating bespoke personas for your audiences, ensure that what you’re doing is manageable and can be scaled up as the need arises.

Video Advertising: Building Ads for Attention

Read Time: 3 Minutes

Working for creative specialists Joystick, Kim Havens knows that we are living in a time when content is king. We have an endless stream of content available at our fingertips: from Netflix to podcasts to news articles. This abundance of content changes the way that consumers engage with it; shortening our attention spans from 12 seconds in 2000 to only 8 seconds in 2015 – 1 second shorter than a goldfish.

This has made our job as marketers much more difficult, but YouTube has become the go-to solution, as it provides a unique opportunity to reach an engaged audience. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, 95% of YouTube viewers will watch ads with both sight and sound. In order to make the most of this, Kim shares best practices for making engaging and exciting YouTube ads.

Creating the Arc

One of the biggest things to avoid when creating your YouTube ads is the “Traditional Story Arc” – the storyline of a traditional TV ad. This style of messaging became ingrained in the consumer consciousness back before we could record live TV and fast forward through the ads. This kind of arc – as seen below – features a slow build-up to a climax and a big reveal of the product. 

However, this model doesn’t work on YouTube. Viewers have the power to skip the ads after just a few seconds and have an attention span shorter than ever before – so a slow build-up will prove largely ineffective. This has given rise to the “Emerging Story Arc”, where the ad starts on a high to reel viewers in and reveals the brand quickly to get the brand name in before viewers can click the “Skip Ad” button. This is crucial: capturing attention in the first 5 seconds. After this high-impact opener, expect view rates to drop off. However, you can use the rest of your placement to provide more information on your product for those who want it.

Mobile First

70% of video content is viewed on mobile, so building for mobile-first is crucial. Cinematic stylings and sweeping shots might work for television, but on a small screen, a lot is missed. There are a couple of things that will be important to remember here. First of all, you’ll want to keep the pacing up to help you maintain viewers attention. Make up for dim phone screens by using bright footage, and counteract small screens with tight cropping and big text & graphics. A great alternative to the full-length YouTube ad is a bumper ad. These are short, 6 second, non-skip spots that help to capture attention and keep your message front of mind.

Growing your Story

Deploying mixtures of formats and lengths of creatives has been proven to have a positive impact on results and increases the overall reach of the campaign. For example, use a 6-second bumper ad to tease, 15-second non-skip Google Preferred ad to amplify the message, and then longer 30 second (or more) TrueView instream ads to echo your previous placements. This allows you to grow your message over more interactions – improving your brand recognition and providing the opportunity to deepen the narrative.

So your 4 guiding principles to Effective Ads are:

  • Win the first 5 seconds
  • Make it for Mobile
  • Keep it Short and Sweet
  • Evolve your Storytelling

Now go and create some engaging content!

People and Technology

Read Time: 4 Minutes

There’s nothing more frustrating than splurging in the sales, only to receive an email 2 days later with 20% off. The only exception might be if the discount is only for dresses and skirts – despite never having bought these in the past. 

With the huge amount of data that marketers have at their fingertips, it would be fair to expect that we would have begun to hone our personalisation efforts. While retargeting is a great tactic, serving ads for a holiday to someone who is going away in a few days isn’t the most efficient strategy for that one person. 

DQ&A’s James Sleaford highlights that the path to people has to consider all of the little nuances that make up an individual consumer, but that a customer experience which delights from start to finish requires an organisational approach: which comes out in the technology you use and the people you work with. 

A Roadmap for Change

Digital transformation of this type needs careful planning, so one of the things that DQ&A often recommend to businesses who are in the process of setting up a more rounded approach to advertising is to set up a technology roadmap, which goes from audit all the way to your ongoing development cycle. 

  • Discover: Get a full picture of all of the technology that is at your disposal, and the goals of your organisation. Consider how much of specific tactics you want to do – for example how much retargeting do you want to do?
  • Design: With this in mind, design a technology “stack” that is best suited to your capabilities, ambition, and the resources at your disposal.
  • Deploy: Implement your plan of action
  • Develop: Create a roadmap that sets out how you plan to build more advanced technology solutions to power your marketing efforts.

Once you know where you are, it’s much easier to see where you’re going and what you need to get there. 

Technology for Every Stage

Regardless of where you are on your technology roadmap, there are products that can help you at every stage of the journey. If you’re just starting on your technology journey, there’s a lot of great work that can be done on an individual perspective with free versions of Google Ads and Google Analytics. You can build your audiences and run retargeting, but it is very channel-specific, and it doesn’t take into account the various nuances of your customers.

The next step that businesses often take is to adopt the Google Marketing Platform, unlocking 3rd-party audiences, display activity, and allowing you to look at things from a post-impression point of view. It also allows you to introduce frequency capping, to prevent bombarding your customer with lots of different messaging across lots of different platforms.

The businesses that have supercharged their technology by using their adtech as a base and building Cloud technology on top of this. This allows you to integrate your 1st-party data, try out some customer modelling to predict what customers might want, and machine learning into your campaigns. As the most advanced stage, this will superpower your ability to deliver truly great customer experiences. However, remember that you can do good work with any of the tools mentioned here – you don’t need cloud technology if you aren’t ready for it yet. 

It’s Still a People Business

Regardless of how much technology we’re using, advertising is still a people business at its core. As you’re going down the road of digital transformation, 

First, remember that the skills that are now required to envision, manage and implement advertising are evolving, and some of the roles that will be crucial to running advertising will be completely new. Make sure you plan for this accordingly with effective training to make sure your team are prepared and equipped. Also ensure that your culture encourages collaboration, and gets the whole team to share the vision. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the people you work with aren’t just within your company. Consider how you can work with your agency and technology partners to best bring your goals to life. Finally, ensure you get sponsorship from senior stakeholders in order to avoid short-termism and qualify investment. 

The biggest piece of advice James offers is to highlight that advertising is just the tip of the iceberg: the path to people also involves their on-site experience, in-store experience, the logistics and shipping, and ease of returns. Don’t focus on a single one of these at the expense of the others.

Data Integration: Taking a Measured Approach

Read Time: 3 Minutes

NMPi’s Performance Display Channel Manager, Anna Jorysz, took to the stage at our latest seminar to talk about how to take a measured approach to your data integration.

Anna will be the first to tell you that innovation is integral to creating an attention-grabbing display campaign, but it has to have a point and it has to make gains. There is no point to being seduced by an exciting idea if it doesn’t work, or even worse if you have no way of knowing if it works or not.

This is a concept that Anna lives and breathes because through our pure-performance model NMPi pays for the advertising spend and we only make money when we drive results. In other words, it can’t just look good, it needs to be effective and efficient.

This also applies to integrating data into your campaigns.

When it comes to your digital campaigns there are two main areas where you integrate data: (1) Creative and Messaging – personalisation efforts, dynamic ads, and the integration of live data into campaigns, and (2) Buying and Targeting – using data to shape bidding strategies and audience segmentation.

With these areas in mind, there are 4 key questions to consider when you are approaching your planning and strategies there:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • Why will data help you to achieve this?
  • How will you measure your success?
  • How will you continue to optimise further?

Make sure to watch Anna’s video to learn more about how she uses data in her award-winning campaign for Liverpool FC.

The Key to Success

There are three main things to remember above all when integrating data into your campaigns:

  • Measure: Make sure you’re starting from the data
  • Be Measured: Don’t throw the kitchen sink at it. Start from what you know works, optimise and build up
  • Measure Again: Monitor what’s working and what’s not, and keep feeding that back as you continue to optimise

And while you’re doing all that don’t forget to be creative – being data-driven should never come at the expense of big ideas.

Make sure to watch Anna’s video to learn more about how she uses data in her award-winning campaign for Liverpool FC.

Download Anna’s slides: Data Integration: Taking a Measured Approach

The Power of Adaptability

Read Time: 5 Minutes

Laura Penhaul was the keynote at NMPi’s recent seminar, where she talked about her experience as Team Leader for the Coxless Crew as they rowed across the Pacific Ocean, setting 2 world records in the process.

“When there is an element of choice,” she began, “we and society as a whole will choose the path of least resistance;” the easy route, the less risky route, the less energy-consuming so as to allow room for all the other factors in life. But what if we get comfortable with stepping into the unknown? It was only by tackling the largest ocean in the world that Laura was able to understand how to cope with the unknown, and what we draw upon when we want to give up.

Adaptability: the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions

Adaptability is a quality that is, in fact, innate in all humans; it’s a part of our physiology. Our immune system, the way we grow, how we remodel from injury, how we acclimatise to altitude or heat, it’s all process of adaption. When we don’t give ourselves a choice, we naturally adapt to our new life path.

While working with Paralympic athletes, Laura saw this adaption every day. Jacko Van Gaas, injured in the war, awoke and felt lucky to be alive. He has gone on to be a British Paralympic cyclist & part of the first ever adaptive team to climb the 7 highest peaks in the world and 2 poles – he chose to make the most of his abilities.

“Why do we wait to be faced with significant adversity before we realise our abilities?” questions Laura.

Losing Sight of Shore

What better way to understand this mindset than by doing something completely unknown – and that’s when Laura decided to row an ocean. Starting in San Francisco, she and 3 other women headed out into the expanse of the largest ocean in the world with no support, no get-out clause, and no safety boat in sight. “The term ‘go with the flow’ soon became a way of life out there, because that’s all we could do,” states Laura. They had to draw on adaptive behaviours to take on the challenge and constantly evolve through the journey, learning as they went and understanding there is no failure if we reflect and learn from it.

We all have our own Pacific to cross – whether literal or figurative. Not everything will play out exactly as written in the guidebook. Allowing yourself to control the controllable and adapt to the rest, we can minimise that threat of the unknown and stop ourselves from wanting to give up.

Download Laura’s slides: The Power of Adaptability

Watch Laura’s Netflix Documentary, Losing Sight of Shore