Advertising strategy: Get with the flow (Column)

What’s that? You don’t know much about flow advertising? Really? Okay, okay. Don’t panic. There’s still time. Assuming you read this. Like, right now. In fairness, flow advertising is a new concept. You can think of it as sequential advertising on steroids — or, at least, on some sort of protein powder. Sequential advertising, as […]

What’s that? You don’t know much about flow advertising? Really? Okay, okay. Don’t panic. There’s still time. Assuming you read this. Like, right now.

In fairness, flow advertising is a new concept. You can think of it as sequential advertising on steroids — or, at least, on some sort of protein powder. Sequential advertising, as you probably know, is what we call it when a campaign is carried out in a series of pre-planned steps that build off of one another. You might start with a display buy to generate word-of-mouth and then move on to radio spots to generate more buzz. This would all be followed by the big TV spend that is designed to drive conversions. Sequential advertising can be a very effective strategy, which is why marketers having been doing it, like, forever.

But what if there were a much better way? What if, instead of planning out everything in advance and then hoping it all works out, you could adjust your sequential campaign in real-time, based on the signals you’re getting from consumers at each step? That would be pretty damn great, right? Ladies and gentleman, we give you flow advertising.

Say Domino’s Pizza is running a campaign to introduce a new $6 pizza offer that’s only available if you order online. The campaign begins with a YouTube pre-roll and the plan is let the pre-roll run for two weeks before launching the display ads. But Domino’s is smart and the marketing team is paying close attention to the signals they’re getting. Right away they notice that desktop users who see the ad are four times as likely to convert as tablet and phone users.

Now Domino’s has a chance to change directions. They can try a new creative for mobile. Or they can drop mobile and double down desktops. Or they can make 10 other changes. The point is that they can change — and make that change in real-time. That’s what flow advertising is all about.

In this example, the signal Domino’s picked up on was the device being used. And understanding that campaigns have to be adjusted according to the screen being looked at is a huge component of flow advertising. To make it in digital today, you need to be able to deliver the right message to the right user on the right device at exactly the right time. If you can’t figure out how to do that you’re toast, and being toast is no fun — you get eaten alive.

Still, don’t get us wrong, the device in use isn’t the only signal flow advertisers look at. The signals are coming from every direction. Domino’s could look at how long users spend watching a pre-roll and decide who to target with follow-up display ads accordingly. Or Domino’s could look at the terms people who see their pre-rolls search for and then rework the follow-up creative based on insights gleaned from those search terms. Or Domino’s could adjust the next stage of the campaign based on the social network that’s generating the most shares.

There is really only one thing that Domino’s absolutely cannot do in this entirely made-up example, and that’s ignore all the data that’s sitting right in front of them. To ignore that data would be to run a rigid, slow sequential campaign, a campaign that refuses to hear what people are telling it. And why on earth would Domino’s — or anyone else — want to do that? Especially now that it’s possible to go with the flow.

Dax Hamman is chief product officer at Chango.

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