Digital Co-Branding: The Anti-Programmatic Buying Strategy

sergedelgrosso“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Serge Del Grosso, Media Director of SapientNitro.

Digital-media planners are facing increasing pressure, and not just from their usual heavy workloads. There’s also all the pressure from the new challenges and opportunities available in the dynamically evolving marketplace.

One challenge creating new tension in the system is reconciling top-of-funnel reach building with the high-volume and efficiencies generated through algorithmic buying. For example, eMarketer predicts that U.S. real-time programmatic buys will increase by more than 72% in 2013. Yet, in contrast, according to the Online Publisher’s Association’s Branding on Display survey of 250 marketers, 47% of decision makers believe premium content publishers are the best media for brand-focused advertising campaigns, compared to 16% preferring social media, 13% favoring video ad networks and 11% preferring portals.

Of course, the relative prioritization of brand-building vs. programmatic-buying tactics will reflect the objective of the digital campaign. Building reach, filling the funnel, and driving customer engagement will point toward premium-display publishers; maximizing efficiencies, optimizing conversion rates, and closing the sale through display retargeting will favor programmatic buying.

“Digital co-branding” offers a way to reconcile these two approaches.

Most marketers are already familiar with the concept of co-branding, a time-tested strategy in which two brands unite their selling proposition behind a common goal that leverages the heritage and the distinct characteristics of both of their brands. Examples are plentiful: Think Ford Explorer/Eddie Bauer, Nike/iPod Sport Kit, TGI Fridays’ Jack Daniel’s menu and many more. Digital co-branding borrows this fundamental approach. It aligns the advertiser’s brand and messaging content with a digital publisher that is targeting the same audience with similarly aligned editorial content.

The foundation of the digital co-branding is a shared brief about the objectives of the campaign. Unlike a simple sponsorship, co-branding requires the publishing partner to give up some editorial control and the advertiser to divert resources to activate content. In return, both parties get more responsive and engaged users.

The New York Times recently published a good article noting the acceleration of the digital co-branding trend. One of the examples it used was an article posted in BuzzFeed’s Life section, “10 Lifechanging Ways To Make Your Day More Efficient,” which clearly identified GE as the contributor and BuzzFeed’s partner. In return, BuzzFeed showcased links to GE’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

This approach can work equally well to drive traffic to display ad placements associated with content sponsorship. In my experience, publishers in the travel category are particularly receptive to building co-branding programs sourcing content from destination marketers. These publishers typically use such content to engage their audience throughout the travel-planning and -buying cycle, from pre-planning to active consideration through booking.

Take the example of a display ad that features dynamic updates on snow conditions. Placed on a site that covers ski resorts, that ad will almost always drive higher response rates than a static banner placement. Yes, rich media typically outperforms static creative; but linking the dynamic placement with contextually relevant content enables the advertiser to start a conversation with more connected consumers. This has the effect of “filling the funnel” with a more engaged pool of prospective visitors, thus increasing opportunities for sales — either direct conversions or latent conversions activated by display retargeting.

Digital co-branding is by no means a panacea. The planner will still need to evaluate the mix between premium placements and algorithmic buying across digital platforms. However, instead of looking at brand building and programmatic buying as disparate activities, I believe the proper equation is co-branding plus programmatic buying, which together equals greater returns on investments. Co-branding can increase reach and engagement and activate brand consideration, while programmatic buying brings the user through the purchase cycle. Viewing these as complementary digital strategies — used in conjunction with test-and-learn media analysis and ongoing optimization — enhances media planners’ ability to maximize both the effectiveness and efficiency of their overall digital media campaigns.

In today’s ever-evolving, RTB-driven digital-media landscape, sometimes “healthy tension” can be a good thing.

Follow Serge Del Grosso (@delbyrnes) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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