Sizmek CEO Mark Grether considers the best route for marketers in a world dominated by Google and Facebook.
Facebook and Google’s duopoly over online advertising is well established, with the two platforms raking in over $100bn (£77bn) in ad revenues last year, and predicted to account for 60 per cent of the digital advertising market this year. They are particularly strong in mobile, with Facebook generating 87 per cent of its ad revenue from mobile in Q2 and Google expected to make $50bn from mobile advertising alone in 2017.
Understandably this dominance of the digital landscape has many members of the online advertising industry up in arms, and it would be naive to think that the survival of other publishers and ad tech solutions won’t be put in jeopardy should the success of Facebook, Google, and emerging platforms such as Snapchat, continue as predicted. But it is equally naive for marketers to ignore the value of these platforms – which are, after all, responsible for driving much of the growth in digital advertising – in offering massive reach across multiple devices, combined with precise audience targeting.
So what are the pros and cons of using Facebook, Google and other emerging platforms for mobile marketing, and how can marketers ensure they make the most of these digital giants?
Maximising mobile performance
Facebook and Google provide an unrivalled method for reaching mobile users, with eMarketer estimating that nearly 1.5bn people will access Facebook this year, almost 90 per cent of those via mobile devices.
But while the stats are impressive, the reality is that it’s still tricky for marketers to gain a true understanding of how their campaigns are performing within these closed media environments. The platforms don’t provide impression-level data, making it difficult for marketers to know whether they are reaching their target audience, and to effectively measure ROI.
Facebook and Google are under increased pressure to allow third-party verification. Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer, famously asserted earlier this year that both platforms must implement accredited third-party data measurement by the end of the 2017 or lose the brand’s business. Facebook has responded by agreeing to a Media Ratings Council (MRC) audit of its served ad impressions, forming partnerships with over 20 marketing attribution companies and running a series of pilot programmes, while Google has also agreed to an MRC audit of YouTube metrics and has stepped up verification practices for viewability and brand safety.
Despite these significant improvements in ad verification, marketers will still only gain an improved understanding of how their mobile ads are performing within the confines of Facebook’s and Google’s closed platforms. They won’t be able to implement cross-channel attribution – outlining how ad spend in one environment is impacting other channels – or piece together all user interactions across the multiple touchpoints that now make up the modern consumer journey.
Targeting through deterministic data
In addition to reach, the major benefit that marketers receive from Facebook and Google is access to the most desirable data sets going, gained through direct-to-consumer relationships. This deterministic data is gathered via user logins or registrations to specifically identify individual users, and it allows for precision targeting.
Despite continuing consolidation in the ad tech arena, which can partly be attributed to the need for unified first-party data, other smaller players’ data sets cannot reach anything like the scale of those of the media giants.
Naturally, though, Facebook and Google understand the immense value of this deterministic data, and keep it safely contained within their walled gardens, meaning markets cannot apply it to other advertising channels. Nor can they combine it with their own proprietary data sets to gain a deeper insight into their own customers.
To maximise the impact of their marketing campaigns, marketers must be able to apply insights across all channels and devices, optimising creative and frequency for different environments and unique users, in cohesive media planning. This is almost impossible to achieve when audience data – however detailed – is locked away in walled gardens.
The best of both worlds
Marketers don’t need to opt for one over the other when it comes to advertising with the media giants or other technology platforms. Instead, in order to get the most out of campaigns, they can use these options in conjunction with one another. By utilising technology solutions that span multiple environments, they can gain a holistic view of the whole digital ecosystem and activate data across their entire media plan, adapting messaging as consumers move between environments and devices.
While the likes of Facebook and Google are unlikely to ever provide performance data at impression level, these cross-environment solutions allow marketers to move beyond rule-based attribution to understand the incremental value of each touchpoint using insights gained in real time across the wider digital ecosystem. They can then effectively compare the performance of distinct marketing tactics and piece together the customer journey, no matter what environments it traverses. These solutions also allow marketers to import and export data, fuelling continuous marketing optimisation.
The decision to shun major media platforms such as Facebook and Google is not a sensible one for any marketer, particularly those looking to reach users via their mobile devices. But in order to get the best out of these platforms, which offer unrivalled scale and precise targeting, marketers should use them in conjunction with other technologies, allowing them to build a holistic view of the entire ecosystem.