What is Digital Advertising and why is it Important?

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DEFINING DIGITAL ADVERTISING

 
Digital advertising is the tactic of leveraging the internet and its properties to deliver promotional ads to consumers on various channels.

Like it’s predecessor—traditional advertising—a digital ad can help tell the story of your brand. Unlike traditional advertising, digital advertising is more universal and flexible, enabling you to tell your brand story on the channels that your buyers frequent—through text, images, video, and more.

 
Digital advertising has evolved considerably since the first clickable ad hit the internet in 1994. Today, instead of advertising creating noise that distracts from the content your buyers want to read, digital advertising can be part of an ongoing conversation that your brand has with its customers.

 
Digital ads are everywhere. They can be seen on the websites your buyer visits, on her mobile phone, on social media channels, and on her smartwatch. Because advertising proliferates across so many channels, including very personal channels, you need to be more cognizant than ever before about providing useful, engaging content. Luckily, due to behavioral targeting technologies and platforms like marketing automation, these continuous conversations are possible. And by leveraging these technologies at scale, you can nurture your buyers in a very personalized way until they are ready to become customers.

 
As marketers, we may feel like we have come a long way with digital advertising, but we are still in the early stages. With digital advertising continuing to gain momentum, it is more vital than ever before to make it an integral part of your holistic marketing mix.

 

WHY IS DIGITAL ADVERTISING IMPORTANT

 
Digital advertising creates powerful opportunities to tell brand stories at scale and in context. Through ads on various devices and channels, marketers can reach larger audiences in a way that is real-time and increasingly personal.

 
Three Reasons for a Digital Focus There are three reasons why digital advertising is critical in today’s multi-channel, multi-device buyer landscape:

 

1. Your Buyers Are Constantly on Digital Channels

Your buyers spend a lot of time online. Gone are the days when newspapers and magazines dominated your buyer’s attention. We are firmly entrenched in the digital era. In fact, a recent study by Media Dynamics states that since 1985 a typical adult’s digital media consumption has grown 40% to 9.8 hours per day in 2014. A similar 2014 study by Nielsen found that the average American spends an astonishing 11 hours per day with electronic media – which was defined as TV, radio, internet, smartphone, gaming, and other multimedia devices.

With your buyers constantly switching channels and devices, how can you reach them? Digital advertising is a fantastic way for your brand to live across channels.

2. Marketers Have Greater Targeting Capabilities

When you put an advertisement in a magazine you have very little control, if any, over who sees and interacts with it. With today’s advancements in digital advertising, marketers can now target the exact audience that’s most likely to purchase your product. By combining the power of marketing automation and an advertising network or platform, you can avoid sending messages to people who aren’t a great fit for your product or service. Targeting your ads on digital media isn’t only limited to the demographic or firmographic characteristics of your audience. You can also deliver messages that are uniquely created to resonate with your audience as individuals, based on who they are and what they do.

3. The Availability of Customer Intent Data Enables Personalization and Seamless Conversation

With today’s powerful marketing and advertising tools, there is so much data available about your customers. By leveraging the latest and greatest tools, like Marketo’s Ad Bridge, you can leverage customer profile and intent data from many different channels to have one seamless view of the customer. You can personalize your ads based on who the individual is from her behavior, her demographics, where she is in the buying cycle, her level of engagement with your brand, and the content or offers she has viewed. With this advanced personalization, you can have more relevant conversations with buyers across all channels—which is truly the holy grail for marketers!

Today’s Noisy Buyer Landscape

Of course, where the people go, so go the marketers. Marketers have found ways to advertise and insert their messages into as many digital channels as possible. All of this leads to an onslaught of ads targeting consumers on digital media.

In fact, according to the Media Dynamics Study, the average adult is exposed to 5,000+ brands and their advertisements throughout the day. How many of these are ads? 362. And how many of these ads actually make an impression? 12. Clearly, it is challenging to grab a buyer’s attention.

In today’s noisy, hyperactive world, your audience can’t give a ton of attention to anyone brand in particular. In fact, the abundance of information that’s out there equals attention scarcity and a greater demand for relevance—so how can your brand break through all of that noise and be one of the 12 ads that actually make an impression on your audience?


The more relevant, interesting, creative, and non-intrusive your ads are, the more likely they will be seen and engaged with by your coveted audience. Through effective digital advertising, you can listen to your audience’s behavior and respond with relevant content.

 
As you consider the journey that your customer takes, digital advertising is an integral part of that journey—so it’s important to include a variety of digital advertising tactics in your overall marketing strategy. Relevant digital ads help nurture your buyers until they become customers—enabling you to continue a one-on-one conversation on all channels.

But, digital advertising evolves quickly, and as a marketer, you have to keep up. The ubiquity of online interactions in today’s modern culture demonstrates why digital advertising has become, and will continue to be, indispensable to marketers. Marketing through these ad channels is key to unlocking the potential of a huge, expanding, and captive audience.

 

THE NEW DIGITAL BUYER

 
Meet today’s buyer. She has the upper hand when it comes to making purchase decisions. Tech-savvy and brand sophisticated, she is wise to the ways of marketing, and she expects a lot. She believes you should inform her and even entertain her, but never bore, or worse, irritate her. And she’s fickle—you need to keep your communications interesting and to keep her engaged.

 
There are two major trends that have emerged out of the recent—and rapid—evolution of digital buyer behaviors across all channels. And these trends have shaped how marketers need to interact with buyers through digital ads.

Buyers Are More Informed

Thanks to the abundance of information, combined with better search and sharing technology, product information is now pervasive. The internet provides consumers with instant gratification, and mobile devices add a wherever/whenever dimension to every aspect of their online experience. Consumers today can quickly access information about products and pricing, and they do their own research when it comes to making purchase decisions. In fact, today’s buyers often form an opinion of a brand before they ever interact with you directly. By the time buyers come to you, they have already made the decision to purchase. So your consumers’ online perception of you is important, and your advertising must be relevant to your buyers’ journey.

 

1. Consumers Have High Expectations

Today’s buyers expect companies to keep seamless track of their purchase history, communications preferences, and desires. If your system isn’t a well-oiled data machine, you’re set up to lose brand loyalty fast.

 
Your buyers look for a unified and personalized experience across all of your various touchpoints. They want to find the information they need in the medium that is most convenient for them in that moment. Whether they are surfing the web on their computer at work, or waiting in line to purchase a pair of pants at their favorite clothing store—they expect the experience to be flawless and consistent.

It’s an exciting—yet challenging—time to be a marketer. It’s no longer sufficient to simply push static information to buyers in a mass advertising model. As a marketer, you must fundamentally shift the way you engage with customers across online channels throughout the customer lifecycle. And to do this, you must learn to engage each and every customer individually and personally with your digital advertising.

 

HOW HAS DIGITAL ADVERTISING EVOLVED?

Digital advertising has evolved considerably since we saw the first banner ad in 1994. Now we see advertising everywhere—on websites across the internet, on mobile devices, on smartwatches, and on other items that we wear. We see them on social media, and we can now even see connected billboards that change based on traffic conditions.

 
Just think about how quickly digital advertising has progressed! Do you remember surfing the web with Netscape? Do you remember how slowly the pages loaded? Do you remember how much slower the pages loaded when there was a banner ad to display?

A Brief History of Digital Ads

In 1994, the banner ad took over the web. According to Wired Magazine, the company HotWired launched banner ads from 14 companies. Each banner ad was 468 pixels wide by 60 pixels deep. And legend has it that the very first one of these ads was from AT&T. The ad asked, “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? You will”. And they were right.

 
From there we saw the first ad server NetGravity in 1996, the first Google AdWord in 2002, the first YouTube ad in 2005, and the first Facebook ad in 2007.

The Rapid Evolution of Digital Ads

 
We may joke and reminisce about the early days of Netscape and banner ads, but digital advertising has experienced a rapid transformation in the past two decades. Why? Well, people love content and they love to consume it at a rapid pace.

 
Consider how you consume content. TV is no longer the primary screen that you or your audience uses to consume media—now you spend almost six hours online vs. four and a half hours in front of the TV. You are constantly moving from screen to screen, media to media. You click on one BuzzFeed article and quickly click on other articles on the page that interest you.

So how have ads evolved alongside today’s buyers’ insatiable appetite for online content? Let’s take a look at a few advancements:

Data and Targeting

 
An advancement that has truly enhanced the world of digital advertising is the inclusion of data and targeting. Through advanced data, behavioral tracking, targeting capabilities of digital ad platforms, marketing automation tools, and social media sites, marketers can now get even more personalized with their digital ad creation.

While in the past digital ad targeting was based heavily on traditional demographic information, through data, marketers can now get even more specific. Today you can target based on location, behavior, content viewed, industry, segment/persona, browser, device, and more. This enables more personalized advertising than ever before.

And you can leverage this data across all of your channels. You can determine with more accuracy than ever before that the person who views a product on your website is the same person who liked a post on your Facebook page.

 

Rich Media

There are so many different types of ad formats. While in the past ads were simply text, today ads come in a variety of forms. You can use video, multiple images, and you can even create ads that are interactive for your users. By creating ad content that is much more dynamic, your audience is more likely to engage.

 

Programmatic

 
According to Business2Community, programmatic refers to a wide range of technologies that seek to automate the buying, placement, and optimization of advertising. Programmatic advertising combines  rich advertisements with the ability to resonate with the right audience, using the right ads, in the right places.

Programmatic ad buying equates to more efficiency in the space. No longer are advertisers relying solely on humans, who can be expensive and can make mistakes. Programmatic ad buying is less expensive and simply more efficient so that marketers can scale and focus  on what matters—creating amazing ad campaigns!

Native Advertising

In the past, digital ads have been thought of as intrusive and noisy. They have appeared in the middle of your screen while reading an article, having no relation to the content you were engaging with. And what do you do? You feel irritated and quickly click out of the ad to get the intrusive content off of your screen.

 
In contrast, native advertising is contextual—this type of advertising is designed to look and feel like the content that exists on the page. Native ads are much less intrusive, offering that seamless experience that buyers are looking for. Native ads are often seen on social media or news sites. In fact, a recent survey by IPG Media Labs cited that native ads give a 52% lift in purchase intent and a 32% lift in brand favorability.

Cross-Channel Interactivity

 
By leveraging data on multiple channels, your marketing can actually interact across channels, leveraging data on one channel to inform another. It is this interactivity between channels that is improving how marketers interact with customers across the customer journey for a more seamless, integrated experience.

Don’t think about digital advertising in a bubble. Back when digital advertising began there were no cross-channel efforts. In fact, it was rare that an advertiser and a marketer would even be in the same room to discuss a cohesive campaign! Today your ads must be part of your overall brand story. Your online and offline tactics must speak to one another and support each other in order to provide a cohesive experience for your audience.

HOW DO DIGITAL ADS WORK?

 
Before we jump into the nitty-gritty details of digital ads, let’s first discuss how they work. What does a digital advertising lifecycle look like?

 
Get excited! We are going to take you on a digital advertising journey throughout your customer lifecycle.

 

Meet Ellen (Hi Ellen!)

 
Ellen is a potential customer who comes to your website. She looks around your site, clicks through to a few pages, but ultimately doesn’t purchase. However, you do know— based on her behavior—that she likes your social media product. She is cookied before she leaves.

 
After Ellen leaves your website, she goes to another website to read some current event content from her local news site. Ellen starts to see your ads on each page that she visits.


Ellen then goes to her Facebook page to post a new status update. She sees another one of your ads— this time, the ad is personalized to her preferences. The ad shows her an offer to download your latest social media ebook. Ellen is interested and clicks on the ad.

She fills out your form, you get her information, and Ellen is then sent back to your website where she makes a purchase. Ellen receives a welcome email and she gets started using her new purchase. Ellen is a happy customer!

After a couple of days, Ellen has come back to your website to explore more of what you have to offer. On your website, you ask her to complete a survey about her experience with your product.

Once she leaves your website you target her with ads related to a complimentary product to the one that she already purchased.

 

…And the cycle begins again!