driving results with optimization

BACK IN THE EARLY DAYS of motor racing, when the blackand- white flag signaled the start of the race, the work of the race car designers was done. There was little left for them to do other than cross their fingers for the driver. Today, the designers and technicians are, in a sense, sitting with the driver in the cockpit. The Formula 1 “rocket ships” provide them with a wealth of data during a race, and they must decide quickly which of the numerous setscrews to adjust to increase the chances of success.

Similarly, the job of the creatives in today’s agencies is by no means finished when the initial media exposure occurs. In digital marketing, they also “sit in the cockpit” to a certain degree. And also in a manner not unlike those racing sports technicians, they are ideally able to rely on a high-performance technological platform – such as TEM from Planetactive1 – to make their jobs significantly easier.

Of course, today the most important job of the creatives still is developing the big idea, the turbocharger of many successful campaigns. But in contrast to the time when big ideas were only required to function in print and on TV, today the requirements are more complex, and they are simply harder to find. That’s because these days, the idea has to work in a variety of media, in both classic media and new digital platforms; it must be easily communicated and interacted with; it should open feedback channels for permanent evaluation of its success; and, ideally, it should provide keywords that benefit search marketing.

team work right from the start

Above all, however, big ideas must be compatible for implementation according to the different technical requirements of the various media. Often, a brilliant idea for TV and print is not sufficiently sustainable for a modern, interactive, multichannel campaign. This has resulted in a fundamental change in the creative process at today’s agencies. Nowadays, creatives, technicians, media pros and account executives sit together around the table right from the beginning to develop creative campaigns that meet or exceed their benchmarks. The solitary “ideas man,” locked away in his cubbyhole developing the brilliant idea for a print or TV campaign, then delivering the concept and moving on to the next job, scarcely has a chance in the age of digital marketing.

Arguably, the most significant difference between classic advertising and digital marketing is the almost complete transparency of the campaigns. Modern tracking systems deliver a bounty of data right from the campaign outset and register user conduct on all important touch points, which have frequently been developed solely for this purpose. It is not only the success of every banner ad and media placement that is quantifiable on the basis of ad views and click through rates; complete user journeys, from the ad to campaign-related microsites and email newsletters to a purchase on an e-commerce platform – all can be traced precisely. But the knowledge generated from this data is worthless if it is not used on the fl y, not only in regard to the campaign’s media execution, but also as it relates to constantly optimizing its message, content and design. Creative professionals are therefore facing a completely new set of duties.

real-time optimization

When we started up our first self-developed ad server at Planetactive in 1997, the media pros, technicians and account executives were fascinated by the possibilities, while the enthusiasm of the creatives, whose experience at that time consisted primarily of classic advertising, was frankly less than ebullient. They had previously worked for weeks on a campaign, developed a great idea, designed attractive banners and microsites, written carefully formulated copy and completed the lengthy process of coordinating with clients. For them, once those steps were completed, the project was history. And now, suddenly, a couple of days after the start of a campaign, they would be confronted with tracking results and the request to repeatedly alter the text copy and the design to further maximize the click rates. It was time for a rethink.

Today, over 10 years after our first tentative steps with the ad server, a new generation of creatives has grown into this role: people comfortable with digital marketing who feel right at home on a team with media planners and account executives. They assume responsibility for the success of a campaign through its completion and are accustomed to reading the extensive reports and drawing their own conclusions. Digital marketing means constantly optimizing campaigns while they are running in order to provide the client with maximum efficiency. This simple fact has ultimately resulted in work processes that differ markedly from those in classic advertising. And the culture in a digital marketing agency is also different.

marketing without gray zones

Everyone feels a responsibility for the success of the advertising, and the level of this success is visible on a daily basis. Creatives find themselves in the role of analyst, media planners are involved in creative work, and account executives contribute without reservation to the advanced creative development of a campaign. The fact that this doesn’t lead to conflicts comes down to one simple thing: digital marketing knows no gray zones where vanity and pretentiousness can easily take root. A solid foundation of valid data is the basis for all discussions.

There is virtually nothing that we leave to chance these days. In the wake of further development, our ad server has evolved into a complex management and planning system in the form of TEM control that determines the agency’s daily agenda. It provides us with the ability not only to control every important campaign parameter related to media placements and ads, but to also enable page tracking. And linked with our email system, the behavior of each email recipient can also be integrated into the analysis. Web analytics systems deliver the basis for optimizing websites, and the query volume in search engines shows how campaign-specific terms are getting through to the public.

It has been a good while now since we first successfully reduced the costs per acquired user by 75 percent in one of our early campaigns for air carrier Lufthansa. Since then, increasing efficiency has become a sporting challenge for everyone. Tracking results are awaited with almost as much anticipation as Formula 1 results! The creatives have adapted to the numerous optimization loops. Normally, clients are given several variations of messages, visuals, copy, and media channels and placements in the initial presentation. The combination selected by the client is then tested in an evaluation phase in order to single out the optimum ad placement couplets from the matrix. New text copy and design modules are then repeatedly combined during the course of the campaign.

new self-conception

Naturally, the road to a new way of working and a modern, efficiency-driven digital marketing culture has been a long one. No one likes to give up habits that have become comfortable, and this might well apply to a special degree to creative personalities. After all, the creative process still retains an aspect of mystery, and some creatives may harbor some reservations about too much transparency. But this development is unstoppable; the light of modern technologies is now reaching into the last remaining corners and crevices of creative free space.

Consequently, many creatives have accepted tracking results as the decisive standard for their success, as opposed to in the early days, when attempts to qualify this standard were frequently heard in discussions. A common argument: “But campaigns often work even without a direct click onto the banner. For instance, when a user remembers the strong impact of the ad and enters the URL directly.” Nice try – at least until postview tracking was perfected, providing precise measurements of exactly this effect. Alternatively, the view was: “Click rates aren’t everything. We’re boosting the brand.” But this gray zone was also dispensed with. With TEM impact, we enabled qualitative success evaluation of online advertising, providing detailed measurement of the branding effect. Only two weeks after a campaign’s start, the initial results of the qualitative effectiveness measurement of each individual ad could already be used for real-time optimization.

Today, the light of digitization illuminates virtually every corner of marketing. The efficiency of classic measures exists hand-in-hand with that of digital measures. Campaign optimization on the fl y has increasingly become the standard.

A great idea and its creative implementation will continue to remain the engine behind every successful campaign. For creative professionals in the digital age, however, it’s no longer enough just to design the motor. They also have to go along to the racetrack. After all, their experience with and ideas for real-time optimization are decisive success factors.

Author: Matthias Kurwig
Date: April 29, 2009