Curious about which online advertising platforms exist beyond your current advertising strategy?
I’m sure you’re already familiar with Facebook and Google as online advertising platforms. These behemoths are the best-known online advertising platforms out there, boasting the biggest online user bases and powerful self-service ad managers. Together with Amazon, they absolutely dominate the online advertising market.
Top 3 ad platforms by 2021 advertising revenue:
- Google: $209.49 billion
- Facebook: $115 billion
- Amazon: $32 billion
Given Facebook and Google’s popularity as online advertising platforms, you’ll face high competition with millions of other advertisers to get your ads shown and capture users' saturated attention. It’s a challenge. It also means ad prices can be comparatively high.
However, there’s a whole advertising ecosystem out there that could offer your business more reach amongst niche demographics for less cost or greater ROAS. Especially if audience targeting is more effective, regardless of the cost-per-mille (CPM) or cost-per-click (CPC) prices.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t use Google or Facebook as leading platforms within your online advertising strategy. You definitely should be using Google for paid search results. But there’s a whole ad ecosystem out there just waiting to be tested, ready to open up more opportunities for your business. As always, some testing is the best way to find out what works and what doesn’t.
The team at Half Past Nine live to help our clients develop ad strategies that maximize the reach and return against budget. To help you, we’ve pulled together this comprehensive guide to where you can advertise online, selecting the best online advertising platforms we’ve come across so far.
This guide is exclusively for brands that want to expand the impact of their paid advertising strategy; we’re not listing out free sites and directories to list your business on. It’s applicable for both B2B and B2C brands.
Keep in mind that ad prices and results fluctuate greatly by variables such as country, industry, target audience, demand and seasonality, placement, ad format, ad quality, landing page quality and audience engagement with your ads. Platform-specific benchmark data by industry and country is a valuable tool where you can get it, alongside running your own test campaigns on platforms of interest.
It’s an easier task to consider which search engines should be included among your online advertising platforms given the limited choices! As of September 2022, global desktop search engine market share is almost monopolized by Google at around 92%, trailed by Bing 3%, and Yahoo at approximately 1%.
Note, DuckDuckGo is powered by Bing and ads are managed through Microsoft Advertising, so isn’t covered separately here.
In the US in 2022, around 50% of search traffic comes from mobile, 45% from desktop, and 3% from tablets.
Google Ads offers a powerful self-service ad management and reporting platform covering a wide spectrum of advertising functionality across search engine, display, in-app and video ads.
- Reaches around 75% of the US population
- Google Chrome App accounts for 49% market share in the US
- Google Maps, another search-related product, has over 5 billion downloads
Search ad pricing can vary widely and you’ll get to select the pricing models you want to use based on your search campaign objectives and the ad formats. You can set campaign and daily budgets, and there’s no minimum spend required.
If you're an eCommerce brand, leverage Google shopping results ads within your search strategy.
Bing is a Microsoft company, and Bing ads are managed through the Microsoft Advertising platform. In 2009, Microsoft was in partnership with Verizon Media, which has since been acquired by Apollo Global Management and rebranded itself as Yahoo (combining AOL and Yahoo Gemini).
That means your Bing search ads are also shown on:
Joining forces has provided more incentive for advertisers to use Bing and Yahoo companies in competition with Google. In comparison to Google, there is also less competition for ad placements within Microsoft-owned platforms and lower ad prices.
- Older user demographics - average user being 45 years old.
- Users have above average incomes with a third making $100k+, and almost half making $75k+.
- Microsoft Ads say they have an equal gender split.
Like Google, Bing’s adverts are auctioned by CPC for selected keywords. You can target by demographics, geographic regions, and also the time of day or week. Budgeting is flexible on Bing Ads, and there’s no minimum budget to get started.
Ecommerce works particularly well on Microsoft Ads, which has shopping partnerships with companies like Amazon.
- Bing shopping campaigns have a 45% higher ad click through rate (CTR) than on Google
- CPC on shopping ads is 30% lower than Google’s average.
Powered by Bing’s search engine, Yahoo is managed through Yahoo Native. The ad manager states that your ads may run on Yahoo, MSN, AOL, TechCrunchand Engadget -Yahoo brands. It offers search and native advertising options from one platform.
- Yahoo AdTech says 20 million daily unique visitors use Yahoo
- 180 million monthly unique visitors in the US - accounting for 45% of its global traffic
- 66% of Americans visit the Yahoo homepage with an equal gender split
- If Yahoo Mail users are an indicator of Yahoo search users demographics, Statista reports that 45-54 is the biggest age group, followed by 65+, and 54-64.
With less advertiser competition, you’re guaranteed to benefit from lower CPC costs on Yahoo than you’ll get with Google or Bing, and you’re likely to get more clicks. Targeting can be done by basic demographics, keywords and search phrases.
Globally, the most popular social platforms had the following number of monthly active users (MAU) as of January 2022:
Market share and demographics for social media continues to evolve.
In the United States in 2020, around 80% of the population used some form of social media. And in the US, YouTube just surpasses Facebook for reach.
Looking at social platform growth rates in the US, TikTok is set to overtake Instagram soon, although its exceptional growth rate is starting to plateau. Reddit is another one to note because despite having a smaller user base, it currently has above average growth in the US.
Most social media content is consumed in-app on mobile devices (around 80%), so it’s a given that most of your placements will be viewed on a mobile screen. However, we’ll look at mobile advertising networks separately.
For eCommerce marketers, social commerce allows in-app purchasing, a growing trend to leverage on aligned platforms.
See more interesting social media statistics for marketers.
Facebook Ads is ideal for creating demand in consumer-oriented FMCG marketing. However, it’s still somewhat popular with B2B users. A Hootsuite study found that 48.5% of B2B decision makers use Facebook for conducting research, and users do also go to Facebook for news to a lesser extent.
Facebook’s US user demographics tends towards Millennials as the biggest user group.
In the US (as of January 2021):
- 69% of the adult population has an account, exceeded only by YouTube usage.
- 54% of users are female.
- 49% of users visit several times per day.
The price of ads tends to be mid-range, whether you choose CPC or CPM. However, Facebook ad costs can vary widely depending on your audience, ad goals and the season.
The Average Click-Through Rate (CTR) for adverts on Facebook is 0.89%.
Powerful targeting and real-time reporting are provided plus a wide variety of ad placement options.
YouTube is the best-known video sharing platform globally. Launched in 2005 and acquired by Google in 2006, it has achieved steadfast popularity. It’s the second largest social platform in the world, but the largest in the US.
As a Google platform, YouTube videos can also rank highly in Google’s organic search results. Google Chrome features a video section on the first page of search results showcasing a selection of the most popular videos for the given keyword or search term.
YouTube has a relatively unique position in that it spans the age demographics rather evenly, also engaging those in older age brackets. In terms of gender, the global average is around 56% male and 44% female.
In the US specifically:
- 81% of adults use YouTube, out-performing Facebook for total US population reach.
- 54% of users are male.
- 77% of 15-35 year olds use YouTube, and represent the biggest demographic.
- 62% of users visit YouTube daily.
According to Google Ads, 70% of viewers bought from a brand after seeing video content on YouTube.
A range of YouTube ad placements are available and ad content doesn’t need to be in video format. Ad content can be pulled through from Google search campaigns rather than YouTube-specific campaigns.
Manage your video ads through a Google Ads account by linking your YouTube channel, which gives you access to powerful targeting and reporting tools. For the best results, create YouTube ads in video format. This does require some extra content investment.
In terms of YouTube ad costs, you’ll only pay when someone watches at least 30 seconds of a video or clicks on your TrueView ad. There’s no minimum investment required and you can start with a $10 daily budget. Learn more about YouTube pricing strategies
Read more YouTube statistics.
A Facebook company, Instagram advertising can be run from the Facebook Ad Manager or by promoting posts you’ve already shared from within the app. The third biggest social platform globally, it has just over 1 billion monthly active users.
- Read Half Past Nine's guide to Instagram Reels Advertising.
FMCG and B2C brand content performs well here, as does influencer content. Instagram isn’t typically used by users as a news source and generally performs better for brands using inspirational content opposed to factual content.
It attracts users with higher than average household incomes and higher-level education.
In the US:
- There are 159.75 million users (as of Jan 2022).
- 59% of users login daily.
- The gender balance swings in favor of females at 56%.
- The biggest age group is 25-34 year olds.
There are six types of Instagram advertising formats to choose from.
Launched in 2017, TikTok grew at a viral rate, mostly among teenagers and those in their 20s as the early adopters.
It is a harder channel for B2B brands to leverage effectively, although that’s not to say it can’t be done with a more personal and UGC approach. Bear in mind that today, 73% of people involved in the B2B buying process are Millennials, and 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions.
As of January 2022, it has 1 billion users globally and gender is almost evenly split with 53% male and 47% female.
In the US:
- There are 100 million active users.
- 47.4% of active users are aged between 10 and 29.
- Females notably outnumber males, with 61% of users being female.
- Most users are active multiple times daily.
On average, TikTok posts get the highest follower engagement rates out of all the social platforms. In terms of ad pricing, you can get started for as little as $20 with an ‘in-feed’ ad group daily budget. The TikTok Ad Manager user-experience and reporting capability is competitive.
LinkedIn Marketing Solutions is a B2B favorite for leveraging the world's biggest professional network. It’s a no-brainer for B2B ad strategies.
LinkedIn specializes in ad targeting by professional roles and company types right down to specific companies. This career-specific targeting is not available to anywhere near the same extent through other ad platforms.
It has around 822 million active global users as of Q1 2022, and users are more likely to have higher education and earn more than average. However, LinkedIn users are less likely to use this platform daily, with most logging in either weekly or monthly.
- Around 191 million users are in the US.
- Males outnumber female users at 57%.
- 37% of users are 46-55 years old, followed by 34% aged 36-45.
- 51% of US adults who have a bachelor’s or advanced degree say they use LinkedIn compared with 28% of those with only some college education (Pew Research Center).
For ad placements, LinkedIn requires a minimum bid of $2 for CPC and CPM campaigns. Given its niche reach into B2B audiences, it’s a more expensive platform to advertise on. Despite higher prices, B2B brands could see significantly higher ROAS here.
Pinterest Ads offer a more niche audience that’s ideal for eCommerce and female consumer audiences.
There are just over 400 million monthly active users, and the demographics are skewed towards mature females in the US:
- Up to 50% of all users are located in the US.
- Females make up around 76% of users.
- 38% of users are aged 50–64, followed by 34% of users aged 30-49 years old.
If that fits your target audience, Pinterest claims that 89% of their US audience use the platform for inspiration on their path to purchase. It boasts a higher conversion rate than most, with 50% of users having purchased an advertised product on the platform, and even more having purchased a product based on what they’ve seen from brands here.
However, it can prove a more time consuming platform to get results from given the hours needed to create ‘boards’.
Here are some more helpful Pinterest marketing insights.
Reddit Ads are available on this community platform where users share links, text posts, images, or videos, which other users can vote up or down. Posts are organized by subject into user-created boards called "communities" or “subreddits” and cover a wide variety of topics.
Reddit says they’re particularly popular with gamers, tech enthusiasts, TV & film buffs, sports enthusiasts and health-conscious visitors. You’ll be able to target users based on interests, location, by communities in ‘subreddits’ and devices.
Fresh user data for 2022 is elusive, but Reddit said they had 430 million active users as of 2020, and 222 million of those were in the US. This was a 30% increase on the year before. Views and the number of monthly comments had been growing too, with 52 million daily active users.
In the US (as of December 2020):
- 49% of all traffic came from the US, followed by the UK and Canada at 8% each.
- Users are estimated to be around 56%+ male.
- 58% of users are 18-34 years old.
Reddit requires a minimum ad budget of $5/day using their self-service ad platform, which isn’t particularly advanced. You’ll pay around $0.75 for CPM and can choose display ads, Sponsored Q&As, Link post, Text Post, or Video Post.
Twitter advertising gives you access to a male majority audience representing a whopping 70% of Twitter users. The use of hashtags is king here and makes it easy to find followers highly engaged with a topic.
Unlike other social platforms, getting current news is the top reason to use Twitter. A preference for factual content makes Twitter a better fit for B2B brands, not to say B2C brands shouldn’t use it.
There are around 396 million monthly active users globally:
- Most users are from the US at around 73 million, followed by Japan and then the UK.
- 61% are male.
- Popular with Gen Z users, 42% are aged 18-29, followed by 27% at 30-49 years.
Twitter users are more open to trying new products and engaging with brands. Ads tend to receive higher engagement, and it’s popular with B2B marketers also. It works particularly well for video content. Video-based ads represent good value at around 50% less cost per user engagement.
In terms of pricing, there’s no minimum required budget to get started. Promoted tweets are charged per user ‘action’ that you’ve chosen, such as when a user clicks your link. As always, ad costs can fluctuate greatly.
If you haven’t encountered Tumblr yet, this Automattic-owned company is a pop-culture micro blogging site where people follow topics of interest suited well to B2C or DTC brands. It also uses hashtags like Twitter, but offers far more freedom on content length and format. There are 7 different post types available; text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio and video.
As of February 2021, it had around 518 million registered users. Tumblr says that around 12.8 million blog posts are published daily.
- The US accounts for the vast majority of traffic at around 46% (followed by the UK at 5-6%).
- It has the most reach with Gen Z and Millennials (15-35 years).
- Gender is reported to be a 50/50 split in the US.
Tumblr ads are shown to users based on other content they view, created as sponsored posts, video posts, or ‘Sponsored Day’. You don’t get the level of targeting features or analytics that Google or Facebook’s ad manager tools provide. However, there are still basic targeting features like gender, location, and interests.
Tumblr is targeting big brands with its ad offering; the minimum investment is reportedly $25,000 and you’ll need to submit a request to get started.
Here are some more Tumblr statistics.
Quora Ads allows you to promote your brand on this popular question & answer community site. Users create both the question and answer content, they can vote on the helpfulness of answers, and follow topics that interest them. It lends itself better to B2B content, particularly if it can be posted by company thought leaders in a personal context focused on value-added knowledge sharing.
Quora attracts around 300 million monthly active users globally:
- Around 40% of traffic is from the US, followed by India at 12%.
- Quora says the gender ratio is in favor of females at 54%.
- This user base has above average education and income; 39% are in management positions and users are 45% more likely to be senior decision makers.
- The biggest age demographic is 18-24 at 45% of users.
Adverts can be targeted by topics or keywords, by audience demographics or behavior. Placements include text ads, image ads, promoted answers and Lead Gen forms. Optimize for conversions, clicks, or impressions, and see real-time reporting in the Ads Manager.
Required investment is low, with a minimum starting budget of $25.
Snapchat Ads utilizes a unique format of picture/video messaging and news. It shows photos or short videos for a limited time, which disappear after they have been viewed. However, they can also be screen-grabbed or use a replay option.
Snapchat has 238 million daily active users globally:
- Around 107 million of them are in the US.
- 48% of users are aged 15-25, followed by 30% at 26-35.
- 55% of users in the US are female.
If this is your demographic, content is low maintenance to produce and the ad platform also offers very low CPMs. It’s a cheap channel to get a large volume ‘top of the sales funnel’ views. The Ads Manager platform allows you to get started with as little as $5, and pricing can be optimized according to your goals. You’ll be able to target users by demographics, location, interests and behavior.
Houzz is a US community network specifically for home improvement, architecture and landscape design. Users can create image-based ‘ideabooks’ for inspiration, connect with suppliers and plan home renovations costs. Launched in 2009, Houzz states that it has around 40 million homeowners using its platform. Advertising is not automated/self-service on this platform, so you’ll need to get in touch with the customer support team to get started with advertising. Learn about marketing on Houzz.
Nextdoor connects people in the same neighborhoods and areas. Uses can share local news, tips, buy and sell items or promote businesses. Founded in 2010, Nextdoor claims to reach a quarter of US households and has around 10 million users. A range of ad formats and placements are available on their self-service ad center.
Display networks show display adverts - a graphic ad format featuring banner images, rich media or text. It’s usually referring to static banner ads or video ads, which appear in allocated placement areas on websites or social media.
If you’re not familiar with display networks, they’re online platforms that own and/or purchase advertising space from other ‘publishers’, which is known as ad inventory. Networks sell ad inventory to advertisers via self-service platforms.
Display networks use programmatic purchasing technology. Programmatic means that software is used to automate the process of pricing and buying ad inventory using real-time bidding (RTB). It can optimize your bid prices to get ads shown based on your chosen pricing model against other bids that are being placed at the given time. This improves cost efficiency, ROAS, and removes the time-consuming need to manage bids manually.
Display networks can have their own ad inventory to sell, they may have partnerships with third-party websites selling ad inventory, and may also buy/sell inventory from other ad exchanges too.
Ad exchanges are online platforms that facilitate the programmatic buying and selling of ad inventory from multiple publishers in larger volumes. The inventory can come directly from publishers and through connected ad networks. As an industry, it’s not exactly completely transparent how all the networks link up.
Outside the biggest display ad networks (Google AdSense and Facebook’s Audience Network), a demand-side platform (DSP) subscription is usually needed. DSPs refer to software that facilitates purchasing directly from ad exchanges, networks and publishers.
Theoretically, this removes the need to manage your ad purchasing individually on multiple publishers/networks/exchanges, saving time on campaign management. You can also better manage dynamic targeting and personalization across multiple platforms or ad networks.
Looking at the downsides of programmatic display networks, there are some issues in the form of ad-blocking software (used by 47% of internet users), third-party cookie blocking and inaccurate reporting due to bots. For example, in the first half of 2021, 64% of all internet traffic was bots, 39% of which were ‘bad’ bots. And with less control over where your ads appear, you might also receive undesirable ad placements and associations that don’t serve your brand. Nor will you have transparency on direct publisher prices if the network is purchasing inventory through an ad exchange.
As an SME business, if you only wish to advertise on a few specific platforms, it could be that managing your ads through the individual display networks makes most sense. They cater to smaller budgets and ad inventory requirements, plus they generally require less resources than DSP platforms, whether in-house or agency managed.
Here are the top ad exchanges, display networks, and then DSPs which give you access to their respective integrated ad exchanges.
OpenX is the world’s largest independent ad exchange, with 30,000 advertisers reaching nearly 1 Billion consumers globally with 100 Billion targeted ad requests each day. In the US, the unique consumers reach up to 250,000 million.
There are over 130,000 active publishing domains that OpenX works with to meet the advertisers’ ideal audience and they claim to have the highest quality standards in the industry. They offer first party data activation, PMP tools and premium omnichannel inventory.
OpenX works with Basis Technologies and theTradeDesk to name a few DSPs, but according to their website they are compatible with whatever DSP the advertisers are currently using. For pricing information you need to contact the website directly, no public information is available.
Read OpenX user reviews.
Applovin Exchange or ALX is a powerful platform with a focus on mobile and connected TV channels. With the acquisition and integration of MoPub (currently Applovin MAX) as their in-app bidding medium, ALX connects buyers to over 2 billion mobile devices globally.
As an advertiser you will have access to ALX’s omnichannel premium inventory through any of the 100+ DSPs they are compatible with.
Pricing information is not publicly available, however the RTB tool MAX buys the inventory programmatically on a per-impression basis.
Read ALX user reviews.
As touched upon in the search engine section, Yahoo operates a search and native ad network using its owned brands called Yahoo Native, but also has a group of display ad publishing partners.
Their owned publishing platforms are Yahoo, AOL, and TechCrunch. Their publishing partners include ESPN, ABC News, Apple News (in select locations), and MSN, among others. They say they serve 2 billion ad impressions a day to 1 billion monthly active users.
In addition to the Yahoo Native platform, Yahoo AdTech offers a DSP platform, giving more advanced access to Yahoo & Microsoft properties, plus their premium native marketplace of partners. Pricing information for this platform is not publicly available, and is suited to larger advertisers. However, you can get started on the Yahoo AdTech network with as little as $5.
Read Yahoo AdTech DSP.
Index Exchange is a programmatic advertising platform that connects every involved party in its systems. It has solutions designed for publishers, advertisers and DSPs. According to the website, Index offers premium omnichannel inventory through its partnerships with the world’s most trusted media owners.
The platform proudly offers placements for “any ad format, on any screen”; including display, CTV, native, video and mobile apps.
Index Exchange partners with over 150 DSPs, meaning you can most likely use the ad exchange with your preferred DSP with no compatibility issues. Pricing information is not publicly available.
Display Ad Networks
Google's ad exchange allows the advertiser to manage ad campaigns across multiple channels from Google Ads to YouTube and Google’s Display Network.
As an advertiser, you have access to Google’s display network through the Ad Manager. There are over 2 million websites in the Google Display Network (GDN). They have, of course, been screened by Google before inclusion in the network. Your display ads will be shown on the most relevant sites based on the user demographics and targeting you have chosen.
You have the option to manage the bidding manually or let the platform manage the bids for you. Google provides automated bidding strategies depending on your goals. There’s no budget requirement to get started on Google Ads.
Adsterra is an ad network with self-service functionality, offering banner advertising among other formats such as pop-under, native and pre-roll video. Ecommerce is one of their main industry verticals. They have 18,000+ publishers in their network and serve 1 billion ad impressions a day.
The minimum deposit for advertisers is $100 and there’s no license fee, and there are some minimum bid prices in place to note.
Read Adsterra user reviews.
Media.net is a smaller programmatic advertising network that offers a network of ‘premium’ publishers with a particular focus on blogging websites and delivering contextually relevant ads.
You benefit from their relationships with DSPs, Agency Trading Desks, Horizontal Networks, Vertical Networks, Performance Networks, AMPs and DMPs. They’re also partnered with platforms such as Facebook Audience Network, and most network traffic is from the US, Canada and the UK.
Media.net manages ad supply on over 500,000 websites. They currently manage traffic that generates 70+ million ad clicks each month. Pricing information is not publicly available.
Read Media.net user reviews.
Adform is an independent modern marketing advertising platform that offers DSP and SSP solutions with over 2,000 global clients. In 2022, Adform’s DSP was awarded the “Best DSP” by Adweek Reader’s Choice.
Adform offers cross media activation via FLOW, which uses augmented reality to “amplify business results”. With this, advertisers can utilize programmatic and direct buying with campaign reporting and optimization for channels such as display, audio, video and CTV.
Adform provides access to inventory through its 100+ partners. Pricing information is not publicly available.
Read Adform DSP user reviews.
TheTrade Desk is the world’s leading independent demand-side platform (DSP) that enables advertisers to access and buy digital advertising inventory across “every channel and device” in real-time.
The DSP platform offers a range of sophisticated targeting and optimization features that help advertisers reach their desired audiences more effectively, including cross-device targeting and multiple buying models.
The Trade Desk has become known for its commitment to transparency. With OpenPath, TheTradeDesk’s transparency pipeline, advertisers can access premium inventory directly from the platform and have a direct representation of how the media dollars bring value with each purchase.
As a guideline keep in mind that the minimum monthly spend starts at 100K, but for specific info you would need to set up an account.
Formerly known as the Rubicon Project, Magnite was born after a 2020 merger that combined Rubicon’s experience as a programmatic exchange and Telaria’s extensive CTV capabilities. Today, it is the “world’s largest independent sell-side platform (SSP)”, working with thousands of publishers; but it also serves advertisers as an omnichannel supply partner.
To advertisers, Magnite offers a programmatic advertising marketplace where they can buy inventory for display, video, audio, and connected TV (CTV) advertising. Pricing information is not publicly available.
Beeswax DSP is a programmatic advertising platform offering real-time bidding, audience targeting and optimization tools for inventory across various channels such as display, video and CTV. The platform creates custom algorithms and data models for each ad campaign which provides transparency and control over the campaign materials
One of the unique aspects of Beeswax is that it allows you to build your own programmatic advertising platform using its infrastructure called Baas (Bidder-as-a-service) which allows for greater customization.
Since there is a personalized aspect to the service Beeswax provides, pricing varies and you would need to contact an expert on the website.
Read Beeswax user reviews.
For ecommerce advertisers, Amazon Advertising offers a range of advertising services, including display ads. A self-service option lets you advertise on a smaller scale within Amazon, however they also cater to larger budgets with a more advanced DSP. It’s an ideal place to reach shoppers who are on Amazon with a high intent to purchase.
Amazon’s DSP solution enables advertisers to programmatically buy display, video, and audio ads both on and off Amazon. And you don’t need to sell products on Amazon to use it. Amazon has publishing partners and connects to third-party ad exchanges to give you reach. However, the Amazon DSP service requires a minimum spend of $15,000 (may vary by country).
For Sponsored Display ads, there is no minimum ad investment required and you can set daily bid and budget limits.
Read Amazon DSP user reviews.
AdCritter is a DSP especially designed for small businesses, putting self-service programmatic advertising within reach of smaller budgets who want to reach audiences beyond Google and Facebook.
The platform features an ad builder with pre-designed templates or user-friendly design functionality. There’s audience-based targeting functionality with over 200,000 audience characteristics to choose from, including geo-targeting, and automated optimized targeting. You can also select website categories, or even favorite websites, where you want your ads to appear.
AdCritter can place your ads across the entire internet ecosystem, with functionality to automatically place them on the sites that generate the best results. With AdCritter’s connection to ‘all the major ad exchanges’, you’ll still get competitive pricing for your ad placements.
Start with a 30-day free trial, and progress to a Standard subscription plan for $149 per month (doesn’t include ad budget).
Read AdCritter user reviews.
Choozle lets advertisers plan, buy, execute, and measure ad campaigns from one platform. Using self-service programmatic functionality, its reach gives you access to an impressive 98% of online ad inventory and 40+ ad exchange networks. They serve ads on premium ad networks like MoPub, OpenX, Google Display Network, Yahoo, AppNexus and Yahoo.
Choozle supports multiple ad formats, including display, video, mobile and native. With cross-device and cross-channel targeting functionality, they offer the flexibility to use first-part or third-party data to create campaigns for custom audiences composed of your most valuable users. There are 60+ third-party data providers you can plug in. You can also target specific locations, or web content and page categories.
They have a starter Growth subscription plan for $99 per month and no minimum ad spend required, for “Liberated digital advertising for everyone”.
Read Choozle user reviews.
SharpSpring Ads provides cross-device retargeting ads for ecommerce across web, mobile, Facebook and Twitter. It will help you set up targeted and personalized product or shopping ads. You can integrate your Shopify store and use the self-service Dynamic Ad Builder to automatically create relevant ads from your products.
In terms of pricing, the self-service platform is free as long as you spend $100 per month, and there’s no set-up fee. A 14-day free trial is available and you’ll get $100 free credit too.
SharpSpring Ads say: “Set your own campaign budgets and spend as much or as little as you like! We charge on a CPM basis and all campaigns are prepaid for self-service customers.”
For ecommerce brands, AdRoll helps you reach customers as they browse the web, use social media, and in their email inbox. It offers a centralized platform to access ad inventory from Google, Facebook, Instagram, and another 500 suppliers.
Working with over 12,000 brands, they say they ‘predict online shopper behavior and ad and store performance better than anyone’. Their machine-learning platform uses data from billions of customers’ interactions with hundreds of thousands of brands to make better ad placement recommendations.
You can use the Starter version of the platform for ‘free’, or get advanced features on the Growth subscription plan from $19 per month. Get a 30-day free trial for the Growth plan.
Read AdRoll user reviews.
Criteo helps you accurately target and re-engage more of your customer base with dynamic paid display ads across web, mobile browsers, connected TV (CTV) and apps. Particularly well-suited to ecommerce, Criteo offers a programmatic ad platform that lets you run, manage and analyze your ad campaigns.
Criteo say that 20,000 marketers use the platform. Pricing information is not publicly available.
Part of the Shopify Plus partner program, Criteo says: “Gain access to the best ad inventory available. With thousands of the world's top publishers in our open Commerce Marketing Ecosystem, you get better placements across leading sites.”
Read Criteo user reviews.
Basis DSP solution (formerly Centro) unifies programmatic, search, social, direct, and advanced TV in a single interface. You get built in business intelligence, automation tools, search and social integrations, including Facebook, LinkedIn and AdWords.
They provide access to 50+ ad exchanges and inventory from 11,000 publishers, and there are 25,000+ audience segments to drill into. Over $1 billion of marketing activity has been activated through Basis in the last 3 years. Pricing information is not publicly available.
Basis says: “Plan, buy, and optimize your omni-channel campaign using the #1 rated DSP on G2 Crowd.”
Read Basis user reviews.
More Display Platforms:
Smaato - This ad exchange reaches 1.3 billion monthly unique users, and also offers a DSP for advertisers. “Manage and optimize campaigns for any device with the Smaato Marketer Solution. Reach quality audiences worldwide and deliver hyper-relevant experiences with contextual targeting optimization.”
AdCash - With banner, push, pop-under, interstitial, native and autotag ad formats, Adcash is a global self-serve online advertising platform for media buyers, affiliates, ad networks and publishers.
AdMaven - This digital display advertising network provides access to 2 billion daily impressions worldwide. AdMaven offers self-service, managed CPA with auto optimization, or programmatic endpoint integration. Supported ad formats are banner, push, pop-under and interstitial.
AdRecover - Use AdRecover to target ad-blocked users (mostly Millennials) with permission-enabled ads. AdRecover lets you show non-intrusive static/text ads.
Ads Compass - This ad network offers in-page, push, pop and native ad formats, with a user-friendly dashboard and customer support. “Having our own Ad Exchange and Self-Served Platform, we are able to provide all our partners multiple options to collaborate.”
Epsilon - Epsilon maintains the industry’s largest set of pseudo-anonymous consumer data, providing complete views of 200 million real people across their online and offline activity. They offer a network of 1.1 million websites, a private in-app exchange and provide access to nearly every RTB ad exchange and social media publishers.
Marin Software - “Marin has helped advertisers manage over $40 billion in search, social and eCommerce ad spend, in the process identifying three principles for growth.”
Exoclick - Access the world's largest entertainment inventory from one single platform, with a premium marketplace for top Alexa sites. Buy on their RTB platform, with multiple ad formats available beyond just display advertising, including push, native, interstitial and pop-unders.
JuicyAds - A provider of banner ads and pop-under on entertainment websites - perfect for promoting video games, gambling, mobile apps, and webcams. They ‘service a wide range of websites including Tubes/Video, Hentai/Anime/Toon, Gaming, and Social Networks’.
NativeAds - “Our demand-side platform makes it simple to launch strategic native, display, video, and retargeting ad campaigns at scale. Choose self-service or have one of our talented marketing experts handle everything for you with our managed option.”
PlugRush - “Receive high quality traffic through deep targeting and automatic optimization from thousands of websites.” Buy display ads, push notifications, pop-under or native formats.
PropellerAds - PropellerAds is a display and mobile ad network with a self-service platform and automated ad optimization, providing access to a billion users. With push, pop-under and native interstitial formats, use beginner-friendly and pro-level tools to deliver your desktop and mobile ads to your target audience.
Vibrant Media - Vibrant Media are focussed on contextual targeting and highly viewable advertising that is relevant to what people are viewing at the moment.
In-App Mobile Advertising
In-App advertising is, as the name suggests, when adverts are shown within mobile apps. The app developer gets paid per click to serve ads to its users. In-app display advertising can be effectively delivered through self-service social or Google Ads. However, you can go down the DSP route too, with some specializing in mobile app inventory.
Websites are still predominantly accessed by desktop, accounting for around 56% of their traffic. However, with low opt-in rates for website tracking cookies (which usually only work short-term) on top of online ad blockers, website display ads compare less favorably to in-app ads. In-app advertising uses device ID’s to track users, capturing far more accurate and detailed data, right down to GPS locations. Plus, a mobile device ID is generally active for 21 months on average.
Although smartphone ownership is highest in the younger age demographics (at least 93% of Millennials), 2019 research showed that smartphone usage is high across the age demographics. 68% of baby boomers (aged 53-73) owned a smartphone, and 59% were using social media. People aged 65+ actually only spend a third of their digital media time on desktops.
From the average 4 hours people spend using mobile devices daily, 88% of that time is spent within apps.
The Apple App Store has around 1.96 million apps available to download at the moment, and Google Play Store has even more at 2.87 million. See the most popular apps globally and by country, going by number of downloads in 2020 alone.
Facebook Audience Network Ads
Facebook Audience Network Ads lets you run your ads on thousands of mobile apps outside Facebook through third-party apps who’ve signed up to their ad network. Since March 2020, the Facebook Audience Network only supports in-app advertising. Big brand partners include apps like Tinder and Voodoo. It’s like they purchase from other networks too, acting as a third-party.
You can use Facebook’s powerful targeting capabilities and campaign objective tools, run retargeting campaigns, or reach more people who don’t have a Facebook account. Choose from native, rewarded video and interstitial ad formats.
Although the Audience Network reports lower click-through rates, the lower costs reflect that. CPM prices on Facebook Audience Network over 2020 were around 32% cheaper than Facebook and Instagram newsfeed ads.
Given lower click-through rates resulting in generally higher customer acquisition costs, the audience network works best as a supplement to Facebook or Instagram ads, giving you more audience reach.
Google AdMob is a mobilead network for app developers who want to earn money showing ads on their app. It supports the following ad formats: native, rewarded, banner, video, and interstitial ads. Google AdMob says that it’s used by 81% of the top 1,000 Android apps, 1 million + apps, and 1 million + Google advertisers.
As an advertiser, you can access the AdMob network by choosing to target mobile users in the standard Google Ad Manager. If you wish to advertise your own app, you can also use Google Ads to create an App campaign.
Google uses machine learning to optimize your app ad campaigns for you, including placements and bids. Google decides where your app ad will be shown in its network of properties.Your ads could appear across Google Search, Google Play, YouTube, Discover, and over 3 million third-party sites and apps.
Apple Search Ads
Apple Search Ads is currently only for businesses with an iOS app already listed in the Apple Store. Apple says that 70% of App Store visitors use the search function to find apps, 65% of app downloads occur directly after a search, and the average conversion rate of app search ads is 50%.
Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) update controversially blocked other ad platforms from collecting most Apple user data for the purposes of ad targeting. Consequently, Facebook in particular has lost a huge chunk of app ad installs to Apple Search Ads, which accounted for 58% of all iPhone app downloads from advert clicks by September 2021. As a result, Apple Search Ads was by far the fastest growing ad network of 2021, radically outstripping the growth of any other network since it implemented the ATT framework.
Use Apple Search Ads Basic with ‘intelligent automation’ functionality, for budgets up to $10,000 per app per month. Or use Apple Search Ads Advanced to manage your own campaigns. Choose your keywords and audiences, and set your own bids and budgets. You pay when a user taps your ad. Detailed reports let you track key metrics, and their APIs help you measure value and manage at scale.
Samsung Ads offers you access to their huge user base for Samsung mobile device (as well as their Smart TVs and CTV).
Samsung is the biggest marketshare holder for Android devices at approximately 34% of the global market. There were over 3 billion active Android mobile devices globally - that's double the amount of Apple mobile devices, so Samsung accounts for around 1 billion Android users. Samsung’s market share in the US was 24% as of April 2021.
You can access their audience via Direct IO, Private Marketplace, or the Samsung DSP. Unlike Apple, any advertiser can access their network, not just app developers.
You'll need to contact Samsung to set up an account and get started.
SmartyAds is an ad exchange suitable for SMEs, with a user-friendly Mobile Advertising DSP available, and a self-service option. Their network extends beyond mobile advertising, however you’ll have access to 20k+ mobile apps here in addition to 25K + premium publishers.
The SmartyAds platform lets you deliver a variety of mobile ad formats on a RTB purchasing CPM basis, with audience targeting including GEO, OS, IP, timing, device type, and more.
SmartyAds says: “The self-service ad platform doesn’t require a certain sum of money for the campaign to start, however, it is advisable to make the minimum deposit ($1000) to maintain your ability to bid and compete for the best inventory.”
Read SmartyAds user reviews.
Epom Ad Server
For programmatic purchasing, the Epom DSP is available for a flat tech fee of $2,000. Connect your DSP to Epom Ad Exchange, and you’ll be able to access ‘exclusive mobile and in-app inventory that is hard to find elsewhere’.
The Bidding Autopilot feature automates bidding optimization for you, keeping you away from underperforming traffic sources. Choose the advertising goals that you want to achieve like CTR, CPA or CR, and see real-time analytics. Varied ad formats are available and are easily customized for mobile and in-app campaigns.
Read Epom user reviews.
Use it to reach your exact targeted audience at the lowest possible cost with automated bidding powered by BidQ™ Deep Learning Technology. It includes a creative platform to help you design high impact, mobile-first ad formats, and enables ‘enterprise-grade’ API integrations with over 15 partners. Pricing information is not publicly available.
Read Inmobi user reviews.
Airnow Media (formerly Airpush) offers programmatic advertising within their mobile display network. Established in 2011, it allows you to target over 100 million monthly active users across 300,000+ apps. They state they have run over 47,500 ad campaigns to date, and TikTok is one of the major publishers they have partnered with.
Their DSP allows programmatic buyers to bid on Airnow Media inventory via real-time bidding, giving you access to more than 800,000 publishers. A managed service is available, or self-service for ‘the advanced marketer & agencies who prefer to have complete control’. The DSP also offers event analysis functionality, to help you remarket to users most likely to re-engage. Pricing information is not publicly available.
More In-App Networks & Platforms:
AdColony - “With a direct supply of almost 450 million users and a total reach of more than 1.5 billion, AdColony is the trusted source of in-app inventory for brands where direct supply and programmatic expertise combine to create true advertiser success.”
Affle - This ‘end-to-end’ platform helps you acquire new customers, and has reached over 2 billion mobile devices to date. They enable mobile advertisers to acquire users at scale, across directly integrated publishers, programmatic platforms, and relevant app recommendations.
Bidease - “Bidease is the only mobile DSP that provides advertisers with access to the entire mobile ecosystem through the world’s most popular mobile publishers and exchanges.”
Mediasmart - Use Mediasmart’s DSP, a self-serve mobile programmatic platform that provides an integrated mobile advertising solution. It has “unique capability of measuring incremental metrics in real-time for Proximity and App marketing campaigns”.
Spotify - Spotify serves audio and video ads to your audience while they’re on the app, whether they’re listening to music or podcasts.
start.io - “With the support of Start.io’s mobile data expertise and partnerships with publishers and DSPs across the global app ecosystem, you can reach your precise audience and maximize your marketing ROI.”
Tapjoy - "We make it easy for advertisers to connect with exclusive audiences in the world’s most popular mobile games and apps.”
Taptica - “We serve all mobile goals and cover every publisher source type, so that we can connect you with your ideal audience.”
myAppFree - Grow your app by finding the right users. “It’s very easy: set up your promotional campaigns in a few clicks, choose a cost per install and you are ready to go.”
Liftoff - “Engage more users with your app. Discover and engage high-quality audiences you couldn’t reach before through our extensive ad network. By working with our team of creative experts, you’ll get more eyes on your app.”
Unity - “Unity User Acquisition solutions enable you to easily run ad campaigns and be seen by millions every day on apps and games. A diverse ad supply, advanced targeting tools, insightful analytics, and self-serve dashboards help you manage your campaigns and profitably scale your app or game.”
Native advertising is when ad content matches the look and format of the organic content surrounding it, following the style of the particular website or social platform. So native ads look like an organic part of the page rather than an advert.
It typically looks like search results, newsfeed posts, content or product recommendations. Sponsored content can be purchased programmatically in some cases. Paid editorial is another example, although it is usually arranged directly with media publications rather than purchased programmatically.
Native is an increasingly popular ad format thanks to its effectiveness at engaging users. Native ad spend in the US is expected to increase 21% in 2021 to $57 billion (eMarketer). Research shows that:
- Consumers look at native ads 52% more frequently than banner ads
- Purchase intent is 53% higher for native ads
Native advertising is also increasingly purchased with programmatic buying and the use of DSPs.
Discover some more fascinating native marketing statistics!
Taboola lets you access ‘premium publishers’ at scale using native ‘sponsored’ content or video ad formats combined with programmatic buying functionality.
With a focus on high-brow editorial sites and exclusive partnerships, their network includes publisher websites like Business Insider, USA Today, Bloomberg and more. Monthly, they serve 360 billion ads to 1.4 billion people across the web. With 10,000 premium publishers, you can reach 44.5% of global internet traffic.
The Taboola platform gives you user behavior insights, and lets you create native ads with flexible creative tools for a variety of native ad formats. You also get to control where your ads are served and what surrounds them. The self-service option is available for an ad budget of just $10 per day, however they recommend starting with $50.
Taboola say: “Taboola’s Smart Bid feature takes the guesswork out of manual bid adjustments in order to ensure that advertisers are getting their most effective placements at the lowest cost.”
Read Taboola user reviews.
Microsoft Audience Network
The Microsoft Search Network show search ads on Bing and partner search sites, and also through Windows 10, Cortana and Office. Search partners include the Verizon Media brands - Yahoo, MSN and AOL.
However, Microsoft’s advertising offering also includes native ads through the Microsoft Audience Network. Cross-device ads are delivered through third-party platforms, which could include Amazon’s devices, web results for Siri, Spotlight Search on Apple devices, maps on thousands of websites, and brands like Fox Business and CBS Sports. Microsoft says: “Connect with millions across devices through high-quality native ad placements and IAS certified brand-safe properties.”
With Microsoft, there’s no minimum fee to get started and you can sign up for free. You only pay for clicks, and can manage your ad budgets on a daily basis. You’ll get better ROI than Google with Microsoft ads, with lower click costs and users more likely to click, compensating for smaller search volumes.
Voluum DSP is a platform to run native ads with a CPM price model on 20+ networks, all managed from one platform. Networks connected with the Voluum DSP include Taboola, Smaato, PubNative, and a number of other well known and high volume ad exchanges. Voluum also offers a private marketplace for the highest premium publishers and placements.
Buy programmatically and automate inventory bidding based on your pricing preference, whether it’s CPC, CPA or more. Targeting capability allows you to promote your ad on sites related to specific topics, powered by deep learning capabilities. There’s also real-time reporting to help you optimize campaign performance.
Access to the platform is free, although they have self-service or managed plan options. For self-service, you just need a $500 initial top up, and there’s no minimum monthly ad spend.
OutBrain is focussed on native ‘recommendation’ ad content for the open web. It delivers 344 billion recommendations monthly. It can help you reach ‘one-third of the world's consumers engaging with content’, and also claims to have 62% cheaper CPCs than Facebook.
Purchase inventory directly from the Outbrain Amplify platform, or programmatically via the DSP of your choice. Outbrain Amplify functionality includes auto-optimizing of bids for your campaign goals, whether conversions, CPA, or ROAS. You can target new audiences similar to your top existing customers, re-target, and use first or third-party data to reach your most relevant audience. Outbrain also offers their own programmatic DSP solution, Zemanta.
OutBrain’s minimum budget for a campaign is $10/day or $300/month, and the minimum cost per click (CPC) is $0.03.
RevContent is a native content ad network that says it’s for businesses of all sizes. They offer a self-service advertising platform to provide granular targeting & audience optimization tools, real-time reporting and access to their network of premium publishers. Choose your websites and ad placements, devices and OS, right down to audience zip codes. Pricing information is not publicly available.
Read RevContent user reviews.
Zillow is a US real estate marketplace, where people can buy and sell their homes. It’s free for users to list a home for sale or rent. Zillow for brands reaches customers across the nation’s largest real estate network, claiming two-thirds of the market share in online real estate. With native advertising solutions for brand advertisers, you can reach 201 million monthly unique users.
Zillow’s native ad network comprises Zillow, Trulia, StreetEasy and HotPads. Use their native programmatic platform to automate and optimize your ad bidding for enhanced cost effectiveness. Get started with a minimum campaign investment of $15,000.
More Native Ad Networks & Platforms:
AdBlade - Native formats and content advertising is a strong focus for this network, although display ads are also available.
AdNow - This native advertising network is connected with 160,000 publishers, serving 1 billion daily content recommendations.
Bidtellect - A DSP for native advertising that maintains an ecosystem of native inventory with over 5 billion auctions per day.
Dianomi - “The native ad platform for business and finance.” Adverts are served on premium publications, using technology to secure placements alongside contextually relevant editorial content. It is used by brands in financial services, technology and corporate sectors.
Earnify - A DSP, “Earnify is connected to all major native advertising networks”.
EngageYa - “With our native advertising platform you control and manage every aspect of your inventory to maximize ad revenue potential.”
Evadav - Evadav offers native, push, in-page and pop-under ad formats, and serves 2+ billion impressions per day. “We offer bespoke technology, a 24-7 client care service with dedicated account managers, and a wide range of ad formats and payment options to suit you.”
MGID - A native advertising and programmatic platform, their network includes 23k+ content websites with 850 million unique monthly visitors.
Nativo - Reach millions of consumers with native articles. “Nativo’s high-performing and exclusive formats tell powerful brand stories and build meaningful connections across the consumer journey. Available through our managed service, programmatic deals and self-service offerings.”
redirect.com - Redirect.com allows clients to buy or sell traffic through a real-time bid system. Purchase native, email, display, pop, domain, RON traffic and more.
Runative - This programmatic native and push ad network offers a self-serve platform where advertisers can start running campaigns with a budget as low as $100.
TrippleLift - “TripleLift has built a portfolio of modern ad products. From our roots in Native programmatic ads, we have expanded into Display, Branded Content, Video and Television. Integrated with the nearly all of world’s top DSPs to provide you with easy access to the most engaging advertising experiences across formats and platforms.”
The advertising landscape is truly extensive, and we haven’t touched on the vast selection of online media publishers and independent publications yet, from news and industry verticals to entertainment. It’s not practical to list out individual media publishers across industry niches.
However, here are some further selected examples of other ad networks, platforms and publishers you can find out there.
Connected TV (CTV) + Streaming
Google Ads - In your video campaign targeting, include TV in the devices category to access users on TVs that stream YouTube content, reaching video game consoles, smart TVs (such as Apple TV), and Chromecast.
Google Display & Video 360 - For enterprise advertisers, this campaign manager tool offers capacity to plan , buy and measure CTV campaigns.
Amazon Advertising - "Our video advertising solutions combine first-party insights, measurement capabilities, exclusive inventory and priority access to third-party content through Amazon Publisher Direct. Use Streaming TV ads and online video ads to engage audiences through an expansive supply of quality streaming content, on streaming TV and across the web."
Apple TV - Like the App Store, Apple TV advertising is restricted to developers with an Apple TV app that they want to promote. (The best way to target Apple TV users is through iOS apps most popular with Apple TV users.)
Samsung Ads - Reach global audiences at home on their Samsung Smart TVs and CTV.
Criterio - "Combine video advertising with performance capabilities to reach and convert consumers across CTV, OTT, and online video."
StackAdapt - "Plan, execute, and analyze your programmatic campaigns in all ad formats on a single platform. Our multi-channel offering allows you to integrate CTV ads into your full-funnel campaigns with confidence and ease."
SmartyAds - Appeal to larger audiences on a cross-screen programmatic platform specially tailored for multiple types of video ads. Build your own creative library with engaging desktop, mobile, in-app, and CTV ad units.
TheTradeDesk - Reach users on CTV, through video, audio, and public spaces. Access a marketplace of 225+ partners, from Fox News to Spotify.
Amobee - "We support planning, activation and optimization for omnichannel campaigns, with a deep reservoir of CTV in our marketplace."
Magnite - "We offer a flexible and scalable solution to access premium television, including live sports on CTV."
VDX TV - “Magnify the magic of your TV/Video ads from the TV to every household member's personal device screens.”
BuySellAds - BuySellAds are focussed on niche tech audiences. “We make it easy to connect with tech audiences at scale. Reach developers, designers, early adopters, crypto enthusiasts, and other tech-savvy audiences in a single platform.”
Capterra - Capterra is a search and review platform for B2B software, with 5 million business software buyers visiting Capterra every month. Advertise to highly engaged business users with a PPC model.
Slashdot Media - Slashdot Media is a global leader in professional B2B & technology communities. Their properties include SourceForge.net, slashdot.org, VoIPReview.org, wirefly.com and MyRatePlan.com - among others. These websites provide comparison tools, reviews, software, and forums where business and IT professionals evaluate and make intelligent decisions on IT solutions, and connect with technology sellers. Advertising options include display, native and email marketing.
Gourmet Ads - Gourmet Ads is the first ad network 100% committed to the food and wine verticals. With managed services and programmatic options, they use their own proprietary ad serving technology, integrated on Appnexus infrastructure and with major SSPs. Access their network of 1,700+ websites and 55 million + users.
Commission Factory - Specialized in affiliate marketing, they connect affiliates to brands and brands to customers. Their platform integrates with all of the major shopping carts and tag management software.
Performcb - “We specialize in generating consistent, quality customer acquisitions at high volumes through exclusive affiliate channels on native, mobile, social, email, contextual, SMS, and search placements."
Specialized Ad Formats - Audio, Pop Ups + Forms
TheTradeDesk - Reach users through CTV, video, audio, and public spaces. Access a marketplace of 225+ partners, from Fox News to Spotify.
SXM Media - Buy audio, video and podcast advertising, connecting you to the largest share of the US podcast audience. Podcast advertising is a digital audio platform reaching 104 million educated, affluent and mobile listeners every month.
Brave Ads - Brave Ads are supported on Brave VPN Browser. “As consumers browse, they are presented Push Notifications featuring the brand name, a call to action that drives the user to the advertiser’s desired landing page, and a click-through URL.”
Opt-Intelligence - Opt-Intelligence are specialized in serving form-fill ads to enhance your lead generation and/or grow your email subscriber list. No landing pages necessary!
RichAds - Using push, pop or native ad formats, reach new audiences and conversions with RichAds, a global self-serve ad network with 4 billion + ad impressions per day.
PopAds - “PopAds is simply the best paying advertising network specialized in pop-unders on the Internet. We guarantee you that no other pop-under ad network will pay better than us!”
Do you need support with your online advertising strategy? Half Past Nine is a Performance Media and Marketing Intelligence specialist offering a white-glove service perfectly tailored to our individual clients. We work with a select group of brands ready to invest in maximum results from an ad budget in accelerated timeframes. Get in touch with us and we’ll be delighted to discuss the possibilities.
What To Read Next:
- Audit your PPC agency with 5 important metrics.
- Learn how to more accurately track the results of brand awareness campaigns.
- For B2B brands: Optimize your content distribution strategy.
Upgrade Your Online Advertising Strategy: The Best Advertising Platforms in 2023
Are we in recession? Is stagflation setting in? How much worse is it going to get? Should you still be advertising in a recession?
Good news. Economic dips don't mean brands need to experience a corresponding contraction. You could even strengthen your business to reach new heights, if equipped with the right knowledge and growth mindset.
Cycles in the economy are nothing new. There are brands that come out on top every single time. Almost any situation offers opportunities if you can identify and respond to them. Ultimately, marketing is not a cost, it’s an essential operating investment.
So unless your business is nearing the point of collapse, firmly push your CFO’s hand away from the nuclear button. Give them reassurance that your business is going to get through any challenges just fine, if you collectively keep your heads and play it smart. No short-sighted and damaging knee-jerk reactions.
Here’s what you need to know about marketing in a recession. I’ve included plenty of great examples from brands that proved the case in point during the financial crisis (aka The Great Recession, December 2007 - June 2009).
What Happens When Brands Reduce Marketing Budget?
Drastically cutting off the marketing budget should only ever be an option if it’s literally a matter of company survival. Why?
- Customer Bleed - Less brand visibility and engagement with existing customers and potential sales leads puts you out of mind. Apart from any particularly loyal customers or financially unaffected target segments you may have, customers are quick to switch to competitors that are marketing to their current needs. For example, it was found that up to 75% of consumers tried new brands during the pandemic. Any savings you make cutting marketing budget is likely to be outstripped by a loss of customers switching to other brands. B2B projects or contracts last longer, but new projects, scope extensions or contract renewals could decrease as a result.
- Market Share Costs More to Recoup Later - Your brand's share of voice and mind, brand equity and market share all depend on sustained marketing activity. A 2022 study found that most brands are already under-spending on marketing, depressing their ROIs by a median of 50%. Additional media cuts on budgets that are already proportionally low will be disproportionately counter productive as a result. Given that more advertising competition during growth periods drives up CPC and CPM prices, it would require increased spending to build back to previous ROI levels after activity is paused. (ROAS and brand awareness always have a lag period.)
- Long-term Growth Contraction - Research found that brands going ‘off-air’ can expect to lose 2% of their long-term revenue each quarter. And a 2018 research study found that stopping advertising for a year resulted in sales revenue declining by 16% on average, compounded to a 25% decline after 2 years. The effect hit smaller firms hardest. When media efforts resume, it takes around 3-5 years to recover the resulting equity losses. So to summarize, any short-term underinvestment in marketing can put your brand at a longer-term disadvantage that won’t financially balance out.
On the other hand, your brand stands to benefit if you maintain brand awareness.
- Increased Market Share + Revenue: Brands that keep advertising during recession can see up to 5% increases in market share. Translated to sales, businesses that advertise aggressively during recession have seen sales 256% higher than those that ceased advertising. Growing a successful brand in a declining market is actually easier than growing it in a very competitive one, which is why so many of today’s big brands successfully launched during recessions.
- Greater Brand Visibility For Less - A number of companies (who haven’t read this article) will pull back on marketing investment during a recession. This reduction in competition drives down ad placement costs. It means brands still advertising can quickly gain share of voice for the same investment. This is where share of voice exceeds the corresponding share of market. In the 2008 recession, advertising expenditure dropped by 13% yet statistics showed 3.5x more brand visibility for companies and organizations that maintained their marketing output. Excess Share of Voice (ESOV) is the name for this key metric where you stand to gain ground.
However, that’s not to say you should just continue as is and expect to maintain or improve your results. On the contrary.
A 2010 study of how businesses performed during the financial crisis found that 9% had come out in even better shape than before. The businesses that did best had deployed a mix of tactics to reduce costs while still investing in growth strategies best suited to the recession and post-recession periods. Firms that dramatically cut back on everything performed the worst.
Looking specifically at marketing spend, you should be looking at ways to trim unnecessary fat and make your budget work more effectively, for greater ROAS and overall marketing ROI. This may require some mix of budget reallocation, shifts in audience targeting and redefined messaging.
We’ll spend the rest of this article looking at exactly what that means, giving you inspiration for how your brand can approach recession marketing for growth.
The Primary Challenge Is Changing Customer Behavior
When it comes to marketing in a recession, your fundamental challenge is changing customer behavior. Recessions trigger a scarcity mindset which alters buying behaviors. Demand could contract but often shifts to different places; it’s not that spending always stops but rather the way money is spent that changes.
That typically includes:
- Limiting discretionary purchases or postponing projects.
- Shifting to cheaper or more cost-effective alternatives.
- Seeking more utility.
- Seeking out promotions and spending more in value channels.
If customer behavior is changing, your marketing approach also needs to change accordingly. Your marketing strategies need to meet customers where they are and where they want to be.
Analyze how your particular customer segments respond to recession.
- How is customer purchasing behavior changing?
- Are your customers purchasing other alternatives instead?
- What are the main trends of reasoning and decision-making behind any purchasing changes?
- Are any new customer segments opening up to you based on your brand’s offering and competitive positioning?
Sufficiently understanding this is the key to everything else we’re about to cover in terms of adjusting tactics.
1. Leverage Martech + Analytics
Use your available MarTech tools and resources to develop insights from two perspectives:
- Looking externally to your customers + market
- Looking internally to your own team + organization
Customer + Market Insights
Explore how to cost-effectively gather customer data to answer the questions above. That includes:
- First-party customer data collected in your CRM system.
- Campaign reporting data.
- Social listening tools.
- Customer survey tools.
- Third-party research and data sources.
- Media, government or industry-body reporting.
- Your competitors' activity.
Internal Marketing Insights
You can’t fully anticipate what will come next so your strategies need to be fluid. Agility is key. As is selling the value of marketing to C-suite and the board.
To help you improve efficiency, responsiveness and make savings where justified:
- Optimize Your Processes - Identify where you can improve processes and the use of MarTech. That includes creating, executing and analyzing all deliverables to improve results with less time invested. Each team member’s focus should be dedicated where it makes the most impact. Ensure time isn’t wasted such as on unnecessary team calls or unsuited tasks outwith primary skill sets.
- Improve Visibility On Full-funnel ROI - To optimize spending, you need to know where to invest more and what to cut out. Tie marketing investments to real business outcomes that are measurable so you can reallocate money to the biggest sources of return. Don’t forget that early journey targeting feeds bottom of the funnel supply - a balance needs to be maintained for sustainability. Optimize channel usage and touchpoints for a full customer journey.
- Improve Analytics Automation - Following on from the two points above, the right MarTech and automation set up will afford more team capacity and campaign optimization with real-time insights. Immediately pull money from campaigns or speculative activity that aren’t yielding adequate results for short-term requirements.
- Leverage Your First-party Data - Crucial for 2023 is the imperative to remove any reliance on third-party cookies to gather audience insights. User privacy updates mean they will become redundant in 2023. If you haven’t already, get a customer data collection strategy in place as a priority. Your first-party customer data should help you generate useful insights on authenticated users while keeping legislation and user privacy top-of-mind.
- Reevaluate Agency Support - External marketing partners can offer the right specialized skills and manpower as your needs fluctuate. A great agency will help your brand stay ahead of the curve. Work with your agencies to improve ROI visibility and prune unnecessary costs. Depending on the agency, you may need your own mechanisms to confirm that adequate value is being delivered. However, if you’re left wondering where the ROI is, that’s telling. It’s up to you if you want to take responsibility for driving improved value from the relationship, or consider other options. Just ensure you’re giving an agency the inputs and clarity they’re requesting first, not frequently changing goal posts or being too vague. (Feel free to give Half Past Nine a holler if you’re in this situation - demonstrable ROI is our method and track record!)
- Encourage Innovation - Challenge and necessity is often the driver for smarter solutions. Reducing waste can free up budget or time to allow your team more capacity to innovate. Innovation leads to competitive advantages that will long outlast a recession period and permanently increase market share. Focus on value for your customers based on their challenges, especially while times are tougher.
B2B Example: SAP
Used customer insights to deeper penetrate SME as a growth segment and feed 13% revenue growth in 2008
SAP responded to the economic situation in 2008 by adopting a range of cost cutting and investment strategies to come out with 13% revenue growth. They “intensified” their marketing activity and boosted their sales and marketing headcount by 29% over the year.
Their investment strategies were built on robust insight data. They built deep customer and market insights for a volume business model targeting SME audiences’ needs as a growth segment to expand into.
“We intend to widen the market we address with more attractive offerings for our customers including, for example, new data analysis and decision support solutions for business users, and software solutions scaled to small businesses and midsize companies.”
- The SAP Business ByDesign solution was used to open up a new segment of smaller businesses with between 100 and 500 employees with distinctly different software needs: “Getting their new IT solution running quickly, at minimum risk and predictable cost, is often more important for these customers than specific functional depth. Many such companies do not believe that their needs can be met by traditional software offerings or by the available on-demand solutions.”
- Over 4,200 customers signed contracts for SAP Enterprise Support services when the service was launched in February 2008: “The growing complexity of business processes, the growing SAP solution portfolio and the success of SOAs are leaving traditional support models behind, because today’s customers require more than a fault-fixing and maintenance service.”
- SAP partnered with HP and IBM to market preconfigured, preinstalled, and tested SAP Business All-in-One solutions on HP and IBM technology, bundled in a fast-start program. It was designed for midsize companies in the manufacturing, service, and retail industries, “which need a highly interoperable solution with plenty of functional reach”. The number of midsize companies using SAP Business All-in-One solutions grew 21% to 13,450.
SAP also heavily targeted industries they identified to have greater growth potential: “In 2008, we focused on strategic industries with exceptional growth potential, including, for example, banking, retail, communications, and the public sector.”
B2C Example: Walmart
Leveraged customer insights to achieve the highest sales growth of any competing retailer in 2008
During the 2008 recession, Walmart’s analytics highlighted that consumers were:
- Browsing less to reduce impulse purchasing.
- Less brand loyal, substituting for budget brands.
- Purchasing from cheaper categories (more pasta, less meat).
- Purchasing more from home entertainment and health categories rather than going out.
In response, Walmart upped their marketing spend to $2B (up from $1.9B in 2007), focusing on ‘take and bake’ advertising campaigns and promoted offers on home entertainment products. This allowed Walmart to grow 2008 net sales by 8.6% YOY - a record for any retailer that year.
2. Clarify Your Brand Positioning + Customer Targeting
Your task is to reevaluate your brand positioning in the eyes of:
- Your existing customers.
- Potential new customer segments based on changed purchasing criteria (aka, the switchers).
It costs less to keep a customer than to win a new one, so start by considering your brand positioning in the eyes of existing customers. Relationship building must be sustained, centered around the evolving needs and priorities of your customers.
This needs to fit with your brand’s unique value proposition within your competitive niche, considering the other options that customers have in front of them and why they should keep choosing you.
Segment your high-value customers out and make their needs your first priority. Each high-value customer segment might be affected in different ways. Don’t assume that all are negatively impacted by recession.
Focus on product or service strategies that increase the perceived value of your offering with a focus on long-term satisfaction. The greater the perceived value, the less likely your products or offering is to be cut.
List out the key needs and challenges for each segment and your corresponding value propositions. Include the value you already offer, and any additional value you will now incorporate in response to customers' recession challenges. Identify where you add value above your competitors.
Recessions are an opportune moment to assess which new customer segments may be opening up to you.
These segments will help mitigate any losses from existing customers who might be trading down or postponing purchasing. Diversifying also helps buffer you against shocks in individual segments, whether from the supply or demand side.
Identify who the switcher segments are and what value propositions will attract them to buy from you. For example, better customer service, your product/offering lasts longer, or replaces multiple other solutions in one lower cost.
Switchers can either be:
- Moving down a price bracket.
- Pressed to find more utility/ROI than a previous product/provider was supplying.
- For B2B, may have new requirements if they too are targeting new segments and verticals.
You may need to shake up your use of distribution channels to access these new segments.
But if you can attract these switchers, you have the opportunity to prove your value and retain their loyalty after recession passes, fueling greater long-term growth.
B2B Example: Salesforce
Majored on cost-saving brand positioning to acquire 14,400 new customers in 2009
Salesforce is a SaaS pioneer that took the business model mainstream. Their market position was perfectly pitched for the recession: “When credit is tight, big invoices for hardware, software and data centers defy logic and consume precious capital and increase risk.”
Key growth objectives during the recession period were to invest in a quality product promoted via effective account management and GTM strategies, including:
- Deeper relationships with existing customers for greater LTV:
- “As the customer realizes the benefits of our service, we try to sell more subscriptions by targeting additional functional areas and business units within the customer organization and pursuing enterprise-wide deployments.”
- “...by continuously enhancing the functionality of our service, we believe that customers will find more uses for our service and therefore purchase additional subscriptions, continue to renew their existing subscriptions, and upgrade to more fully-featured versions, such as our Unlimited Edition.”
- “Aggressively” pursuing new customers and territories with expanded targeting and the use of local partners:
- “We have created several editions of our service to address the distinct requirements of businesses of different sizes.”
- “We seek to extend our leadership position in this industry by continuing to innovate and bringing new application and platform services and value-added technologies to market, as well as by providing the tools needed by third parties to develop their own SaaS applications on our platform.”
- “We plan to continue to aggressively market to customers outside of North America by recruiting local sales and support professionals, building partnerships that help us add customers in these regions and by increasing the number of languages that our service supports.
The combination of a quality product with lower cost of ownership was a no-brainer for many businesses. Salesforce went from $749M sales revenue in 2008 to $1,077M in 2009. They acquired around 14,400 new customers during that year.
B2C Example: TJ Maxx
Educated a wider audience about off-price retail through advertising to drive 7% revenue growth in 2009
During the financial crash, T.J.Maxx increased its advertising spending by 15% as part of a strategy to target new customers affected by the downturn.
They believed that customers had fundamentally shifted their priorities towards better value, using value-based messaging that attracted customers from all income brackets. “Our marketing campaigns are stepping out and educating consumers about off-price.”
“In the tough economic environment of 2009, we were one of the few retailers to invest significantly in marketing and enhancing our customers’ shopping experience, and we will continue to prioritize investments to drive customer traffic in 2010.”
The proof is in the pudding. In 2009, 75% of TJ Maxx shoppers were new customers and retail sales grew 7% YOY.
3. Adapt Messaging + Tone
The messaging and accompanying tone of voice you use should be formed around the strategies built after going through the processes above.
Messaging is the combination of your customers needs with your corresponding value propositions. That means focusing on benefits over features or capabilities.
Recession messaging should speak to the psychological and decision-making elements that are driving your selected customer segments. The value your brand offers in response needs to be made clear.
For each distinct customer segment, you are aiming for no more than a few strapline messages, ideally one line each.
These will act as taglines and guide subsequent content development. You can plan key moments on a customer journey where these messages should be used and elaborated upon further, shaping out your content strategy.
Here are a few more elements to consider when crafting your segmented messages:
- Is Changed Messaging or Tone Actually Required? - Any high-value segments who are able to continue with business as normal may not require updated messaging. Messaging should be tightly focussed to a customer's current needs - not pointing at the unnecessary.
- Value + Benefits Over Features - A key part of successful recession messaging is conveying the value of your offerings, focusing on the benefits and outcomes delivered rather than just the specifications or capabilities. You are first speaking to the needs that you resolve. This is always best practice, but check in if you can better match your value propositions to any recession challenges your customers are currently experiencing.
- Helpfulness + Empathy - Account for the realities your audience is facing and share anything your company is (actually) doing to make things better, such as sponsorships. Develop solutions or longer-form content that offers genuine and practical value in helping steer customers through their specific challenges (being careful not to patronize customers). Empathy may be beneficial or even necessary depending on your target audience and the challenges they face. Nine in ten US consumers want brands to show empathy through their behavior, and 86% said showing empathy is critical to fostering loyalty.
- Values + Vision - If applicable for your offering, incorporate inspirational messaging around values and vision to stand out. This offers greater value for customers equally aligned, generating loyalty. Research found Americans prioritize companies that are responsible (86%), caring (85%), advocate for issues (81%), protect the environment (79%), and give to important causes (73%). Storytelling is a powerful way to back up values messaging, translating it to your actions and impact. But be authentic - not every brand needs to try and convey deeper values to meet their audiences’ needs.
- Warmth + Humor - Where appropriate, feel-good warmth or humor can be more human, relatable and memorable. The aim is to lift spirits, offering comfort and reassurance. Humor in advertising has been found to be more expressive (+27 point increase), more involving (+14) and more distinct (+11), significantly enhancing attention and positive effect. However, do be highly considered in how, where and when you use humor. The danger is humor backfiring if interpreted as insensitive. Depending on your brand, it may only be appropriate for a limited number of content pieces and platforms.
- Pricing - Do you want price to be part of your value proposition messaging? This should only really apply for discount brands unless you’re running a targeted promotion. Read the following section on pricing strategy to better understand if you want to incorporate it at tagline level.
A quick note here on authenticity and sensitivity when it comes to your messaging. Use adequate customer insights, and impact-led activity or features to match any claims you make. Don’t run the risk of being perceived as insensitive, misleading (lying), or manipulatively virtue-signaling for PR purposes. Brands that get this wrong do more harm than good. No brand wants to find itself on the wrong side of cancel-culture.
B2B Example: IBM
Used campaign messaging around a better vision for the future to galvanize record-breaking sales across multiple verticals
“Many companies are reacting to the current global downturn by drastically curtailing spending and investment, even in areas that are important to their future. We are taking a different approach.”
“In other words, we will not simply ride out the storm. Rather, we will take a long-term view, and go on offense. Throughout our history, during periods of disruption and global change, this is what IBM has done. Again and again, we have played a leadership role. We have imagined what the world might be, and actually built it.”
The key elements of IBM’s “transformation” during the recession period included:
- A continuing shift to higher value businesses.
- Investing for growth in the emerging markets.
- Global integration.
- Investing in innovation.
- Ongoing productivity resulting in higher profit margins.
IBM aligned their external messaging by launching their visionary ‘Smarter Planet’ global marketing campaign in 2008. The messaging spoke to a wider need for change as businesses and governments around the world looked to drive greater efficiencies and responsiveness. In IBM’s view, the global economy “created a mandate for business change” that required an intelligent and connected digital network built for the future. There was a pressing opportunity to upgrade global infrastructure through embedded information technology. Their messaging covered multiple key sectors, including smarter cities, smarter power grids, smarter food systems, smarter water, smarter healthcare, smarter traffic systems, smarter airports, and smarter supply chains.
In 2008, IBM’s revenue went up 5% to a record $103.6 billion.
B2C Example: Starbucks
Reestablished their brand as the best quality coffee on the market, driving them back into growth
During the 2008 recession, more than 900 Starbucks stores closed as American consumers turned to cost-effective alternatives like McDonald’s.
In response, Starbucks launched the largest marketing campaign they’d done called “coffee value and values,” designed to reassert the quality of their product and reassure consumers it was worth the cost.
They removed marketing gimmicks that had diluted their brand identity and stripped right back to the core value proposition of their brand - better quality coffee. Ad strapline messaging included:
- Beware a cheaper cup of coffee. It comes with a price.
- Starbucks or nothing. Because compromise leaves a really bad aftertaste.
- If your coffee isn’t perfect, we’ll make it over. If it’s still not perfect, you must not be in a Starbucks.
4. Review Your Pricing Strategy
More customers will be predisposed to seek out reduced prices and promotions during recession.
Does that mean you should or need to lower prices? Not necessarily. A reduction in prices is a long-term strategy, not a short-term fix.
Dropping prices can generate more sales in the short-term, albeit at lower margins. However, any new customers who chose you based on lowered prices may quickly switch away again if the price increases. Also consider any impact this would have on the perceived value of your product against the needs and resources of customers. For example, those in more affluent areas or verticals may not be driven to purchase because of reduced prices.
Unless your business needs the sales boost for survival, reducing prices is only a strong strategy if you plan to sustainably maintain them there based on your current and projected costs. For example, under a planned price skimming or penetration pricing strategy.
The same goes for promotions, which done continually could reposition your brand as a discount brand and condition consumers to only buy on promotion. Consider your margins against the additional sales volume generated and whether this is a suitable longer-term positioning tactic to attract target customer segments.
If you are shifting your pricing in either direction then explain to your customers why, bringing it back to their needs.
An alternative to price shifting is a loyalty program, or discretionary discounts for B2B brands. Selectively target loyal customers who deliver high lifetime value (LTV) and profitably reward them, not devaluing your brand in the process. For example, 62% of firms with loyalty programs said it helped retain customers during the pandemic. B2B brands could also introduce referral bonuses to incentivize new client introductions through personal networks.
B2C brands can incorporate more timing sensitivity around seasonality, such as earlier seasonal promotions to spread out associated costs over longer periods.
Additionally, brands could offer non-exploitative financing or longer payment plan options where possible.
B2B Example: Mailchimp
Launched a free subscription targeting small businesses to feed a pipeline of future customers
Mailchimp is an email platform that was initially focused on large corporate clients on yearly retainers. They didn’t even offer a free trial. However when the Great Recession hit, Mailchimp found their growth stagnating and also wanted to help smaller, struggling businesses.
Mailchimp decided to introduce a free tier to their price plans in 2009. With a limit of 2,000 contacts and a daily send limit of 2,000 emails, it massively took off. The move introduced a wave of small and medium-sized businesses to the Mailchimp platform that wouldn’t otherwise have been part of their customer base. They went from tens of thousands of users to a million in the first year, fueling their growth for years to come.
Mailchimp was able to demonstrate its value and retain these new users, moving them onto premium subscriptions as they grew. Among the customer community, requiring a move up to paid subscription became like a badge of honor as a growth milestone.
B2C Example: Hyundai
Offered a car take-back scheme to grow sales despite consumer fears of unemployment
In 2008, Hyundai managed to grow global revenue by 5% and market share by 4.7% despite an incredibly tough year for the auto industry.
They did this by not just delivering new and better quality car models at lower price points. They also reduced the risk for buyers by offering to take back cars that were financed or leased if the owner lost their job. In 2009, a finance rebate was also offered to buyers of some Hyundai models, for up to $333 a month for six months.
These groundbreaking measures empathized with struggling customers within their core target demographic, helping to build trust, confidence and maintain sales despite fears of unemployment. It was a huge publicity win generating goodwill towards Hyundai, and other companies were inspired to follow suit due to the success of the program.
Hyundai reported that its U.S. sales were up 14% in January 2009 compared to the same month a year earlier, all while the U.S. auto market fell 37%.
5. Evaluate Your Stock Holding, Products Or Offering
Certain product categories or offerings may take a hit to their bottom line. Your lead-gen budget (separate from your brand campaigns budget) should be focused on promoting categories that will offer most value and return during the recession period.
Take this timely opportunity to permanently prune out poor performers, unless they can be profitably adapted to deliver new benefits or target new segments’ long-term needs.
Keep your eye on the long-term. Invest in areas where you can outdo your rivals under the current conditions, or where you have an edge to get ahead for the recovery period. This includes R+D or product development if applicable to your brand, and your distribution channels. If you can anticipate where demand will be next quarter, prepare accordingly, especially where you have an international supply chain. Naturally, make sure any risks are carefully considered and don’t have the potential to be life-threatening to your business.
A key note here though. Building competencies or product features is a long-term strategy, so make sure the customers needs you are evolving to meet are equally long-term.
For B2C CPG, review your product catalog against sales performance during previous recessions to understand what products did well. You could add to these categories for more recession mileage. Essential or value categories are likely to do best, although people will still buy from non-essential categories too but perhaps favoring budget-friendly options. If applicable for your target segment (where pricing is valued over in-store or brand experiences) stick to the basics and minimize nice-to-haves to preserve cash flow.
B2B Example: Shopify
Shifted their product offering and invested in innovation to tap into an unmet market need
Shopify made a fundamental pivot between 2006 and 2009 that not everyone might be aware of. Shopify started life in 2004 as a Canadian snowboard ecommerce site. However, the founders decided to build their own ecommerce platform when they couldn’t buy a satisfactory CMS product. They launched the platform in 2006.
Growth was slow in 2007, until they made a significant change in their pricing strategy. Instead of charging transaction fees as a percentage of sales, they switched to a subscription-based plan and tacked on a small transaction fee that decreased as plan size increased. They also dived deeper into product development, building new value-added features that helped customers sell more, such as built-in analytics tools. They now had an affordable and easy-to-use solution that aligned with customers' needs. They became profitable in 2008 and continued to invest in their product throughout the recession period, launching the Shopify API in 2009.
Bravely deciding to go after a market gap resulted in a highly compelling and valuable product. Shopify successfully built an ecommerce platform for the needs of an emerging ecommerce retailer segment - many of whom were sole traders starting up after redundancy. They were fundamental in fueling an ecommerce sector as we know it today by providing recession-friendly value for small businesses and startups.
(IBM is another great example of successful pivoting in a changing market, shifting from a PC manufacturer to an IT consultancy.)
B2C Example: Amazon
Continued to invest in innovative initiatives for bringing customers more product choice at lower costs
In the 2008 recession, Amazon grew its sales by a staggering 28%.
They did this through continued product innovation rather than pulling back on investments, launching new products such as Kindle 2 that made books more affordable for readers. This move was a risk at the time but as we know helped grow their market share significantly, resulting in customers buying more ebooks than printed books by 2009.
In 2007, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) was launched as a service to attract more third-party sellers. Amazon provides warehousing within their global fulfillment network, and a ‘pick, pack, and ship’ service on the sellers’ behalf. FBA items are eligible for Amazon Prime and Super Saver Shipping as if the items were Amazon inventory. In the fourth quarter of 2008, Amazon shipped more than 3 million units on behalf of FBA sellers.
These product and offering shifts reflect the dynamic, “customer obsessed” and long-term thinking that Jeff Bezos is legendary for. His opening statement for the 2008 Amazon.com Annual Report is worth a quick read. Here are a few gems:
- “Seek instant gratification – or the elusive promise of it – and chances are you’ll find a crowd there ahead of you. Long-term orientation interacts well with customer obsession. If we can identify a customer need and if we can further develop conviction that that need is meaningful and durable, our approach permits us to work patiently for multiple years to deliver a solution.”
- “Working backwards from customer needs often demands that we acquire new competencies and exercise new muscles, never mind how uncomfortable and awkward-feeling those first steps might be.”
- “In our retail business, we have strong conviction that customers value low prices, vast selection, and fast, convenient delivery and that these needs will remain stable over time. It is difficult for us to imagine that ten years from now, customers will want higher prices, less selection, or slower delivery. Our belief in the durability of these pillars is what gives us the confidence required to invest in strengthening them. We know that the energy we put in now will continue to pay dividends well into the future.”
Amazon was another company that increased their marketing investment during the period, with increased spending across marketing channels, including their Associates program and sponsored search.
Also a quick note here on the cash operating cycle, which Amazon also offers a master class in. “Because of our model we are able to turn our inventory quickly and have a cash-generating operating cycle. On average our high inventory velocity means we generally collect from our customers before our payments to suppliers come due.”
- Learn more about how the Cash Conversion Cycle can drive growth for your retail business.
6. Adjust Media + Channel Investments
Adjusting your paid campaigns will quickly show you the effectiveness of updated targeting, positioning and messaging. You can test adjustments and variables for instantaneous feedback using engagement and conversion KPIs.
Set up campaigns properly for full KPI visibility so you can pull campaigns that don’t deliver against their individual objectives. Whether that’s to build brand awareness and intent in a new segment, or generate more sales/leads rapidly.
If you are in a position to target unimpacted segments and verticals, you may wish to allocate more of your ad budget there for the short-term. Assuming this doesn’t put you at a significant disadvantage for the rebound by ignoring key verticals for your business. Your paid audience targeting should continue to match your offering and brand positioning for key segment variables such as geo-location.
As covered earlier, recession offers the opportunity to buy more ad placements for less as other companies cut spending, offering the potential to capture excess share of voice. But bear in mind the advertising lag phenomenon, meaning you’ll often have to maintain consistent campaign activity for a minimum period of time in order to reap the rewards.
Synced cross-channel campaign delivery will amplify frequency and brand awareness, increasing your budget efficiency and conversion rates.
Profile and test new ad platforms, especially if your strategy involves targeting new segments. The performance of individual platforms is not necessarily dictated by the number of users or the CPC/CPM. If a platform successfully brings you high quality leads in sufficient volume, you can achieve higher ROAS and customer LTV regardless of the higher costs. Testing is the only way to find out.
You may not want to pull investment from poorer converting channels and platforms entirely. Consider first if they form a crucial point on valuable customers’ journeys that helps prime them for the point of conversion on another platform later. Data shows that the most effective advertising campaigns spend around 60% of budget on brand-building (or brand awareness) advertising, and only 40% on short-term activations.
Developing a clearer view of successful customer journeys will help you make more profitable campaign investment decisions. Identify existing and new consumer journeys so you can target the moments that influence purchase decisions most. This includes any shift in keywords that drive conversions for your website. Referring back to first-party data, use it to test new tactics that deliver more personalized interaction with customers and prospects at any stage of the journey. Ensure you have adequate data capture and analytics capability to support you in achieving this.
The targeting, timing and cadence of your content promotion should be in tune with customer purchasing cycles as much as possible. Work to understand and collect behavioral signals that can be used for content personalization based on the customer journey and lifecycle stages. Get in front of your customers just ahead of the times they are most likely to make a repeat purchase, or a contract is coming up for renewal.
For B2C brands, POS marketing from signage to packaging and placement are included in your promotional strategy. Ensure you update these to match any shifts in your customer behavior and updated strategy.
As part of your innovation and testing process, get creative with how you maintain overall channel visibility. Leverage organic methods more heavily where possible. Examples include:
- Trial new content formats and unique creatives within your organic channel strategies.
- PR stunts, especially driven by community altruism.
- New marketing partnerships or distribution channels that expand your reach.
- Better keyword targeting for recession-driven searches.
- More valuable or helpful content for customer's recession challenges.
B2B Example: Cisco
Cisco used new digital media channels and innovative campaign creatives to drive more audience engagement
Cisco’s R+D and sales + marketing budgets were both upped in 2008 as the company doubled down on its strategic investments. Cisco’s use of social platforms and creative media experimentation expanded in 2008.
The Human Network Effect campaign was launched in 2008, at the same time an ABI Research poll found that Cisco was seen as ‘boring but trustworthy’. Through the year, Cisco pioneered early digital marketing activity, harnessing the growing power of social media. They experimented with digital media formats using more human-oriented, optimistic and humorous content.
For example, the launch of a new series of routers incorporated the use of a campaign microsite featuring satirical videos where Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny solved their problems with the new router. It used a social share function, and posted the videos on popular platforms at the time including YouTube, Yahoo Video, Google Video and Veoh. Cisco also used a social media press release, a Facebook application and group, plus a widget featuring videos, collateral and images that could be embedded on social media pages.
The result? Cisco’s growth trend didn’t miss a beat in 2008, with revenue growth across all product categories and geographies. Revenue was up to a record $39.5 billion, an impressive 13% YOY increase.
B2C Example: Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola introduced innovative digital content formats to re-engage their core target audience and reverse a sales slump
Coca-Cola experimented with its paid media and creative strategy during 2008 and 2009. A number of innovative campaigns leveraged multichannel tactics at a time when digital marketing was still in its earlier stages.
A full-length TV commercial on the theme of video games was designed to target their core audience, supported by integrated digital seeding, gaming and social media campaigns. It was promoted on popular video sharing websites with banners and links to exclusive content including wallpapers, Instant Messenger icons and ringtones of the ‘You Give A Little Love’ soundtrack.
Their global ‘Open Happiness’ campaign launched in January 2009, encouraging recession-weary consumers to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. The campaign was heavily invested in and went beyond the traditional marketing tactics, with distribution across platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Bebo and YouTube. It made accompanying music videos by some of the top pop singers, ran competitions and gave away millions of ’Happy Prizes’ based on the most popular rewards on the brand’s loyalty website ‘Coke Zone’. They also used attention-grabbing tactics such as the ‘Happiness Truck’, ‘Happiness Vending Machines’ and the ‘Hug Machine’.
Coca-Cola reported a 5% increase in revenue in 2008, and a 17% increase in 2009.
To reiterate, don’t panic. Recession is unlikely to last that long once it’s officially been declared. There are a plethora of tactics to get your business through it in reasonable if not even better shape. There’s an available response to help remediate most situations. And you’ll find countless other articles and research enforcing these same messages about how to successfully navigate recession.
The basics of right audience, right message, right price, right product, right channel and right time are more crucial than ever. One or more of these elements are likely to require adjustment.
Key tools in your marketing toolbox are:
- First-party customer data and behavioral insights.
- Analytics tools used with greater cohesion and automation.
- Clear customer segmentation.
- Reframed messaging around enhanced value and benefits.
- Purchasing data from previous recessions (first or third-party).
- Personalized and localized content messaging tuned into purchasing cycles.
- Appropriate rewards or discounts for your valuable customer segments.
- Ad budget and campaign consistency to fully assess + realize results.
- Cross-channel experimentation and syncing.
Need advanced support to build your cross-channel strategy, marketing intelligence infrastructure or paid media campaign delivery during recession? Reach out to the team at Half Past Nine anytime.
What to read next
6 Growth Tactics for Marketing In a Recession: Lessons From 2008
Can you easily see, understand and share how your marketing strategy is performing at any given point in time?
At Half Past Nine we love demonstrating the value of robust data, and there's truly no substitute for capturing complete and accurate data. All aspects of your marketing activity need to be consistently tracked.
However, you also need to interpret and communicate data in order to truly leverage its full power. This is what allows responsive and insightful decision making - and that's the whole point!
The first step is a streamlined data setup that’s ready and prepped to be imported into your reporting tools.
If you haven’t read our guides to capturing marketing data and ensuring ongoing data integrity, it's a good place to start.
- Marketing Data Analytics: How To Build Your Source Of Truth
- Marketing Data Analytics: Can You Trust Your Source Of Truth?
- 8 Marketing Data Issues That Might Be Holding You Back (And How To Fix Them)
- Switching To First-Party Data: It’s Time To Stop ‘Renting’ And Start Owning Customer Data
Otherwise, let’s get into how to use data visualization to turbocharge your marketing results and budget efficiency, with the goal of fueling business growth.
What Is Data Visualization, And How To Use It
Data visualization is the presentation of data in a visual format, turning raw data into insights that can be easily interpreted. If you’re doing it well, it makes it easy to see marketing performance at a snapshot in real-time (or near enough).
You can use it to track how well marketing tactics are working by presenting data in a more visually aesthetic and digestible format, and present a story with a plot line based on actions taken and results that followed.
Data visualization and dashboards can also help create transparency and cohesion across departments, using bite-sized snippets of high-level information that can be easily communicated and understood.
Use marketing data visualization to:
- Tell a clear story about customer behavior and the results of your marketing efforts.
- Optimize live campaigns in real-time.
- See how marketing spending converts to revenue results.
- Quickly and easily understand how live campaigns are performing against your benchmarks as they progress.
- Exploit market opportunities.
- Identify trends and create benchmarks.
- Identify areas for improvement, optimization or divestment.
- Demonstrate what you’re doing to add value for the business and drive revenue.
There are a range of ways you can make your data more visual and easy to quickly understand. That includes:
- Dashboards, which are a collection of related charts
- Stand-alone charts
First, select the data that is most relevant for the question you want to answer. Then, choose the best-fit means of presentation to make the data’s meaning clear to see. Learn more about data categories and graph types.
Ideally, others within your business should be able to see what data is saying without much explanation required, if any.
A quick point on closed-loop reporting. If you’re a B2B business, you’re less likely to be using ecommerce platforms or point-of-sale tools that automatically record sales conversions for you. In which case, you’ll use a method called closed-loop reporting. It brings together marketing analytics with sales reporting using a CRM system.
This style of relationship-based reporting provides visibility about where leads came from and what happened to those sales leads as they progressed through the sales pipeline. Each sales lead has to be manually recorded by an account manager, whether it’s when the lead fell out of the pipeline and why, or the value of a final sale. The data is used to calculate final ROI for the various lead generating channels.
CRM platforms like Salesforce support this type of reporting well, with built-in visualization tools for the sales pipeline data and resulting marketing ROI.
Four Tips For Impactful Data Visualization
Based on our experience and what we see our SME clients typically struggling with, here are our top four pointers.
1. Invest In Clean Data That Can Be Fed Into Visualization Tools
The better prepared your data and the more integrity it has, the more quickly and effectively you’ll be able to work with it.
If your data suffers from inconsistent formatting, missing fields, poor integrity or other similar problems, it may be harder or not possible to run it through a data viz tool. It’s easy to mistake visualization errors for a limitation of the program when it’s actually an issue with the imported data.
It’s worth going back to basics to get your data capture processes and data governance processes corrected before trying to proceed with visualization.
2. Use the Right Technology for Your Business
When businesses go down the old-fashioned route of traditional spreadsheets or manually created PowerPoint reports, the complexities of today’s marketing landscapes and the volume of data sets involved make it a cumbersome and time consuming task.
Teams struggle to report results close to real-time in order to make responsive decisions. Marketing is just like a performance car with many moving parts and it’s important to get immediate feedback on how your campaign acceleration (or braking) is affecting your 'speed'.
That’s why automating the reporting process is worth investing in, removing the delay with manual reporting. And there are many great tools out there to help you achieve that.
You’ll need to select compatible tools that are a good fit for your business depending on what data capture tools you already have in place, the level of cross-platform reporting and visualization complexity you require, the human resource you have available, and of course, your budget.
We’ll give you a break down of some of the best known and most popular data visualization software solutions shortly.
3. Invest In the Required Skill Sets To Match Your Technology
Your data capture and reporting tools are essentially redundant without the know-how to use them. It takes skill to see the wood from the trees in order to pull the right levers.
The more knowledge and ability available to pull and interpret data, the more value you’ll get in return. Many SME companies underinvest in the both the disciplined data capture processes required, and the analytical prowess to fully leverage the data tools they have.
If you can afford an in-house data engineer, or if you can outsource to a data analytics consultant, that’s ideal. However, you could also invest in training the best-placed member of staff you already have.
4. Keep Your Dashboards and Graphics Tightly Focused
Any digital marketing operation is going to have many data points that are continually being gathered. Try to present too much data and it can get overwhelming, detracting from the most important messages.
Be sure to create visualizations that are representative of what is most important for your marketing and business goals, or to whom you are communicating.
Visualizations should clearly answer specific and pertinent questions about marketing activity, customer behavior, and performance against KPIs. Stick to core ‘North Star’ KPIs that are actionable and lead the way objectively. They include the Marketing Efficiency Ratio (MER), Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), and spend metrics such as Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). Check out some of the essential advertising KPIs you should be tracking.
You can build more than one dashboard, which should help you avoid the temptation of cramming too much into one report. Start with a top level KPI dashboard, and you can build additional dashboards to focus in on specific marketing activities or channels. Break up data reports into clear groupings such as:
- Funnel placement
- Behavior / cohorts
- Audience segments
Data Visualization Tools
Let’s have a quick look at some of the best known and popular providers. However, definitely don’t stop here in terms of your research!
I'll break down the available data visualization tech stack into 3 sections:
- Data connectors - Creating your 'data pipeline', these tools allow transportation of data from one database into another, sometimes filtering and transforming data in the process so it’s ready to analyze.
- Data aggregators, or warehouses - These ‘big data’ tools store data from multiple sources, creating ‘data lakes’ where large volumes of structured and unstructured data can be stored.
- Data visualizers - These are the tools that provide you with the colorful visualization and dashboard presentation functionality, using data directly connected from its source, or from a data lake within an aggregator.
A few providers sit across more than one area, offering combined functionality, which is important to consider when choosing the right tool for your business.
SuperMetrics picks up all the marketing data you need and brings it to your go-to reporting, analytics, or storage platform - whether that’s a BI tool, a spreadsheet, a data visualization tool, a data lake, or a data warehouse. With automation functionality, once you’ve built your report or dashboard, you can eliminate manual work by scheduling data transfers to automate your marketing reporting. Try a free trial.
Stitch rapidly moves data from 130+ sources into a data warehouse so you can get to answers faster, with no coding required. It can deliver your data to data lakes, warehouses, and storage platforms. Stitch will also replicate all available historical data from your database and SaaS tools for free. They boast that no code or engineering resources are required, and once set up, it syncs with new data automatically for automated reporting. You can get a free trial with unlimited data.
Funnel delivers data from over 500 marketing and advertising platforms, and additional sources upon request. It collects, cleans and maps all of your marketing data, which can save you hundreds of hours. Connect data to any destination, including BI tools, Data Warehouse, Google Data Studios or Sheets. A free trial is available, and their package offers unlimited data sources and automated job scheduling.
Databox is a dashboard visualization tool that also acts as a connector. Connect your data via any of their 70+ integrations, to data stored in Google Sheets or a SQL database, via API or Zapier. Their 70+ integrations come loaded with thousands of default metrics, as well as hundreds of pre-configured data blocks and 200+ pre-built reports that can be setup in minutes. Data can be refreshed hourly. Try a free account with 3 dashboards, users and data sources to experiment with.
BigQuery is a Google Cloud tool delivering a scalable and cost-effective data warehouse. Automatically move data from hundreds of popular business SaaS applications into BigQuery for free with their Data Transfer Service. Load and transform data at any scale from hybrid and multi-cloud applications. New customers get $300 in free credits to spend on Google Cloud during the first 90 days. All customers get 10 GB storage and up to 1 TB queries/month, completely free of charge. It also offers visualization reporting functionality using dashboards.
Snowflake sits at the cutting edge of data management, boasting the ability to eliminate data silos with the functionality to run your data workloads from a single platform. Their Data Cloud is a single location to unify your data warehouses, data lakes, and other siloed data, so your organization can comply with data privacy regulations such as CCPA and GDPR. It offers connectors for popular BI and Analytics tools. You’ll get automatic updates, and no scheduled downtime for data that’s always available. Try a free 30-day trial first.
Databox's intuitive visualization functionality is designed to let anyone build custom dashboards from multiple data sources.Their DIY Dashboard Designer pulls in metrics, facilitates visualization of KPIs in a variety of ways, with data drag-n-drop functionality, no code or design skills necessary, and personalized branding for your business. They also provide 200+ dashboard templates which can be customized however you want inside the Dashboard Designer. Their white label add-on also allows you to completely rebrand Databox as your own software.
Data Studio is a Google product, designed for use with its other products such as Google Analytics, Google Ads and YouTube. It pulls in compatible data quickly and easily, and has customize-able presentation that’s simple to use and can be tailored to your own branding. However, you’ll find that it’s not suited to pulling in data from non-Google or traditional database sources, and you can only view and share the data online with URL links. Plus, to automate data prep, you’ll probably need developer support. But, it’s free.
Power BI is a Microsoft product that can integrate across the entire Microsoft Power Platform, including Office 365, Dynamics 365, Azure Data Lake Storage, as well as 100+ other apps. It can provide automated data refresh every half hour, mobile app access, published reports and embedded APIs. Create and share interactive data visualizations across global data centers, including national clouds to meet your compliance and regulation needs.
Tableau is another popular web-based product that allows you to pull in data from multiple sources with native connectors to most marketing data sources. Drag and drop functionality makes it easy to create colorful and appealing visualizations. Tableau offers touch functionality for mobile and tablet users, and huge datasets can be analyzed on a laptop, offline or in-memory. It’s also smart at detecting data errors, making it easier to prepare datasets, and you can automate regular report updates. With competitive pricing, it’s one of the market leaders. A free trial is available.
To Sum Up
Don’t just stop at capturing your data, or struggling with laborious and intermittent reporting after the fact. Assess how your financial and people resources can be used to introduce more automation to your marketing reporting.
With multiple data sources pulled into one tool that provides visual reports in snapshot dashboard format, you’ll experience the true value of your data. Enjoy easier decision making based on real and timely insights for more lucrative results.
At Half Past Nine, we’re on a mission to help SME businesses tap into the power of their un-mined data. We also want you to experience the joy of how effortless, instant and insightful your reporting can be. It really is game changing stuff!
If you think you might need some support managing and reporting your marketing data, please do just get in touch. We’re always delighted to have a conversation about how we can help.
Marketing Data Visualization To Fully Leverage Your Sources of Truth
What do I mean by ‘it’s time to stop renting and start owning customer data’?
I’m talking about relying on advertising platforms to gather your audience and customer data via tracking pixels and cookies. In other words, using third-party data to generate your customer insights and targeting.
With the crackdown on data privacy, which keeps gathering momentum, the days of leaving your customer insights and targeting to third-party tracking pixels and cookies are well and truly over.
Apple users now have to opt into being tracked across mobile apps with third-party cookies since the IOS 14.5 update and introduction of the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework. Google Chrome is removing all third-party cookies by 2022, and Safari and Firefox already block third-party cookies by default.
It means the quality of user data collected by advertising platforms is already in decline. With reporting more heavily based on data modeling, adverts become increasingly less personalized to users interests or needs.
The impact is particularly hard for social platforms as they can’t rely on keywords like search engines can. If social media advertising is a part of your marketing strategy then your investment and ROI will be impacted. In fact, over the last couple of months particularly, businesses are reportedly seeing their Facebook ad costs skyrocket while revenue takes a nose-dive. That’s the unavoidable result that poorer ad targeting and engagement has.
Given the recent global crash of the entire suite of Facebook-owned apps, further questions are raised about fully outsourcing customer data collection and targeting to these companies. Can these apps really be depended upon?
There is a rather urgent need for advertisers to start improving customer data collection and better leveraging it for campaigns. Well, at least if they want to be able to accurately target customers while staying on the right side of regulations.
Is your team adequately aware of this seismic shift? Or is action being put off in order to deal with other ‘priorities’? If your team falls into either camp, you’ll find that you are increasingly in a losing battle when it comes to marketing and revenue results.
I know change and the additional responsibility can seem daunting, but there are very manageable steps you can take to successfully make the switch over to first-party data collection. Let me talk you through it, with SME business needs front of mind.
First vs. Third-Party Data
First-party data is any data that you collect directly from your customers. Second-party data is someone else's first-party data that they share with you. Third-party data is collected by a business that does not have a direct relationship with the user that the data comes from.
When it comes to online user data collection, first-party vs. third-party cookies is where the issue lies.
Here’s a quick refresher on cookies, in case you need it.
First-party cookies are just a record created on a user’s browser to track their activity on web pages within your own website domain. Users are automatically opted-in to first-party cookies to enable your website’s functionality. Cookies store all of a user’s activity and retrieve it each time a person navigates onto another page of your website. First-party cookies can retain login and payment details, and deliver personalized experiences like remembering a customer’s name, language and generate similar product recommendations.
Users can see, clear or block these cookies on their browser any time they want to, and they are not tracked beyond your own website domain. If users browse your website anonymously, such as with ‘incognito mode’ on Chrome, then cookie data won’t be gathered.
First-party cookies usually have an expiration date of around a couple of months. People tend to keep first-party cookies enabled since it makes the user experience more enjoyable, and they are generally stored for longer periods of time than third-party cookies.
A downside with cookies is that they track a browser, not a user. You user could be using more than one device or browser to visit your website. This can result in double-counting of users and missing data when tracking the customer journey.
Third-party cookies are generated and owned by a URL outside your website domain and function across multiple websites. They’re usually inserted into your users’ browsers by advertising platforms after you install their tracking pixel within your website code. They track users' activity across the internet over time to build user profiles based on actions and behaviors. Third-party cookies include remarketing adverts that target your previous website visitors, such as Google’s DoubleClick tracking cookie.
Although advertisers benefit from deep behavioral insights and accurate audience targeting tools, it’s understandable that this kind of data collection makes people feel uncomfortable. It can also collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that users don’t realize is being shared. For compliance with CCPA in the US and GDPR in Europe, among other international regulations, you shouldn’t track users with third-party tools unless they have opted in, nor share their data in ways they don’t know about.
However, just like first-party cookies, users do have the option to clear or permanently disable any third-party cookie tracking within their browser settings.
VPN’s also impact first and third-party cookie data, not by blocking them, but by providing false location data and hiding the IP addresses that identify users. But you may still be able to identify VPN users if they are logged into a user account.
How Is Your First-Party Cookie Data Reported?
The data from your first-party cookies is reported in your website analytics platform, with the tracking pixel provided by your analytics platform directing your website user data to its server.
Google Analytics is the best known in this space, and will provide anonymized data about your website users, which you can drill down to the user-ID level. Using User ID in Google Analytics is a solution for unification of sessions that an individual person has had across their devices. This will give you a more accurate user count while also allowing you to see the individual customer journey and navigation patterns within your website. However, you can’t attribute this data to a specific customer.
How Is Your User Data From Third-party Cookies Reported?
The advertising platform’s pixel you have installed on your website (thus requesting them to track your website visitors) will report data to you through their ad manager service. Different ad publishers offer reporting tools of different capabilities depending on the investment they have made.
The biggest ad providers are Google and Facebook, which as we know deliver a detailed level of reporting on ad engagement and subsequent behavior. However, issues like double-attribution can impact accuracy from third-party reporting. They also use the data gathered from your website visitors to allow you to target similar audiences or Lookalike Audiences on their platform, in affiliated publishing networks using programmatic ads.
How Do Tracking Pixels Fit In?
The story is a little more complicated than just cookies, and pixels are where the real data-collecting power lies.
A tracking pixel is a piece of code inserted into your website code, and can be first or third-party owned. Traditionally, it’s a tiny 1×1-pixel graphic, transparent and invisible to users, which can be embedded in everything from banner ads to emails. The downloading of this invisible graphic onto a user’s server happens automatically, allowing user ‘events’ to be reported on. A request is sent to the host company’s server where the pixel image is stored, and this download request provides identifying information about the computer or device.
To summarize the difference, a tracking pixel delivers information to a server, while a cookie stores information in a user's browser so a server can read it again later. However, modern tracking pixels, or tracking script, is more advanced and can be used to trigger cookie creation. Unlike cookies, a tracking pixel cannot be independently deactivated by users. The pixel will capture data from every user visit, regardless of what browser cookie settings the user has activated. However, the data storage and utilization process can still be managed with customer consent.
The Facebook tracking pixel, for example, has a crafty workaround to bypass third-party cookie opt-outs and blocking. It now uses your website visitors' first-party cookies by default, with their pixel instructing first-party cookie data to be sent back to Facebook’s servers. Facebook’s servers still gather user data from websites that users are visiting without third-party cookies, as long as the Facebook tracking pixel has been embedded on these websites and the default first-party cookie usage hasn’t been deactivated by the website owner.
Can First-party Data Target Users On Non-owned Channels?
Yes, you can use your first-party data for audience targeting on ad platforms, better protecting your customers’ data while also improving targeting.
Ad platforms like Facebook gather users’ email addresses. When targeting specific users by creating custom audiences, and also when creating lookalike audiences, you can either manually upload CSVs of customer emails to create a custom audience, or upload data from a Customer Data Platform (CDP) with integration technology. You can also use your data to suppress customers who ads aren’t targeted at, such as existing customers.
First-Party Data Types and Uses
Your first-party data can be used to better achieve the two processes most essential for customer acquisition and retention:
- Campaign tracking - Assess how well a campaign or ad set is performing on a non-owned channel.
- Targeting - Reach specific users with targeted or re-targeted messaging based on their past activity on both owned and non-owned channels.
The goal is to create highly personalized content that achieves its aim within well-designed customer journeys. Improving customer retention is particularly important for achieving business resiliency in these changing and rather turbulent times.
To fully leverage the power of first-party data:
- Investigate how you could better utilize customer data you already have
- Identify any additional customer data that would offer tangible value and which you can viably capture
You’ll need to weigh up whether this is information that customers will want to share without damaging trust in your brand while requesting it. But more on that shortly.
First, let’s have a quick look at the most important first-party data types and uses. This should help you identify any basic gaps in your current data capture and reporting processes.
First-Party Cookies or Pixels
Using tracking pixels is the most robust solution for getting to know the users and customers interacting with your online assets without the limitations of third-party cookies reducing the reliability and accuracy of your insights. Assuming your users have opted in of course, and aren’t blocking the download of images if your pixels are image-based rather than script.
Pixels can track digital ad impressions, web traffic, conversions, email opens, locations, devices, operating systems, browsers, IP addresses, among others. The analytics platform you choose will provide you with tracking pixel codes. Instructions for embedding them can be found on whichever marketing platform you’re using, or your developer can help you.
The Google Analytics pixel is ubiquitous for tracking and reporting on website visitor activity, and Firebase for apps. Google Tag Manager works hand-in-hand to help you track the custom events you want to track using your various pixels and UTM codes for social, ads, emails, etc. A ‘free’ tool with Google Analytics capability is hard to argue with, and using in-house data warehouses and analytics capability to report on user data isn’t a task most SMEs have resources for.
Then there are CDPs, which will allow you to go further than a normal CRM by matching data to individual customers who have consented. They can automatically gather and unify customer data from all online content you embed a pixel on. For example, here’s how Blueconic’s CDP works with Google Analytics. I’ll discuss CDPs in more detail shortly.
You can embed tracking pixels on:
- Website or landing pages
- Owned apps
- Social media content
- Email content
The uses for data from your owned online assets includes:
- Tracking collective and individual online behaviors, including content engagement, session duration, ad conversions, etc.
- Creating audience segments based on behaviors and correlated characteristics
- Tracking channel source of converting traffic to determine most effective use of marketing resource
- Assessing the effectiveness of marketing content in the customer journey
- Seeing where audiences drop off from your website, and identifying broken links, ineffective content or UX shortcomings
- Re-targeting specific users, such as abandoned cart sessions
- Using behavioral data, such as hovering over content like text or images, to enhance retargeting ads
A CRM database is home for the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) you hold on customers. It can range from basic information such as a customer's name and business/job title, email address and location, to their purchase history, online interactions with your marketing content and survey data. This data can be collected both on and offline, and data input can be manual or through other platform integrations depending on setup. It’s typically shared between marketing, sales, account and support teams as a centralized database.
Its value lies in tracking the sales process or purchases, and collecting data to create segments of customers by specific behaviors or characteristics. The goal is to use this data to execute targeted email and advertising campaigns, and emails are particularly valuable. Email marketing has the highest conversion rates and provides a very high return on investment. Email also allows you to target (or suppress) specific customer audiences for ad campaigns on social platforms.
The uses for CRM data include:
- Pulling together data from multiple sources into individual customer profiles
- Identifying your most valuable customers and segments, or categorizing leads to prioritize BD activity (B2B)
- Creating audience segments for targeted campaigns, such as identifying customers for up-selling, repeat purchases at defined time intervals, or re-engagement campaigns
- Customization of marketing materials with personalized information
- Exporting data to create lookalike or similar audiences for targeting customer acquisition ad campaigns
For brands that are serious about growth or maintaining market share, generating regular social media content to engage customers is not really optional! Your audience engagement provides deeper insights into preferences, behaviors and segmentation. It’s the ideal medium to find new customers, build brand awareness and generate high levels of engagement with customers, keeping you front of mind.
A wealth of customer insight can be leveraged across channels, platforms and campaigns, using social tracking metrics such as:
- Hashtag usage
- URL clicks
- Keyword analysis
There are corresponding metrics to note in your website analytics from Social Media campaigns as a traffic source, such as:
- New users
- Average session duration
- Page views
- Bounce rate
The uses for social media data includes:
- Deeper audience insights and segmentation based on social media behavior, such as the platforms and content topics that your customers engage with most
- Designing a highly targeted content strategy and tone of voice, so that customers feel a deep personal connection with your brand
- Audience targeting for paid content, including channel and corresponding content
- Assessing the best time of day to post, when your customers are most engaged and likely to purchase
- Choosing hashtags with the most reach for your target audiences
- Social listening, to see what your customers are interested in, who is talking about your brand and what they are saying
How to Collect and Implement First-Party Data
Collecting online behavioral data on your website, app or social media using first-party tracking simply requires a pop-up or message allowing users to opt into or decline first-party cookies, and any other tracking methods you use.
When it comes to collecting PII, however, progressive profiling is key. This is slowly and purposefully requesting information as your relationship with the customer develops and trust is built. Only ask for data your business actually requires, and always make each data collection touchpoint as quick and easy as possible in terms of UX.
Customers are usually open to sharing data if you demonstrate trustworthiness, deliver value and better user experiences. Here are a few basic rules to follow to gather customer data successfully.
- Provide incentives - That can include detailing the benefits of an improved user experience, access to valuable gated content, e-newsletters, promotional discounts, or a loyalty program with rewards.
- Be upfront and honest to build trust - Give your reasons for collecting any data and be clear about how the data will be used. Share your privacy policies and how data is protected. Use the data responsibly - trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. Investing in brand awareness will help engender more familiarity and trust.
- Honor customers’ choice - Make it clear to customers that they always have the opportunity to opt-out or withdraw permission to collect or store their data, and ensure that the process is easy and user-friendly for the customer to execute if they choose. Respect your customers’ data and privacy by putting control in their hands and not breaking their trust. Consent Management Platforms can help you manage this process.
Let’s take a quick look at some considerations when it comes to your data infrastructure and tech stack, then finish with some tactics you can use for collecting customer data.
Tech Stack Capability
Although many articles will claim that first-party data is free, you still have to consider the cost of data platform licenses, plus staff or agency resources required to implement or manage data technologies and processes.
The process of integrating all sources of customer information from off and online sources can be referred to as first-party data on-boarding. Compiling your customer data sources is necessary to leverage its full value by building complete customer profiles that allow you create accurate segments for campaign targeting in real-time. The more automated you can make this data on-boarding process, the better.
It may be the case that optimized utilization of your existing Google Analytics account, modern CRM databases and other marketing platforms are sufficient for your businesses current needs and resources. You’ll still be able to gather valuable insights from first-party data, and run successful ad campaigns without relying on third-party tracking. For example, here’s the Facebook protocol for creating a Custom Audience using your own customer data.
However, speaking to SMEs that don’t have the luxury of their own in-house data specialists, bringing in a Customer Data Platform (CDP) offers greater potential. These platforms deliver more advanced customer data technology with greater automation that’s more aligned for a first-party data future. They can be integrated to all of your customers’ online touchpoints, and improve the match rate across data sources, eliminating data silos. This affords a unified customer view by consolidating data from all platforms into 360°-view customer profiles using consensually shared identifying information. You can still input offline data sources too. Crucially, they also allow customer data to be easily implemented for accurate campaign targeting in real-time across activated third-party platform integrations.
CDPs are a real game-changer because they are user friendly for non-technical marketers, unlike traditional data warehouse tools used for these purposes. Your team will be able to run better coordinated, automated, and omni-channel customer journeys across paid media, your website, email and other chosen channels. All in less time without technical or developer support bottlenecks, and while providing greater customer data security and compliance.
For example, Segment is one of the best-rated CDPs currently available. It makes collecting data from multiple sources and then executing tasks like creating Facebook Lookalike Audiences or re-engaging cart abandoners quick and easy thanks to pre-built API integrations to other marketing platforms.
There are also a number of more evolved CRMs out there that integrate with advertising, messaging, email and other platforms. For example, check out the customer platforms that Facebook, Mailchimp or Sprout Social integrate with. There are plenty of options out there with audience segmentation and omni-channel integration functionality that any business can make full use of despite more modest budgets.
Customer Data Collection Tactics
We’ve covered automated online data collection, whether it’s from your website, app or social media. However, you still need to collect basic customer identifiers with customers' permission, and there’s also more you can learn from directly asking about preferences and interests. So let’s finish with tactics you can use for collecting data directly.
Do remember the importance of content quality and offering genuine value or insight for customers in a value-based data exchange. A/B tests can be used to determine how much information your visitors are comfortable sharing. Also, remember your customer relationships are a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time building familiarity and trust.
On-boarding, Point of Sale, or Customer Service - Design a data collection strategy and train your staff how to use it. You may already have a formal on-boarding or support process that requires certain data to be collected. That could include asking in-store customers if they want to provide their email to receive an e-receipt and product offers. Consider if there’s any additional data that can be justifiably gathered at all points of contact, and ask staff to be consistent in recording data where it’s done manually. Clearly explain the value of the data to customer-facing staff.
Customer Accounts & Login Areas - For ecommerce sites, point out to users that creating an account to save their details for the next visit saves time, along with any other benefits you want to offer. Or, use gated content and resources to incentivize website visitors to register for a free account. Develop a content strategy for selectively locking the most popular or valuable content you provide. Make sure that registration and sign in is quick and easy, and enable universal login with social media or Google credentials if you can.
Memberships & Loyalty Programs - Offering discounts and benefits for signing up to a customer loyalty program or membership is a great way to capture contact info, preferences and behavioral data.
Lead Generation Form-Fills - Whether you have ‘lead magnets’ and assets sitting behind a form-fill, or just a regular contact form, add in a few simple, interest-based questions that will help you better tailor future content. These forms work well on landing pages in ad campaigns, and you should ask for the bare minimum information.
E-newsletters - Your sign-up process will naturally ask for an email, but you can learn more about customers by asking what they are interested in. If content generation resources allow, segment your newsletter into areas of topical interest during the sign-up process or in a contact preferences area so you can customize your newsletter to better engage your distinct audience segments.
Surveys & Quiz Flows - From website UX feedback to a novelty quiz for fun, a Customer Service follow-up survey or chat box surveys - people are familiar with the survey format and don’t usually mind a few quick and easy questions, particularly with multiple choice or rating scales.
Channel & Platform Diversification - This is an impactful means of gathering more audience reach and data, if you can find additional areas and platforms where your audience is spending time and making decisions. For example, your audience demographic on Pinterest may not be the same people within the same demographic on Instagram.
Partnerships - Join forces with a business or organization that has relationships with your target audience. Joint marketing or co-marketing partnerships using content, promotions and events can be very effective for collecting second and first-party data on potential new customers.
In-store, Office Locations, or Events - Asking customers to sign-in using their email for WIFI access is an option at physical locations, and you can use the sign-in landing page to promote content or any offers that would help collect additional information voluntarily. You could also use beacons, which are small wireless transmitters that communicate with nearby smart devices using Bluetooth. You can pull information about customer location and in-store browsing behavior, but you can also send push notifications or offers. Then there’s the plain old-fashioned way of speaking to people and asking for contact information, whether it’s to send an e-receipt, provide access to a membership or discounts program, or a BD follow up with more information.
Enhancing your first-party data strategy is invaluable for:
- Nailing down your buyer personas and dividing your segments more effectively
- Enhanced targeting and retargeting, with relevant ads strategically placed throughout the customer journey
- Developing engaging and personalized content that hits the mark at a given point in the customer journey
This is key to both customer acquisition and retention.
You can do this more effectively without handing over the task of knowing your customers to third-parties, jeopardizing customer trust or potentially falling foul of country-specific regulations. With more accurate and in-depth first-party insights on customer behavior, it’s easier to deliver relevant ads and personalized content that improves brand awareness and customer loyalty.
Don’t be averse to taking your time collecting data and prioritizing trust first. Rushing your first-party data collection process could actually do more harm than good. After establishing your brand’s credibility and transparency with customers, they will be far more willing to share helpful information about their interests as they move along the customer journey.
I hope this run-down has left you feeling that owning your customer data is a manageable endeavor. There are plenty of affordable and user-friendly systems out there to help you successfully implement any improvements you wish to make when it comes to collecting, organizing, protecting and actioning first-party customer data.
However, if your team could use support, Half Past Nine is always happy to have a conversion and discuss potential alignment. We have deep expertise in performance media, data leadership and infrastructure development, and we’re passionate about enabling ambitious businesses who are ready to grow!