Digital Is The New Black

By Jonathan Campbell

Navigating the ever-fragmenting media landscape has always been a challenge for marketers. For years, media was only comprised of newspapers, radio and broadcast TV. During the 1980s and 90s, cable introduced many more television stations and, while confusing, a shrewd marketer could still find the desired audience.

But in the past 10 to 15 years, the internet exploded and technology has evolved. The proliferation of Wi-Fi, smartphones and tablets is commonplace. Media is now everywhere, literally.

Enter the role of digital marketing. If the internet is where consumers are, this is where brands want to be, too. But why digital? For many the biggest reason is that its message can be tailor-made for its exact target audience; its method of delivery is more precise than traditional media.

While this doesn’t mean traditional media has become obsolete, digital can reduce costs because the size of the audience is less important than the content of the audience – and the warmer the lead, the more likely a purchase is made and, after all, isn’t that the job of marketing?

Finding Nemo and Waldo in the Digital World

There are many ways to share your message in the online world, each with a different purpose. Here are the most common paid-for digital media placements:

Display Marketing – Think of the boxes and rectangles surrounding the editorial on many sites you visit. These are referred to as leaderboards, skyscrapers, banners and, creatively, medium rectangles (i.e. 300x250px). These are display ads specifically shown because a user has previously visited a brand’s site. For example, a user researched a golf resort to plan a guy’s trip. Later, when reading an article about the Red Wings on Grantland, ads for that same golf resort displayed pulling him back in with an offer he couldn’t resist.

Google AdWords – These are paid-for search results that brands “bid on” for placement on a given search term/phrase. Brands in a competitive industry that want their website on the first page of a search term may have to pay for it.

Social Media – These are “sponsored” posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Furthermore, there are several ways to deliver digital messages. These are not necessarily new methods. What makes digital marketing powerful is when these are used in combination: the audience that is created is an engaged, more closely targeted customer with increased likelihood to buy.

  1. Think traditional marketing: age, gender, household size, income, etc. This is the longest-running, most widely used concept for targeted advertising.
  2. Ad networks’ tracking capabilities allow them to trace patterns of sites, pages, and clicks of people visiting properties across their network. While anonymous – they don’t know it’s you specifically – the network knows you went to a branded automaker site, then an auto research and reviews site, then a niche site for independent music, then a childcare site to read an article about getting kids to try new foods. From these behaviors, they can deduce you’re a parent interested in indie music, and considering a new car. You’re no longer among a demographic, you now have a more defined profile.
  3.  Fishing where the fish are: placing ads only to the locale of people where they are most likely to be a customer. Geo-targeting can be assigned by traditional DMA, GPS-coordinates, ZIP codes and/or IP addresses.
  4. Placing ads on web pages that have a relationship to the content of the page. For example, toothpaste ads on news feed stories that mention Halloween, financial product ads on money sites, and hotel ads on travel sites.

Artificial Intelligence – Some of the most groundbreaking work has been done in the field of artificial intelligence. Programs utilize billions of web impressions and user profiles to provide ad networks with the best information available to purchase and display ads to specific users at specific times. Algorithms are used to refine and enhance campaigns to display your brand or product to users at the most opportune time. For example, if user A is interested in skiing and purchases online around 5pm most days, it would make sense to show her an offer to purchase a lift ticket around 5pm no matter where she is online at the time, so the algorithm notices this pattern and programmatically purchases the ad space and displays your ad right then and there.

Again, what makes digital a successful medium is the ability to cast highly-targeted nets by using a variety of these methods in combination. Traditional marketing is by no means dead. But brands must be online, too. Having a flexible, dynamic agency to manage target audiences, effectively place messaging and track the results can help navigate a business in the diverse landscape.

Jonathan Campbell is the principal of Lake Effect, a digital marketing agency in Traverse City that focuses on tourism, recreation and nonprofit marketing to integrate new technologies including customized web applications, smartphone apps, websites and diverse digital marketing campaigns.