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What 2016's digital marketers can learn from 2015

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What 2016's digital marketers can learn from 2015

2015 has been a rollercoaster of an year for digital media. Suggestions that it will overtake TV as the primary advertising medium are still some years off though. A Magna Global report says this will happen sometime in 2017. Another report, by Forrester, and focusing on the US, says the US will see this a year earlier, in 2016.

Already, according to a number of studies, online consumption, on mobile and desktop, is far ahead of offline mediums.

Our own country overtook the US as the second largest population last year and is now second only to China. No wonder then, that they eyes of the world are on Asia, which will be the bedrock of digital innovation and opportunity in the years to come. 

It will be an interesting phase to witness as the two countries have noticeably different approaches to the digital medium. India is still maturing as marketers, users and agencies come to terms with the disruption being caused by the digital ecosystem. As understanding keeps growing, the pace of adoption and change will only quicken. 2015 was also an eye opener in some ways and the ecosystem will now need to ensure they carry the lessons of the year into 2016. 

Google Is No Longer The Digital Panacea 
 Let’s keep this straight; Google is still the top draw for digital marketing but there seems to be change in the air. It is no longer the only boxer in the ring and this is something that marketers will need to keep in mind as they plan their digital ad spends in 2016.

Considering the dominance that Google has enjoyed (and still enjoys) in the market, this might seem slightly blasphemous. And the numbers do suggest that this dominance is likely to continue; at least in the near future. eMarketer estimated that Google will account for 54.5 per cent of all search revenue in 2015, an increase of 15.7 per cent this year. It also dominates the mobile ad spend category, at least in the US, taking in 32.9 per cent of total revenues in the year. Share in overall digital ad revenues globally stood at 31.45 per cent in 2014, according to another eMarketer report, way ahead of second placed Facebook (7 per cent).

But what these numbers don’t show is that growth has actually been slowing down for the giant. Facebook has been eating into Google’s mobile ad revenues over the course of the past two years. eMarketer has already revised an earlier forecast about Facebook and now says it will account for 20 per cent of all mobile ad revenue in the US by 2017. Similarly, Twitter has been also posting triple digit increase in mobile ad revenues every quarter, which is boosting its mobile revenue share, though at a slower rate than Facebook’s. Meanwhile, analysts have noted that Google’s share has steadily been decreasing. Similar trends have been highlighted in search revenue too.

As a marketer; the age old wisdom that Google is the solution to all problems does not seem to hold true any longer.

Social Media: The Frenemy For Publishers
Social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, etc. have been trying hard to become the top referral sites on the internet. And it is actually working; since their importance in this role has been growing year on year.

According to a February 2015 report by Shareholic, social media is the biggest driver of referral traffic online; accounting for 31. 24 per cent of all referral traffic online.

Till now, publishers have been happy to use them to boost the popularity of their own articles. So far, so good. Then, in 2015, Facebook started Instant Articles, asking publishers to allow it to host their content, ensuring faster load times. It also offered to monetize the content for the publisher. Apple and Snapchat have similar platforms themselves, while it has been rumoured that Google and Twitter are also working on building something along these lines.

Google, Twitter join hands to take on Facebook in content wars?

Though this might seem a win-win situation for publishers, they need to be wary that they do not get lured into a potentially Faustian bargain. Handing over control over their content or getting too reliant on a third party platform might not always be in the best interests of the content creator, especially if the publisher is a comes from the field of journalism. Can the tech partner promise maintain journalistic integrity in face of external pressure? We have seen examples in the past where social media platforms have been forced to remove content for a variety of reasons. 

Also, and this is to not suggest, that the likes of Facebook and others are the villains in this, but they might not always have the best interests of the publisher at heart. Though they genuinely seem to see content as an important factor in their growth, their views might be different from the publisher. What happens when both ideologies are no longer aligned? If the publisher is too dependent on one, or maybe two, platforms for visibility in a medium notorious for its “blink-and-miss” nature, it might be too late to go back. 

Are publishers over-reliant on Facebook?

Keep It Simple
We saw a lot of consolidation in the ad tech market in the country. Traditional ad networks shut shop or were acquired or had to spin off their business. Though the reasons for their failure to sustain are myriad, one thing that stands out is that the traditional programmatic advertising model had become too complex and unwieldy. There were publishers, ad exchanges, ad networks, all connecting to each other. Keeping track was becoming difficult and this sometimes lead to unwanted and dishonest practices. 

How susceptible are Indian brands to digital fraud?

The lesson here for the advertiser and the media agency is to keep things simple. Only work with trustworthy partners and keep track of the ad journey. As programmatic becomes even more prevalent in coming months, brand managers will have to develop an understanding of how the process works to better manage their ad spends.

Display Advertising Is Dead, Long Live Display Advertising
There have been many who have been wanting to ring the death knell for traditional display advertising for ages. As Vincent Digonnet, Chief Growth and Transformation Officer at Razorfish, pretty bluntly told us in an interview back in March 2014, “Advertising as we know it, which is placement of content in a location you have bought, is to a certain extent dead.”

But it took Google’s admission back in December 2014 to jolt people into reality. "With the advancement of new technologies we now know that many display ads that are served never actually have the opportunity to be seen by a user,” the company had said. The number, it admitted, was as high as 56.1 per cent. 

Though it was a somewhat shocking revelation, it did serve some good as we saw a number of efforts being made to make display advertising more effective and transparent.  Viewability is important because it changes the way marketers and agencies have traditionally approached digital advertising and this will become even more important going forward. 

How should advertisers meet the challenges of viewability of digital ads ?

There are better ad formats available that engage audiences but it is time for marketers to start experimenting with these formats and not be afraid to spend money on them. On the flip side, marketers also need to be a little more careful in where their money is being spent, while asking for proper reporting and ensuring there is transparency. 

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Prior to joining Madison PR in 2012 Chaudhary was Group President Corporate Communications at Reliance Industries Limited.