Why is digital advertising held to a higher standard than traditional?

Image provided by   IDMLOCO  . 

Image provided by IDMLOCO

When Matt Eagan from IDMLOCO goes into a digital advertising meeting, he knows what most people are expecting, a Don Draper like character walking into the room with clever campaign ideas accompanied by beautiful and slick ad creative. And although ad creative is still very important, according to Matt it's not the most important thing when it comes to digital advertising.

This pains me a little to write, because I've spent the majority of my career on the creative side of things agonizing over font sizes, white space and color. But as I've moved into the digital realm, I've worked with Matt and his team on several social media campaigns, and they've taught me to look at digital differently. To take advantage of what sets digital advertising apart from traditional print, TV and radio — the ability to run tests, gather direct responses from your audience and create a scientifically based strategic plan for moving forward.

Matt: If you're not going to utilize the data provided by digital, you might as well go with traditional advertising.

I asked Matt to elaborate on using the raw data from digital advertising to enhance our social media campaigns. But as we discussed social, our conversation turned to the subject of digital versus traditional advertising and how digital is held to a higher standard than traditional by advertisers. So, this blog will stray a little away from strictly social, and focus on digital as a whole. How can we as marketers help our clients understand the value of digital advertising and the wealth of customer information available to them? 

Digital Strategy and Execution

Left to right: Co-founders Matt Eagan and Bryan Merica

Left to right: Co-founders Matt Eagan and Bryan Merica

IDMLOCO was co-founded four years ago by Bryan Merica and Matt Eagan. They work with a wide variety of clients including: eCommerce, sales, higher education, retail, public affairs and political campaigns. In fact, political campaigns are where they cut their teeth in digital advertising:

We had to prove at every turn, with very small budgets, that we could add value to a political campaign — that you should spend money on digital rather than that next direct mail piece. 

And they were able to prove it. They used the tools available within digital platforms to test campaign messaging and audiences (using control groups and A/B testing) before running the entire campaign. They fine-tuned the messaging, audience and creative based on results from the different observed behavior tests. 

I love the targeting available on these platforms because they know so much about people based on observed behavior. I believe observed behavior is better than primary research and polling which ask participants questions in a social pressure environment — like a focus group. Many people say what they think they're suppose to say in these circumstances, not what they really think. 

Everything they'd learned while working on these political campaigns could be translated to commercial businesses as well. With that in mind they started the digital strategy firm IDMLOCO with the following mission:

We believe everything we do should be tied to a measurable goal that delivers meaningful results that an executive, three layers removed from the project we're working on, can objectively feel good about.

The company has grown to 10 people with a combination of web developers, google ad experts, computational statisticians, copywriters and they are continuing to grow.

Will Digital Advertising Take Over?

It might be a good time to define exactly what digital advertising is. Digital advertising is also referred to as online advertising, online marketing or Internet advertising. Digital advertising uses the Internet as a means of delivering marketing messages to consumers and includes: email marketing, search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing, website display advertising and mobile advertising (such as app ads). Most digital advertising campaigns have a mix of all the above.

Matt and his team work with clients to determine their messaging and what their digital advertising mix should be. As Matt and I discussed the role social plays in this mix, I found out that he isn't sold on organic social alone as the best place focus.

Organic social by itself isn't enough, it's too hard to get enough reach within your own fans to have an impact. Ads are the only way to do that. I really like social ads, especially compared to display, but the ad units offered are still developing. Facebook's new carousel ad unit has turned out to be one of their greatest hits in terms of engagement and we use it extensively now. 

But paid ads can turn off users. By forcing content marketers to rely solely on paid advertising for reaching their fans, social platforms are actually making their own services less attractive to their users. 

What about viral content?

Just because something goes viral doesn't mean you actually hit the right audience. Did it affect your bottom line? Going viral by itself doesn't necessarily have a lot of value. You got a lot of people to look at it because it was a cute campaign, a cute piece of content and that's great — but did you actually accomplish any meaningful goal?  

So Is Social the Wrong Way to Go?

Let me point out that Matt is not against using social as a means of advertising or communicating with current and potential customers.

I think engaging with an audience on social, creating a brand and building a community all makes sense for some businesses. We try to find new and innovative ways of using social to reach our customer's audience. But it's hard for marketers to capture the essence of a client — their soul, their voice, etc. and produce ongoing content for social.
Email continues to be the real workhorse of digital. Email drives results in every single campaign we do whether the goal is lead generation, sales or voter engagement. The technology has completely penetrated every segment of audiences that you would ever want to reach. 

I asked Matt if he considers email to be a form of organic reach, never really considering a post and an email to be similar myself. He explained that your email list and your Facebook followers are basically the same thing, an audience that has signed up to receive information from you. However, an email has a 20-30% chance of being opened versus a Facebook posts which has about a 1% chance of being organically seen. It's hard to argue with those statistics. 

So how do you maximize your investment in community building and audience engagement on social? How do you drive results from your social? 

Where we really see the value in social is using it as a primary research tool. We turn off all the ad automation and go totally manual so that we can design the type of experiment we want to run.

Experimentation and scientifically based testing is what Matt really enjoys talking about. They hold the real power of digital advertising but aren't being utilized to their full potential by marketers.

Take Your Ads Off Optimize!

Explaining to clients why IDMLOCO starts with testing rather than ad creative can be a challenge — especially when starting with the creative is a fun experience for the advertiser and can get them excited about the process. Matt contends that taking the traditional advertising route, which includes creating the art first and hoping it resonates with the audience, is the wrong way to approach digital. But testing isn't sexy, it isn't exciting and listening to someone explain all the different methodologies can be mind-boggling for most of us.

We overwhelm our clients from the first moment we meet them till we actually start delivering services. We'll run so many tests and have so much data to walk clients through, it can be overwhelming. 

Why is there so much data to go through? Because IDMLOCO doesn't rely on the optimized data that Google, Facebook and other platforms provide to advertisers. 

Facebook and Google insights are optimized to sell more ads, not necessarily to help you find where to build value in your ad buy. They are telling you where to allocate your ad budget through means that are not scientifically designed. 
At the end of the day they are there to sell ads. And the faster people click on your ads, the more money you as an advertiser are going to spend. But clicks by themselves don't mean anything, you've got to follow those clicks through to see  if they've resulted in the desired response. 
You have to take control of the data. At IDMLOCO we are investing in computational stats experts on our team and people with traditional math backgrounds. We're getting to the raw data coming out of our testing.

In other words, the data IS there, but it takes someone with some math knowhow to pull it out. And all those results can lead you to the perfect message and audience mix.

Sample ads from  BareBones WorkWear  digital marketing campaign. 

Sample ads from BareBones WorkWear digital marketing campaign. 

It's amazing when you get it right. It takes a tremendous amount of pressure off the creative you're actually putting in front of folks.
With traditional advertising, such as TV, print and radio, you can't target down into a more refined audience segment like in digital. Since the message isn't targeted, there's a ton of pressure on the creative to connect with the target audience. 
We've found that when we get the substance of the message right, hit the right targets and are actually delivering to someone who is very interested at that right moment, and with a real need for the thing we are offering them — you could fill a display ad with black and white copy and get better results than if we had the most beautiful artwork and creative in your display ad.
You get the message right first and optimize from there. Can we make the creative a little bit better and optimize even further? Getting the substance right with just the text is incredible. When it works it works really well. You see this in websites as well. When a website serves a need they can have little or no design at all — look at Craiglist and the Drudge Report. 
This process is actually making the entire process easier. We're removing friction from the marketplace. Traditional marketing is inefficient. We're making it easier for buyers and sellers to connect when they have a mutual interest. 

Creating the messaging and the creative is just the beginning with digital. Next you need to look at the content you are driving your potential customers to. 

Display ads are the headline, the landing page is the ad. You get the headline, the featured image the body copy and the whole selling proposition there. 

So Why all the Pushback?

With all this testing and data driven results, why are advertisers still reticent to jump into digital? And why do some advertisers get out of digital right after dipping their toe in? Matt explains that digital is still in its infancy compared to traditional media, and it's a moving target.

Technology is on a treadmill that's accelerating. How social and Facebook were a couple years ago is different than today, and will be dramatically different than tomorrow. And, none of it is slowing down. Traditional advertising has matured and digital just hasn't yet.
Processing speeds need to stop getting faster so things can get a little more static allowing the industry to learn something about how people use digital. How do you drive real results and actually create some best practices and methodologies that are proven and we know can work?

Something that would really help advertisers like IDMLOCO would be the ability to translate digital ad buys to traditional ad buys.

What is the translation? If I stop doing traditional, how many display ads do I need to run to equal a radio ad or a print ad? We've got to be able to say with as much certainty as traditional advertisers — do this, this and this to be successful. 
That may never happen. We might always be scrambling to simply use the next tool a little bit smarter. 

In the absence of industry best practices and methodologies, the IDMLOCO team has decided to build their own tools.

We may run 100 different manual ads at a time, so we're looking into creating custom tools that help us achieve better automation for testing ad groups. 
We're working really hard to make the experience of buying digital easier. More focused. 

Advice for Social Media Managers

I asked Matt if he could give one piece of advices to social media marketers on using data to enhance their campaigns, what would it be? 

Know what success is. How will you know that a campaign is working? Audience growth is great, but are you sure that's what you really want to look at? What other indicators are out there? Especially if you're a social marketing manager and you'll eventually need to convince somebody within your organization that the campaign has been a success. 
Make sure you know what their success factors are. Everything has got to tie back to that. If they [CEOs, CFOs etc.] don't feel good about the results, even if you feel it was a success, they aren't going to want to keep doing social. 
You'll have a better experience on social and be much more willing to continue the process and experiment. The worse thing is to run a campaign and then three months in decide what success actually is. 


We don't all have the budget or math background to do the type of scientific testing that Matt and his team are able to implement. However, we can still approach our digital campaigns (social, email or web) keeping in mind the advantages that Matt has laid out for digital: 

  1. Start with an achievable goal in mind. 
  2. Decide what factors will conclusively establish that your efforts have been a success. 
  3. Make sure ALL decision makers in your organization have bought-off on the goal of the campaign AND its success factors before you start spending money. 
  4. Don't rush into your campaign. Budget time for testing your messaging and your audience over several weeks.
  5. While testing, make sure to let the tests run long enough to result in usable data. Don't start changing your demographics after one or two days of results. 
  6. Don't assume that you know everything about your audience. Start with what you think you know, and then see if you can better define them based on the analytics you receive. 
  7. If you have the ability to run several tests at a time, make sure to leave a control group in place as your baseline for comparison. The control group is either based on what you're already using as your audience and messaging, or what the Google Analytics or Facebook Insights are telling you. 
  8. Don't just look at the clicks you're getting on your ads. Make sure to follow clicks back to your website to see the result of your potential customers clicking on the ad. Clicks are great, but did they purchase something, join your email list, signup for an event? If your visitors are leaving the site before taking the action you want, maybe your information isn't compelling, your selling proposition isn't clear or your instructions aren't easy to follow. 
  9. Report your results in an easy to understand format. Clearly state your budget, the campaign goals, the success factors and whether they were met. Keeping the process a mystery only makes decision makers less likely to keep using digital. 
Click image to download the ebook. 

Click image to download the ebook. 

You can follow IDMLOCO on social via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Tumblr. They also have a free ebook available with more information on digital advertising. 

A special thank you to Matt for sharing some of his expertise with the rest of us. I'm hoping that expertise will eventually lead to a definitive book on best practices and industry standards for digital advertising. 

If you would like to receive email alerts when new blogs are posted in the Crow Call, click on the button below. Our next blog highlights the Sacramento Republic FC. The Republic's marketing team manages five social media platforms and communicate with tens of thousands of followers on each. We'll talk about how the Republic decides which messages to share on social and how.