Four Ways to Drive Greater Impact with Your Media Investment

Brands, now more than ever, are seeing the benefits of digital marketing: flexibility, addressability, and scalability. This is resulting in continuous growth in media investment, especially as more consumers are increasing their time spent on digital channels. 

However, the more amateur marketers who fail to drill into the details of digital buying, yielding ad fraud, poor brand safety, and ineffective placements are undoubtedly wasting dollars and, in some cases, causing harm to their brand. These issues range from blatant criminal activity to troublesome contextual environments to sky-high ad frequency

At Coegi, we have strict standards in place to ensure that we are treating our clients’ media investment as if it is our own. Here are the key factors to make your dollars work harder when setting up digital campaigns:

1) Reflect on the Past and Plan for the Future

It’s time for digital advertisers to take a look in the mirror. The last decade of explosive growth needs to be peeled back and examined. In its infancy, digital advertising was a marketer’s dream world. Everything was measurable and targetable – in other words, it felt easy. Marketers were able to reach anyone, anywhere. 

Then entered increased regulation and walled gardens. Regulation, although needed for consumer protection, broke the original execution method. Programmatic is no longer the wild, wild west. Many have tried to continue operating as if nothing has changed, which has left massive vulnerabilities in the industry for ad fraud to enter the picture, often undetected. With this came wasted dollars, brand safety implications, and fear for the future of digital advertising.

2) Diversify your Marketing Dollars

Marketers need to have a high degree of inventory accountability and transparency. Direct and private marketplace placements will help, as you know exactly where your ad is being placed. However, it’s important to diversify in order to expand reach against your target audience. 

Open exchange placements can be equally effective when carefully curated whitelists and blacklists are applied. Aggregate all media metrics within one dashboard to avoid siloed analysis, and ensure brand dollars are being used efficiently across your marketing tactics. 

3) Invest in High Value, High Visibility Inventory

In today’s environment, inventory quality is the key driver of media success. If you want to be seen in a high impact medium – whether it’s a high traffic billboard, premium CTV spot, or something else – you have to invest the dollars. 

No, I’m not here to tell you to just increase your media budget and everything will be great. You can also improve performance by leaning into channels which provide rich data and reliable, compliant targeting. Retail media, for example, is an excellent source of cookieless second party data and provides directional metrics to track down-funnel results. Direct publisher buys can provide access to contextual placements and premium audiences as well. 

4) Go Back to the Basics of Measurement

It’s not just the cookie that’s dying, it’s last click attribution, IP tracking, and more. It’s time to substitute antiquated attribution models for more tried and true incremental measurement tactics to showcase actual marketing ROI, such as media mix modeling

This will allow you to better define optimal budget allocation by stitching together sales-related data and media metrics – and also keep you focused on the data so fraudulent activity does not go unnoticed.

Paving the Way for a Stronger Future in Digital Marketing

The digital world has changed in drastic and permanent ways over the past decade. We can still benefit from the gains in automation and efficiency the industry has made.  We will not go back to writing dozens or hundreds of IOs for a single campaign and trafficking ad tags to each publisher directly.   

But, it’s due time to put more guardrails on the media buying process in terms of the publishers we leverage and the way we measure results.   

Measure What Matters

One of my long-standing mantras at Coegi is ‘Measure What Matters’.

So when the ANA released a report entitled ‘Media KPIs That Matter’, I was more than a little intrigued.  What the report found won’t surprise too many of us that work in performance marketing: most brands focus on KPIs that don’t really align with their business objectives.  

So why is this?  For starters, there is a lot of pressure for digital campaigns to be ‘data driven’.  I bet if the ANA asked if their members organizations are data driven, 100% would say yes.  The challenge is that there is too much data for the decision makers to truly understand. For marketing veterans that came from creative or PR backgrounds (that weren’t exposed to digital media buying earlier in their careers), it is challenging to grade the effectiveness of an omni-channel digital marketing.   Thus, they lean on the stats they feel most comfortable with: CPM, CPC and CTR.  Website traffic, reach and completion rates.  What we have longed referred to at Coegi as vanity metrics. To be fair, media efficiency should be a factor, but far less than many brands think. As my friends at The Trade Desk say, you can’t report on CTR on an earnings call.  

So what about ROAS then? Isn’t that the magic metric we should all be optimizing to anyways?  It should be in theory, but in practice, it all depends on attribution.  Is 100% of the conversion credit going to the last touch or last impression?  There are very few digital programs that are even attempting multi-touch attribution, and those that try are stymied by walled gardens that don’t share a unified measurement framework.  ROAS numbers are only as accurate as the data you use to analyze it, and too often there is more noise than signal in last-touch attribution.  Recent changes to app tracking on Apple phones and the impending elimination of third-party cookies on Google Chrome make attribution all the more challenging.

So what about the agencies?  Isn’t it their job to advise their clients as to the metrics they should be measuring?   Certainly many performance strategists are pushing to move towards more meaningful measurement, but it often involves a lot more institutional buy-in at the brand that you would expect.  Advocating an advanced measurement framework at the end of a proposal just isn’t going to cut it.  Often, you not only have to educate the marketing team, but the C-suite, product and sales teams as well.  

So what is the path forward for marketers trying to determine their media KPIs?  From my perspective, there is no singular KPI that defines success for any digital marketing campaign.  Instead, we should build custom measurement frameworks across multiple KPIs, that incorporate not just media efficiency metrics, but also engagement, brand lift, transactional data, and ROAS analysis, to get a better understanding of your digital program as a whole. Furthermore, it can be worthwhile to revisit the more academic and statistical forms of analysis, such as media mix modeling, matched market tests, and regression analysis, to get to the heart of success. 

Recommended reading:

Optimizing Hybrid and Work Anywhere Models

When evaluating return to office and hybrid work model plans, some HR departments could be making a critical mistake applying an office schedule that is most convenient for the executive team to the whole organization.  It is clearly easier to keep tabs on employees when they are in the office on the same days each week, but that doesn’t necessarily optimize outputs for different departments or functions.

How we work should inform the who, what, where, when of our work – rather than vice versa.

There has been a lot of focus over the past two years on where we work: remote, in-office, or a hybrid work model. What has gone less examined, at least in my news feeds, is HOW we work. How does the location we are in, the people we are surrounded by, and the type of tasks we are completing, affect how we work and the output we are creating? How we work should inform the who, what, where, when of our work – rather than vice versa.

When examining how I work, I have fought desperately throughout my career to move away from the urgent and towards the non-urgent but important.  This is the ‘blue ocean’ strategy within your organization, even within your own day.  I encourage this practice with my employees because it’s the place where you are most likely to begin to build their ‘own agenda’ based on your understanding of the company’s needs.  In my experience, it’s where I get the deepest, least distracted work done.

As an organization, how can you ensure you are implementing policies which will allow your employees to do the same within a flexible work-anywhere model, or hybrid work model? 

Build accountability through trust and communication

Many large and traditional employers are threatened by the idea of work-anywhere policies. How will I know if my employees are actually working? The root issue here isn’t about the work environment, but about accountability and trust. Managers need to stop tracking meaningless metrics (ie. mouse activity and hours online) and start looking at actual output. Our VP of Marketing, Ryan Green, advocates for, “being transparent and evaluating people based on the quality of their work and not the quantity of time they’ve logged in”. This allows employees to focus on important-but-not urgent work rather than prioritizing small check-list items to project a sense of productivity. Establish clear expectations, assign responsibilities, and set reasonable deadlines while giving your team flexibility in the output. Set your basic “measurement framework”, then allow employees to deliver outcomes in a way that works for their personal style. 

Encourage flexible communication styles

Both managers and employees need to be especially attuned to communication styles.  If over 90% of communication is non-verbal, then less in-person interaction will inevitably challenge robust communication. Video conferencing helps a lot but isn’t a complete substitute.  Time still needs to be given to in-person interaction, including casual interaction and conversation, even if it is less frequent than the traditional office environment.

Balance attention to detail and ambiguity

Managing a remote workforce will inevitably lead to a degree of ambiguity.  However, this increased ambiguity can spur creative thinking and allow people to have more ownership over their role and responsibilities. On the other hand, vague directions and goals can leave people feeling lost and unmotivated, so it is important to maintain a healthy balance. At Coegi, we have brought in a project management tool to lay out tasks, deadlines and shared progress updates across teams. This allows greater transparency but prevents constant calls and pings between coworkers about project status. 

Redefine work/life balance

Creating work/life balance doesn’t just mean having a life outside of your job. Josh Waitzkin, in his book, The Art of Learning, emphasizes the importance of taking breaks and developing a short routine to refresh and focus throughout the day. I’ve found that implementing these small breaks during the work day can have a huge impact on my productivity, mental clarity, and overall state of mind. With flexible and hybrid work models, we can reframe the standard workday and let employees have greater ownership over their day to day routine.

At the end of the day, you cannot force good culture. Instead, do the work to create an accountable environment with strong frameworks set in place. From there, employees and managers will inevitably create organic culture and transform your company from within.

Why Work Location Matters, But Not as Much as You Think

A lot of attention of late has been focused on the binary choice of work from home vs. work at the office.  Many companies have split the difference and advocated for a hybrid work model, in the name of flexibility.  And for good reason… when they survey their employees, opinions split vastly by age, gender, parental status and seniority.  But this isn’t a binary choice, as many knowledge workers have the power to work not just from the home or office, but from anywhere.  It is not just executives anymore that have the luxury of typing thought pieces from an airport lounge between flights or finishing new business presentations over a nightcap at the hotel bar.  The definition of the ‘office’ is changing for many, with co-working spaces or coffee shop networks replacing a stand-alone office space dedicated to a single company.

Work from anywhere isn’t new.  Our friends at Zapier have been doing it since their inception in 2011.  It doesn’t take an expert in workplace psychology to see some of the potential benefits, like commute times. However, people that work exclusively from home experience the highest level of employee exhaustion, compared to in-person or hybrid employees, according to a study from our partners at TinyPulse that surveyed over 700 HR professionals.   For creative workers, inspiration and creativity often don’t come by staring at the same four walls all of the time, whether at the office or at their homes.

A work-anywhere policy doesn’t have to mean fully remote

Forrester estimates that, post-pandemic, only 18.2MM people will be eligible to work from home 100% of the time, which is less than 12% of the US workforce.  Many companies are opting for a hybrid model to meet somewhere in the middle. Working from anywhere is a “people first, place second” mentality that translates trust and value to employees from a corporation.

How to reverse engineer where you should work

1. Define ideal in-office frequency

Leadership needs to define the frequency for in-office work is ideal for company or department-wide priorities to be achieved.  All staff meetings, overarching training exercises, culture or volunteer events, off-site retreats, may all be part of the equation to achieve the right balance for their specific business.  For brick-and-mortar businesses, this is probably (but not always) everyday.  For businesses that have been fully remote for some time, this could be quarterly or annually.  For many though, these could be designating one or two days/week or month of mandatory office attendance.  If your company mandates some in-office time, focus those days on tasks where collaboration is important.

2. Identify optimal workspace for different job functions

More importantly, where should you work on non-mandated days when you have more flexibility? Is it always your home office?  Take your company or department goals and apply them to your own.  Divide your week into percentages, based on the discipline, and choose your location accordingly.  Innovation, client management, research, thought leadership, mentorship/training, building reports, creative endeavors, brainstorming.  Where can you work to maximize the output of each of these functions? This is your base, your ideal working schedule.  Here is an example of how I like to lay out my hybrid work week to optimize different buckets of work and key tasks.

3. Consider the needs of others

Tailor your schedule to balance the needs of others in your circle – your teams, peers and your family.  Understand the communication styles of the people you manage, and the peers you work most closely with.  Are they spontaneous or scheduled?  What functions do they focus on?  If your direct report wants to have a stand-up meeting first thing on Monday, know what location best suits you and your team for that meeting.  What non-work needs might affect your schedule?  Work from anywhere may allow you more flexibility to schedule health-related activities before/after work or over lunch breaks, for instance.  As a new dad, my son splits time between daycare and grandparents during the work week, so I’ve tailored his ‘daycare’ days to align with in-office days, giving me greater flexibility on drop off times.

Incorporating flex work at Coegi

At Coegi, we smoothly transitioned from an  in-office company with flex time options to completely remote during the pandemic. Now, we request employees work in the office every Thursday to participate in team training and activities, but allow the flexibility to choose to work from home 2-3 days of the week, if they so desire. This truly seems to be the ideal scenario as it ensures some level of in-person interaction and collaboration, but gives a large amount of freedom on an individual level to balance their work and personal schedules throughout the week.

Some of the specific benefits we’ve seen from switching to hybrid work include a greater sense of community, decreased feeling of burnout, and improvement of inter-company tools and shared resources. It forced us to become aware of and fix some of the communication gaps previously existing in our company.

Stop being afraid of work-anywhere models

At the end of the day, companies need to stop being afraid of work-anywhere models. If you set strong frameworks from an organizational level and empower employees with the tools and ability to reverse engineer their work to be optimal for them, work-anywhere can work, well, anywhere.

Brand vs Performance Marketing – Blurring the Lines

How to reverse engineer where you should work

1. Define ideal in-office frequency

Leadership needs to define the frequency for in-office work is ideal for company or department-wide priorities to be achieved.  All staff meetings, overarching training exercises, culture or volunteer events, off-site retreats, may all be part of the equation to achieve the right balance for their specific business.  For brick-and-mortar businesses, this is probably (but not always) everyday.  For businesses that have been fully remote for some time, this could be quarterly or annually.  For many though, these could be designating one or two days/week or month of mandatory office attendance.  If your company mandates some in-office time, focus those days on tasks where collaboration is important.

2. Identify optimal workspace for different job functions

More importantly, where should you work on non-mandated days when you have more flexibility? Is it always your home office?  Take your company or department goals and apply them to your own.  Divide your week into percentages, based on the discipline, and choose your location accordingly.  Innovation, client management, research, thought leadership, mentorship/training, building reports, creative endeavors, brainstorming.  Where can you work to maximize the output of each of these functions? This is your base, your ideal working schedule.  Here is an example of how I like to lay out my hybrid work week to optimize different buckets of work and key tasks.

3. Consider the needs of others

Tailor your schedule to balance the needs of others in your circle – your teams, peers and your family.  Understand the communication styles of the people you manage, and the peers you work most closely with.  Are they spontaneous or scheduled?  What functions do they focus on?  If your direct report wants to have a stand-up meeting first thing on Monday, know what location best suits you and your team for that meeting.  What non-work needs might affect your schedule?  Work from anywhere may allow you more flexibility to schedule health-related activities before/after work or over lunch breaks, for instance.  As a new dad, my son splits time between daycare and grandparents during the work week, so I’ve tailored his ‘daycare’ days to align with in-office days, giving me greater flexibility on drop off times.

Incorporating flex work at Coegi

At Coegi, we smoothly transitioned from an  in-office company with flex time options to completely remote during the pandemic. Now, we request employees work in the office every Thursday to participate in team training and activities, but allow the flexibility to choose to work from home 2-3 days of the week, if they so desire. This truly seems to be the ideal scenario as it ensures some level of in-person interaction and collaboration, but gives a large amount of freedom on an individual level to balance their work and personal schedules throughout the week.

Some of the specific benefits we’ve seen from switching to hybrid work include a greater sense of community, decreased feeling of burnout, and improvement of inter-company tools and shared resources. It forced us to become aware of and fix some of the communication gaps previously existing in our company.

Defining Brand vs Performance Marketing

What is the difference between brand and performance marketing? A Forbes article deftly explains, “Brand marketing encourages customers to raise their hands. Performance marketing makes it as easy as possible for a customer to get your product into their hand after they raise it.” Branded campaigns are structured to build brand affinity, recall, values, loyalty, and other emotion-based results. Performance marketing, conversely, is all about the numbers. Finding ways to build efficiencies and grow total results. These measurement-focused campaigns are built to drive conversions, leads, purchases, and purposeful clicks, while lowering the cost per action based on channel, audience, and creative learnings.

How To Hold Brand Campaigns Accountable

Marketers that have historically leaned on traditional channels are shifting to digital platforms to have a more targeted approach. However, brand campaign dollars are generally not held to the same accountability as performance dollars. Yet, there is an increasing demand from CFOs and CEOs for those quantifiable results and clear ROI.

A marketer’s job is to showcase the value of upper funnel marketing on long and short term business results. For example, a McKinsey study reported, “With a clearer understanding of consumer preferences and behavior at the early stages of their buying journey, companies report marketing efficiency gains of up to 30% and incremental top-line growth of up to 10% without increasing the marketing budget.”

Measuring Branding Campaign Results

How can you start to measure brand campaigns? Identify business objectives towards awareness that indicate a positive sentiment towards or engagement with your product. Ask the right questions, determine the right methodology, and understand what actions are truly driving interest in your brand.

Taking Full-Funnel Full-Circle

MarketingProfs article explained this by saying, “brand-driven insight is your truth—the WHY behind all that you do. The performance marketing is your plan put into action—the HOW and WHAT of manifesting that truth.” By understanding this full customer journey, brands can make audiences feel understood. This is accomplished through using data-driven insights to build meaningful messaging on the channels where they are most present and receptive. Ultimately, this builds trust while optimizing budgets simply by being relevant to your core audience. This sets the stage for lower funnel campaigns and creates a more seamless path to conversion.

Coegi built a full-funnel marketing campaign to increase emotional brand connection and drive product trials for  a CPG client. We executed a performance branding study on Facebook to evaluate brand lift and conversion lift for key website events. This blended approach allowed for valuable insights into multiple stages of the consumer journey, from awareness to purchase intent. The results surpassed various CPG benchmarks and highlighted the importance of creating synergies between creative execution and operational strategy. It also placed more accountability on the incrementality of our branding efforts.

Key Takeaways

  • Treat all marketing campaigns as performance-based
  • Hold brand campaigns accountable with custom measurement frameworks that inform business outcomes
  • Pull insights from bottom funnel campaigns to inform top funnel campaigns (and vice versa)

Why Walled Gardens Will (and Won’t) Be More Critical in the Future

 

As we begin to explore the world of cookieless digital advertising, marketers will likely be focusing much of their attention on walled gardens with valuable first-party data. However, even walled gardens come with their issues that will have to be navigated through in order to ensure business goals are achieved and tangible to the financial guardians of brands.

Most analysts predict that walled gardens (in particular Google) will be the safest place to conduct audience targeted buys in 2022.  Even while Google’s DSP allows marketers to buy a lot of inventory, it is currently more limited in audio, connected TV and DOOH inventory.  These are channels where context is probably more important than the precision of the audience and where there is likely going to be a need to diversify to other advertising platforms to achieve a successful omni-channel strategy.

Using Facebook User Data

Facebook does have robust behavioral data from signed-in users; however, iOS 14.5 makes it a lot more challenging to perform audience-based buys and to attribute conversions.  Some of our early campaigns showed a 15x increase in CPA within the platform, but nearly no impact on actual sales.  This means that conversion data on the Facebook platform was (and is) solely directional for most advertisers. While good for the business, this might be more challenging for marketers who are being asked to prove that their marketing is “working.”

Should You Trust the Algorithm?

The big ad tech players, and thus some agencies, will likely advise brands to ‘trust the algorithm’ even more than they have in the past, as Google, Facebook and Amazon don’t give specialists a lot of control over or insights about many aspects of their buying decisions.  Facebook in particular makes it challenging to control frequency, and DV360’s lookalike modeling is very opaque.  Against a lack of accurate measurement across each walled garden, brands and their agencies need to develop more holistic, advanced measurement frameworks.

How Will Cookie Deprecation Affect CPMs?

While scale is impacted slightly outside of Google Chrome and Android apps, there are still ample opportunities to bid for inventory in these environments.  However, with fewer buying platforms to conduct audience-based buys and fewer impressions to scale against, CPMs will likely increase, in particular on video.  This might put pressure on agencies to ‘keep the costs down’, which in turn may increase traffic from bots and fraudulent inventory.  Brands need to expect an increase in CPMs while not incentivizing a decrease in inventory quality.

A Walled Garden SWOT Analysis

Strengths – Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple each have huge 1st party data sets.  And not just in volume of users, they have robust metadata around each profile as well, from account information, purchase history and behavior.  Even if ID-based solutions grow in count, it’s possible we may not be able to append significant amounts of secondary data to each profile to be scalable for marketers.

Weaknesses – There will undoubtedly be adjustments needed in terms of attribution and measurement.  Even today, if you were to believe the metrics from each platform, nearly all of your automated marketing channels would have +ROI for the same purchase.  Paid search, Facebook conversion ads and programmatic retargeting can’t all have a CPA of $10.  They can’t produce 10,000 sales when you only sold 3,000 products.  This is because each is taking credit for any time a user touches their ad.  Attribution has been among the greatest challenges of digital advertising.  Because the walled gardens don’t share a common profile of a user, multi-touch attribution can be at times disjointed and inconsistent.  It’s safe to say the methods of achieving measurement will have to change.

Opportunities – Lean into first-party and second party data in walled garden platforms, and rely less on retargeting. This allows for stronger prospecting and less reliance on audiences that were likely to “convert” anyway and, therefore, inflate marketing metrics.

Threats – Because many marketers and brands will be choosing to lean into walled gardens to circumvent the challenges of third party cookies, it is likely that there will be an increase in costs to advertise on these platforms. Budgets will need to increase to achieve the same scale previously achieved.

So what does this mean?

At present, our suggestion is to lean into walled gardens for precise audience targeting, but begin measuring success of your advertising program at a higher level.  Some examples of this include matched market tests, media mix modeling, and control vs. exposed methodologies.  While this will make it more challenging to know which 50% of your marketing spend is effective, it’s the best solution given the reduction of transparency in algorithmic data and therefore less understanding of success from a conversion data standpoint. But, this will also force marketers to start looking at the data as a whole and get away from optimizing towards last-click and last-touch metrics which have provided misleading signals for years.

Regarding adjustments needed to measurement, advertising campaigns need to set-up to achieve business goals rather than just media metric KPIs.  To achieve this, individual channels and tactics will need to identify leading indicators, perhaps higher in the funnel, to optimize toward.  Engagement rates, reach, completion rate, and measures of media effectiveness like CPM/CPC should become more of a focus rather than CPAs. Fortunately, real-time buying platforms are poised to bring marketers success with this measurement approach, and will be able to optimize against important cost and engagement metrics rather than directional conversion-level data.

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