The growth opportunity DTC brands shouldn’t neglect

Direct to consumer brands should focus their open web spend on formats and strategies that work within the mid-funnel, which means emphasizing content.

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Act one of the direct-to-consumer revolution upended traditional marketing and distribution models as we knew them, and now all eyes are on the next phase of growth for these DTC darlings. Initial signs indicate that these challenger brands will be seeking new growth outside of the digital playgrounds on which they grew up (i.e., Google and Facebook).

As Terry Kawaja pointed out at LUMA’s annual Digital Marketing Summit, DTC brands have reached an inflection point that requires them to make a substantial shift to maintain growth. Likely pivots will include expansion into out-of-home advertising, physical retail and — most notably — television. In other words, these traditional brand disruptors are about to start looking a lot more like traditional brands.

Now that the low-hanging fruit at the bottom of the funnel is becoming harder to come by, DTC brands have been quick to shift focus to offline channels that are harder to measure. But what about the remainder of the open (and naturally measurable) web that these disruptors have yet to tap? Many DTC brands are missing out on an opportunity that’s right in front of them, where the assets used to create sponsored social posts can easily be repurposed to extend a brand’s reach across premium websites. The emergence of content-based ad formats paired with advanced buying platforms suggests DTC brands might not want to overlook digital as a path for additional scale quite so quickly.

Beyond the walled gardens

According to Magna, global advertising is showing its strongest growth since 2010. But, as many have been quick to point out, a great deal of that growth has been fueled by revenue gains at Google and Facebook. What’s perhaps most interesting, however, is where that Google and Facebook growth has originated. It hasn’t stemmed from the massive budgets of the Fortune 500 companies of the world, but rather the millions of small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) that have flocked to the walled gardens. In fact, large national brands only account for an estimated 20-25 percent of total spending on Google and Facebook.

Among those SMBs we find, of course, the DTC challenger brands that have thoroughly disrupted so many industries in recent years, from apparel (Allbirds, Stitch Fix) to mattresses (Casper, Leesa). And while new disruptors are emerging daily, we’re starting to see some of the biggest names hit a point of saturation on these channels, with brands like Uber, HelloFresh and others beginning to seek new audiences in the realm of TV advertising.

But here’s the thing: The internet is bigger than just the duopoly. Google- and Facebook-owned properties reportedly account for about 27 percent and 16 percent of all time spent on digital media, respectively. And while those figures are formidable, so is the remaining digital media time. Why would today’s DTC brands be neglecting that digital opportunity for expansion in favor of a shift to traditional channels?

The need for self-service, better formats

Part of the reason DTC brands have invested so heavily on Google and Facebook is that it’s easy. As an advertiser, you don’t need a sophisticated agency or buying platform to tap into the massive scale of Google and Facebook. You just need an internet connection, a credit card and minimal creative assets. Furthermore, over time, the formats offered by the Duopoly have become increasingly attractive. Marketers have long known that banner ads aren’t the best vehicle for storytelling. Facebook started with banners off to the side of the feed but then moved toward high-impact native sponsored posts, which are both effective and mobile-friendly.

The combination of self-service buying with effective native creative executions endeared Google and Facebook to SMBs at a time that the rest of ad tech was heading another direction. As Ratko Vidakovic of AdProfs pointed out, the ad tech market essentially abandoned SMBs a decade ago. They did so when they embraced banners over richer ad formats and neglected to develop easy-to-use, self-service offerings with no minimum spend requirements. Ad tech decided instead to compete for the big brand and agency dollars, and in doing so, passed on the business opportunity inherent in millions of SMBs.

The good news for SMBs — and particularly today’s DTC brands that are looking to expand their efforts — is that a lot has changed in recent years when it comes to advertising on the open web. Compared to even just a few years ago, the ad tech industry is providing more self-service tools to SMBs and will continue to do so. Perhaps more importantly, the high-impact native formats to which DTC brands have become accustomed are increasing across the open web and proving useful beyond basic direct marketing tactics.

As DTC brands look beyond the walled gardens, they need to understand that the opportunity they harness on the open web is different than the one they tap via Google and Facebook, which are largely bottom-of-the-funnel plays. By comparison, most of the open web represents the mid-funnel, where prospecting happens. It’s where consumers turn to learn and shape their decisions. As such, advertisers should seek out ad platforms that are advanced in their capabilities to understand and cater to a person’s place in the funnel. Likewise, they need to focus their open web spend on formats and strategies that work within the mid-funnel, which means emphasizing content.

The ease and effectiveness with which SMBs can advertise on the open web have increased significantly, and today’s growing DTC brands need to look at the opportunities before them with fresh eyes. The time has come for them to expand their horizons, no doubt. But not all expansion opportunities reside in the offline world. There’s still healthy growth to be had in their native digital world.

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Here’s why a disciplined story is so vital to digital transformation success

Content is what makes a digital transformation run, so telling a story across all channels that is clear and consistent is more important than ever.

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You must feed digital transformation or it dies. Once you’ve gone through the Herculean work of integrating the tech stack, designing and developing great new experiences, and shifting the processes and culture of the organization, it’s time to make that sleek new high-performance machine move as the salesperson promised.

So, you’ve got to fuel it, and that fuel is content. After all, how do you create a continuum of experience across all customer touchpoints without the content to fill that continuum? Where do you get the data to create a detailed picture of your customer if not through the content they access (or the content they ignore)? How do you maintain relevancy in the two most important digital channels, search and social, without content?

A digitally transformed organization is a content organization. With that much content, telling a disciplined story that is clear and consistent is more important than ever because the alternative is a big, blatant mess of a brand and an incomplete pool of data.

Your story moves at the speed of digital

Keeping a story accurate and consistent across a sales force and an ever-growing array of marketing channels has always been difficult. But digital transformation drastically changes the scale of both delivery and consumption.

Now, your story is going out; not just at the rhythm of a campaign, but continually across your marketing channels. Your social feeds are voracious, thought leadership constantly sought after in complex and changing industries, and you’re launching new experiences to stay competitive. And just as fast as it’s being delivered, it’s being consumed. To be top of mind with a customer is to be on top of your content game.

As your story goes out across all those channels at velocity, it’s also going out in numerous forms, from the few characters of a tweet to the pervasive language of an interface (yes, even your interface is telling a story) to the conversational interaction of your talking head videos. You need to ensure that your story not only can be adapted to those forms but that it is being done so appropriately all the time.

Finally, while your story is everywhere and moving at the speed of digital, so is everybody else’s. Your story needs to cut across the cacophony of competitor noise and the general digital deluge of information and experiences that your clients always face. That takes the continual distribution of an exactingly created, consistent story.

Your story is getting personal

Not only is the story spreading across more channels faster and more often, that story will probably have multiple versions. Digitally transformed companies are now set up to deliver and capitalize on personalized content, so a story needs to be more than just broadly relevant to a market and a field. It needs to speak directly to an audience segment and, more often than not, to a specific individual.

And even though these individuals and segments often differ in their challenges and how your organization can solve these problems for them, those messages cannot be at odds with each other. Those messages all need to serve the same brand with those individuals and segments being characters in a bigger, unified story. Otherwise, there will be confusion about your goals and priorities both externally in the market and internally in your organization.

Your story is speaking for itself

Today, your customer is steps ahead of your sales force. They’ve Googled your company, they’ve checked your website, they’ve read your social media feeds, they’ve reached out to colleagues across their social networks.

They’re halfway through the book before your sales representative even has a chance to set up the story with them face-to-face.

Your story is going to be self-driven, so wherever it appears, it needs to be simple and clear, regardless of the complexity of your solution, the complexity of your organization, and the complexity of your market. Even as your story gets more complex internally, as it versions for different audiences and different media, the outcome of that story, the part that your audience sees and interacts with, still needs to be simple and clear.

Your story changes based on the data

You should be telling your story over and over and over until your audience is so familiar with it, they can pitch it back at you. However, there is one important exception: if your story isn’t working. The most disciplined, consistent, and clear story might be inherently flawed. It happens. Erroneous assumptions, bad generalizations, a misunderstanding of the customer challenges, a misreading of the data, a misprediction of the trends — all of that can innocently make it into a story.

But the beauty of storytelling for a digitally transformed organization is that you’re going to know relatively quickly if it’s not resonating.  It’s the same principle of a digitally transformed company quickly launching and adapting a product. That’s because you have a complete picture of your customer from data aggregation across channels.

In the past, you had the digital metrics to know that your white paper wasn’t being downloaded. You also know what your audience is searching for on Google thanks to AdWords and what they’re saying on social and through their content engines. But now those feeds are connected. The fundamental mandate of story writing is to know your audience. Digital transformation means you know more than analytics. You know the human beings behind those analytics.

And when you see that your story isn’t resonating and, more importantly, why it’s not resonating, you can change it. However, if even your erroneous story is not disciplined and clear, changing that story will be hard to do. Rebuilding a house on a badly built foundation is extremely difficult.

You are competing on the content experience

Anywhere you release a single sentence into the market, you face an opportunity to either strengthen your story or degrade it in public. With digital transformation, that opportunity is coming at you scores of times a day. The digitally transformed company is competing on its experiences, and that includes the content experience. Releasing undisciplined content across all of those many opportunities piles up and creates costly problems for the brand.

To ensure a high-quality content experience, you need to make sure there’s a story behind it, and that the story is accurate, consistent, tightly adaptable to both media and audience, and continually delivered. Being able to do that takes a lot of discipline in the marketing organization. And I mean a lot. It takes a process for creating the story. It takes an official, almost sacred, documentation for housing that story. It takes somebody in charge of that story at all times.

You must feed digital transformation or it dies. But you also must be careful what you feed it, else it can turn on you.

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HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan reflects on the evolution of inbound marketing

Although the concepts of inbound theory are no longer revolutionary, it’s still possible to move the needle on returns with the right kind of attention.

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HubSpot CEO Ben Halligan

HubSpot co-founder and CEO Ben Halligan on stage at Slush 2019. Photo by Maija Astikainen. Used with permission.

We’re approaching ten years since Brian Halligan wrote the book on inbound marketing. As the book and the approach to marketing turn a decade old, how has inbound aged?

Creating enough (and good enough) content to feed the inbound machine demands more of marketers’ time and budgets every year. Ranking in Google is more competitive. Social newsfeed algorithms impose limits on reach for branded posts. And breaking through the noise to forge meaningful connections with your ideal audience members has become more elusive.

In 2019, is inbound marketing becoming less effective, or is it possible that as marketers, we need to change our approaches?

In the hours following his recent presentation at the Slush conference in Helsinki, I got the chance to sit down and talk with Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot. Along with Dharmesh Shah, Brian Halligan is the figurehead of the inbound movement.

Among other things, Halligan and I discussed inbound’s longevity and evolution. Here are some of his insights.

More than just a buzzword – a differentiation strategy

As awareness of HubSpot and inbound marketing has spread over the past decade, lines between inbound and plain old online marketing sometimes blurred. The idea that companies need to publish great, helpful content to attract and nurture an audience is no longer revolutionary. Outbound marketing has become more inbound, and vice versa.

One could either see these changes as signs that inbound was always more of a theory than a practice – or that Halligan and Shah’s vision was so spot-on that it the world went ahead and adopted it.

According to Halligan, his plan was always to change the way marketers think about what we do. He sees the “movement” as a key part of HubSpot’s differentiation positioning.

“It was the first argument in the four walls of HubSpot. Should we call HubSpot ‘internet marketing software,’ or should we call it ‘inbound?’” Halligan told me. He elaborated that if they had called themselves “internet marketing software,” people would have immediately known exactly what they did, but that it could be both a good and bad thing.

“We spent half our marketing energy on [the inbound movement] and half on HubSpot. It was a tremendously large initiative that still goes. We wrote a book about it. We have a big conference about it…. It helped that it was a polarizing name, like, ‘good guys inbound, bad guys outbound,’ old versus new. That yin and yang polarization worked. It captured the gestalt of what was happening at the time.”

While “pure inbound” marketing, relying solely on organic acquisition, may not be enough in the current landscape, that’s because the landscape has become more inbound as a whole.

For example, look at the term “conversational marketing,” first coined by Drift and later adopted by HubSpot. Halligan credits his Bostonian allies for coining an industry term much like HubSpot did with inbound a decade ago. But he asserts that conversational business is bigger than marketing alone.

“They did a nice job putting a word on it,” he said. “But I don’t actually like the term of conversational marketing. It’s more like conversational business because it applies to marketing, sales and service. People don’t want to email back and forth anymore. They don’t really want to talk on the phone anymore. They want to chat.”

Effectiveness still requires patience

Marketers getting started with inbound marketing now are doing so in a more crowded content landscape than ever. You can’t start blogging and then declare inbound marketing doesn’t work when you’re a month in and don’t have any new customers from it yet.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, though. It just requires more patience. Well, that and content promotion methods that would have seemed like sci-fi ten years ago. Retargeting funnels? Proximity-triggered push notifications with deep links? Influencer-hosted virtual summits?

“Inbound marketing at scale works incredibly well,” said Halligan in Helsinki. “If you look at our cost to acquire customer over time, it’s largely trending down over time…. We’re our own best case study.”

The catch is simply that you don’t get to see results right away, as you once could. Gone are the days where merely creating content was enough to succeed with inbound marketing, simply because none of your competitors were publishing anything or active on any social platforms.

Halligan is quick to note how search discovery of content marketing has changed. However, done right, the long-term investment in content and inbound marketing still pays off the longer you stay committed.

“If you can write well, and you can get cranking on your link development strategy, and get a bunch of links into your site, you’ll start to rank,” he noted. “Then the ball starts to roll. It’s like a snowball that rolls down a hill. On day one, there’s no mojo from it, but through day 180, if you’ve been writing a good piece of content two, three times a week, it still works incredibly well.”

Quality, quantity and the right kind of attention

One of the biggest benefits of inbound marketing and creating content has always been its exponential impact. Unlike outbound tactics like paid marketing, where the results stop as soon as you scale back on your investment in it, inbound marketing’s results continue to compound.

For example, HubSpot’s blog content from years ago continues to attract a relevant audience. “We are cranking through all that content we’ve created over time. All the links we’ve created, all the social media mojo,” Halligan beamed as he told me of his brand’s main publishing arm.

Today’s marketers need to remember that publishing content in high volume if it isn’t authoritative and compelling, isn’t going to work. Today there’s a much higher bar for what kind of content will successfully attract and convert new customers than there used to be.

“For a long time, you could write anything, and you could rank, but Google gets smarter and smarter,” Halligan said. “They know how to tell quality and quantity. The internet, in general, has gotten better at weeding that out.”

One area that could still use improvement, though, is the way our social platforms reward sensationalism. Taking a stand as an organization is still a valid, often impactful marketing tactic. But today, we need to be more careful than ever before about what kind of attention we’re attracting.

“One of the disturbing trends on the internet, one of the things that this whole Facebook thing has pointed out is, people like to look at car crashes,” Halligan said.

“If you’re writing a car crash type article, that is salacious in some way. Unfortunately, that will spread. You see that in the political landscape. It’s really polarized U.S. society to a large extent. That’s one of the other developments that’s happening on the internet. If you take a stand, and even the wrong stand, that content spreads.”

Prepare for the future now

You might not be able to achieve significant results with inbound marketing that you could back when it was first codified. And the concepts underlying inbound theory are no longer revolutionary. We’re no longer at the dawn of the customer-centric age.

But yes, it’s still possible to move the needle simply by providing your ideal sales prospects with wisdom that makes their lives better – especially if you can justify putting some promotional muscle behind those media assets and engaging in conversations around them.

If Halligan is right, then the best time to get started on that is now, because the returns will eventually snowball.

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10 trends in digital content for 2019: Management is vital to success

Technology will transform managing and optimizing content libraries from an overwhelming chore to a lucrative discovery and revitalization.

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Today any organization working with content has a new responsibility – content accounting. As content has become the new currency, it’s not enough for companies to create content and forget about it. Instead, content has costs associated with it that must be assessed along with the benefits.

Indeed, content management has become a discipline, a vital job for any organization. And, as such, it needs to be treated rigorously, not only viewed through a creative lens.

Let’s drill down and examine the top 10 trends we believe will shape how organizations manage their digital content in 2019.

1. Content marketing moves beyond marketing for easier access

When content is viewed as an asset, it becomes costly to keep it tucked away in marketing. Instead, all parts of an organization – and its partners – need easy access. With 20 percent of every day on average spent looking for lost files, it’s essential to have an organizational digital asset management (DAM) system. Add to that the fact that the cost to replace a single digital asset can easily exceed $1,000 and a DAM system becomes a cost-saver. Other payoffs include enhanced collaboration, increased productivity, and in some cases additional revenue from the sale or licensing of content assets.

2. Growing video content leads to more metadata and automation

As video becomes a primary method of brand expression, organizations will contend with more and larger video files and with an order of magnitude increase in storage required for video formats such as 4K. This will have a direct impact on how content is stored and used. Metadata strategies and automation will come to the fore in content management.

3. Privacy and security grow more important along with cloud storage

It won’t be adequate for digital content to be stored just anywhere. To meet compliance standards, it will need to be stored in known and verifiable locations. Cloud storage will be seen as a critical step toward achieving data security and a catalyst for companies moving other operations to the cloud.

4. Old content becomes new again

As DAM systems decrease in cost, more companies will climb on the DAM wagon. A DAM solution will provide access to content users didn’t even know they had. Expect to see old content in such formats as cassettes reformatted and reintroduced.

5. Analytics become more important

The ever-increasing need to maximize the value of content is requiring new metrics to measure and evaluate it. Marketers will broaden their use of reporting from DAM systems to understand content ROI, including who is accessing content, what it’s being used for, its costs and its revenues. This will provide a new level of accountability.

6. Content is optimized for new uses

Evolving DAM systems will make content available for additional uses. Anyone who needs to access the content will be able to readily find, view and share it. For example, an archivist will be able to unearth and release a new set of Bob Dylan gospel recordings, as a client of ours did.

7. AI helps add context to enhance content

Useful contextual data exists everywhere, but it takes smart technology to know where to look for it and to detect patterns and relationships too complex for people to perceive. This year will see more organizations using AI to move beyond mere files and folders, creating metadata about each piece of content to make it intuitively findable. Benefits will include richer search, deeper digital content links, automatic elimination of duplicate content and automated content extraction.

8. Move to the cloud accelerates

With so many emerging opportunities to use and add value to digital content, the pace of migrating assets to the cloud will quicken. Data can be extracted and better used while content is uploaded to the cloud. And once it’s there, cloud storage will enable faster processing, remote access as needed and future possibilities only now being developed.

9. New high-value uses of digital content emerge

Every year brings new opportunities to engage with customers and the public in entirely new ways, and having digital content ready for those purposes provides a big advantage. We are seeing increasing experimentation with virtual reality, augmented reality and new methods for incorporating data outside mobile, desktop and big-screen platforms – think IoT.

10. Predictive asset management will improve bottom and top lines

In the next phase of digital content management, forward-thinking organizations will take full advantage of AI to learn behaviors around supporting and automating collaboration for various users and their unique content needs. Predictive asset management will create sustainable value for digital content so it can be used internally or shared externally – even sold – to drive new revenue.

This will be the year organizations reframe their content as an asset on a massive scale. Tapping the power of AI, cloud storage and other technologies, users will transform managing and optimizing their mushrooming content troves from a dreaded, overwhelming chore to lucrative discovery and revitalization. Best of luck as you mine your content assets to the fullest in the new year.

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Learn how to build more emotionally engaging experiences with a personalized data strategy

Here are three audience management strategies marketers can use to supply new and captivating content.

The post Learn how to build more emotionally engaging experiences with a personalized data strategy appeared first on Marketing Land.

Consumers are demanding more from brands than ever before – more relevant, consistent and personalized experiences across devices and channels. And as a result, brand marketers are facing increased pressure to understand, anticipate and deliver on these shifting expectations.

Just because marketers know where their audience has been online, doesn’t mean they understand what consumers want. Planning a trip to Austin? You Google it once and get retargeted with flight deals for weeks after already purchasing a ticket. Brands can inadvertently alienate customers by relying on old, one-dimensional audience segments and fatiguing them with content they’ve already seen or no longer want.

A successful audience management strategy requires fresh, emotionally engaging content. Brands can do this by moving away from traditional segments and toward real-time, individualized data to elevate the digital experience. Here are three audience management strategies marketers can use to supply new and captivating content.

Get the full picture of your audience

Developing a holistic understanding of your audience – their intent, interests and behavior – is the single most important factor in building more meaningful customer relationships. Create multi-dimensional audience segments using first, second and third-party data sources to achieve a 360-degree customer view and level of hyper-personalization that helps foster lifelong brand loyalty.

Using the trip to Austin example, a marketing platform that can ingest multiple data sources would have captured that the flight ticket had already been purchased. As a result, the customer would be best served with recommendations for restaurants and tourist destinations in the Austin area rather than flight deals and rental cars. It’s important to take the personalization even further. For example, if the customer bought just one ticket to Austin, they may be planning a work trip or meet-up with friends, whereas if they had bought four, it’s likely the trip will be more family-oriented. These factors are important to track and analyze as they will inform vastly different experiences.

A model is only as good as the data it’s fed and combining multiple data sources (CRM database, analytics data and partner data) will help you build a complete audience profile and surface more intelligent insights that add real value for your audiences.

Harness up-to-the-minute insights using a holistic customer view

Now that you have a holistic view of a customer using multiple data sources, you must analyze and act upon real-time audience data to deliver the right content at exactly the right time. Using stale information can lead to content that is overly generalized at best and irrelevant at worst.

For example, the customer that had been looking at flights to Austin may have changed their mind — recent visits from a partner’s travel site shows they are interested in Mediterranean food. Updating your audience profiles based on real-time individual behaviors will reveal preference changes as they happen. Then, it’s as simple as updating their profile – or combining (perhaps Austin AND Mediterranean?) – to ensure it is yet again complete, enabling you to send them content that adds value and promotes engagement.

Activate your audiences

Your audience segments are only as valuable as the experiences you use them to deliver. Often, brands use different systems for marketing and advertising making it nearly impossible to reach the same audience across channels – and if you do, odds are they could be delivering different messages to the same audience. Plus, many of these systems may have segmentation capability, however, with the systems not connecting to each other, the segments in each system may have overlapping customer data.

As a consumer, brands that reward my loyalty with personalized offers are the ones I keep going back to. If a brand gives me points for subscribing, following and downloading their app, I’ll do it…if, and only if, they work to personalize their content. That said, I don’t want to see offers for the same women’s jeans from my favorite department store across every channel. Providing personalized incentives that add value across different touch points are what keep me coming back for more.

This isn’t a lesson just for B2C brands. Even B2B software companies are building loyalty by tailoring outreach with relevant content like e-books to the right audience on the right platform at the right time.

The best way to reach the same audience across multiple platforms is to build an authoritative definition of your high-value audience segments, and equally important, a seamless way to engage them across channels, from email; to display ads; to social; to voice.

Avoid becoming the Monday morning spam by consistently updating your audience management strategy to keep consumers engaged. Churning out fresh, emotionally engaging content personalized to the consumer is essential. To do so, marketers must keep audience profiles updated and informed by multiple data sources to have the best view of the customer. Then it’s as simple as letting the experience drive the loyalty to keep them coming back for more.

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3 inspiring campaigns that remind brands to be human during the holidays

Campaigns from Europe should inspire marketers everywhere to tell more empathetic stories during this season and in seasons to come.

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We’ve heard a lot lately that brands need to show empathy, that they need to make a “human connection” with consumers. While that has always been true, it’s recently become more important with consumer trust at a historic low. This development makes trust a vital trait for brands to build—more than one in three consumers rank “trust in brand” as among their top three reasons they shop at a particular retailer.

The holidays represent an unusually promising time for brands to show their human side. When it comes to branding, major American companies tend to focus a lot on the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, across the pond in the U.K., yuletide campaigns have long been valued as the best branding juncture on the calendar. During this moment in time when empathy and authenticity are seen as keys to branding success, U.S. marketers have an opportunity to reimagine their holiday season strategies as more inspirational and less transactional.

Sure, some leading U.S. brands have made a habit out of appealing to consumers’ humanity during the holidays. Take Lexus’ “December to Remember” tagline, which resonates with Americans like few other campaigns—in fact it’s the leading car name for brand awareness during the holidays. Budweiser has regularly had the Clydesdales in Christmas ads. And Coca-Cola practically made Santa Claus part of its logo for decades to tap into the holiday spirit.

There’s an opportunity for more U.S. marketers to adopt the holiday playbook. With that in mind, here are three campaigns from Europe that should inspire marketers everywhere to tell more empathetic stories during this season and in seasons to come.

The Tear-Jerker

Called “Love Is A Gift,” this video has made millions of folks misty-eyed. It chronicles a young man’s journey through the first 25 days of December, marking each successive day off of his kitchen calendar as if he’s a grade schooler anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus. What he’s looking forward to is a visit from his deceased mother’s voice via an audio cassette tape that was made 13 years prior. This video suggests that the mother was terminally ill and made 13 recordings for her son—named Chris, or “Puppet” to his mum—to listen to every Christmas morning after she had left the world. It’s a slow build but packs an emotional wallop at the end.

Which brand is the advertiser? It’s an ad for the filmmaker, and his name is Phil Beastall. And it was made in…2014. But it went viral this holiday season. And it cost only $65. What a remarkable, creative story, and it should be viewed as one the best B2B ads of recent memory. It seems highly likely that Beastall’s phone’s been ringing off the hook with calls from marketers in recent weeks—after all, his 2-minute, 27-second video has been viewed nearly 12 million times on social media.

The Epic

Elkjøp, which is a Norwegian electronics retailer, tells the story of a young girl with her family at Christmastime. She meets an older relative she’s fearful of at first. They eventually become kindred spirits after it’s clear they share a common interest in flight. It’s a “show, don’t tell” kind of tale, leaving many dots unconnected. It could be even described as cryptic since there is no spoken dialogue, only slight narration. Called “To give more,” the four-minute video is epic by advertising standards, with a message that gifts sometimes mean more than words. Brands that capture deeper themes around the holidays like Elkjøp did strike a meaningful chord that enhances their humanity. The campaign was picked up by dozens of consumer-facing and advertising publications, receiving hundreds of thousands of views for ad vloggers alone.

The Elton

Back in the U.K., John Lewis & Partners’ TV spot goes through pop music icon Elton John’s life in reverse, ending with the poignant moment when he got an upright piano for Christmas from his mother as a young boy. The two-and-a-half-minute video concludes with the tagline: “Sometimes a gift is more than a gift.”

It’s been like another Top of the Pops hit for the Elton John and John Lewis, a company with a history of successful holiday ads. Similar to the other examples, it’s a brand using a novel storytelling approach to celebrate the deep connections that bring family together around the holidays. Nothing could be more human than that. The John Lewis brand, which operates a chain of high-end department stores throughout the United Kingdom, has garnered at least 25 million views on social media channels.

The season for empathy

Such view metrics make clear that consumers respond when brands show their humanity this time of year. Humanity builds a connection with customers and creates more trust. And even if measuring ROI is your end-all, be-all, note that nearly half of Americans (47 percent) get their holiday shopping information from TV ads. The fact that these spots can be shared by millions on social networks makes them even more impactful.

And as Beastall’s short film showed, it doesn’t matter if you are selling B2B creativity or high-end clothing. The holidays are an incredible opportunity for marketers to show their humanity.

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Data ownership is shifting so enterprises are stepping up their tech game

Prepare for a significantly intensified focus on data quality, governance, analysis and risk management in 2019.

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For years, companies have been collecting data almost without any strategy in place. While the amount of data continues to grow, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) discussions have also developed around topics like Cambridge Analytica, causing a rethink. Everyone is trying to gain more control over their data – advertisers, agencies, publishers, tech providers and yes, the end user. Advertisers, in particular, have recognized the competitive advantage in terms of personalization and individualization. We can, therefore, prepare ourselves for a significantly intensified focus on the topics of data quality, governance, analysis, and risk management for 2019.

This is just the beginning because data ownership is no longer a niche issue. It is gaining strategic importance. Advertisers have already started examining their own investments in ad servers or DSPs in addition to DMPs, which presents a new challenge for Adtech providers. Suddenly there are completely different requirement catalogs to integrate technologies into existing IT infrastructures.

What does this mean for agencies in particular, who are already seeing consulting firms expand their presence in the advertising space? Well, only very few advertising companies will be able to handle the complete campaign process in-house, in addition to taking care of data ownership. Agencies will continue to play a very important role, from targeting groups, planning creativity, to transparent reporting, they must live up to their changing role as value-adding partners.

The future of walled gardens and the need for a cross-platform identity

Privately, most of us have long been customers of the big international internet giants – a fact that will only intensify as business models of the walled gardens expand. In many areas, these companies already have a hegemonic position in the market, as vast amounts of data flow into walled gardens, but only a fraction comes out again. Transparency into processing, therefore, becomes a problem – the fact that “no data” gets out is an issue for advertisers. To take control, frequency and exposure must be managed in the best way possible for the consumer – whether that’s by the end customer, marketing, or via the publisher.

The way the walled gardens operate is reflected in the dwindling trust in the services offered. If there’s one thing we learned in 2018, it’s that the much talked about data control, clean data handling, and reliable metrics aren’t that far off. The fronts between the big tech players and the independent providers in all industries have long since hardened. So, it is all the more understandable that the call for alternatives is becoming louder. In marketing, it is ultimately the cross-platform user identity that allows tracking and personalized targeting of the user, even outside the walled gardens. While a lot of preparatory work has gone into this topic this year, we at Adform expect the industry to go to market in 2019 with a real counterweight.

Ad creative will increasingly catch up with adtech

The biggest issue in programmatic is that we can do all this great targeting and end up delivering the same boring banner to all users. All you have to do is look around the creatives submitted to Cannes Lions to see what’s possible in this area. The barriers to creativity are mostly in human heads. The technology is already there; it is the efficiency of using it and thus human-machine collaboration and interfaces – what we call artificial intelligence (AI) nowadays.

The speed of delivery and personalization of content will increase in 2019. After all, a banner is more than its click-through rate! Dynamic advertising media that addresses every user in a personalized way will increasingly liberate us from the same boring banner used in programmatic in the coming year. Online we no longer have weeks, days or hours, the user is now in a time-specific situation and we can reach them with a certain message at the moment. The technology is there to tell us exactly when this moment is, and how a user can be identified and targeted at that precise moment. We just have to be responsive, adjusting the creatives and materials accordingly to a multitude of different scenarios. Of course, this takes time, but the cost benefits are there and play a critical role in the road to optimizing and automating processes for the benefit of the consumer’s experience.

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