It’s not just Covid-19 anymore. Frustrations over equal rights and overdue legal reforms came to a head at the very moment people started to head back to work. For months, business and marketing have been on the sidelines hoping for a return to normalcy.
The disruption of a remote economy alongside the combination of the pandemic and protests has led people to change how they communicate and even how they consume. There has been a very real impact on business models. Marketers are only now beginning to decipher how much things may have changed.
To start with the obvious, the much-heralded omnichannel marketing model is probably dead. In-person sales calls, direct mail, OOH, retail shopping and linear brand TV advertising are all pretty much off the table. Texting, Zoom and the pipes of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Roku and the big three (ATT, Verizon and Comcast) dominate.
Nearly all companies have to restart their business by navigating these same digital channels through the same pipes and with what are often the same substandard tool sets. For the brave advertisers that push ahead, the DNA of programmatic channels is going to be the right digital audience. Marketers of all stripes will face pressure to make the most of their advertising dollars by reaching their audiences with campaigns as quickly and accurately as possible.
The more precise your audience targeting, the longer onboarding takes
Unfortunately, data onboarding, a process that can take 10 days to a month or more, will be a major stumbling block for many advertisers.
The onboarding process is serial. First, you need to match your audience to hashed email addresses (identifiers based on pseudonymized email addresses which advertisers can then use for audience targeting). Second, it has to be mapped to an intermediary, which then has to match it out to both the ID of the DSP and to the publishers’ pool of visitors. Each step takes time, and each step is dependent on the last. The more specialized and targeted your audience, the narrower the matching pool becomes, and the longer the wait to go live (think fewer needles, more haystacks).
Advertisers have always valued speed, but it’s even more important today. Normally, the onboarding delay is built into the campaign planning cycle. But with so much pressure on business and the economy to get back fast, no advertiser can afford to wait. Retailers with shuttered storefronts have lost serious ground to big-box and DTC competitors. Mid-market b-to-b firms that have been relying on stimulus funding for the past eight weeks have very little time left to rebuild their sales pipelines.
Onboarding, third-party cookies, Google and walled gardens
While protests in over one hundred cities dominated the evening news, the California attorney general finalized the regulations for CCPA. While the pandemic used up every pixel of screen time, Google held firm on deprecating the cookie. Facebook is pulling unique IDs, and the walled garden business model has—in slow-motion—evolved into something of a standard.
If you’re a brand marketer and you think it only reasonable that you should be able to maintain control of your first-party IDs from your first-party lists in order to monitor performance, your only choice in the near future will be to build your own walled garden.
Time to market and transparency in the face of so much uncertainty
In normal times, advertisers would onboard an audience over a period of two or more weeks and then lose track of who matched and who didn’t. They’d optimize a response out of whatever anonymous IDs they had on hand, but at the end of the day, they’d have little visibility into what worked and what didn’t.
The challenge we face restarting the economy is that marketers and agencies are going to need to minimize risk. We should be able to identify which members of the first-party list matched and which didn’t. We should be able to optimize the audience to offer an enhanced understanding of the target consumer before the first impression is served. And we should be able to eliminate duplicate IDs to avoid wasted impressions. Being able to offer transparency to the veracity of the audience up front is critical in a time of transition.
Clearly, the marketing economy of 2018 and 2019 is gone. Advertising fundamentals won’t change, but identity resolution must. Covid-19 turned the world upside down. The video of a police officer in Minneapolis kneeling on George Floyd’s neck forced us to confront a history of abuse at a very real moment of societal disruption. Consumers are being careful about spending, and some businesses lack confidence.
Digital marketing and advertising will have to be more efficient and transparent, including giving brands back control of their first-party data. We need to remove the black box and take the waste out of programmatic because businesses need confidence that their digital marketing is going to work.