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Digital Advertising Trends in 2018: 5 Things to Watch

Mar 29, 2018
Digital Marketing
by Beth Osborne
Digital Advertising Trends in 2018: 5 Things to Watch

To talk about digital advertising trends in 2018 isn’t a simple conversation. Rather, due to innovations in technology and strategy, the topic has become complex and complicated. Digital advertising encompasses most any paid marketing across the internet. From ads on industry-leading websites to retargeting to sponsored content, there is much to navigate in terms of changes and trends.

Digital advertising, like any marketing tactic, is evolving. It must evolve to stay relevant. This evolution is being prompted by many factors, internal and external. Digital advertising is no longer simply about designing a bunch of odd-shaped banner ads and sending them out into the world. Instead, the new landscape of digital advertising includes challenges like the imminent death of net neutrality and new retargeting considerations. Additional concepts like artificial intelligence backed predictions, merging the worlds of inbound and outbound marketing, and a shifting emphasis on return-related metrics.

Find out what’s new about digital advertising trends in 2018 and what they mean to your business.

Net Neutrality Repeal Gives IPSs All the Power

On December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that current net neutrality rules would be repealed. Prior to this date, the net neutrality prohibited blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. The new “Restoring Internet Freedom” policy would reinstate “information service” of broadband internet access, redefine mobile broadband as not a “commercial mobile service,” and restore the authority of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to police the privacy practices of internet service providers (ISPs).

So, this restoration of freedom sounds great, right? No, the big winners in this are ISPs, which will now be able to basically charge what they like and throttle your access at their desire. Why this matters to you as a digital advertiser, is that you probably don’t own your content distribution. Where ever you advertise–AdWords, social media, other websites–you may soon find you’ll be paying more to be delivered in the “fast lanes” of the new internet. This price goes up even more if you’re using video.

What’s even more frightening is that if you play in the same markets as the large ISPs, your content could be completely blocked by them! With many of the largest and most vocal technology companies crying foul on the FCC, there is still a possibility that this won’t become the law of the land. This is something for all brands, big or small, to monitor throughout the year. Its ramifications and consequences are likely to reverberate for many years and may completely change the digital advertising game.

Retargeting Hurdles, Opportunities

Brands love to use retargeting to remind consumers to get back to their site and sign up for that class or buy that sweater. While some consumers certainly feel that retargeting ads are following them through their browsing, it does work. Retailers certainly have the advantage. When they execute retargeting ads, their website visitors 70 percent more likely to convert. Overall, 26 percent of customers will return to a site through retargeting. Retargeting should certainly be a part of your paid advertising strategy. But you need to be prepared for what might happen in the future. This 2018 digital advertising trend is more about what might happen and how to prepare for it.

Tracking blockers could impact retargeting now and in the future

Enter the blockers. Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention works on Safari to block third-party trackers from capturing cross-site browsing data, which is exactly what retargeting does. This system only allows for cookies to be used in a third-party context for 24 hours. Safari has a low market share in desktop applications but in mobile, it has more than half of the market in North America. As digital advertising continues to trend more toward mobile, this could be a problem.

Chrome has its own perspective, creating the Coalition for Better Ads, which states that ads must meet the standards determined or risk being rejected.

The major concern will be for those relying on third-party data for targeting. There are ways around this, but retargeters should actually consider this an opportunity to create better ads that are more relevant to audiences. This takes care of some of the quality or frequency caps issues. Retargeting has a much better chance of being effective when infused with artificial intelligence (AI).

AI- Enlightened Predictive Advertising

AI doesn’t quite bring you to clairvoyance, but it’s a start. Predictive advertising is an offshoot of predictive analytics, which takes what you already know and analyzes it to tell what will probably happen in the future. Instead of predictions on things like risk or quotas, you can now better “predict” ad targeting and media buying. It starts with all these things you know about your target market: buying behavior, preferences, how they interact with brands and demographics. With the help of an AI engine, you can then create better ads that are more targeted and relevant, which should in turn create more conversions. Not only does it develop better ads, using this approach means bids can be optimized based on user data. Lots of data equals better chances to attract and convert consumers. What does that mean for your digital advertising?

AI has the power to change digital advertising

Pre-targeting: This allows you to find and attract more prospects who have never had an experience with your brand. A predictive advertising platform can use structured data from many sources to develop more ideal buyer profiles. When these profiles are created, it gives the platform someone to look for and target.

More similar audience options: You are probably already familiar with being able to choose lookalike audiences on Facebook or Twitter. Different platforms can do this as well for both consumer and B2B audiences.

Ad Mediation for In-App Advertising: Many brands miss the opportunity to message and advertise to users inside apps. With the system Tapjoy, predictive systems identify users most likely to make an in-app purchase and communicates with them.

Campaign optimization: With AI, you can bid much smarter. Predictive bidding algorithms adjust in real time, based on knowledge related to the user. Search platforms make a prediction on whether the user will click or not. This “score” then translates to how the platform will impact bidding. Conversion- and click-based strategies are an advertising trend that will continue to improve and better your chances of presenting ads to consumers ready to take action.

Blend Digital Advertising with Inbound Marketing

Even though there are many brands that practice inbound marketing that doesn’t mean they’ve completely abandoned more traditional outbound techniques like digital advertising. The key is to bring them into harmony. The simplest way to do this is to lead with benefits and not features in your digital ads. It sounds simple, yet most brands fail hard here. In your digital ad, you only have a few seconds to interest a user, so you’d better start with how this product/service/experience is going to change their life. And should you grab their attention, and actually get them to click on the ad, you must deliver. You can just send them to a home page or other product page. Go back to thinking in terms of benefits, and create landing pages based on this.

Equate offers with buyer stage for better results

You’ve also got to be cognizant on where this buyer is in the funnel. Are they just becoming aware of a problem? Do they know they have a problem and are ready to find the solution. If you don’t have proper alignment with where they are, the click won’t have much value.

Be creative; test and learn

Be creative with your digital advertising. If you aren’t sure if this is the right approach for your brand do a test. Create one ad with a benefit message that drives users to a landing page with a content offer like a whitepaper or ebook. For the other ad, create it to be product focused and take visitors to that product page. See which one performed the best and leverage that across your entire digital advertising spectrum. Those brands that don’t begin to blend both the inbound and outbound tactics face the threat of working in silos and having no clear connection, which is not sustainable.

Ultimately, all your marketing tactics need to be integrated. Digital advertising shouldn’t be in the corner doing its own thing. It should support you email campaigns, social media posts and long-form content. Treating all these elements separately causes confusion and wastes dollars and resources.

Shift Metrics to Focus More on Returns

What’s the most important metric in digital advertising? Impressions? Click-through-rate (CTR)? Neither. If your advertising agency or in-house team shows you these metrics as a way to interpret success, throw them away. You may want to argue with this statement with statements in defense of these metrics like “Impressions expand our brand reach and provide exposure,” or “CTR is a standard metric that defines a real action.” These are not untrue statements. They just don’t mean as much as you think they do. Here’s why.

The truth about impressions and CTR

Impressions are what you purchase in media buys, and if you purchased 1,000,000 impressions, you think that means 1,000,000 saw it. The reality of what this means is that the ad was displayed–you have no idea if they actually saw it. A simple test of that is in the fact that most people have multiple tabs open when they are working online. If you have 10 tabs open, ads could be running on all those. But you aren’t looking at all 10 tabs.

CTR is simply clicks divided by impressions. Clicks are good, but without context that don’t mean what you think they do. They clicked onto your page then what did they do? Did they convert? Did they become a customer? And did you actually get a return on that advertising investment? Challenge your staff to help you understand the cost of conversion rather than CTR.

Other metrics you should consider paying attention to are data related to digital advertising as a source. What’s the bounce rate? Time on page? Total page views? It’s nice to know if visitors from these sources stick around on your site or abort immediately.

Digital Advertising Is Always Changing

Digital advertising trends in 2018 will continue to impact this channel moving beyond just this year. There are lots of shifts that still have to play themselves out around how the internet will look and work in the future and how users want to interact with businesses. You can prepare and evolve your tactics, however, there are many unknowns. The best advice is to advertise with care, developing strong messaging that resonates with your market.

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