Your Customers Think Digital Advertising is Broken, Here’s How To Fix It

With the right data and technology, advertisers can hear the voice of the customer and create more compelling ad experiences.

Your inbox pings with a new message from a popular retailer — the red shoes you’ve been eyeing are on sale. A quick click and you’re on the retailer’s site shopping, and within minutes you’ve added the shoes to your cart. The entire process is seamless, and you’re thrilled this retailer brought this amazing deal right to you.

Then, a minute later, you see an ad for those same red shoes — the pair you just bought.

Then you spot another ad when you’re on social media a few minutes after that. Suddenly, it feels like the red shoes are closing in. Within moments, you’re served multiple ads and offers for the exact same shoes. It’s annoying, it’s not helpful, and it’s creepy. It’s also very common.

The trouble with targeting

Advertising has gone awry, and it’s actually hurting all of us,” Joanna O’Connell, a Forrester analyst, says. The entire ad ecosystem is interwoven, meaning if advertisers are creating less-than-optimal experiences for customers, it’s reflecting poorly on publishers who rely on ad revenue — and it’s not ideal for marketers to deliver on business growth goals.

The expectation for personalized experiences in today’s advertising landscape has created incredible capabilities, but it has also created problematic behaviors. The ability to single a person out and share a very precise message has created a hyper-targeting obsession — brands can’t help but to keep digging and finding people who want something specific, then relentlessly target them over and over again. As a result, customers are getting served that same red shoe ad, even after they click “buy.”

It’s a poor experience all in the name of meaningful personalization — and customers are pushing back. Search for “how to block ads” is up 900 percent since 2011, and so are searches for “retargeting,” according to a Harvard Business Review article. The more brands look to forcefully target customers, the more those customers look to keep these virtual advances at bay.

“Because of things like direct-response thinking, we’ve lost sight of the customer on the other side of the screen,” says Joanna. The ability to measure has clouded understanding of how these behaviors are affecting customer loyalty and brand health.

It’s a challenge Joanna focused on in her latest report, “The Omnichannel Advertising Playbook.”

“The reality is, if we are doing a bad job in delivering experiences that consumers are cool with, are we hurting ourselves without even realizing it in our obsessive pursuit of using data and technology to deliver more personalized, relevant advertising?” Joanna asks. The technology, tools, and data exist, though, to get things back on track — getting there, according to Joanna, means “flipping a lot of paradigms around what it means to be customer-led.”

Be data-driven, without losing sight of your customer

Delivering meaningful one-to-one personalization that’s compelling — and never creepy — means having a solid understanding of your consumer. Consumer-led advertising, Joanna says, shares six characteristics. Focus on these areas and you’ll be well positioned to deliver dynamic relevance, and not just the same old red shoe.

1. Remember the human side of advertising.

“Always remember that there’s a human on the other side of the screen and think, ‘How do I create a message that is human, that is tied to a business objective?’” says Joanna. As a brand, you’re in a unique position to deliver customer value. “I have information to help you,” she says of a brand’s relationship to its customers. “I can simplify things for you. I think you might need this. I care about you.”

2. Don’t just optimize against a data point because you can.

“It is not… bad to care about incremental return on ad spend,” says Joanna. “It’s great that we can measure that and optimize to that.” But at the same time, advertisers need to dig deeper to understand what’s behind data optimization points. “Do we understand the long-term relationship between a consumer and a brand? Do we understand what happens when we’re optimizing for today?” she asks. Understanding these implications is essential in creating positive customer-led experiences.

3. Tear down the silos.

“Things like over-frequency in targeted advertising happen because of siloed structures… siloed thinking and behavior,” says Joanna. That makes for a poor customer experience. Many companies put essential processes in a vacuum that, together, can deliver more compelling touchpoints.

For example, if you’re using a retargeting platform and demand side platform, you could have two separate advertising frequencies being managed simultaneously — and, at the same time, have no idea how those sides are interacting. This leads to redundancies and less-than-optimal customer experiences.

4. Focus on environment.

Over the last decade, Joanna notes, the advertising industry has become obsessed with the notion of audience — and that’s led to an overcorrection when it comes to publisher environments. “We need to swing the pendulum back toward context,” Joanna says. “If you’re watching cat videos, do you really want to see a toothpaste ad? If you’re only focused on the audience, you’re not appreciating the impact of environment.”

5. Give creative a purpose and stop separating it from media.

“Today the creative process is still very unidirectional from big idea,” Joanna says — and that’s problematic. “Instead, it needs to become a lot more connected and iterative.” But the big idea stage still matters, and it should be more data-driven. “That data can be used throughout the process, from design to production to optimization, where you’re getting data exhaust from all the stuff that you’re doing that actually could inform creative.”

6. Eliminate the binary nature of opt in/opt out.

“The very nature of opt in/opt out is so binary. Humans are not binary,” says Joanna. “We’re really complex, and we have really particular needs and desires and attitudes.” For example, a customer may want to continue seeing emails about a specific product or simply reduce the frequency in which they receive emails. Very few never want to hear from you again.

To overcome this traditional approach, Joanna recommends starting small. “Start with priority segments,” she says. Pick a segment like frequent shoppers and test the performance of more personalized ads versus less personalized ads, and look at KPIs like conversion rates to inform future content. From here, expand out and continue testing and optimizing.

It’s time to let the consumer lead

It’s a common challenge advertisers need to face head-on: advertising as a whole is broken, but the tools and technologies exist to not just course correct, but to give customers delightful advertising experiences.

To get there, marketers and brands need to take advantage of the cutting-edge technology and rich data sets available, and use them to deliver on customer expectations. “We need to rethink the model that we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into, where data and technology leads — to one where data and technology supports, and the consumer leads,” says Joanna.

The advertising landscape will look very different than it does today. “We’re talking about image and video analysis, facial recognition, speech analysis, text analysis, natural language generation, and machine learning,” she says. “Without this, you cannot do the things that we are talking about… it gets us to a place where we can actually do the kind of tailored journeys that we all say as marketers we want to do.”

Get additional tips for improving the advertising experience and gain customer trust in this Experience Business Virtual Forum on-demand presentation, The Future of Advertising: Customer-Centricity in an Increasingly Complex World.