No question, 2020 was a juggernaut year for direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing. Prior to the pandemic, many brands had planned modest DTC investments, but following COVID, and a cascade of worldwide lockdowns, retailers were compelled to innovate on the fly. According to Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, their analysts observed “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” 

With the dramatic shift to eCommerce, ad platforms were challenged to keep advertisers on-target with innovations in acquisition. The following are the media trends we think will continue to create meaningful impact for advertisers in 2021:

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Google’s AI has proven itself to be a viable path to more profitable “moments” for advertisers. Google’s computer learning reaches the right consumers at the right time by setting bids informed by auction time signals, such as:

  • Physical Location
  • Day & Time
  • Operating System
  • Device
  • Browser
  • Remarketing List
  • Anticipated Click-Through-Rate (CTR)

Moving into 2021, our media analysts recommend advertisers invest more in Google’s smart bidding capabilities. Advertisers in search of lower Acquisition Costs (CAC), and higher Returns (ROAS) may want to experiment with some of the following automated bid strategies:

  • Target ROAS (return on ad spend)
    Helps you get the best return on your investment. Advertisers looking to maximize conversion value (as opposed to volume) should test a Target ROAS bid strategy.
  • Target CPA (cost per acquisition)
    Generates new leads at your cost per acquisition goal. Advertisers running lead-focused campaigns or those who want to manage toward a specific Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) will want to test an automated Target CPA strategy.
  • Maximize Conversions
    Helps increase your overall conversion rate. Advertisers who want to focus on conversion volume will want to test the Maximize Conversions strategy. This not recommended for brands that have strict goals around profitability, as Google will spend your daily budget regardless of performance.
  • Maximize Clicks
    Helps increase your overall click-through-rate and engagement with your ads. Similar in nature to Maximize Conversions, the Maximize Clicks strategy is focused on driving the most traffic to a site within a daily budget. This is recommended for advertisers who have high on-site conversion rates or for those who are solely focused on brand building.

2. Consumer Journey Mapping

The shift toward automated bidding comes with inevitable tradeoffs. Advertisers can regain a measure of control with investments in consumer research and journey mapping. 

By refining audience targeting at each stage of the consumer journey, advertisers can be more confident that resulting clicks are qualified ones. Our analysts recommend that you differentiate prospecting campaigns from conversion-focused campaigns when allocating automated budgets.

We recommend advertisers focus on defining unique audiences for a few key areas of the funnel:

 

Keyword Targeting

  • Awareness – Optimize toward generic phrases to capture consumers who are aware of their problem, performing initial product research, and need product / service education.
  • Consideration – Optimize toward more specific phrases to capture consumers who have discovered your business and are evaluating a number of options (selection set) for product / need match.
  • Decision – Optimize toward precise, goal-focused phrases to capture consumers who are ready to convert. These should include branded terms to help capture and convert brand-oriented demand.

 

Audience Targeting

  • Affinity – Campaigns optimized to target habits and interests can be used to capture consumers in the awareness phase.
  • InMarket – Campaigns optimized to target users who are actively researching for specific brands and be used to reach consumers in the awareness and consideration phase.
  • Site Visitors – Campaigns optimized to target users who have previously engaged with your website can be leveraged for remarketing to convert consumers who may still be undecided.
  • Past Purchasers – Campaigns optimized to target users who have previously purchased from you can be leveraged to retain and upsell current customers.

 

Ad Creative and Messaging

Our media analysts generally recommend advertisers segment ad creative into two categories:

  • Educational content to cultivate brand awareness and convert upper-funnel prospects into first-time customers.
  • Product-focused content to convert brand-aware, bottom-funnel prospects engaged in product research.

 

Landing Page Content 

Consistency is key when optimizing for conversion. We recommend that landing pages reflect (verbatim) the language, content, and value propositions used in campaign / ad copy.

3. Video Ads

With over 3 billion searches per month, YouTube ranks as the world’s second largest search engine (Google is still #1). Given consumer’s increasing demand for rich media and the platform’s growing popularity, video ads demonstrate more than ever for prospecting, and acquisition.

For advertisers looking to increase full-funnel reach, we recommend personalized experiments with YouTube’s strategic delivery options:

  • Skippable In-Stream Ads
    • 30 second videos with the option to skip after 5 seconds; this campaign type is ideal for campaign goals focused on:
      • Sales
      • Leads
      • Traffic
      • Brand awareness
      • Product consideration
  • Non-Skippable In-Stream Ads
    • Videos that are 15 seconds in length and are ideal for achieving brand awareness and reach goals.
  • Bumper Ads
    • 6 second ads focused on reaching viewers with a short, memorable message and are perfect for advertisers looking to achieve brand awareness and reach.
  • Outstream Ads
    • Mobile focused ads that allows users to engage with the ad by clicking into it to watch the full length, and are ideal for brand consideration goals.

Beyond ad type, advertisers can get fairly creative by leveraging different targeting options, such as:

  • Topic Targeting
  • Keyword Targeting
  • Demographic Targeting
  • Remarketing Audience Targeting
  • Retention Audience Targeting

 

4. Voice Search

Voice search is perhaps the most compelling “next-generation” opportunity for advertisers and consumers. The trend toward “semantic” search is being driven primarily by the adoption of “personal assistant” devices (e.g. Amazon Alexa, Google Home). 

It is estimated that 22% of consumers who own a smart device have already purchased a product using voice search. In fact, voice shopping revenue is anticipated to grow to $40B in the US & UK by 2022.

Advertisers can capitalize on these compelling trends by experimenting with voice-specific campaigns. We recommend targeting semantic queries with the following optimizations:

  • Prioritize mobile devices – Both smartphones and speakers are the most popular devices for most voice assistant consumers, while computers and other devices are gaining in popularity, as well.
  • Incorporate long-tail keywords – When users are engaging with their voice assistants, they are often asking questions and/or searching as if they were speaking to another human, making long-tail keywords more ideal to capture the conversational nature of voice search. Words and phrases to keep in mind in your keywords include:
    • Ok, Google
    • Hey Siri
    • Alexa
    • Where, what, when & how

 

5. Visual Shopping Experiences

In recent years, ad platforms like Google, Instagram and Pinterest have responded to increased demand for visual media with a portfolio of innovative image and video-based ad formats. 

These media are fundamentally changing how consumers research and shop. They have proven success at every stage of the funnel by aiding ad awareness and recall

This trend represents a significant opportunity for advertisers; especially for those in the fashion, beauty and home decor industries where “inspiration” influences purchase decisions.

Looking forward, we anticipate that Google will continue to experiment with image ad placements and new mobile formats. We recommend advertisers lean into the following Google offerings:

  • Image Extensions (beta) – Images selected by advertisers and shown alongside text ads; primarily mobile dominant, but are being tested on desktop.
  • Dynamic Image Extensions (beta) – Images that Google automatically pulls from the landing page and serves alongside text ads on the SERP.
  • Discovery Ads – A single image or swipeable carousel based ad type that allows advertisers to showcase their products / services and is purely audience targeted, appearing across Gmail, Google Discover and YouTube.

 

In Summary

As we progress into 2021, we believe that consumers’ behavior will continue to be shaped by the challenges of pandemic life and ultimately by the mobile and voice-assisted devices that have become lifelines to the outside world. Given these trends, we recommend advertisers invest in artificial intelligence, consumer research and visual media to provide incremental growth and meaningful access to changing buyers’ journeys.

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