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Putting the X in paid digital media

The importance of offering good digital user experience is something many brands and companies are becoming increasingly aware of. But most seem to leave one particular discipline out of the experience optimization equation; Paid advertising. Is it really that hard to imagine digital advertising as an important part of creating a delightful user experience? Of course, not. However, you must start treating your paid advertising with the same respect and care that show your owned media.

We all know the feeling. Waiting 30 seconds for a preroll ad to go away, so we can see that stupid cat video, can feel like an eternity of agony. That’s 30 seconds of your life, you’ll never get back. The ridiculousness of being stalked across hundreds of websites and social media with dynamic product banners, confronting you with the fact that you did not buy those sneakers (or even worse, you actually did buy them!), almost makes you delete that damn Facebook app from your phone once and for all.

Ask anyone if they think digital ads improve their likeliness to emotionally connect with a brand or buy their products. Most people will straight up tell you, “hell no”. The basic intrusive nature of paid ads is something that most people at best tolerate because they are either ‘banner blind’ or they know that ads are necessary for publishers and social media to survive. But most find intruders an outright pain in the neck. That’s of course why ad blockers continue to be popular and why people opt to pay for apps and services – such as Spotify –  that they could otherwise get for free, allowing commercials.

This is a major experience conundrum. People don’t want ads to interfere with their digital experience. Publishers need to invent even more intrusive formats to beat adblockers and become visible to the banner blind. And advertisers. Well, they have to advertise. But the worst part of this is that it seems like most advertisers simply accept that being intrusive and annoying is the only name of the game. As a result, they focus 0% on the user experience they deliver in their advertising. That’s why you as a law-abiding citizen of the internet are constantly bombarded with paid messages of bad timing, little relevance and next to no channel or context relatedness. And while advertisers are investing in optimizing user journeys across their tight knit family of owned channels counting apps, webshops, social media, email newsletters and marketing automation setups, the ugly cousin, paid adverting, is left to fight it’s own unsexy and ineffective battle, only accompanied by a set KPIs that haven’t changed for three decades.

This, of course, has to stop. For the sake of advertisers wasting money. For the sake of publishers not losing visitors (and ultimately ad revenue) and for the sake of all of us that are tired of irrelevant marketing messages in an age of personalization and abundances of data. It all starts with one simple recognition, if you are an advertiser:

Accepting that your digital advertising is not some necessary evil to drive traffic to your beautiful experience front door. It is the front door. And great experiences start already at the front door.

Once you accept this premise, you can start looking at paid advertising as an equally (or even more) important touchpoint in your customer journey planning. And you’re ready to start putting some ‘X’ in your paid media.

Now, here’s what you do next:

1. Start exploring the wonders adtech can do for you

Data driven programmatic has improved a lot. Segmentation and targeting options have come a long way since the 00’s. Although the “death” of 3rd party cookies presents a challenge to precise targeting, there is plenty of ways data can make sure, you connect you message with the right (type of) users, in the right channel, in the right context and with optimal timing. You might even sit on a gold mine of 1st party data, which you can used in paid advertising in several ways to reach out to both existing customers and people with similar characteristics

2. Don’t get stuck in a single channel and single KPI mindset

Use video, think mobile, include influencers and native ads in your paid media mix. Test what is working best with which segments of your audience. If your YouTube ads are not generating last-click conversions, maybe it’s because they support a different stage of the customer journey. Measure engagement metrics primarily. Maybe it’s over simplified. But if users engage with your message, if they watch your video to the end, if they read your full native article, if they swipe your interactive banner. Then you are making a connection that can probably be assigned more value than you think.

3. Think non-intrusively

There are plenty of non-intrusive formats available out there (okay, all ads are in a way intrusive, but not all are big fat pop-ups or other interrupters that force the users away from the what they reading or watching). Use interactive formats that drive attention (without being click-bait-ish) because they are designed by people who know good UX. Employ a mindset of empathy. You understand what your target audience is doing when they browse a website or use social media. Grab their attention by being relevant – not by hijacking it.

4. Remember the right content is king – but not of the entire internet

Everyone knows that generic display advertising is only great if generating impressions (not actually making an impression!) is your core KPI. Yet it is so extremely often that you see even the most adtech forward, data driven advertisers put generic messaging into their top tuned programmatic engine – serving the same banner to everyone across all channels. While that may be awarded a few points for brand consistency, that kind of thinking that targeting, timing and maybe brand relevance is everything will fail the user experience test. TV commercials are not Facebook video ads. Gif banners are not Instagram stories. And digital advertising in general is not mass marketing in the 1980’s. Think customer journeys. Think why your target audience is using a particular channel or medium. Design your message accordingly. To fit the context and the user mind-set. Yes, this does increase your resources spent on creative production. But maybe you can use some of money you have saved not buying irrelevant impressions?

The above does not claim to be the recipe nor contain all the ingredients you need to ensure that your paid advertising will improve your overall user experience. But if you start demanding that your digital advertising itself should offer great user experience, then you are already getting a few steps ahead of most of your competitors.

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