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5 ways to build connections and avoid ad blocking

22nd Nov 2016
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It’s no secret that today’s technology makes for an exciting time in marketing. Brands have more avenues for delivering their messages than ever before.

Programmatic advertising, for instance, helps automate the decision-making process of media buying by targeting specific audiences and demographics. Marketers are seeing programmatic buying take up a bigger corner of the marketing world. In fact, it’s on track to make up 59% of U.S. digital ad spend this year. That’s an increase of $5 billion from 2015, totaling $15.43 billion.

But the rise of ad blocking suggests challenges still remain. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of P&G, warned of this issue at the recent ANA Masters of Marketing Conference. He indicated that technology had invited “awful guests to the party,” including viewability problems, ad skipping, endless ad load times, and “some really bad advertising.”

Pritchard isn’t alone in this view. Among smartphone owners, roughly one out of five uses ad-blocking software — nearly 420 million people worldwide. With that many consumers actively avoiding ads, reaching customers authentically takes on new importance.

Balancing precision and empathy

Tools like programmatic marketing make reaching your audience simple. Whether you want to connect with older male baseball fans or female vegetarians aged 25-30, you have the means to reach your audience with precision.

But precision alone comes off as cold and mechanical, and that’s exactly what makes consumers reach for the ad blocker button. Ever glance at a certain stylish shoe, only to have ads for that shoe follow you to every other site on the web? You have to balance that precision with an authentic connexion to your customers.

Striking that balance can be tough. To make sure you don’t stumble along the way, follow these five guidelines: 

1. Focus on emotional connexions. With all the technology and data available at our fingertips, it’s easy to forget the simple truth about marketing: People buy the brands they love. While the ‘how’ has changed, the ‘why’ still remains.

Take REI, a clothing retailer that shunned the Black Friday monolith by closing its stores and encouraging people to be with their families instead. The brand gave all 12,000 employees a paid vacation day, so they, too, could head out to the countryside. Hundreds of thousands of people rallied behind this cause, using #optoutside to relay the message.

Recent research published by Harvard Business Review deconstructs how successful companies align themselves with the emotions that drive their customers’ most profitable behaviours. Emotionally connected customers not only generate greater value, but with every interaction, they become more convinced that the company understands them.

2. Map the customer journey. Every touchpoint can encourage customer loyalty, and every touchpoint can affect future customer acquisitions and sales. But with so many possible points of interaction, the question for most marketers is ‘What do I prioritise?’

Effective journey mapping goes beyond mapping tactics and channels. It starts with identifying the key inflection points that will deliver emotional loyalty and irrational brand preference. You have to make a science of quantifying which moments matter most and make an art of designing the right experiences for those moments.

By mapping that journey — knowing what information consumers are looking for as they move toward buying — you can encourage a purchase for the right user at the right time with the right message.

3. Add context to personalization. Personalization has become impersonal. You often limit customer knowledge to the superficial: name, age, gender, occupation, income, and so on.

Knowing these traits might grab a customer’s attention, but stopping there doesn’t nurture brand loyalty. You need to add some context to future interactions. The more often a consumer interacts with your brand ecosystem, the more information you have about him — use it.

Under Armour’s new mobile app, UA Shop, offers tailored product suggestions based on a user’s location, exercise details, and purchase history. The data is gathered from the brand’s Connected Fitness platform (a suite of branded health-tracking apps) and used to generate product recommendations suited to the user’s lifestyle. For example, a customer who has logged long distances in MapMyRun and lives somewhere warm might be shown running gear that keeps the wearer cooler for longer.

By adding context to your interactions, you turn the persona into a person. This allows you to show your buyer that you not only know him, but you also care. It acts as the foundation for a warm and relevant conversation.

4. Think like a publisher. Content marketing is the advertising flavor du jour, and for good reason. You can distribute and syndicate content across endless channels and publishers, improving your brand’s visibility and reputation. But many marketers treat content marketing too much like any other campaign they create.

If your content is too brand- or product-specific, it won’t translate well digitally. Content must deliver on specific customer needs along the journey, delivering entertainment, inspiration, or education. Branded content has a role, but it must be balanced with editorial and social content — especially in the early stages of the decision-making process.

To ensure you’re creating value (and amplifying your return), turn to customer needs. Speak to pain points, and focus on building trust. Think about the obstacles your customers face and those problems’ solutions, then write about them. Otherwise, you’re pushing empty words in front of consumers.

5. Get your data straight from the source. Third- and second-party data points are good, but firsthand information is better.

Third-party data — the kind you might purchase from a data collection agency — may seem like the perfect resource. After all, it is readily available and has a much wider reach than you’re likely to attain yourself. But there’s only one resource that can truly unlock that empathetic connexion: your own customers.

The value of first-party insights simply cannot be beat. A Forrester Consulting survey shows that 87% of marketers value first-party data over all other sources for ROI. Whether these insights are gained via forms on your website, point-of-sale correspondence, email, or even a customer service line, no one will provide you a clearer line to your customers’ needs than those customers themselves.

Ad blockers pose a new challenge for marketers, but they’re not insurmountable. Consumers will pay attention to ads that connect with them, so authenticity and empathy are a brand’s call of duty. The same tools that give marketers precision empower them to make that connexion — it’s just a matter of putting that information to use. Take time to learn your buyers’ needs, then cater to them with context and care. Ad blockers won’t stand a chance against your brand.

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