Facebook had a significant presence at this year’s DMEXCO. They had an Instagram stories booth, a Facebook Blueprint seminar area, as well as their main stand, and staffers speaking in nine separate talks and discussions. Even Facebook’s COO (and Silicon Valley legend) Sheryl Sandberg made the trip to Cologne to address Europe’s marketers.
Looking at the talk titles and descriptions, it seemed like Facebook would be primarily discussing two topics at the conference. The first: measurement, viewability, and confidence in the channel. The second: video.
A crisis of confidence
At the beginning of the year, Marc Pritchard (CMO of P&G) fired a warning shot at the digital marketing industry; telling publishers, mostly Google and Facebook, to clean up their act and adhere to better standards of measurement.
Facebook, to their credit, have both stepped up to Pritchard’s challenge – particularly in viewability and brand safety, with new standards for viewability and transparency being agreed. However, the digital advertising industry’s confidence has been shaken. In his DMEXCO keynote, Pritchard said that P&G were optimistic that many of their concerns will be answered in 2017, and that Facebook was around 60% “there” and moving in the right direction.
Despite this, marketers are still seeking assurances. They want to know that their money is being spent efficiently and in the right places. There is frustration – due in part to a lack of clarity for ROAS, particularly on social. In attempt to resolve this, Facebook has brought much attention to viewability and measurement of video views. Meanwhile, attribution is languishing as a secondary issue.
Sheryl Sandberg: a missed opportunity?
Sandberg’s talk was perhaps the busiest of the entire conference. It was the perfect opportunity for her to allay some of the anxieties many digital advertisers have expressed about Facebook this year.
Her talk was about growth in the digital economy, and focussed on three aspects: mission, building community, and communicating purpose and mission. Ultimately, these all boiled down to one message; companies should build a community around their core purpose.
To demonstrate her thesis in action, Sandberg used emotive anecdotes demonstrating small businesses who use Facebook successfully to drive growth. One example was of a German farm café and museum who used Facebook and Instagram to distribute content, and WhatsApp to take bookings. It was a touching story. The other stories she told were similarly touching.
I found this odd however, given that the room was full of Europe’s top digital advertisers. Many of which would have been responsible for significant ad spend on the channel, and not for local farm cafés.
Sandberg touched on trust, ensuring the room that Facebook was working hard on measurement and viewability, although giving few details, and quickly returning to community and mission. Video, of course was touted as the most important ad and content type, as it was by 90% of the talks at the conference, but with no actionable insights.
The overall impression of Sandberg’s talk was that it was a brand building exercise for Facebook; with insights that would be helpful for a small business with little to no previous Facebook experience. This is no bad thing in itself, but for an audience of digital advertisers who are already invested in the platform, and yet are searching for better accountability, transparency and measurement, it seemed like a miss-spent opportunity.
Kay Hsu: same old (Instagram) stories
Hsu’s talk was interesting, yet seemed to have one purpose beyond insight into brand use of Stories. Like Sandberg’s keynote and much of Facebook’s content at this event, it was an exercise in Facebook brand building.
Carolyn Everson: cutting through the BS
One speaker certainty cut through it; Facebook’s VP of Global Marketing Solutions. Carolyn Everson. Everson’s discussion with Diagio’s Head of Digital Media Partnerships, Jerry Daykin, was by far the most insightful from Facebook. Everson’s understanding of the key issues facing Facebook marketers was clear. Of course, she couldn’t address each one in detail, but those she did tackle she did with knowledge and honesty. It was a welcome change from some of her colleagues, who largely just regurgitate the corporate line.
Everson admitted that Facebook underestimated mobile at first, and is still catching up. She also said that Facebook constantly make assumptions about video, which is proving to be a much bigger trend than even Facebook have thought. Given that they are one of the most vocal mouthpieces for video in the industry, this admission is significant. Brands which don’t use video are beginning to look, not just behind the times, but foolish.
Daykin made the point that, although improvements in viewability and measurement are very positive, if a brand focusses on video heavily they could easily advertise to the older generations, who tend to scroll through feeds more slowly and therefore are more likely to view upwards of 2 seconds. Ultimately, standards and transparency enable brands to confidently buy on the channel; in that they know what they are buying, where it’s being seen, and who it’s being seen by. However, where the end goal is a conversion, the industry still suffers from a lack of multi-channel attribution.
Much of the literature put out by Facebook over the last 12 months is on the subject of attribution, they have spoken repeatedly about ‘person-based attribution’. The concept is simple; Facebook tracks users across device because users are always logged in, whether they’re on the app, messenger, the desktop site, or Instagram. Therefore, they see the purchase journey that a last click attribution model does not. Of course, they don’t actually see the purchase journey because they don’t de-dupe against other channels, which is why Facebook conversion figures differ from those in a third party analytics tool.
When questioned on multi-channel attribution, Everson seemed to start on the company line; reminding the audience that most people in mature markets have more than one device, and that whether a consumer is on mobile, tablet, desktop, or TV they’re the same person. After this however, she was refreshingly blunt. The industry operates primarily on a last click attribution model, she reminded us, which ignores all previous actions and interactions a consumer has with a brand. However, instead of pushing Facebook as the answer to this issue, she said that we’re still far away, though it is essential for the industry to move to multi-touch and cross device attribution.
Everson also argued that the path to purchase funnel has been ‘blown up’ and that it is now tighter and faster than it ever has been, something Sandberg also touched on. Where some journeys used to take weeks now take only a few minutes or hours, with people seamlessly discovering and purchasing across channels and devices, or even offline.
She spoke of the need for marketers to be intellectually curious and to be able to understand both the brand and data. Increasingly, she argued, the distinction between brand and performance marketers is becoming nonsensical – a point I certainly agree with. The campaigns I see achieve the greatest success on Facebook are those that take a holistic view; ignoring neither the brand nor the data. Although I don’t disagree that the conversion funnel has been disrupted by digital, it is difficult to say conclusively that it has been ‘blown up’ due to the lack of effective multi-channel, cross-device attribution. It may be happening faster and with different touchpoints, but for many consumers there is still a journey towards conversion through discovery and consideration.
Opinion: an industry regaining confidence
The idea that the industry is facing a crisis of confidence was repeated often at DMEXCO. Many marketers are worried about their ads; appearing next to extremist content, views not being as long as they thought, the value of an ad impression not being very high, and wastage on bots and inappropriate audiences. Many marketers look to Facebook and Google to clean up their act and give more confidence to the marketer. But we marketers have responsibility too.
By better understanding Facebook ad placements, audience building, metrics, measurement, attribution, creative, etc. and communicating this to clients or stakeholders, many of the perceived issues would be, if not avoidable, at least more manageable.
Much was made of the digital landscape being increasingly more complex, and this complexity making it extremely challenging to manage activity across channels. At Genie, we recognize this challenge and so have specialists in every digital channel who collaborate with each other and core client teams. We don’t rely on any one marketer to be experts in the whole digital landscape, we rely on our specialists to be experts in their field and to collaborate.
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