Commentary

DigitasLBi's Valentini On The Biggest Change To Search Advertising

The most important recent change in search advertising is the personalization and enhanced targeting that search engines give advertisers, according to Brian Valentini, group director at DigitasLBi.

He says that while search was always intent based via targeting keywords, now advertisers have more control over which audiences to buy, how to target them, what to pay for them, and how to message them. Using first-party cookies, advertisers can segment their search buy based on what they know about their audience, such as purchase history, order preferences, and order frequency. The result is that advertisers can be smarter, more strategic, and more efficient with their search buy. Consumers get a more targeted, seamless experience on their purchase journey. This also requires advertisers to have well-maintained CRM lists to fully take advantage of targeting options.

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Valentini says most Web sites also offer this type of targeting. But what makes the targeting through search engines unique is that agencies and brands can take a highly qualified, captivated audience because they are searching for keywords, and overlay these targeting segments to either message them different and/or buy them differently by adjusting the cost-per-click bids, Valentini says.

So I asked Valentini whether advertisers really know their audiences' existing and potential customers.  

He saidthe story is changing. It used to be that Brands had a target -- a mixture of some demo- and psychographics along with some behaviors made up a target. While that might be true for traditional advertising, data and analytics is often telling Brands that a different “target” is visiting their Web site and shopping with them. So while I think that brands know their core, that group is most likely getting smaller, but the overall audience is growing larger as the landscape fragments. By mining and honing in on Big Data and analytics, advertisers can get a much better grasp for who is actually their online target audience and who is most likely to buy, advocate for, and share them online.

Search Blog:  What are the smart ones doing to get to know them better?  

Brian Valentini:  Leveraging multiple data points and resources and analytics to get a better understanding for who this audience is. But this can’t be done in a silo. Brands and advertisers need support and buy-in from multiple parts of their organizations and from senior levels in order to get dedicated resources.

SB:  When did audience segments become available to search advertisers and how are they being used?  

BV:  It's slowly been rolling out over the past two years, with Google leading the charge. Google first came out with RLSA – Remarketing Lists for Search Ads, the ability to do search remarketing based on specific actions and pages viewed on Web sites.  They then upped the ante with Customer Match, the ability to do search remarketing based on first-party email lists and data on customers. Microsoft Bing has RLSA, but not equivalent to Google's. 

Advertisers are using both tactics as a way to enhance their search buy. For example, if I know that someone searching has previously purchased from me in the past and they are searching with non-brand keywords, I'm typically willing to pay more for that customer and increase the bid. Or if someone has recently been to my product detail pages and they are still searching, I might update the ad copy for that product to get them to add a rating or review, or entice them to make a purchase from me rather than another retailer. 

On the flip side, it’s also about suppression -- if I know that a customer has purchased from me before and left a very bad review about their buying experience, I might choose to negate that searcher from seeing my ads. The idea is that if they’re not going to purchase from me, so I shouldn’t try to attract that traffic.

SB:  How should advertisers take advantage of having more control of their search buys? Does it mean rethinking strategies? 

BV:  Yes, it means rethinking strategies. As advertisers have more control they should deploy unique strategies for each segment. This will lead to a better experience for searchers, but also a more efficient buy and spend of resources for the advertiser. Advertisers should take advantage by leveraging as many CRM segments as possible. Often the best success when advertisers segments by frequency, order size, recency, order specifics, and conversion rate. The more granular an advertiser can slice their segments, the more positive return they’ll see and be able to measure.

SB:  Are advertisers paying more attention to accurate CRM lists, and what are they doing to achieve this? What's the importance?  

BV:  I think so. By working with their tech team and resources they’re mining as many data points as possible so they can have maximum control over their lists, and go deep with their targeting strategies. The importance is that as much data as they have, as many unique ways to target -- that gives more control over their audience and their investments.

SB:  When you wake at 2 a.m. and cannot get back to sleep, what type of customer experience or advertising strategy are you thinking about as it relates to search, fragmentation, data and IoT?

BV:  Innovative ways to message advertisers, how to scale, test, and iterate. With all the new technology available to search advertisers, such as remarketing, scripts, bid strategies, and more. It’s paramount now, more than ever, that we’re always serving the right message at the right time, at the right cost

SB:  What is the future of search advertising? How do you see your role as agency rep for your brand clients evolving?

BV:  Keywordless bidding. As Search Engines evolve Shopping Campaigns and create new Campaign types such as Dynamic Search Ads they’re going to give advertisers the option to map their products and landing pages into keywordless bidding. This will allow advertisers the ability to quickly scale their campaigns, but will also allow for the return of search investment to be tied to the channel, vs specific segments of Keywords -- brand vs non-brand, for example.

In the agency we see our role evolving in two main ways -- speed to market. As the digital media landscape continues to fracture and continues to evolve targeting options, we have to be nimbler, quicker, and more on target with our recommendations to help our clients activate as quickly as possible. I also see us going deeper with our publisher relationships so that we’re better equipped to not only answer questions and optimize, but also to go deeper with our partnerships to deliver service and ROI for our Brands.

SB:   What is the best piece of career advice you ever received?  

BV:  Stay above the line. This means to assume and act on positive intent; lead; don’t live at the effect of others; and don’t absorb negative energy. The idea is to maintain and build on positive energy vs focusing on negative things that are often out of our control.

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