How to Do More with Less:  a guide to digital optimisation

I was having an interesting conversation this week with our Google Industry Manager around what challenges brands are facing at the moment and how they’re overcoming them. Clearly a very broad and varied topic, but one thing that I must say is reassuring to hear is that everyone is facing the same issues.

The dreaded B-word came up of course, and the question posed was: ‘How are brands dealing with Brexit and what are they doing to prepare themselves for it?’ And the honest answer is that, in general, people are battening down the hatches somewhat. As there is so much uncertainty about what will happen, and when, businesses are typically responding by playing it safe. We’re seeing big branding campaigns and additional investments delayed until the new year, and a focus on the channels and campaigns driving that all-important conversion and ROI, with the attitude of ‘let’s do them as well as we possibly can, on as low a budget possible while still hitting our targets’.

Now, there is an interesting argument that when everyone else shies away from the field, go in hard. Arguably, when fewer brands are investing in branding campaigns they will be cheaper to run (the virtue of an auction!) and arguably it’s the brands considered successful in the bad times – who continue to invest in being front of mind when the market is tough -who see the pay-out long term and continue to see that growth when the market improves.

However, for those businesses who are more risk-averse, or who simply cannot afford to invest heavily now, there are plenty of ways we can do more with less.

Clients and prospects commonly want to know how they can make their budget go further, increase efficiency with their current spend, and save money in one channel to invest elsewhere? However you ask it, it’s the same question: How can I do more with less? And, luckily for you, this is our bread and butter.

First things first, ensure your tracking is in place. Are you tracking all your channels in the same place? If you’re running display activity, are you using a campaign management tool such as Google Marketing Platform (formerly DoubleClick) to be able to track post-impression for display? Are you tracking every action that matters, including your steps to the macro-conversion point? Are you dynamically pulling in any useful variables such as product bought if you’re a retailer? When it comes to efficiency, the devil is in the detail, and if you’re not tracking correctly, you haven’t got the detail.

Secondly, do you know who your audience is? Considerations around when and why they need your services, whether they are engaging via mobile or if it’s a more considered desktop purchase, where they are in the country and their age group need to come into play. This isn’t purely from a tactical, targeting perspective – it’s a key channel consideration to understand how best to reach the right users. It’s also vital to know who you are talking to before you build your creative.

My next port of call, from an agency perspective, is what level of budget is available and what you want to achieve. I often get different answers when I ask different people in the same organisation, usually depending on how senior they are and which bit falls into their remit. This needs to be consistent across the business. Working to conflicting goals is expensive, means chopping and changing the accounts, and is ultimately inefficient.

Then we take the data from our conversion tracking to identify what is and isn’t working, and layer that with our audience understanding to hone in on the areas that are working well, and dial down or switch off those that aren’t. This covers a huge array of areas and is very specific to your accounts. Usually a comprehensive audit will identify this, however key things we look for are:

  • Account structure: From a search perspective, are your top performing and high-volume keywords in their own campaigns to secure sufficient budget? Are you utilising the most efficient match type strategy? Are your campaigns granular enough to tailor your creatives? From a social perspective, are you simplifying your account structure to allow the algorithm enough data to optimise well? Are you segmenting ad sets by audience to understand which creatives work for which audience?
  • Audience: Are you layering your campaigns with audiences? Whether it’s search, social or programmatic, we can target lost site visitors or their lookalikes, CRM data or their lookalikes, YouTube audiences (search and programmatic) and a vast array of interests and demographics. Are you making the most of the audiences and bid adjustments for them? Are you considering third party audience providers for that added level of audience targeting for social and programmatic?
  • Automation: If you want to run digital channels efficiently, you need to be thinking about the time invested, and being able to automate repetitive tasks is a huge help. Examples include bid strategies to automatically optimise to a specific target, Responsive Search Ads to automatically test ad variations, budget optimiser in Facebook to allocate spend to the top performing campaigns, Dynamic Search Ads to automatically appear for relevant searches, the list is endless. And the list is not all necessary or even right for your business. The trick is in working out what is – and reaping the benefits – but always monitoring and tweaking to ensure you maximise your chances for success. It’s automation but with strategic human intervention that’s the key.
  • Creative: Are you testing creative? Are your search ads as appealing as they can be? Are you using a range of formats across display and social, or do you have a static image? We find that movement really works to drive engagement on these channels. Even if you can’t finance a video, there’s various tools we can use to add motion to Facebook and programmatic creatives, and various ways we can automate versioning to increase relevancy and engagement. It doesn’t have to be a huge investment financially, but you certainly see the benefits when you put in the time and effort.

The final consideration is really linked to the first one. Once you have all your tracking in place, and you’re getting the most you can out of all your channels individually, you need to ensure you’re taking an integrated approach. By tracking all channels in the same system you have a view on how they interact, and the user journey, so look at your attribution reports and understand which channels are starting the conversation, and which ones are finishing it. This can be a budgeting consideration to drive more holistic sales but it can also be a creative consideration to help you understand what messaging and creative you need to drive users through the funnel at each stage. Ensuring your channels are aligned and the messages are complementing each other is key but being able to identify whether it is TV or social driving searches is also valuable and plays into the messaging we want to run at set times.

From there it varies wildly from brand to brand depending on their vertical and specific objectives. The key point here is if you want to increase efficiencies in your digital marketing spend there’s usually a way to do it without cutting off your sales source. A thorough audit will usually identify those quick wins, but the key points typically lie around account structure, creative, audience, automation, and integration. And please, track your activity properly!

By Angie Knibb, Head of Digital Operations