How to Plan and Support Better Ad Campaigns

Article ImageWhen you want to construct a home, you need a carefully planned blueprint in place before you purchase and assemble the lumber and other essential components. The same is true of an effective advertising campaign, which requires setting specific goals before creating the content and buying space. Yet, many advertisers today are doing the opposite-building their campaign in reverse without any end goal or vision of what their finished advertising "house" should look like, experts say.

"Too often, marketers create ad campaigns that focus too much on the initial creative and its placement instead of taking a holistic perspective of the entire campaign," says Gabriel Shaoolian, founder and CEO of Blue Fountain Media in New York City. "Marketers should be asking, ‘What are my specific goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)? And how can I achieve those objectives from start to finish?'"

Stacy Smollin Schwartz, digital marketing consultant and adjunct professor at Rutgers Business School, agrees, adding that agencies and marketers also fall into the habit of purchasing media that is "safe." This usually means choosing media allocations and specific placements that have appeared to work in the past without looking closely at new aims and targets. "This trap can be agency-driven, with smaller agencies biasing toward plans that highlight their specialty-for example, a digital-focused agency that loads up on digital placement at the cost of print," says Schwartz.

It can also be caused by marketers who demand integrated campaigns. "An integrated media plan doesn't need to include every possible media type," Schwartz adds. "And a plan that spreads the budget fairly across all media may meet the criteria for ‘integrated,' but may not be optimally allocated for their client's marketing goals at hand."

To safeguard against these pitfalls, marketers should plan campaigns that speak to their target audiences and address their concerns through each phase of the buying process. "First, marketers need to define their goals and make sure they are properly tracking those goals," Shaoolian says. "These goals could include purchases, contact submissions, whitepaper downloads, email submissions, or any other end goal or conversion. Analytics software must be installed and tracking scripts must be defined to assess the future performance of the campaign."

Additionally, you need to understand which audience is more likely to help you achieve the business goal and what that audience looks like, says Pascal Bensoussan, chief strategy officer at Aggregate Knowledge in San Mateo, Calif.

Next, marketers should address the general exposure of their brands. They need to research their audience (the websites they frequent and the search engine keywords they use when hunting for your products or services) and be sure ad creative takes advantage of this research. Marketers should plan an initial message that speaks to this audience and develop some creative around that message.

"The ads should work in the context of the sites they are placed on, utilize the language and search terms the target audiences uses, and vary in how direct or vague its messages are based on how familiar your audience is with your brand," says Shaoolian.

Choosing the right channels is also crucial. "Understanding the balance and mix between reaching (your audience) via traditional content-driven channels, such as ESPN for a sports product, and more programmatic ways of reaching an exact audience-via ad exchanges and demand-side platforms, for example-will help drive where to put media dollars," Bensoussan says. "The key is to understand how those channels overlap and how they can be used effectively in concert to drive you toward meeting your business objectives."

Adopting a customer-centric approach in tandem with an omnichannel strategy-where all communications touch points work together to inform ultimate purchase decisions-may be a smart move, according to Schwartz. But whether it's your campaign or your client's, if you don't understand the need for an omnichannel strategy, you'll be left clueless as to the success of the chosen solution regarding the overall campaign.

"For example," says Schwartz, "let's say my husband sees a TV commercial for a Sony digital camera. He can read consumer reviews about the camera on his iPad or find out what his Twitter followers think about it on his smartphone. He'll probably also use his laptop to visit Google, Amazon, and the Sony website to check out features and comparison shop. The next day, he receives a Best Buy circular that lists that camera on sale. Was that TV commercial important? Hell yes, but could it have driven sales without the network of digital and print media surrounding it? I don't think so."

When planning an ad campaign, be sure to track carefully and regularly with website analytics to make better informed decisions. "Understand your KPIs to track your progress, but don't have too many KPIs. Tracking too many performance indicators can easily distract you from your goals," says Francis Shovlin, pay-per-click associate at SEER Interactive in Philadelphia. "Avoid rushing out a campaign to hit deadlines, as well. Polish your work up and put your best foot forward."

Additionally, consider creating a landing page that will convert your traffic into customers after they arrive on your website, instead of directing them to your homepage. This landing page should include incentives and trust-building elements to win over the audience.

Also, don't get distracted by the click-through rate if your goal does not involve increasing visits to a website, Schwartz says. "And don't simply spam out your content or ads anywhere on the web," says Shaoolian. "Segment your campaigns and create variations for unique groupings of your audience." Lastly, be prepared for errors. Always plan carefully and pay close attention to details, but realize that it's impossible to put out a campaign with no flaws.