What Is Machine Learning?: Advertiser Q&A

What Is Machine Learning?: Advertiser Q&A

Artificial Intelligence

Machine learning is affecting the way businesses operate – including how they advertise. Google, for instance, uses machine learning to help businesses optimize the performance of their search ads. But not everyone understands exactly what machine learning is. We thought we’d take a moment to break the topic down and answer some common questions.

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) in which computers literally have the ability to learn, and subsequently make increasingly more intelligent decisions. The learning happens when a computer program accesses and analyzes data — data in amounts generally too vast for humans to read through quickly or accurately. The computer looks for patterns in the data and learns automatically, without human assistance. Spotify, for instance, uses machine learning to understand the musical tastes of its subscribers in order to recommend songs that are more likely to match their interests.

Is machine learning the same as AI?

Machine learning is one aspect of AI. AI in fact encompasses many things, including:

  • Natural language processing, or NLP, a technology that equips machines to interpret what people say in words or text. Advanced NLP not only deciphers speech, it teases out context and detects nuances like sarcasm.
  • Chatbots, the programs operating inside messaging apps or on websites, which allow consumers to accomplish simple tasks like e-commerce transactions.
  • Neural networks, which are AI programs that use the human brain as a model. Neural networks incorporate aspects of AI like NLP in order to perform duties such as recognizing handwriting.
  • Dynamic pricing, in which programs use consumer data to set prices that are most likely to ensure a sale given various factors.
  • Content Curation, an aspect of AI that can be used to figure out what specific goods to recommend to consumers based on data about that consumer.

In short, AI is a supercategory describing and encompassing the many ways computers emulate the way people think and act. In the vast universe of AI, machine learning is one subcategory.

How are businesses using machine learning in online advertising?

Machine learning can help businesses test the effectiveness of different forms of advertising. Not only can it prioritize ads that are doing better, machine learning can even pinpoint what ads are performing best at certain times.

Google’s efforts to stay competitive in a field shared by powerhouses such as Amazon and Facebook exemplify an effective use of machine learning. As we recently discussed, Google’s responsive search ads and responsive display ads make it possible for advertisers to enter multiple headlines, descriptions, and logos. Machine learning figures in by automatically testing various combinations of these factors and highlighting the ads that perform best.

What are some tips for succeeding with machine learning?

Like any tool, machine learning can be used wisely—or abused. To glean the best results, keep in mind that:

  • Machine learning is not a replacement for humans. Use it as a complement to human judgment.
  • Machine learning is a dynamic field. This is not a topic you can learn once and then consider it mastered. Machine learning tools evolve quickly, with new ones coming along seemingly on a weekly basis. Stay on top of the changes.

Contact True Interactive

Curious as to how machine learning can help you with your digital advertising? Contact us.

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Why Brands Need to Capitalize on the Power of Visual Content

Why Brands Need to Capitalize on the Power of Visual Content

Social media

We respond to images every day: an Instagram shot of a stunning sunrise, or the pictures friends text us from a vacation spent hiking in Ireland. But not everyone understands the tremendous power images wield in the business world. Just as any business cares about how its website is written or its ad copy composed, it should also treat images with the same attention and respect. Mary Meeker’s widely read 2019 Internet Trends report underlines that truth.

Images are on the Rise

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report is an annual thought bomb with considerable influence. According to Meeker, consumer usage of digital continues to increase overall:

With that uptick, there’s been a climb in image creation. Images hold a lot of power. People respond to them: not only the pictures they take, but other people’s, too. And as image sharing becomes more popular, perhaps it’s no coincidence that Instagram use is soaring:

As Meeker points out, Twitter content with images gets more tweet impressions:

And artificial intelligence tools are making images more sophisticated, in the process rendering them more powerful as communication instruments:

What Does The Rise of Visual Storytelling Mean for You?

Her findings are a reminder that businesses need to treat images as critical assets in both paid and organic content. What should your response be? Here are some tips:

  • Capitalize on tools that make your digital advertising stand out, such as Google Shoppable Ads. As we noted in this post, select retailers are experimenting with a format that allows them to highlight multiple products for sale within a sponsored ad appearing in Google Images results.
  • Make Instagram part of your game plan. Instagram is trending, becoming increasingly popular for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business brands, as advertisers become aware of—and ever-more curious about—the opportunities the platform affords. We’ve written about some of those opportunities, including Instagram’s Branded Content Ads, which makes it possible for businesses to use Ads Manager to promote branded content as an ad in their Instagram feeds.
  • Use strong images in your organic content. In a recent post, Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media discusses how images can improve your search rankings. As he points out, “Now we know that visuals are an SEO’s (search engine optimization’s) best friend.” Perhaps that’s because visuals, like well-crafted text, can speak volumes with a minimum of fuss. “Just as you wouldn’t miss the chance to turn a paragraph of items into a bullet list, never miss the chance to use a visual to explain a concept,” Crestodina says.

We agree. And one area where you can make the most of strong images is your Google My Business (GMB) page. That’s because a company’s GMB page, as noted in moz.com, is the single most important way for a business to be found through local searches.

Images hold power. Want to learn more about how to capitalize on that power? Contact us.

Three Big Trends Shaping How Businesses Use Social Media

Three Big Trends Shaping How Businesses Use Social Media

Social media

Paid social on the rise. Facebook is king. And Instagram is the crown prince. Those are some of the take-aways from a recent Social Media Examiner survey of marketers’ social media spending priorities in coming months. The survey offers a useful snapshot of social media trends that cut across industries. Here are some of the principal findings:

Paid Social Is on the Rise

According to the Social Media Examiner report, social media ads are fast becoming indispensible to social media marketing strategy. This development is due to the fact that social media platforms like Instagram are offering more sophisticated tools that help businesses create content that targets specific audiences. One example: Instagram’s new feature, Branded Content Ads. As we recently discussed, the Branded Content Ads feature makes it possible for businesses to use Ads Manager to promote branded content as an ad in their Instagram feeds, and to target a specific audience when they do so.

Facebook Has Fans—A Lot of Them

According to the Social Media Examiner survey, Facebook is the most popular platform for advertisers, with 94 percent of marketers polled choosing it as their first option. On the surface of things, this might be surprising, given the knocks Facebook took in the wake of the high-profile privacy scandals that plagued the social media giant in 2018. And yet, Facebook membership keeps rising: according to the company’s Q4 2018 earnings report, approximately 1.52 billion people used Facebook every day in December 2018. That’s a nine percent year-over-year increase. Also noteworthy is the fact that Facebook tends to be popular among Baby Boomers and older millennials: that’s significant to advertisers who want to use a social platform to reach this audience, which tends to have more discretionary income.

Another reason Facebook remains popular with advertisers is that the company has always provided strong targeting tools, and continues to do so. As this WordStream article discusses, the company makes it easy to launch ad campaigns that target specific audiences with different ad formats and literally thousands of ad targeting parameters. Finally, Facebook is popular for all kinds of content, including video, which expands its usefulness to advertisers. According to the Social Media Examiner report, Facebook is right up there with YouTube as the most well liked video channel for marketers.

Instagram Is the Crown Prince

Though perhaps not as popular as Facebook, Instagram is still a valuable resource for advertisers. And advertisers are intrigued by it: the Social Media Examiner report indicates that when marketers were asked about the social media platform that they’d like to learn more about, a whopping 72 percent chose Instagram. Maybe that’s because the app’s strengths in visual storytelling present a golden opportunity to capitalize on the fact that increasingly, people are using images as a means of communicating. We take trillions of photos each year. And not surprisingly, we’re sharing those photos on platforms such as Instagram, which is also showing a marked increase in membership.

These takeaways paint a compelling picture. Interested in learning more about how social can serve your business needs? Contact us.

https://pixabay.com/photos/twitter-facebook-together-292994/

Advertising Opportunities in the Era of Connected TV

Advertising Opportunities in the Era of Connected TV

Advertising

The final episode of Game of Thrones set an HBO record, with 19.3 million viewers tuning in on May 19. Though this number sounds big, it’s small potatoes compared to the numbers generated during the heyday of linear television: consider the 105.9 million viewers attracted by the M*A*S*H finale in 1983, for example. The reality is that we’re simply not gathering around our TV sets to create massive audiences for advertisers anymore (with notable exceptions such as the Super Bowl). In fact, audiences are increasingly fragmented as they watch television shows across multiple devices and channels, on their own time and terms. What do these changes mean for advertisers?

The Challenges

For one thing, it’s harder to reach people en masse. And depending on the viewing platform, television shows may not even offer an opportunity for advertisers to air commercials. Sure, the Big Three television networks still allow advertisers to place ads, and opportunities like the Super Bowl and Academy Awards can still be lucrative. But shows appearing on HBO or streaming platforms like the forthcoming Disney+ don’t accept advertising.

Opportunities in a New Era

 So what’s an advertiser to do in an era of connected TV?

  • Take advantage of the good things that are part and parcel of the connected TV era, like the tools that now exist to help you understand your audience. There are technologies out there — AUDIENCEX is one example — that allow advertisers to come up with more targeted ads. You may no longer have the ability to advertise to massive audiences, but you can target smaller, deeply specific demographics you think might respond to your product: millennial women who live in Boston, say. You can also better understand, and act on, the times that audience might respond best to what you’re selling.

Both the whiskey and cookie campaigns knew how to tie in to the cultural phenomenon that was Game of Thrones in smart, inventive ways, making both products shoe-ins for the themed show-end parties that inevitably took place around the globe. Meanwhile, Shake Shack offered Game of Thrones menu tie-ins—a Dragonglass Shake made of custard “frozen with packed snow harvested beyond the Wall,” and a Dracarys Burger “griddled by the fires of Drogon and Rhaegal.” The items, part of a secret menu, were meant to be ordered in Valyrian, a tongue consumers could master with the help of a Shake Shack-provided translation guide. Mountain Dew featured a cast of musicians singing the Game of Thrones theme as part of Mountain Dews #ACanHasNoName campaign — an example of how businesses incorporated humor to provide light commentary on a TV show known for its heavy themes.

These brands typically relied on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to generate audience impressions that would continue to accumulate after the final episode of Game of Thrones. The tie-ins weren’t restricted to food and drink. Adidas’ Twitter promotion highlighted six limited-edition pairs of shoes “[i]nspired by the colours and details of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond The Wall.”

Even the American Red Cross got in on the action, partnering with HBO to kick off a Bleed #ForTheThrone Facebook campaign that encouraged blood donations in exchange for an opportunity to win an Iron Throne. The Red Cross did its homework, too, spending the largest majority of its advertising dollars to reach males in Hartford, Connecticut, and Chicago where apparently the appeal of one’s own Throne looms large, as noted here.

As these examples show, it’s never been a better time for advertisers to tap into popular culture to invigorate their brands. The nature of the rules—and opportunities—has simply changed. The question is: have you?

Contact us. We understand advertising in the era of connected TV.

How Instagram Is Making It Easier for Brands and Influencers to Collaborate

How Instagram Is Making It Easier for Brands and Influencers to Collaborate

Mobile

Instagram understands the appeal—and power—of influencers, and is releasing a new feature, Branded Content Ads, that helps businesses capitalize on that appeal. As Instagram announced in a blog post, Branded Content Ads makes it possible for businesses to use Ads Manager to promote branded content as an ad in their Instagram feeds. Furthermore, businesses can use targeting tools to specify demographics and measure the results: who’s responding, and how many people read the post. Branded Content Ads is a win-win for both advertisers and influencers, especially micro-influencers.

A Win-Win

By tapping into the authenticity of influencer content, and the buzz that content can create, businesses stand to create more awareness for their brand or product. This new tool is especially suited to companies who already know how to work with micro-influencers, such as Swedish watch-maker Daniel Wellington, which already has a strong micro-influencer outreach and does little traditional advertising at all. In a recent micro-influencer campaign, the company thought outside the box and reached beyond lifestyle and fashion Instagrammers to partner with pet lovers. The result? An account that focused—successfully—on the Internet community’s love for cute animals. Pet owners shared images of themselves and their favorite animal friend, with a Daniel Wellington watch always prominently featured somewhere in the mix. Branded Content Ads will provide a company like Daniel Wellington one more tool to work with by allowing the company to take an influencer’s organic post (with the permission of the influencer) and share that post as branded content on the Daniel Wellington Instagram account. Branded Content Ads will also make such a campaign easier to manage and track.

Of course, influencers also benefit from the larger audience that can result from business/influencer collaboration. And because the new Instagram feature allows businesses to target a specific audience and use performance measurement tools to track response, influencers might not only grow but even make some discoveries about their personal brand in the process. This is especially relevant to micro-influencers looking to expand their reach. Consider someone like Christian Caro, a top micro-influencer whose roughly 6,000 followers track his exuberant photos of life in So-Cal.

If he wanted to grow his audience beyond his current Instagram followers, he could capitalize on this new feature and partner with a brand dedicated to topics such as lifestyle, food, or fashion, which overlap with his photography. By contrast, a mega influencer such as Kim Kardashian West, who has 141 million followers, may not benefit as much from this program because she’s clearly doing just fine building an audience on her own.

Keeping It Real

Instagram has laid out specific instructions to help businesses and influencers work together and maintain transparency. Steps include:

  • Businesses must grant permission for the influencer to tag their business in the influencer’s branded content post.
  • As noted, businesses must secure permission from the influencer to promote the post as an ad.
  • Once an ad is created, it is reviewed and approved by Facebook, after which it will appear in the Instagram feeds of the designated audience. Note that businesses won’t be able to manage or delete likes and comments that appear on a promoted branded content post.
  • Once an ad is live, businesses will have access to standard ad reporting metrics.

Eager to learn more about how your business can work with Instagram—and influencers? Contact us.

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Advertising Amazon

On May 31, Amazon said it will acquire assets from Sizmek, an advertising technology firm. The announcement consisted of three paragraphs with little detail. But the deal is valuable for Amazon as the company builds a stronger advertising platform to compete with Facebook and Google.

Amazon Advertising Gains Market Share

Amazon’s advertising business is slowly taking market share from Facebook and Google. According to eMarketer, Amazon will capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019. This amount trails far behind Google (with 37.2 percent market share) and Facebook (22.1 percent). But Amazon is building its advertising operation from scratch, and in a short time it has emerged as a threat primarily to Google, as consumers shift their product searches away from Google and toward Amazon.

How Sizmek’s Assets Will Help Amazon

Amazon purchased Sizmek’s ad server and dynamic creative optimization tools, the latter of which helps personalize ads using data. Sizmek’s tools will bolster Amazon’s already strong warehouse of customer data with even more data from ad serving. Doing so will give Amazon more targeted ways to advertise to the millions of people who search for products on Amazon and willingly share their personal information with the company. The deal isn’t making Amazon bigger, but it will make Amazon smarter.

What Advertisers Should Do

At True Interactive, we help businesses capitalize on Amazon as an advertising platform as part of our broader digital advertising offerings. We’ve been actively blogging about the many features Amazon Advertising is developing, such as video ads on Amazon’s mobile app. Based on our own experience, we suggest advertisers:

  • Examine how partnering with Amazon Advertising will help you attract and acquire customers, even if you don’t sell products on Amazon. As The New York Times reported recently, Amazon is tapping into its rich vein of customer data to help companies create more targeted ads across the digital world – an “insanely powerful” capability, according to the article.
  • Watch as Amazon’s competitors evolve their platforms to compete with the Amazon threat. For instance, Google recently announced new features intended to make it a stronger mobile advertising platform (which we discussed here). And, don’t forget Microsoft. Its own advertising business, while small, gives businesses an alternative to the Big Three of Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Online advertising is changing rapidly as the major players make acquisitions and develop their products organically. Advertisers will benefit so long as you remain vigilant and capitalize on these improvements. True Interactive can help you. As an outside party, we constantly evaluate new tools and ensure that our clients benefit from them with effective digital advertising campaigns. Contact us. We’d love to make your online advertising more powerful.

How Verizon Media Is Evolving

How Verizon Media Is Evolving

Advertising

Verizon Media (formerly known as Oath) is enduring a transition. But advertisers, especially business-to-business brands, should keep the company on their radar screens and be ready to act on some of the changes occurring at the subsidiary of Verizon Communications.

Verizon Media Shares Mixed News

In recent months, Verizon Media has been the source of difficult news, including layoffs and declining revenues. One piece of news we’ve been following and reacting to throughout 2019: the closing of the Oath Ad Platforms ad server in 2020. As Verizon Media told Adweek,

Following a strategic review of our business, we have decided to close the Oath Ad Platforms Ad Server, effective 2020. We are working with our customers to ensure they are supported as they migrate from the Ad Server platform. This does not affect our Oath Ad Platforms SSP business.

I see the shutting down of the Oath Ad Platforms Ad Server as good news for Oath customers. Advertising on the Oath Ad Platforms Ad Server means using the Yahoo! platform, which lacks strong functionality and uses dated features. With the shutdown of the Oath Ad Platforms Ad Server, your business will transition to Bing. This change is especially advantageous now that Microsoft organized its advertising products under Microsoft Advertising. The rebrand entails the launch of new features such as Sponsored Products and an enhancement of recently launched features such as Microsoft Audience Network, which is powered by artificial intelligence. Advertisers will be in a stronger position thanks to the stronger role Microsoft now plays.

A New Phase for Verizon Media

Meanwhile, Verizon Media is entering a new phase that includes the embrace of augmented reality and virtual reality, according to CEO Guru Gowrappan. In a recently published interview with Fortune, he said,

The biggest thing we’re investing in is 5G [the faster successor to 4G LTE mobile networks]. Every product is going to have an aspect of 5G. You’re going to have deeper integration of augmented reality and virtual reality.

We not just have front row seat and access to what is happening but we’re also building all of our apps, products, and content in that experience. So if you go to our Los Angeles office, we have the first 5G animation studio [Ryot Studios]. It’s brought down the cost of producing animation, and Ryot does a lot of AR content.

He also plans to integrate e-commerce with advertising more effectively, following the example set by Instagram. As he pointed out,

Let’s say you’re watching the Dallas Mavs and want to buy a jersey while you’re watching. We want to integrate commerce more deeply.

Also, the ad model itself has become combined with transactions. That’s what Instagram does. It’s advertising and sponsorships, but in the end, it’s enticing you to come in and transact on the platform.

These are bold statements for a company emerging from hard times, but the company understands that its previous game plan has been flawed.

What You Should Do

My advice to brands advertising on digital:

  • Take stock of Verizon Media’s considerable publishing assets, such as Engadget, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Yahoo! According to Verizon Media, its publishing platforms deliver an audience of more than 1 billion people.
  • Watch how Verizon Media evolves its ad products under Guru Gowrappan. He has made it clear that it’s no longer business as usual at Verizon Media. The possibility of ad products using AR and VR is exciting, but the more important near-term development is the integration of e-commerce with its ad products for businesses seeking a tighter integration between online ads and sales.
  • Make sure you understand the impact of the demise of the Oath Ad Platforms Ad Server. Talk with your agency partner if you’re working with one. Ensure that you understand the role of Microsoft (which I see as a positive one).

As always, contact True Interactive if you need help navigating the digital landscape. We have deep experience with online advertising. We’re here to help.