Convenience Is King This Holiday Shopping Season

Convenience Is King This Holiday Shopping Season

Advertising

This is going to be a different holiday season. Many shoppers will be planning for holidays apart from their extended families and friends as they practice social distancing. And shopping itself will look different: consumers will likely be very careful about going into brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, shoppers will seek convenience. We’ve blogged about the importance of customer-friendly shipping in the past; this year, as consumers order gifts for shipping abroad to their socially distanced loved ones, convenient and cost-effective shipping will be more important than ever. Shoppers will also rely on services such as curbside pickup that make it easier to purchase gifts without needing to go into stores. It’s important that retailers adapt online holiday advertising strategies accordingly.

Rise of Convenience

Signs are everywhere that shoppers will place a heavy emphasis on convenience:

  • Retailers from Home Depot to Macy’s are downplaying Black Friday, focusing instead on spreading out holiday deals over a period time. This is a big shift: no longer will customers be expected to queue up in front of physical stores on retailers’ timetables. It’s simply not safe to do so.
  • Instead, retailers are stressing their ability to manage—and support—how people want to shop on their own terms. For example, Walmart has launched Walmart Plus, a new subscription service through which the retailer, among other things, manages delivery of purchases. For $98 a year, participating consumers receive in-store and online benefits like unlimited free delivery. The service, a direct competitor to Amazon Prime, demonstrates how retailers can pivot to meet customer needs during a year of radical change.
  • We also see retailers expanding their curbside pickup services, which makes it possible for shoppers to minimize in-store shopping while still getting what they want on their own timetable. As noted in eMarketer, curbside pickup is booming: “We now expect US click-and-collect ecommerce sales to grow to $58.52 billion, up 60.4% from our initial forecast of 38.6% growth.”

What Retailers Should Do

There are steps retailers can take to stay competitive during a holiday season shaped by an unprecedented year. What do we recommend?

  • First off, start now to advertise your holiday sales. Why? Because people are probably shopping earlier to accommodate more time to ship things. eMarketer recommends capturing accelerating holiday traffic by setting suitable budgets, not to mention competitive targets, for Smart Shopping campaigns and Smart Bidding.
  • But don’t just promote merchandise. Promote convenience; send the message that you are recognizing shoppers’ needs during an extraordinary year, and working hard to make life easier. For example, if you offer curbside pickup, use Google advertising tools to promote it: retailers can now indicate in their local inventory ads that curbside pickup is an option. And features like the local inventory ads curbside pickup badge, currently in beta, allow retailers to highlight contactless pickup available for products next day or even same day.
  • Capitalize on location-based advertising such as advertising on Google Maps. As we have blogged in the past, Google Maps advertising offers unique possibilities; why not use this tool to highlight your shipping and curbside service offerings?
  • Put video to work. Explain how your shipping and curbside services work via tight, thoughtful video segments. Per eMarketer, “Viewers are three times more likely to pay attention to online video ads than television ads, and 70 percent of viewers say they bought a brand after seeing it on YouTube.” YouTube’s value, in fact, can’t be overstated: the article goes on to detail that the video-sharing platform has a 97 percent audience reach. Internalize these tendencies and strengths, and capitalize on them by planning a video strategy that reaches more people, and inspires those people to come shop this holiday season.
  • Make sure you promote services such as shipping through Google search ads. As eMarketer notes, almost 75 percent of U.S. respondents who indicate they plan to shop this holiday state that they will shop online more than they have in past holiday seasons. And the time-honored joy of browsing for gifts? A similar percentage say they will indulge their browsing online rather than on-site. Meet these online browsers and shoppers where they are at, letting them know, in their online search results, what you are offering in terms of shipping.

Contact True Interactive

A year ago, no one could have predicted the ways 2020 would shape consumer need—or the imagination and agility that would be demanded of brands responding to that need. Let us help you create online holiday advertising strategies during a singular time. Contact us.

Why Changes to Apple Maps Matter to Online Advertising

Why Changes to Apple Maps Matter to Online Advertising

Advertising

Businesses, keep your eyes on Apple Maps. The increasingly popular wayfinding app is making some big changes with the roll-out of iOS 14 this fall. As widely reported, Apple will:

Empower Visual Storytellers

People who visit businesses may upload photos of those businesses on their Apple Maps listings, just like they can do on Google Maps. The next time someone wants to post a photo of their stay at your hotel, they can do just that on your Apple Maps listing. Or if they want to depict the quality and safety of their dining experience at your restaurant, you can expect them to do so on your listing.

Rate Your Business

For the first time, people can rate their experience at your location by giving you a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Now, this is a pretty basic change. On Google Maps, people can actually write reviews, not just ratings. But even still, allowing for ratings is probably going to move Apple Maps closer to being a full-fledged site for reviews and ratings. This development means businesses will need to pay more serious attention to Apple Maps as a source of reputation building. Customer ratings and reviews are increasingly important. Nine out of 10 people read them.

Why the News about Apple Maps Matters to Online Advertising

So why should businesses that advertise online care about these changes? Well, for one thing, anytime Apple changes its products, businesses need to pay attention. Apple is a bellwether brand with a wide-ranging influence across the business landscape. When Apple acts, the world is affected. We believe that the Apple Maps changes mean a few things:

Mind Your Own Visual Storytelling

Businesses need to strengthen their ability to create compelling visual content, including images and video, in their online advertising. Apple is responding to the reality that in the age of Instagram, visual content creates lasting impact. Apple is appealing to the same consumer who follows sites like Instagram closely. The question for any business: how powerful is your visual content? How well do you capitalize on visually appealing ad formats on sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat to connect with customers?

Think of Maps Apps as Brand-Building Tools

True, Apple Maps is not an advertising destination. But apps such as Google Maps and Waze evolved beyond consumer wayfinding a long time ago, as we have discussed on our own blog. And Google Maps is easily the most dominant map app. As Apple continues to position Apple Maps as the ad-free, pro-privacy alternative to Google Maps, businesses should expect Google to go in the opposite direction. Rather than allow Apple to define its brand, Google will roll out more advertising options for businesses on Google Maps. Watch for them and capitalize on them.

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Walmart Takes Aim at Amazon, Facebook, and Google with Online Advertising

Walmart Takes Aim at Amazon, Facebook, and Google with Online Advertising

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When Walmart recently announced that it was joining Microsoft in a bid for TikTok, the news had many people scratching their heads. But the bid makes perfect sense in context of Walmart’s growing online advertising business, an aspect of the Walmart empire that is beginning to catch more attention among brands. Read on to learn more.

The Growth of Walmart Advertising

You might not know it, but Walmart operates its own digital advertising business under Walmart Media Group. Under CEO Doug McMillon, Walmart Media Group has been building an advertising business to compete with Amazon, Google, and Facebook (the Big Three of online advertising). As reported in The Wall Street Journal, “deep-pocketed companies with large amounts of data on their customers are in the best position to mount a challenge” to these competitors.

Walmart feels ready to play in that sandbox. The retail behemoth aims to tap into its own trove of shopper data (about purchases made both online and in brick-and-mortar stores), and sell advertising services to businesses with products in Walmart stores and across the entire digital world, on sites including Walmart.com. As Steve Bratspies, the chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., has noted, data can give advertisers a leg up by providing insight into what a consumer might really want and need.

For example, as noted in The Wall Street Journal, a customer might buy a bicycle in a Walmart store, then subsequently see ads for bike helmets on platforms like Facebook. The ads would direct the shopper back to Walmart.com to make the purchase. It’s a win/win, with consumer needs being anticipated and met, and brands making the connection to a motivated shopper.

Walmart’s Advertising Services

How does Walmart propose to make those connections? The retailer currently offers advertisers services such as:

  • Sponsored Products ads, which consumers encounter when they are browsing Walmart.com. These ads can take many forms:
    • A brand’s products can get premium placement on the first page of a shopper’s search results.
    • An advertiser’s logo might appear, along with a custom headline, at the top of relevant search results.
    • Products can appear as part of a product carousel of relevant alternate purchase options.
    • Items can be highlighted in a “Buy Box” as the most relevant alternate purchase option on a product detail page.

Walmart Sponsored Product Ad

  • Visually compelling display ads, which keep a brand in the forefront:
    • Across Walmart’s digital properties. Content and advertising can be seamlessly merged on Walmart.com, pickup and delivery, and Walmart apps.
    • Offsite, across the web and social channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. As noted earlier, relevant ads will re-engage customers and send them back to Walmart for products.

Walmart Display Ad

Where Does TikTok Fit into All This?

Walmart’s motivation for acquiring TikTok probably has much to do with digital ad dollars. As Mark Sullivan of Fast Company points out, TikTok is a prime space for digital advertising. And Walmart clearly recognizes that, sharing in a statement that TikTok might represent “an important way for us to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses.”

Sullivan elaborates:

TikTok is itself in the early stages of selling ads on its app, and it has data on people’s video content choices, but it lacks data on the things people buy. If Walmart owned TikTok it could use its ecommerce user data to help advertisers put ads in front of the right TikTok users. And Walmart could be the exclusive seller of targeted ad space on TikTok.

One advertising industry insider told me that a brand—say a car company—might use a cookie to capture data on a consumer that came to its site to look at cars, then use Walmart’s ad-tech to show an ad to that same consumer on TikTok.

If Walmart had an ownership stake in TikTok, Walmart could connect its advertisers with TikTok’s young demographic, too. And let’s face it — TikTok is hot. In early August 2020, the video-sharing social networking service reported about 100 million monthly active U.S. users, a figure that is up nearly 800 percent from January 2018. Walmart clearly sees the opportunities inherent in connecting its brands with that audience.

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To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

Advertiser Q&A: Connected TV

Advertiser Q&A: Connected TV

Advertising

As we blogged in 2019, we are living in a connected TV (CTV) era, one in which audiences are fragmented, consuming content across multiple devices and channels. CTV provides brands with tremendous opportunity, but some confusion persists about what it is exactly. Read on to learn more about CTV, how it differs from over-the-top (OTT) TV, and how it might benefit your brand:

What exactly is connected TV?

Connected TV refers specifically to the device used to access content (e.g., devices such as Amazon Fire, Roku, and Apple TV, not to mention gaming consoles like Xbox). Andison Flores at LiftIntent explains, “CTV is anything that allows your TV to access video content through the public Internet, as opposed to traditional cable.”

Is connected TV the same as OTT?

Though CTV and OTT are often used interchangeably by marketers, brands, and even reporters, there is a distinction. As Tal Chalozin, Co-founder and CTO at Innovid, says, “OTT means you are accessing content ‘over the top’ of infrastructure providers.” For example, users might be purchasing bandwidth from a provider like Comcast. But they can go “over the top” of Comcast by buying additional content—subscribing to Hulu, say, or Netflix. Chalozin explains, “You’re using the bandwidth provider as an access layer but not as the main way you’re accessing content.” In short, OTT refers to the new breed of content providers.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) makes a handy comparison:

  1. “Use CTV when you are specifically talking about Smart TVs and streaming devices that are attached to TVs. Mobile and desktop devices are not included under the term CTV.
  1. Use OTT when it doesn’t matter which devices are included. For example, if you want to talk about ‘OTT services’ (like Hulu or TubiTV), and delivery to a particular device doesn’t matter. OTT is still a valid term that distinguishes premium television content from the vast world of online video where user-generated content is commonplace.”

Why is connected TV getting popular with viewers?

As Anna Kuzmenko, COO at BidMind by Fiksu, notes, CTV offers users the freedom to “watch whatever they want, whenever they want.” Millennials and Gen Zers in particular have “cut the cord,” eschewing the limits of linear TV viewing in favor of streaming.

Why is connected TV popular with advertisers?

Advertisers are following their audience. According to Forbes, a recent study from the Leichtman Research Group estimates that 80 percent of TV homes in the U.S. have at least one connected TV device. That number represents a steady increase from the 57 percent logged in 2015, and 24 percent in 2010.

Predictably, CTV use soared during the pandemic: Forbes also cites a Nielson report, which notes that CTV viewing exploded from 2.7 billion hours during the pre-pandemic week of March 2, to 3.9 billion hours during the weeks of March 23, March 30, and April 6. Even during the week of May 4, when stay-at-home laws eased in some states, CTV viewing remained above pre-pandemic levels at 3.5 billion hours.

These stats are good news for advertisers embracing CTV. So is the fact that CTV allows brands to reach out to specific audiences. As Forbes notes, “CTV’s targeting capabilities are the ‘holy grail’ for advertisers.” Many CTV companies use ACR, or Automated Content Recognition, which collects data that can inform programming recommendations for users and better target ads to niche groups. Although audiences in the era of connected TV may not be as huge as the linear TV days, CTV helps brands better understand and reach their niche market effectively.

And the future of CTV looks bright. Kuzmenko says, “In 2021, CTV ad spend is estimated to hit the significant sum of $10.81 billion.”

How do you set up a connected TV campaign?

The approach for now is very passive: you give a connected TV provider such as Verizon Media/Yahoo the desired demographic you want to reach, and Verizon Media/Yahoo tells you what the CPM (cost per thousand impressions) will be. Verizon Media/Yahoo manages the rest.

Note: different providers have different requirements. With Verizon Media/Yahoo, for example, you can dive in with any budget, but a $20 CPM is minimum if you want to get a reasonable amount of impressions. And as might be expected, the more targeting that you do—narrowing your demographic by city, say—the more expensive advertising is going to be.

What metrics can connected TV providers give you?

It varies. iHeart Media gives you impressions, cost, CPM and completion rates as well as some demographic results with similar KPIs. Verizon Media/Yahoo gives you impressions.

Additionally Verizon Media/Yahoo can include conversions as well based on users’ IP address, Yahoo mail receipts, and other proprietary data/tools.

Contact True Interactive

Eager to capitalize on the opportunities CTV can offer your brand? Contact us. We can help.

Photo by Li Lin on Unsplash

Online Shopping and Advertising Continue to Converge in 2020

Online Shopping and Advertising Continue to Converge in 2020

Advertising

One of the big stories of 2020 is, of course, the surge in people going online. It’s not just that people are spending more time online watching movies and connecting on social media. They’re also making purchases: as consumer behavior moves online, we’re seeing a surge in eCommerce. As reported in Forbes, the latest research suggests that COVID-19 has accelerated the progress of ecommerce adoption by four to six years—within a matter of months. What does that mean for your brand? A look at what the tech giants are doing provides some clues:

Instagram Shop

Instagram is embracing the online shopping trends with its July roll out, in the United States, of Instagram Shop. The online shopping feature allows consumers to view products on Instagram: personalized recommendations drawn from brands you as a consumer follow, plus recommendations suggested by Instagram’s @shop team.

Businesses can also add hashtags to product descriptions to make those products more likely to be featured. On Instagram Shop, shoppers can save items of interest, contact businesses, and place orders directly using Facebook Pay. In short, the feature allows brands to set up a single online store consumers can access via Instagram. Instagram Shop is set to go global in coming weeks.

Google’s Shoploop

Meanwhile, Google is making its own bid to snag the attention of online shoppers with its video shopping platform, Shoploop. Introduced by Google’s experimental Area 120 division, Shoploop spotlights products in short videos of 90 seconds or less. The videos illustrate how to use the product, and interested shoppers can make purchases online, directly from the app. They can also like, share, and save videos.

As reported in MediaPost, Shoploop “helps brands get product reviews from real people who know and use the products.” One of the beauties of Shoploop is that it streamlines a process that used to involve several apps or websites. Consumers can now discover products, see how they are used in real life, and make a purchase—all in one place. Currently, most Shoploop clips highlight skincare and makeup, but plans are already underway to expand reach to products including clothing, jewelry, and electronics.

What This Means for Brands

Store closures/state lockdowns during COVID-19 undoubtably spurred development of shopping experiences like Instagram Shop and Shoploop. But there’s a good chance that consumer habits formed during lockdown will persist indefinitely. “We are seeing signs that online purchasing trends formed during the pandemic may see permanent adoption,” notes Taylor Schreiner, Director, Adobe Digital Insights, in the Forbes article cited above.

And because companies like Google and Instagram are making it even easier for people to buy things online by giving them more access points, shoppers will have more reasons than ever to continue those habits forged during the pandemic. The headline for advertisers is this: online advertising not only creates visibility for a brand, it is becoming an increasingly important, even mandatory, strategy for brands to draw shoppers directly to their commerce engines.

The Challenge for Advertisers

The challenge for advertisers is to capitalize on all these access points, while understanding what types of advertising work best to attract engagement online. That is, what kind of ads does a brand now need to create in order to draw shoppers to their Instagram page, as opposed to their website? How should a business build an advertising presence on Instagram that complements the organic content it posts, especially for brands that sell products on Instagram? Different access points can mean different audiences: online ads will not necessarily all be the same.

Contact True Interactive

Need help navigating these new opportunities? Contact us. We can help.

Advertiser Q&A: Microsoft Digital Marketing Center

Advertiser Q&A: Microsoft Digital Marketing Center

Advertising Microsoft

Microsoft has been in the news lately. The tech company has expanded its Microsoft Digital Marketing Center, which provides small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with a central site on which they can manage, online, both advertising campaigns and organic content. Read on to learn more about the Microsoft Digital Marketing Center and what it might offer your brand.

What is the Microsoft Digital Marketing Center?

The Microsoft Digital Marketing Center is a product from the company’s experimental project lab, Microsoft Garage. When it came onto the scene in October 2019, it empowered SMBs to use one interface to manage digital campaigns across multiple networks, from Microsoft to Google and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In late June 2020, Microsoft announced a major expansion of the product, with additional features such as:

  • Social management inbox, which serves as a central hub for managing likes, direct messages, and replies on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Image ad suggestion, which allows brands to easily create their own effective image ads by choosing from suggested ads.
  • Improved tools for ads, such as a field for an extra headline. The benefit? Advertisers can include more information in their ads and subsequently enhance location targeting.
  • The ability to appeal disapproved ads from Bing and Facebook.
  • A new home page experience that combines social and ad metrics into one user-friendly dashboard view.
  • Twitter support, which is now enabled.

Who is the target audience?

SMBs are the target market. SMBs have captured even more attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. As McKinsey points out, SMBs face an even tougher road to economic recovery. They need all the help they can get.

Who are Microsoft Digital Marketing Center’s competitors?

Microsoft Digital Marketing Center is competing with platforms such as:

  • HubSpot, which is already positioned as a one-stop shop for SMBs. Though Microsoft Digital Marketing Center doesn’t have all the CRM features of a HubSpot, it brings its own advantages to the table. (It’s currently free, for one thing.)
  • Google, to some degree. As Search Engine Land explains, “Similar to Google Smart campaigns, which aim to simplify campaign set up and management for SMBs, Digital Marketing Center uses Microsoft AI to power ad keyword and audience targeting and bidding.”

But Digital Marketing Center gives customers more autonomy. Advertisers can build their own ads. They can also use automated ad copy or modify auto-suggestions.

Why did Microsoft launch this product?

Microsoft probably launched Digital Marketing Center to gain a toehold with the market of small-to-medium-sized businesses, which have more aggressively embraced digital advertising to acquire customers amid the spread of COVID-19. And as noted above, they are not alone in their efforts to win the hearts of this group.

What should I do next?

If you are interested in trialing the Digital Marketing Center, start here. The beta is open to U.S. businesses only at this point.

Is there a “gotcha”?

As with many free products, be aware that you get what you pay for. Digital Marketing Center is totally self-service: you’ll be on your own in managing this tool. In short, it invites self-sufficiency! Also, just because it’s free now doesn’t mean the features will remain free.

Contact True Interactive

Do you want to learn more about the Digital Marketing Center and what it might offer your business? Contact us. We can help.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

How Brands Have Made the Pivot with Nimble Marketing

How Brands Have Made the Pivot with Nimble Marketing

Advertising

On the True Interactive blog, we have discussed examples of how businesses are adapting the tone of their online advertising to remain relevant—and appropriate—during the pandemic. But some brands have needed to do more than adjust their tone; they’ve had to adapt their marketing strategies and even their business models to address specific needs or limitations brought about by COVID-19. Here are some examples:

Raising Cane’s

Raising Cane’s, the fast-food chain specializing in chicken fingers, saw the pandemic coming. As discussed in QSR, Raising Cane’s founder and co-CEO Todd Graves closely followed news of COVID-19 and its spread throughout China; Graves and his team knew it was only a matter of time before the virus moved abroad, and they were quick to take action when it did. Health and food safety, always a priority, got even more attention. And the restaurant bolstered its ability to manage drive-through service rather than sit-down dining, even as the maintenance of food quality remained a priority. The operational change demanded a marketing pivot.

Raising Cane’s changed its message, including its digital advertising, to focus on its heightened focus on safety. The business also ratcheted up promotion of its drive-through service. Especially in the early days of the pandemic as shelter-in-place mandates took hold, it was not always clear to people which restaurants were open and which ones were not. In addition, the company mobilized part of its work force to support healthcare workers on the front lines fighting the pandemic, ranging from having employees sew masks to donating food to hospitals. The company talked about these efforts, which encouraged others to step up, too. In doing so, Raising Cane’s also aligned its actions with consumer preferences: according to a Kantar study, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of the general population would like to see brands talk about how they’re helpful in the new everyday life.

Raising Cane’s realized a benefit from its marketing pivot: a temporary dip in sales that occurred when coronavirus hit U.S. shores was followed by a return to pre-COVID-19 sales numbers. Now Raising Cane’s is making another interesting change as it promotes a sponsorship of virtual musical performances to benefit people on the front lines fighting COVID-19. How about a song with those chicken fingers?

D’Artagnan

For meat and poultry seller and manufacturer D’Artagnan, pivoting has meant changing market focus. Before the pandemic, 75 percent of the company’s revenue came from sales to restaurants with some revenue coming from direct sales to consumers online. But as restaurants closed in response to lockdown orders, that business dropped 80 percent. At the same time, grocery stores saw a leap in business as people began eating at home more. D’Artagnan recognized that trend and adapted by tapping into it, overhauling its operations to meet grocery market needs as well as a 700 percent increase in demand from customers suddenly ordering directly from the D’Artagnan website. The company pivoted its online marketing in a few crucial ways:

  • Ramping up special deals on its website to attract more consumers.
  • Advertising its direct-to-consumer business with Google Advertising, including promotion of overnight delivery; and reliance on social media to promote deals such as Mother’s Day specials.
  • Promoting an expansion of at-home delivery services, which made consumers in some previously untapped markets aware that the company was open for business.
  • Redirecting its sales team to build relationships with supermarkets.

The switch has demanded flexibility from D’Artagnan’s 280 employees, who have need to operate differently. The willingness to meet those challenges has been rewarded with sustained business, and sustained business has meant jobs: The Wall Street Journal reported in mid-April that the company had retained all its employees.

Peloton

In an era when people are traveling less and doing more of everything at home, this maker of exercise equipment has shifted focus from the use of Peloton bikes in hotels and gyms to at-home use. App Annie explains that Peloton optimized for search on both their app and web site, taking out words people aren’t searching for right now — “at the gym,” for example —and replacing them with phrases touting an at-home experience. They also dialed up at-home trial promotions, increasing their free trial from 30 to 90 days. The extended trial period is highlighted in the first sentence of Peloton’s iOS app description, a good way to reach out as customers get their heads around the necessity of getting fit at home. The company has also relied on Google Advertising to promote its ability to stream fitness classes to consumers. Recently Peloton reported a 66-percent surge in sales. Clearly, people are ready for a workout.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising in 2020, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.