Advertising Powers Google’s Future

Advertising Powers Google’s Future

Google

In recent weeks, we have seen a flurry of earnings announcements from the major digital advertising platforms, including the big three: Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Together these companies account for 62 percent of all digital ad spend, according to eMarketer.

Google dominates with 37.1 percent market share. And yet, during earnings season, Amazon and Facebook have dominated the news even though Google’s ad business grew by 20 percent (year over year) for the final quarter of 2018. Google’s advertising revenues for the quarter were $32.6 billion, accounting for 83 percent of Alphabet’s revenue. For the full year, Google achieved $116.3 billion in ad revenue compared to $10 billion achieved by Amazon Advertising.

Where’s the Love for Google?

So where’s the love for Google? Here’s what I think is happening:

  • Surprise is more interesting than predictability. Facebook surprised analysts by reporting strong advertising growth for 2018, as we noted on our blog. Here is a company that has been rocked by data privacy scandals for months. And yet, the world’s largest social media platform just keeps growing, which raises questions about how important data privacy really is to Facebook’s community. As for Google? Advertising growth is expected. Even when Google surpasses analysts’ estimations, the pundits say “Yes, but . . . “ With Google’s latest quarterly earnings, analysts noted that Alphabet is spending more to support its ad business.

Google’s Advantages

But make no mistake: Google is going to continue to grow its ad business and in doing so will draw upon several advantages, such as:

  • A massive user base that relies on Google across multiple platforms and apps ranging from the Google search engine to Google Maps and YouTube.
  • A head start in using artificial intelligence to make advertising smarter and more effective. True, Google faces competition from Amazon and Facebook. But as I’ve noted, Google’s extensive AI tools are rapidly evolving.
  • Global reach. Amazon and Facebook are improving their advertising products to support international ad campaigns, but Google commands an already established global presence.
  • Strong content marketing that educates advertises on Google’s products. You can see for yourself from Google’s blogs.

What Businesses Should Do

My advice to businesses:

  • Stay abreast of advances in Google’s ad tools, especially with AI.

To maximize the value of your digital ad spend, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.

Alexa Stars in Amazon’s 2018 Earnings Announcement

Alexa Stars in Amazon’s 2018 Earnings Announcement

Amazon

The conversation about the voice interface no longer focuses on whether we’re entering a voice-first world. The questions have quickly shifted to who will lead it and how soon using our voices to search for things and manage our lives will be as second nature as texting.

My teammate Taylor Murphy recently discussed an answer to the first question: no single firm “owns” the voice-first world, but both Amazon and Google have a strong lead. The answer to the question about how quickly voice will saturate our lives comes down to how soon people will be comfortable using voice to do tasks that require extremely high levels of trust in the device you’re using, such as buying a product or handling an emergency. Most people use voice to do mundane things like check the weather. Few actually ask Alexa or Google Assistant to order a pizza or conduct other transactions. That’s because we’re not quite ready to trust a device to interpret our speech with enough accuracy.

The major players in voice are trying to address that issue. In Amazon’s January 31 earnings announcement, CEO Jeff Bezos said, “The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, and the results of the team’s hard work are clear. In 2018, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20% through advances in machine learning, we added billions of facts making Alexa more knowledgeable than ever, developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018 compared to 2017.”

Normally CEOs comment on high-level, visionary messages in earnings releases, such as top-line growth, major product launches, and corporate strategy. I find it interesting that Jeff Bezos decided to talk about Alexa’s accuracy, and the number of Alexa skills developed. What does this tell you? That Alexa is strategic to Amazon. Jeff Bezos already saw the voice-first world coming, and he decided to help shape it.

So what does all this mean to businesses that advertise online? It means that before you know it, we’re going to turn the corner with voice accuracy. Consumers will use their voices for e-commerce. So it’s important to prepare. For example, as noted previously by my colleague Taylor, advertisers should evaluate their search queries and look for conversional text (“Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great phrases to focus on). Also, pay attention to any long-tail queries that include a natural phrase such as “near me” or “can I get the number for . . . ”

The above advice applies not only to optimizing content on your websites but also preparing your paid media, such as paid search campaigns. Thinking like a customer might be the most effective way of ensuring your digital marketing efforts are visible to RankBrain – part of Google’s core algorithm that employs machine learning to draw the most relevant results from a search query. RankBrain collects multiple data points like keywords and the searcher’s location in an attempt to identify the intent of a search to then pair the query with the most relevant and valuable result.

Remember, voice isn’t just about using Echo or Google Home. It’s also about doing voice searches on devices where ads appear.

If you sell products on Amazon, the sense of urgency to adapt to voice is even greater. Amazon is clearly using its own retail platform to sell more Echo speakers, and more Echo speakers means more people using their voices to find and eventually buy things on Amazon.

You don’t want to be a laggard in that world. Contact True Interactive to make your online advertising flourish.

 

Why Netflix Might Embrace Advertising

Why Netflix Might Embrace Advertising

Advertising

Netflix and its boosters are celebrating the company’s first ever Best Picture Oscar nomination for Roma – but the company is also catching fire from investors. Although its fourth-quarter 2018 financial results beat Wall Street estimates for earnings per share, revenue fell below projections.

Netflix also faces other formidable challenges, such as increased competition from streaming services (e.g., Amazon and Hulu), the entrance of new services such as Disney+, and the enormous cost of spending on original content. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Netflix has raised prices. But in recent months, Netflix has also been testing ads between episodes, and its customers have not been happy about this development. The company said that trailer tests were just a way to surface new programs to loyal viewers, claiming it will help members “discover stories they will enjoy faster.”

With pressure coming from multiple sides, how can Netflix increase revenue and expand its subscriber base without losing its customers?

Competition from Hulu

We’ve seen at least one streaming service employ advertising: Hulu. When Hulu first launched in 2007, all content was completely free and supported by advertisements. In 2010, the company launched its first subscription option while maintaining the original ad-supported tier. Then in late 2016, the brand migrated towards a subscription model. Today Hulu offers ad-supported and ad-free pricing tiers.

The ad-supported tier has served Hulu well by increasing brand awareness and expanding its subscriber base. Granted, Netflix does not need to boost brand recognition. However, Netflix (and Amazon, for that matter) could benefit from this strategy if it wants to enter into new markets, which should be a priority for Netflix given the financial turmoil the brand has been recently experiencing.

Providing an ad-supported service plan might sound like a step backwards to Netflix stockholders. If Hulu moved away from it, why would Netflix bother?

  1. Original Content

The creation of original content is perhaps the most dramatic change in the way streaming services operate. Whereas audiences used to turn to streaming services to watch, say Finding Nemo, people now use these services for original movies and shows, a reality that was underscored by Netflix’s Roma being nominated for 10 Academy Awards.

With Disney’s new movie streaming platform launching later this year, it is clear that movie streaming companies no longer want to simply be a content warehouse, storing thousands of movies and TV shows made by third parties. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon want to lure potential customers into becoming subscribers through their exclusive movies and shows. This means that streaming platforms have the bargaining power, as they all have some unique value nobody will find elsewhere.

The quality content matters. Unique content attracts more paying subscribers, which gives Netflix a bigger platform for potential advertising. With 139 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix could easily increase that number by introducing an ad-supported tier. Doing so would also help relieve some of the financial pressure caused by the expensive production costs of original content – around $12 billion in 2018 alone, and expected to grow by 25 percent  to a whopping $15 billion mark in 2019.

  1. Google/Facebook Duopoly

It’s no secret that a large number of companies today are directing a good portion of their ad spend to Google and Facebook/Instagram (and, increasingly, Amazon). Other channels simply cannot match the performance, scale, and targeting capabilities of these tech giants. The growth of these platforms also reflects the strength of the digital advertising industry and suggests that there is room for more businesses to launch advertising based on their built-in audiences. As noted, Netflix has a growing audience with 139 million subscribers – and Netflix aspires to grow more especially outside the United States.

3 Targeting Capabilities

Knowledge is power. Think about all the behavioral data and Netflix has on its subscribers. Netflix can offer advertisers advanced interest targeting based on their activity on each platform. By using algorithms and machine learning, Netflix can predict which type of content a specific user may want to consume next. This data could also be used to serve users ads that are relevant, and for marketers, effective. In addition, with the help of pixels, Netflix would be able to collect data outside its environment just like Google and Facebook do, thus providing advertisers with more insights on the consumer behavior outside the streaming services and the customer journey.

It’s too soon yet to know if Netflix will launch an ad-supported tier. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does in the near future, as companies built on the “ad-free” premise are now acknowledging their advertising potential and evaluating the cost-benefit relationship of introducing ads to their platforms, just like Whatsapp. Is advertising revenue too tempting for Netflix?

To maximize the value of your online advertising, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.

CES 2019 Reminds Advertisers about the Power of Voice

CES 2019 Reminds Advertisers about the Power of Voice

Marketing

In 2019, more than 74 million Americans will own smart speakers, up 15 percent from 2018. So it’s no surprise that the annual CES, occurring this week, has been showcasing products powered by voice interfaces. Within the first few days of CES, Google alone made a slew of announcements intended to show why Google Assistant is catching up with Amazon’s Alexa as a leading voice assistant. For instance, Google Maps now incorporates Google Assistant, and Google is working with Lenovo on a voice-activated alarm clock/visual display. Not to be outdone, Amazon announced a relationship with technology firm Telenav to make Alexa a more useful voice-based navigation tool in automobiles.

So where do these developments leave advertisers? After all, it’s not as if people are using their voices to buy products and services online. For the most part, consumers use voice as a way to find music and get weather forecasts. And most people do not use voice to search for anything online. But here’s the thing: people are using voice, and more than ever. They might not be using their voices to interact with your brand just yet, but the day is coming when they will. For a number of businesses, that day is here.

For quite some time, we’ve been advocating that advertisers prepare for a voice-first world. As I noted in a 2017 blog post, advertisers can do a number of things now to be savvy about the rise of voice. For instance, advertisers should evaluate your search queries and look for conversional text. (“Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great phrases to focus on.) Also, pay attention to any long-tail queries that include a natural phrase such as “near me” or “can I get the number for . . . ” Use these queries to understand what consumers want to know about your products or services. That’s because consumers exercise a more natural and conversational language when they use their voices, thus altering their search behavior. You can then gather those learnings to strategize a personal user experience for voice searchers.

CES should serve as a reminder that a voice-first world is coming. You don’t want to be a laggard in that world. Contact True Interactive to make your online advertising flourish.

 

Advertiser Q&A: Amazon Video Ads

Advertiser Q&A: Amazon Video Ads

Amazon

Earlier this year, advertisers complained in a Digiday article that Amazon lacked a robust video ad platform, which made Amazon less attractive to Facebook and Google as an ad platform. Amazon must have been listening. The company launched video ads as part of a broader reorganization of its ad offerings under Amazon Advertising. In recent weeks, I’ve been blogging about various Amazon Advertising products. Here’s a brief overview of video ads to help you understand them.

1 What is Amazon’s Video Advertising Solution?

Amazon’s video offerings are very similar to their display offering in the sense that they use specific audiences with custom creatives to target people on Amazon as well as Amazon-owned and third-party sites (such as Twitch) and devices. Unlike the display offerings, there isn’t a self-managed option – so you must work with a team throughout the whole process.

2 Why Would an Advertiser Use Video Ads?

Video ads are a great way to tell a story. They complement display ads by sharing the same sentiments but with the ability to expand beyond a single image to show the entire story. Video ads are mainly seen as a branding play, but by using highly specific targeting available on Amazon, video ads can also drive people to complete a purchase.

As reported in Digiday, Lego tested video ads in search results on the Amazon app in the United States in 2017. And Lego liked what it saw. James Poulter, Lego’s head of emerging platforms and partnerships, told Digiday, “The test reiterated the importance video and rich media can have when it’s part of the buying journey, especially when 70 percent of all purchase journeys start on Amazon. Surfacing your content in the same place that people are having those journeys has the potential to widen the funnel.”

3 Are There Any Limitations to Video Ads?

As with Amazon’s Display ads, the main limitation with Amazon video ads is the price. Amazon requires a $35,000 budget for both video and display ad campaigns. This hefty price prevents smaller advertisers from being able to test out these advertising features.

4 How Can Advertisers Maximize the Value of Video Ads?

Maximizing the value of video ads requires a goal, good story telling, and smart targeting.

  • Goals – Since most advertisers on Amazon are selling a product, getting a consumer to complete a purchase is the most obvious goal. Generating brand awareness and recall is another goal that would work well within the Amazon universe.
  • Stories – Visually show someone how purchasing a product will solve a problem for them. Walk them through a product demonstration, but without it feeling like a sales pitch. Showcase testimonials and reviews. Create an instructional video illustrating specific features of a product.
  • Targeting – Leverage Amazon’s targeting options to find highly relevant audiences. Take what you know about your customer and match that up with products they buy and shows and videos they watch. Be very specific to the product you sell.

If you’re interested in Amazon video ads, but don’t know where to start or need assistance strategizing and managing them, please reach out to us at True Interactive.

Here are the other posts in my series about Amazon: 

Advertiser Q&A: Amazon Display Ads 

Advertiser Q&A: Amazon Sponsored Ads

The Key to a Successful Holiday Season: Shipping

The Key to a Successful Holiday Season: Shipping

Retail

Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are just table stakes for retailers to compete in the first-ever $1 trillion holiday shopping season. The real competitive advantage is coming from shipping.

Based on the client work I do, I’ve always known that favorable shipping can help a retailer compete more effectively during the holiday shopping season. Low-cost, rapid shipping caters to the needs of today’s on-demand consumer who want products curated and sent to them and oftentimes at the last minute.

But what’s changed dramatically about the 2018 season is the Amazon effect. Earlier in November, Amazon announced free shipping with no minimum purchase required from November 5 onward. Amazon did not announce a cut-off date, but it will probably be December 22. Now, this change to its shipping policy is huge. Amazon accomplishes two objectives with free shipping during the holidays:

  • Beating Target and Walmart. These two retail giants had announced more liberal shipping and returns policies of their own in October. Walmart had announced it would expand two-day shipping to the entire Walmart marketplace beginning November 1. And Walmart also said that products purchased through its marketplace could be returned Walmart brick-and-mortar stores products purchased through its marketplace. Target had announced free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase or REDcard membership required from November 1-December 22. Amazon trumped both.
  • Luring shoppers to Amazon Prime. Amazon hopes that anyone using free shipping during the holidays will get a taste of what Prime members enjoy all the time – and, presumably, sign up for Prime, where many more benefits await. For example, Prime members get free same-day delivery on millions of items and free two-day shipping on many more. Prime is the center of Amazon’s on-demand world, which encompasses services ranging from entertainment to retail.

Smaller retailers have a harder time competing on those kinds of terms, but try they must. If you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer, advertising on-demand services such as delivery, shipping, and online ordering/in-store pick-up is key to winning this holiday season. It’s important that you manage your online advertising, including your paid search and display, to show how well you service the on-demand shopper. If you need help, contact True Interactive.

Image source: Walmart

Google Responsive Ads: What You Need to Know

Google Responsive Ads: What You Need to Know

Google

Google is working harder to woo advertisers as the company faces stiffer competition from Amazon and Facebook. For example, Google rolled out responsive search ads and responsive display ads to make the advertising platform more flexible for brands. It is important that advertisers understand these features and how to maximize their value.

How Responsive Search and Display Ads Work

According to Google, responsive search ads make it possible for advertisers to enter multiple headlines (up to 15) and descriptions (up to four) when creating a search ad. Then Google Ads applies machine learning to automatically test different combinations and learn which combinations perform best. In addition, per Google, advertisers can add a third headline and second description to your text ads, and your descriptions can have up to 90 characters.

Responsive display ads work the same way, with advertisers submitting up to up to 15 images, five headlines, five descriptions, and five logos for a display ad. As with responsive search ads, Google uses machine learning to test different combinations and show the ads that work best. According to Google, “On average, advertisers see 10% more conversions at a similar CPA when using multiple headlines, descriptions, and images with responsive display ads (versus a single set of assets).”

What You Need to Know

Based on our experience with clients, I see some near-term ramifications:

  • Your advertising will become more effective. These formats are exciting because they capitalize on machine learning to scale your advertising content. As Google notes, “Great display ads assist consumers using rich images and useful information. However, showing the most relevant and engaging ads across millions of sites and apps isn’t easy.” Responsive ads are a compelling solution.
  • Organic content pays a price. By making ads more effective, Google will push organic listings down in search results.
  • You need to invest more effort. Yes, Google does do the heavy lifting when it comes to executing on your ads. But to get the most out of this format, you’ll need to come up with more variants of your message and images. (That’s the point of responsive search and display: Google takes multiple inputs to give you optimal results.) In addition, you’ll want to monitor which assets are performing best, which takes time and effort (although Google provides tips for doing so on its blog).

What You Should Do

  • Review your messaging strategy. Having more variants of your content presents an opportunity to review your messaging and differentiators. You obviously don’t want to create content willy-nilly. All your content should support your brand in some way.
  • Learn. The Google blog links I’ve shared above contain a number of tips for maximizing the value of these ads. For instance, with responsive search ads, Google advises that you include at least one of your keywords in your headlines, and create headlines that are relevant to the keywords you’re targeting. Furthermore, provide as many distinct headlines as you can. Per Google, “More headlines gives Google Ads more options for assembling your messages into relevant ads, which may increase performance.”

At True Interactive, we’re working with clients to plan and execute advertising with these and many other tools. We’ll report our learnings on our blog. Watch for our posts, and contact us if you need help with your online advertising.