Marketers must realise that not all digital is equal


The ‘print vs digital’ distinction is misleading and obsolete, argues Newsworks CEO Vanessa Clifford. The concept of quality is far more useful in today’s multiplatform media environment.

When did the term ‘digital’ become a clumsy catch‐all soup?

Digital isn’t a form of marketing or a media channel, in the very same way that paper isn’t.

The fact is, marketers and journalists now work on a very broad canvas. Editorial content and media advertising are conceived across every format and platform, and audience measurement is equally holistic.

As you’re about to see, the digital media landscape is home to a vast range of different environments. It’s high time marketers made the distinction between ‘high quality’ and ‘low quality’ digital media types – and this post will show you not just why, but also which is which.

Buyer journeys can’t be reduced to one click

It’s often said that no man is an island. Well the same goes for the media. It’s a diverse ecosystem spanning a huge range of contexts. While people often want to simplify and order complexity, embracing this complexity is the way forward when it comes to building effective marketing strategies.

Digital media channels have a brilliant strength in that they can supply real‐time, granular data as to how a campaign is performing. This can be used to great effect and make for relevant, creative marketing solutions.

Yet, all this data also creates an illusion of precision. Too often, marketers use this new information to justify a focus on short‐term metrics at the expense of understanding the wider customer journey and delivering lasting business results back to brands.

An individual’s path to purchase is rarely the result of just one interaction with a company or its content, and different media types play different roles at each stage of the customer journey.

When a brand uses a combination of media channels to build its footprint over time, the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

We know that on average it takes 6 – 8 touches to generate a viable sales lead, and these aren’t ordered in a linear fashion. A particularly useful metaphor is that of a pinball machine. There is a trigger that causes people to enter the decision‐making process. But, once in they bounce from one point to another, often moving backwards as well as forwards before eventually making their purchase decision.

Ignoring that journey and instead focusing on the last thing your customer clicks on before making their purchase damages our understanding of how media outlets work together. It also fosters a culture which disproportionately values short‐term promotional tactics.

To realise the potential of digital advertising, marketers need to shift their focus to the longer‐term effects of brand building initiatives.

As the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s (IPA’s) Media in Focus report shows, short‐term sales activations are not a sustainable strategy for long‐term growth.

When a brand uses a combination of media channels to build its footprint over time, the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

Newsworks’ IPA Databank study 2017 shows that adding online display to TV ads increases a campaign’s effectiveness by 17 per cent. Yet, when digital news titles are bought into the equation, this rises to 60 per cent.

All this tells us that it’s time to abandon the platform‐centric view of advertising. This will encourage multifaceted planning, helping marketers pick the best media types for each stage of the customer journey. More importantly, it will challenge the concept of ‘digital’ as a single entity and allow for marketing plans which prioritise quality over platform.

B2B marketers should invest in quality

It has always stood to reason that where you see something has an impact on how you receive it – The Times’ news section, say, versus the website of a company selling diet supplements. But, now there is evidence to quantify the value of quality.

Over a period of nine months, media investment specialist GroupM worked with Newsworks to conduct an in‐depth analysis of more than 400 million ad exposures and 80,000 survey responses to identify the key factors that affect digital campaign performance.

The results speak for themselves. Based on levels of engagement, viewability, above the fold placement and dwell time, ads appearing in quality online environments are 42 per cent more cost effective for marketers.

A premium exposure is almost twice as likely to be placed fully above the fold and 58 per cent more likely to be fully in view for at least five seconds. Conversely, 48 per cent of measurable ads in lower quality digital environments were never actually seen – the ultimate definition of wastage when it comes to ad investment.

At the same time, eye‐tracking specialist Lumen has proven that ads are 80 per cent more likely to be seen on news sites versus non‐news sites, and get noticed in around half the time.

A large part of this comes down to the level of attention that people are paying to the content. Quite simply, if someone is enjoying the content on a page, they’re more likely to notice the surrounding ads. This effect is heightened when the surrounding ads are relevant to the content.

It’s not only eye‐tracking which supports this view, either. Neuroscience research conducted by Neuro‐Insight and the Association for Online Publishing shows that the same advert will generate a different psychological response depending on whether it’s viewed on social media or in a premium editorial environment.

In fact, left brain memory encoding – which processes words and details and correlates with decision‐making and purchase intent – is 42 per cent stronger when people view ads on premium editorial sites compared to when they see those same ads on social media sites.

Ads seen in a premium context also elicit stronger, more positive emotional responses.

All this shows that marketers stand to gain from understanding the nuances of digital and valuing different online environments accordingly. You wouldn’t lump newspapers, magazines and billboards together just because they all involve printing onto paper. Why do the same with digital media?

Of course, the best marketing strategies leverage a range of media types and formats to engage customers at all stages of the buyer journey. But, when it comes to choosing specific websites and tactics to build a media strategy around: quality matters.

Key takeaways

  • Not all digital is equal. Just as your audience will hold certain print titles in higher regard than others, quality digital environments will leave a greater impression on them than poor ones.
  • Media tactics are not the same as marketing strategy. Rather than focusing on short‐term sales promotions, use a combination of media channels to sustainably build your brand’s footprint.
  • Digital metrics don’t tell the whole story. It takes multiple touches to generate a viable sales lead, with a prospect’s opinions being shaped gradually over time.