Digital vs. Traditional Advertising
Digital advertising is beginning to truly “grow up” and establish its own identity apart from traditional advertising. Buying radio station airtime or a quarter-page magazine ad was and still is pretty straightforward. Key metrics such as daily listeners or circulation reach are presented to the media buyer, and a price is determined for the advertising space or time. The business that purchased the ad then measures the ROI on the campaign based on how well the audience responded. Optimizing ad campaigns across traditional media platforms occurs strictly through conversion optimization — getting a higher response from your audience by refining your ads with each campaign. To use a metaphor, the number of fish in the pond is set, and it’s up to the ad producers to design the best lure possible to catch more fish than their competition with each campaign.
Digital advertising is starting to play out a bit differently. Many digital platforms (particularly Facebook, which is leading this charge at the time of writing this article) are rewarding the advertisers that are “catching the most fish” by actually increasing the number of fish in their advertising pond. Why is this?
The highly-personalized experience offered through social media consumption means that Facebook and similar sites have a vested interest, and ability, to feed the most relevant ads to their members on an individual basis. When this principle is combined with the ever-advancing personalization algorithms controlling online media distribution, it is only natural that these emerging digital platforms will exploit this opportunity by rewarding advertisers for producing advertisements that enhance, not interrupt, the consumer’s online experience.
Let’s unpack this a little bit more. Say an ad agency buys a TV commercial spot for a business they represent. They produce the commercial knowing that it will be seen by a certain number of viewers tuning into the TV station at the time it airs. No matter how good the commercial is, it will be limited by the number of viewers tuning in. It won’t be shown more often if it performs well – in the traditional advertising world, reach and frequency are predetermined by the ad spend. Overall, the situation is fairly static.
Now enter the world of digital, where an online ad’s reach is potentially unlimited (Facebook alone now has over 1 billion accounts!). If an audience is responding positively to an ad, an online ad seller can distribute it to a relatively higher (or if it’s getting a poor response, lower) number of consumers. Advertising audiences are built not by characteristics of the ad network (such as football fans watching a football game), but by the individual characteristics of the consumer spending time on the social network.
In the early days of digital advertising, the advertising platforms were not thinking this way. Non-targeted and often obnoxious ads were a factor leading to the demise of MySpace and many other sites. Over time, profitable digital platforms learned that if they could incentivize advertisers to build interesting, well-targeted ads, everybody wins. Advertisers would still spend the same amount of money on their campaigns, but their reach, engagement, and overall ROI could be improved sometimes as high as 10x due to the large audiences these digital companies command. With more effective advertising, the digital companies would attract more advertising dollars. And the consumers would be less likely to ignore or be annoyed by ads because they felt more organic and integrated with their specific interests or communities.
So will traditional media follow suit? It’s possible, at least for the traditional mediums that still intersect the digital space. For instance, a newspaper or print magazine won’t be able to offer different ads to individual readers, but their online versions can. TV networks may evolve to adapt and capitalize on new opportunities for customized advertising feeds. But for now, the big opportunity for advertisers lies in the strictly digital space, as these networks are gathering more and more intelligence every day while constantly honing their ad distribution. Digital advertising is therefore a constantly-developing and always-moving target, but the overall opportunity is still great for savvy advertisers. With targeted digital advertising still in its infancy, there is low hanging fruit all over the place for the focused advertiser willing to put up with the rapid iterations that digital advertising platforms are undergoing.
How Can Digital PR Support These New Online Opportunities?
A good digital public relations strategy does much more than just maximizing exposure for a brand or specific product. While a strong PR effort takes longer to develop compared to the immediate action of buying an ad, the ROI from effective PR can have a tremendous multiplier effect when media coverage and online conversations support and legitimize a paid advertising campaign. Pursing a digital PR campaign can actually be surprisingly cost effective due to it’s high prestige factor, SEO benefits, and actual readership and sharing (vs. paid ads). PR remains one of the best ways to make a big splash and dramatically launch a new product, establish a new positioning strategy, or simply drive sales. And because digital PR results mean media coverage never goes away, it builds enormous brand equity over time – enhancing every paid ad campaign that follows.
Now let’s tie in digital PR to the variable, performance-driven nature of digital ad spends. First, it’s been proven time and time again that it takes multiple impressions to get inside the mind of a consumer before trust and authority starts to form. It’s also been demonstrated that people are more likely to engage with brands they trust on social media. Because good PR generates trust with third-party validation (e.g., positive articles, reviews and attention from ‘professional’ media sources and polished writers) while also contributing to overall buzz and customer awareness, it’s clear how good PR coverage will pave the way for a high-performing digital campaign.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your company just created a new app for productivity management. As that market segment is already pretty saturated, it will be hard to catch the attention of a scrolling social media user. But let’s say you prime your main digital campaign with a PR effort that lands several articles in key publications showcasing how your productivity app is the one to “end all other productivity apps!” Your audience is now going to be familiarized with your app and will also have access to positive third-party reviews. You can even build a custom retargeting audience based on those who read a particular article and visited your website or app page. Now, when you run your digital campaign your market is already warmed up to your product and will be more willing to like, comment, share, click and download.
This wins the day because not only is your ad performing well, it will be reaching more people in your target market as a result of the factors boosting relevant ads that we’ve already discussed. Facebook and others are rewarding companies that offer positive ad experiences rather than interrupting the social media experience with irrelevant content, and advertisers that don’t take advantage of that are losing out.
Tying it All Together
In conclusion, here are three main takeaways to remember when it comes to enhancing digital ad spend ROI with effective digital PR.
- Be strategic and focused with your online advertising – Digital platforms offer immense targeting and delivery options for all ads. Learn your audience and their online behavior extremely well, and you’re bound to see improved performance.
- Leverage PR to enhance your digital performance – Investing in proactive media relations, both digital PR and in traditional media outlets, will generate ‘free’ advertising and build trust. Better yet, it will enhance the reach, CPC, and overall success of your digital marketing spends, particularly on Facebook.
- Stop viewing PR and digital marketing as separate entities – In the past, PR and marketing have been viewed very differently. Many digital companies don’t know the first thing about PR. And the fact is, many PR firms still don’t know the nuts and bolts of digital. But the reality is they enhance and reinforce each other, and engaging an agency that recognizes this and knows how it works can be a terrific competitive advantage.
FireCircle was created after we started recognizing these emerging synergies and the incredible value they have for increasing awareness, conversions and particularly SEO results. Our agency team recognizes and leverages the opportunities found in integrating PR and digital solutions.
Feel free to contact us to learn how FireCircle can help you take advantage of the strategies covered in this article. But even if you apply these concepts internally or with existing marketing partners, we are sure you’ll benefit from them. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share any questions or additional insights in the comments section below!
Kris Asleson has been immersed in digital marketing since the early days. He was an Ebay Powerseller at 13, and hand-coded a profitable e-commerce website when he was 15 in the early 2000’s. Today, he leverages his expertise to help businesses grow by using digital marketing tactics that reflect the strategically integrated marketing and PR approach offered by the FireCircle Agency, which he co-founded.