There's a saying that's almost as old as advertising, and you've probably heard it dozens of times. "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." Some attribute the quote to John Wanamaker, while others say it was William Lever who coined the famous phrase. For our purposes it doesn't really matter who said it or exactly how it was worded because, as marketers today can tell you, the sentiment still holds water, even in a digital world where just about anything can be measured.
Naturally, what works for one marketer or brand may not be applicable across the board. But we've cast a pretty wide net here. So it's safe to say that you're likely to see at least a couple of ways your organization can trim the fat. Of course, if you have your own suggestions, please share them with the community in the comments section.
Dumping traditional assets into digital media
Go ahead and post your Super Bowl commercials online. In fact, these days you probably want to put them online before the big game. But while it is an accepted best practice to make those event-specific spots available online, it doesn't necessarily follow that all of your TV content can be repurposed for the web. Or put another way: Your 30-second spot isn't pre-roll. It just isn't, no matter how good the creative is.
"Brand marketers need to make sure they aren't just taking their traditional creative assets and forcing them into digital environments," says Dave Martin, SVP of media at Ignited. "A TV commercial that's designed to be seen on a large screen in someone's living room might not work very well when someone watches it in front of a 2-minute YouTube video on their tablet. The creative needs to match the media as closely as possible if you expect to have an impact on any consumer."
Take TrueView, for example, where a consumer can skip an ad after five seconds.
"The creative you deploy within TrueView should be designed to make the most of those first five seconds in the event a consumer chooses to skip," Martin says.
Not knowing your ad network
Love them or hate them, media buyers consistently turn to ad networks because the reach is hard to beat and the price is usually right. Unfortunately, if you fail to manage your ad networks properly, you're likely wasting a lot of the money you spend with them.
"Brands must challenge ad networks to eliminate waste," says Michael Baliber, SVP, director of media strategy at ID Media. "Brands must be judicious in finding the right ad network partners that will make a difference for them in the marketplace. Many ad networks can artificially drive media costs up by bidding against each other on the same open inventory. By consolidating buying within one or two ad networks and researching each network's differentiations, brands can eliminate excess waste."
Living and dying by impressions
If your audience doesn't see your ad because it loaded below the page or somewhere off the visible screen, you've wasted your money. Likewise, if that click you assumed was a human turned out to be a bot, you've just been defrauded. Viewability and click fraud aren't the same thing, but they're both symptoms of a larger problem, says Joe Marchese, CEO true[X] media.
"Digital advertising is in the midst of its very own subprime crisis as it takes nearly valueless assets (impressions) and packages and repackages them up until they can be passed off as having value," says Marchese. "We're so eager to squeeze some kind of value out of online advertising that the vast majority of the business seems to be settling for metrics that don't (and shouldn't) hold up."
According to Marchese, advertisers should insist that sellers stop trying to push impressions and instead focus on metrics that show buyers whether or not they've captured the audience's attention.
"Advertisers should demand share of screen and how long they have it," he says. "These should be the metrics, and our entire industry should be insisting on them."
Social for the sake of social
"Every brand needs to engage on social media." That's pretty much the gospel in marketing these days, but unfortunately, a lot of brands have taken the message to heart without really thinking about what it means.
"I would say that five to seven years ago, 70 percent of brands went into social media without a plan," says Kent Lewis, president and founder of Anvil Media. "Today, that number is more like 30 percent, based on my experience. Brands are learning, but they are still prone to making foolish mistakes like focusing on the platform [as opposed to] the customer's content needs, media type, and delivery preference."
So what does a brand without a plan look like on social? Lewis has a few telltale signs:
- Little or no response to questions or comments from the general public, let alone customers or prospects
- Inconsistent posts across social media (two or three in one day, then nothing for weeks)
- Automated posts across social platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all have the same status updates posted at the same time)
- Profiles are not properly optimized (images, bios, etc.)
- One junior voice that lacks brand or business knowledge seems to be driving social (as opposed to representatives from throughout the organization)
- Improper use of the platform or jargon (too many hashtags or none at all, no replies or DMs on Twitter, not thanking RTs)
Relying on proprietary tools
In the past, when you said you built a proprietary tool, it often sounded really impressive. After all, you created something of value that only your organization could use. But these days, proprietary tools may not be as valuable as they once were. In fact, says Tom Wentworth, CMO of Acquia, they're often a waste.
"As organizations are shifting to become digital-first, I've seen marketers waste loads of money on proprietary software to guide their transition into the digital world, says Wentworth. "But proprietary software doesn't give organizations the flexibility they need to respond to the fast-paced world we live in today, leaving them always a step behind the competition. Bulky proprietary software suites from large vendors, like Oracle, SAP, or IBM, may offer marketers a one stop shop for every process in the marketing funnel, but these suites often contain a lot of unnecessary applications and platforms that organizations really don't need. This, in turn, wastes a big portion of their budget. What's more, when marketers are locked into a suite from one vendor, it stifles innovation and agility."
Instead of relying on proprietary tools, Wentworth says it's better to leverage as many open source tools as possible.
"What it comes down to is that with open source capabilities, marketers can take advantage of best-of-breed solutions, without committing to a single vendor," he says. "These agile, API-based tools can also be easily integrated, so each marketer can build a library of tools for their own specific needs. Open source isn't only a more economical option, but also allows organizations to innovate faster."
Failing to review your agency
When you have an agency you like, it's easy to get into a groove with them. It's also easy to become complacent.
"Many agencies suffer from 'this is our way of doing things, it's unique,'" says Laura Wilkinson Sinton of Vox Advisory. "But that doesn't fly in digital because every six months there's a new tool or piece of software that is making it easier to create an experience agencies customarily charge a lot of money for."
One clear example of that problem, according to Sinton, is email marketing.
"An agency used to charge $15,000 to design one single HTML email back in 2007," she says. "Today, that can be done easily in less than 30 minutes thanks to the tools and templates provided by Mailchimp and ConstantContact."
It's not that agencies aren't valuable -- they are, says Sinton -- but marketers can't afford to fall into a pattern of using their agencies in the same way year after year. Things change, tools improve, and agencies that become set in their ways aren't doing their clients any favors.
Failing to plan adequately
It should go without saying that poor planning (or no planning) can waste money. But the truth is plenty of marketers squander countless dollars simply because they didn't start with a solid plan. Poor planning happens in just about every aspect of marketing, and the more complex the task, the more a bad plan can cost you. But just consider how poor planning can impact a relatively basic asset -- your brand's website.
"In my experience, the most costly mistake a client can make is to jump head-first into a project without a proper plan," says Shannon Stull Carrus, creative director of WhoIsCarrus. "If they do not let their agency fully research and map out the site, they will pay for it later in change fees and countless extra hours spent tweaking, moving, and spinning out new drafts. The way we mitigate this problem is to conduct discovery meetings with the clients, create an information architecture document, mood board and wireframes, all before any web design can commence."
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
"Money as garbage" image via Shutterstock.