Media: Double Standards - Will 2011 be a pivotal year for digital strategies?

By Matt Nunney and Cameran Harman, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 10 March 2011 12:01AM

Can we expect a shift in the balance between search and digital display adspend this year? Two specialists in the field share their differing views on how it will play out.

MATT NUNNEY - HEAD OF SEARCH, AGENDA21 DIGITAL

- What are your thoughts on predictions that growth rate of digital display adspend will overtake search in 2011?

While I think too much focus on growth-rate predictions is dangerous, it comes as no surprise that growth in display is set to outstrip that of search. This is predominantly fuelled by an increased interest in branding as we come out of a recession, new opportunities around display arising from new technologies or more robust attribution, and the fact that the very nature of search optimisation has led to most mature search accounts being optimised to steady spend levels. While the growth rate for display might be set to outweigh that of search, this doesn't mean advertisers are going to be spending any less on search or that they should shift their focus to another media. In fact, search spends are still set to take the lion's share of digital budgets for many years to come.

- How important is more transparency on data and working practices across all digital platforms?

More transparency across platforms, agencies and media channels is fundamental to driving greater performance. The theory of cross-media channel interaction has been around since advertising began, and although we now have the technology available to track, measure and model, this data is still often guarded for fear of exposing an unwanted truth. Media agencies need to stop being so afraid of losing media spend through revealing true attribution performance. We are, after all, trying to drive the best performance for our clients.

- As the final activity before purchase, does search still take too much credit for the conversion?

This really depends on the client in question but, in general, I would say no. Without search, users would find it very hard to navigate to websites off the back of an ad they saw x-many weeks ago. Attribution to display should still be given in terms of driving people to search but, at a base level, I think search should take all the credit it deserves.

- Search marketing was ten years old last year and digital display marks its 18th birthday this year. What are the key elements to successful digital strategies in your respective disciplines in 2011?

The rate of change in search is in now so great that the market often becomes too distracted by new or unproven opportunities, or is fooled into focusing on inefficient optimisation practices. The fundamentals of search, ie. a focus on driving quality Serp results for users' queries, remain as important as ever. A balance needs to be struck between continually covering the fundamentals of search, ie. improving quality scores through robust adcopy testing, keyword refinement and negative keyword mining, while remaining on top of the latest opportunities and implementing them on a client-by-client basis.

- Fast-forward two years and which will be more dominant: Facebook or Google?

In terms of media spend, Google will still be king. The time required to fully optimise and run Facebook campaigns generally outweighs that required to set up and run more efficient PPC campaigns. Unless this changes dramatically, spend will continue to veer in Google's direction. In terms of influence, Google will still be king. It's open to everyone and provides a clear functional use as it's a search engine. Facebook is not and will certainly not be able to catch up with Google in the near future.

CAMERAN HARMAN - UK MANAGING DIRECTOR, AD2ONE

- What are your thoughts on predictions that growth rate of digital display adspend will overtake search in 2011?

Advertisers are understanding more about how display can not only drive direct campaign performance but also how it can create additional customer engagement. There is more confidence in understanding what the numbers mean, which is opening up increased investment. However, a lot of this growth has been driven by video, mobile, digital exchanges and the success that the likes of Facebook and eBay have seen over the past year. For the majority of publishers, this means that they have to fight for every penny. The more unique the audience, and the more valuable and engaging the environment for advertisers, the more successful these publishers will be. However, in a market dominated by a "people not pages" idea, those publishers that just have a large generic audience might struggle to continue to leverage spend.

- How important is more transparency on data and working practices across all digital platforms?

Search has been so successful for so long, partly because advertisers have been able to control their campaign and understand what is working and how to manipulate it. To a large extent, display advertisers have found the lack of transparency a big barrier to success. With the decline in traffic experienced by the major portals, because of an increase in use of social media and a wider range of sites, display advertisers have more opportunity to diversify their buy. We get a lot of demand from advertisers that want to spend time optimising their activity with individual sites within our portfolio. This helps the advertiser, the site and its users, particularly when more relevant messages are tailored.

- As the final activity before purchase, does search still take too much credit for the conversion?

Put simply, yes. While working in search, I strived to help clients understand that even though most of their conversions came from a limited number of keywords, it was important to have a broader campaign that exploited searches earlier in their product research cycle. The same is true for display. I have been encouraged by the work that agencies have been doing with their tracking methodology to understand conversion attribution. The reality is that search and display combine with other communication channels to have an impact on the final purchase.

- Search marketing was ten years old last year and digital display marks its 18th birthday this year. What are the key elements to successful digital strategies in your respective disciplines in 2011?

Some things in a fast-moving environment always stay the same: the importance of targeting an audience, the value of context, delivering cost vs value in execution. They're only cliches because they're right. We'll also be working with our publishers this year to maximise value and targeting from data, which is 2011's hot topic.

- Fast-forward two years and which will be more dominant: Facebook or Google?

Facebook has accelerated fast into areas typically dominated by Google (particularly location-based services), and it's no bad thing for the Mountain View behemoth to be looking over its shoulder for a change. What's taking place here isn't a battle of the brands but a battle of the engineers, and it will be the company with the brightest minds and the most effective delivery that wins out. The race will be tight on web-based services, but I see Google winning out offline.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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