With marketing minds now turning their attention to 2014, these professionals are beginning to look at budget and strategic focus for the coming 12 months. That planning process, however, has never been harder, due largely to a raft of changes in consumer behavior and online platforms from which the majority of digital revenues will be derived.
But with changes to Google's algorithms and the continual rise of social comes massive opportunity for those businesses that realign spend to where it matters most. In many respects, 2014 really is a year of new opportunity and a time when more nimble organizations can steal a march on the slower-moving market leaders.
The question is: How do you best focus spend to capture the right audience and improve sales and conversions in such a fast-changing environment? The answer is a strange one, as to get it right will require a heady mix of diversification and integration.
I'm a big fan of the T-Shaped Marketer concept, as it truly reflects the breadth of specialist skills required to reach your target audience and maximize returns.
Most of these channels will, of course, already be on your radar and have been part of your plans for some time, but there is one specific area that may not be and should absolutely be on the agenda for 2014.
Paid Content Distribution
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock these past 12 months, you’ll be very aware of the growing importance of content as the central anchor of any digital marketing strategy. The growing social audience and Google’s new carrot-and-stick approach to rewarding good content and punishing bad practice has made investment in it an absolute necessity.
The challenge is that content -- even amazing, "blow-my-mind" content -- does not find its own audience. You have to connect the two together. Generally speaking, there are three ways of doing that in a pure digital context: through search, social, and influencer channels.
A lot has been written about how you can use search visibility and organic social activity to raise awareness and attract sharing -- but for me, that is now only half the story. The main opportunities now live in paid and influencer channels.
Not only do they open up these platforms and the massive audiences interacting with them, but they also set a standard across the social space. As a result, Pinterest, Instagram, and numerous other platforms have announced plans to eventually launch paid solutions.
Combine that with the growing audience available through content discovery offerings such as Outbrain and Taboola and the space begins to become very interesting.
The big question then is: How do you leverage this in the most effective way possible? Let’s look at the process we've used for the past few months to great effect.
Defining Your Audience
Before spending any money, it's imperative that you clearly define your target audience. And in a social sense, this means really understanding them as people, not simply understanding one-dimensional data about what they're searching for at the time.
Social gives you the ability to obtain richer insights into your audience as multifaceted people -- individuals who may like your brand but then may also be hugely into cycling, wine tasting, or any other interest you can possibly think of. An ability to tap into this will help you broaden your paid strategy and lower cost-per-click, as you will be able to target your same audience but in less competitive niches.
Confused? Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you're a major fashion brand looking to promote an interactive 2014 key trends configurator to an audience of fashion lovers. The obvious move would be to target that niche and perhaps even get really smart and include email lists from existing internal databases and those who follow your brand on the channel you're eaching out to.
The fact is, though, that these people will also have other interests outside of the clothes they wear, and the ultimate way of finding them in a more granular way is to understand exactly what else they are into.
So, how do you do that? In reality, it's easier than you may think.
It means diving into Facebook’s treasure trove of data, and while API access certainly helps, it can be done manually via the Power Editor. The little-used tool is designed for those of us that create more complex ad campaigns and it allows you a lot more freedom around segmenting audience.
The real value is found within the actual ad creator section as it gives you audience size and reach based on whatever segments or inputs you add. I write about it in more detail in a recent ebook we've just completed, if you want to really dive into the subject.
For instance, let’s say we want to work out how many people that like Coke also like Pepsi. To do this, we can simply add Coke as a custom audience and make a note of the number of people who like the brand either globally or by whatever country or region you wish to target.
Next, do the same with Pepsi and make a note of the number. Then, do the search for both Coke and Pepsi together, and this gives you the number of people that like both. Finally, simply follow this simple formula to work out how many people who like Coke also like Pepsi:
Analyzing Audience Data
It’s not just about Facebook data, however. There are other ways to paint a better picture of your audience with more data. For instance, Google has two new tools to help leverage rich, interesting data from its treasure troves.
First, Analytics has two new segments called Interests and Demographics, which -- when enabled -- can give you a huge amount of data on everything from the ages of those who interact with your content, services, and products to the interest sets they "belong" to:
This data is always added to our initial audience insight report, as it also gives you propensity detail as you can see which ages or interest sets buy more of your "stuff," for instance. It makes sense to target significant budget at those guys first.
You can then also add in info on your customers from existing email or CRM data or even software like Hitwise or Comcast, if you have it.
What you are trying to do here is get an understanding of the people you want to target with the content you've created for the campaign.
One of the best ways to do that is to create between one and three distribution personas based on the data you have extracted above, as this will help you define the messaging and platforms you wish to use.
For instance, for a recent project to build an interactive piece for a new domain launch, we knew there were three different groups of people we wanted to target with during the distribution phase:
The point is to really focus efforts and ensure no stone is left unturned -- in other words, to keep all those involved on message. This helps define which platforms are used to find them and what the message might be to ensure they engage.
Finding Your Audience
With a clear picture of whom you are targeting, it becomes much easier to target more succinctly and effectively, which means lower CPCs and, ultimately, CPAs.
To reach them, you have a number of options available, and those I've had experience with (or are on our radar for testing in early 2014) are listed below.
The one caveat I would absolutely add, though, before you dive in is that none of them offer a "switch-it-on-and-let-success-come-to-you" option. All require real effort in terms of optimizing campaigns to eek out positive ROI. These options include:
Pros: Great for amplifying content relatively cheaply now (thanks to self-serve ads), especially via the Promoted Tweets option. Twitter ads allow you to target specific audiences relatively tightly. It isn’t as advanced as Facebook (yet), but the system allows you to push great content to relatively large numbers easily.
Cons: As it's (relatively) new, the time for testing has been relatively short. The challenge is drilling down into your audience well enough, as in practice, we haven't seen the most targeted new followers or interactions from it.
Pros:Facebook’s audience is massive, and its ad serve system is iterating and improving all the time. For fan/like growth, we find that sidebar ads produce the best ROI, while for great content sponsored newsfeed posts, it offers the best for impact and engagement.
Cons: If you don’t work at the audience segmentation, you can soon waste a lot of money here and decide the campaign is a failure before it has started. The key is working hard on targeting. The constant changing nature of the self-serve platform can also make it confusing.
Instagram and Pinterest
Pros: The two platforms offer huge potential for those with strong imagery. In late November, a study of buying behavior proved the undoubted quality of traffic from the latter, with claims that it made retailer more money than Facebook during Cyber Monday.
While self-serve is a little way off, account-managed options are coming soon, and both of these options will be very important for those in the majority of niches during 2014.
Cons: We don’t know how targeted you'll be able to be yet and what CPCs will look at, but given that Facebook and Twitter and looking quite similar, expect more of the same.
Pros: The content discovery platforms are not cheap, but Outbrain has tended to send the best quality/targeted traffic of those we have tested to date (we've used Taboola, nRelate, and Outbrain). The key, again, is to stay on top of cost vs. conversion, as targeting is pretty much non-existent here. If it doesn’t work, turning it off is your only real option, outside of an account manager getting involved.
Cons: The extreme lack of targeting options means that, sadly, spend on these kinds of platforms is a smaller percentage of overall. Hopefully, this changes during 2014!
Pros: The Facebook FBX system can prove useful when looking to target content at users with purchase intent. Because of the way it works, it allows you to point content that may sit more mid-lower funnel (such as awesome buying guides) at Facebook users who have previously shown interest in purchasing that specific thing.
Cons: The jury is still out as to how effective the channel will be, given it's so new.
Google Display and Retargeting
Pros: Like the Facebook FBX option, retargeting can be powerful when looking for people with a high propensity to buy. That is not always relevant in a content context, but when it is, this is a great option.
Cons: If you are not well versed in the display and remarketing campaign "back end," you can soon waste good money chasing the wrong audiences, but by keeping it targeted, it can be valuable, especially for content such as ebooks that can also collect data.
Paid Search (Bing and Google)
Pros: While paid search is usually reserved for transactional opportunity there is no reason at all that the longtail should not be targeted for content advertising. It works very well also. The audience is there and showing targeted intent!
Cons: Again, if you don’t know what you're doing, you can waste money with ads showing up in unintended places but still getting clicks.
Paid (StumbleUpon and Reddit)
Pros: These may be different platforms, but they are both great for reaching early adopters and social influencers, so they can be an optimal place to get some initial viral traction.
Cons: There is a lot of traffic here, but often, it can be lower quality, in terms of targeting and intent.
Creating Distribution Strategy
So as you can clearly see, there are lots of options. But what does this look like on an average campaign? When a major piece of content is planned, it's imperative to ensure that enough budget is assigned to distribution.
Exact percentage splits are argued, but we will always suggest a minimum of as much time/spend on sharing as building. In reality, even this is probably too low.
If you take the hit John Lewis Christmas advertisement in the UK this year, the £7 million (roughly US $11.4 million) budget was split £1 million (US $1.6 million) build and £6 million (US $9.8 million) on distribution.
That’s an incredible 6:1 ratio that really does push home the importance of amplification as the mainstay of a campaign. But how do you break that time up?
Let’s look at an example campaign to show what ‘average’ looks like.
The 'Average' Formula
Below, we take a look at how we might allocate a £10,000 distribution budget for an interactive piece of content we want to distribute.
The piece -- an interactive infographic -- can be embedded, so influencer PR is important and will swallow the majority of budget. But, you can see how it's also supported by content marketing efforts:
Time to Run the Campaign!
By now, you're fully planned out, so there's nothing left to do but press the "go live" button and begin executing! The key, of course, is to record and measure each component part so you can iterate throughout and take the lessons from this campaign into your next one.
Have you worked with a paid content distribution campaign before? What advice can you pass down to other marketers interested in this type of campaign? Share your thoughts below!
Originally published Dec 17, 2013 4:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017