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Four strategies for creating epic digital brand experiences

Four strategies for creating epic digital brand experiences Peter Crofut
Our last blog post highlighted four challenges brands face in bringing their stories to life digitally, including creating compelling brand experiences online. Today’s consumers expect great things from brands, and to meet those lofty expectations, marketers must leverage the full capacity of the digital medium to engage and delight consumers.

Here are four strategies advertisers can turn to, to deliver the brand experiences today’s consumers demand:

1) Measure and pay for what matters

2) Expand the canvas

3) Let the audience take control

4) Foster community

1. Measure and pay for what matters.

The holy grail of advertising has always been to understand and influence user behavior. Today, measurement capabilities have improved drastically, getting us much closer in digital to that holy grail of understanding “what the user wants.” The tracking capabilities are now in place to enable advertisers to measure when, where and how long someone interacts with an ad; and the ad formats are available to house these tracking capabilities and create instances where users can actually interact.

The engagement ads that result from these capabilities bring a whole new level of user understanding to digital advertising. When an advertiser uses an engagement ad, they get access to metrics that explain which content people actually use in the ad, allowing for better optimization. And the pay-per-engagement model means that the advertiser only pays when a user shows interest in the ad.

Engagement ads also push the boundary in terms of what’s possible from a creative standpoint. Advertisers can build digital catalogues that allow people to flip through ad content like a magazine; they can insert videos to show how the product works; and they can even livestream an event directly into the ad unit, effectively syndicating that event across the internet.

Now that advertisers have the ability to provide interactive experiences for users (and measure those interactions), brands need to develop campaigns that maximize these capabilities to reach and engage consumers.

2. Expand the canvas to capture attention.

One reason creatives have pushed back against digital is the relatively small space available to show their creative. And just as they were getting comfortable with desktop, along came mobile platforms, presenting even smaller screens to squeeze an ad onto. But ingenious ad formats can help advertisers increase the size of their creative canvas without adding to the square footage of the ad unit itself, giving them more flexibility to bring their stories to life.

For example, Jaguar effectively used the cascade format to triple the size of their original ad unit, by “unfolding” additional panels of information to house a much larger creative asset. Warner Brothers used multiple ad units on the same page, in tandem, to provide more real estate for their creative. They synced up the ad creative in multiple ad units on the page, so that they could show what appears to be a single creative asset across multiple ad spaces.

The previous ad formats allow an advertiser to extend the creative canvas on a single screen. But technology now also enables advertisers to extend the canvas across multiple screens. A technique called “Channel Connect” lets brands build a communication channel between a PC and mobile device, enabling viewers to use mobile devices to interact with ads they see on their PC. For example, Sony used Channel Connect to turn a big chase scene from Skyfall into a video game, and players used their mobile devices as a video controller to play the game that they saw on their PC.

By using innovative formats for expanding the creative canvas - be they single-unit formats, multi-unit formats, or cross-screen formats, advertisers can deliver their narratives online without compromising the quality of the creative.

3. Let the audience take control.

Once the ad agency has adequate space to show off their creative, they need to populate that space with interactive and engaging brand content. A differentiator of digital is the interactivity that it fosters: while TV is a consumption experience where advertisers push content to users, online is a dialogue, allowing the brand and consumer to interact in a meaningful way.

Advertisers need to maximize this bi-directionality of the online world by building ads that allow users to interact with the brand.

The IAB released their Rising Stars winners for interactive video units earlier this year, exemplifying that the industry is moving toward interactivity, even for traditional video ads. Cadillac used the “timecard” format to repurpose their Cadillac ATS TV commercial in a whole new light for digital, adding additional layers of information - photos, 360’s, and color swatches - on top of the video. When a consumer clicks on the additional info, the original video pauses to allow the user to learn more; when the user is finished and closes out of the info, the video resumes where it left off.

These types of interactive ads feel more like micro-sites rather than standard ad units -- the brand allows the user to learn more about the product, experience demos and watch videos, all within the ad unit. The user gets access to much of the info that lives on a website, yet never has to navigate away from the original page they were viewing.

4. Foster community to re-engage them over time.

Advertisers can use display or social ads to build community, drive users to compelling experiences and engage them. By creating a community of potential content generators, social functionality also frees marketers from having to create all of the content. By participating in a brand’s story telling, consumers will find content more relevant and are more likely to share it with other users. Thus, brands can seed a community experience with ads and let users take control of the conversation.

Non-profit Futures Without Violence (FWV) entered the social space to build a bigger, broader community around the shared value of “respect.” FWV used social ads to find people who wanted to share their personal stories about respect. In the process, FWV was delighted to uncover an audience it hadn’t been able to previously engage; its ads broke through to the 13-17 year-old demographic, generating hundreds of viral stories that sparked conversation around an anti-bullying message.

It’s not just paid or social channels that build brands - both are parts of the overall customer journey. Any of the compelling ad formats discussed here can combine with a social landing page experience to create deeper engagement.

With the advances in measurement, formats and interactive experiences, there are no longer any excuses for brands to avoid online as a place to engage customers. These four strategies are proof that brands are adapting their approach to the new capabilities. In our next article, we’ll discuss how data is also changing the way brands need to design their creative, so that they can tell a relevant message to every person they talk to. Stay tuned!

As head of Google's creative platforms solutions, Peter Crofut is a 15-year veteran of display who oversees Google's creative platforms strategy and the team of specialists focusing on helping the creative agency community leverage...

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