How to Utilize your Marketing Budget during COVID-19

The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people and businesses in a steady state of uncertainty. Many companies’ daily routines have been disrupted and adjusted in order to continue operating safely and meet the needs of their clients.

This state of uncertainty might lead some businesses to cut their marketing budgets altogether, but now is the time to reevaluate your strategy and stay consistent. 

Here are three ways you can utilize your marketing budget during COVID-19

1
Reevaluate Your Strategy
Instead of stopping all of your marketing efforts during this time, adjust them. The effects of social distancing can lead to a 60% increase in the amount of content consumed. Some of your tactics may have included out-of-home or radio, however, now would be a good time to shift your tactics to more digital, social media, and search campaigns. 

“Search Engine Marketing is a unique medium as its user-demand generated.” says True Media Search Supervisor, Erin Edwards. “Clients are looking at the current bottom line and making cuts because of it. It’s important, though, during this time of crisis to stay future-focused and authentic. One way to do this is to work with a search team and align your copy so the focus is on online activity instead of foot traffic.”

2
Create Content that Instills Trust

With the abundance of consumers taking in content, the last thing you want to do is be less present for your current or potential clients. The reality is that now, maybe more than ever, your audience is looking at dozens of different sources for content —  will your brand be one that they go to?  

Continuing to produce content in a time of uncertainty communicates care for your audience, and those that choose to be consistent in this form will come out stronger at the end of this, with a loyal audience intact. 

3
Focus More on the Top of the Funnel for Success
While this time of uncertainty may shift certain business goals, it has also created an opportunity for businesses to focus on Top of Funnel to increase leads, expand, and establish a strong audience.

Now is the time to work with your team to establish new goals and KPIs that will allow you to track the success of your company in a way that makes the most sense right now. This time of uncertainty will pass, and your adjusted marketing efforts will pay off in the end.

True Media Celebrates 15th Anniversary

True Media was founded in 2005 with the mission of creating strategic and innovative ways to connect our customers to their customers. March 1, 2020 marked our 15 year anniversary, which has now grown from one office in Columbia, Mo, to six offices across North America. 

In acknowledgement of this milestone, all True Media employees converged upon Kansas City for a company-wide retreat and to celebrate the opening of our newest office in downtown Kansas City. 

The four-day retreat began with a welcome from Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, followed by a series of empowering leadership speakers including Lisa Brouwer, Kristin Brown, Chad Chardin, and Lindsey Roy. The Keynote Speaker of the week was advertising Hall of Famer Bonin Bough, who spoke on innovation and creating value by hacking processes and yourself. Bough was followed by dinner and a private concert for employees and clients by American Idol winner David Cook at the Midland Theater. 

“The goal of this retreat was to celebrate how far we have come over the past 15 years, as well as inspire and encourage our team for the next 15.” said Jack Miller, True Media CEO. “A goal that was reinforced by each of our speakers who shared their experiences both in life and business.”

Innovation was also a key component of the retreat.  Employees worked outside of their normal teams during the event to brainstorm new and innovative media tactics for their clients. 

“Innovation is one of our core values and something we pursue daily. We have a lot of employees who work with team members across offices and across various disciplines,” Miller said. “It is important to always take advantage of these opportunities to bring everyone together to share ideas and shape collaborative thinking on behalf of our clients.”

The Minnies Media Innovation Award — Best of Show

Last week was an exciting week at True Media as our team brought home the Best of Show award from the Advertising Federation of Minnesota’s Media Innovation Awards, also known as The Minnies. Here is an overview of the campaign that truly showcased the brilliant and innovative minds at True Media.

Background

Explore Minnesota was searching for a positioning strategy to help build visitorship in a uniquely authentic way…  Enter the North.

Over the past decade, a grassroots movement has been shifting Minnesota away from the stereotypes of the Midwest. From major sports teams and local consumer brands to fashion and pop culture, everyone is taking their own route “North.” The Super Bowl welcomed the world to the “Bold North;” the Timberwolves invite “All Eyes North;” the Vikings promise to “Defend the North;” and the Minnesota United proclaim the “North Is Rising.” The movement was there — it just needed a strong voice to align it. The campaign’s tagline, Find Your True North, is an invitation to discover something new in the world and within yourself. 

Objective

The objective of the campaign was to promote the new tagline through various media channels and encourage people to travel to and within Minnesota. The goal of the campaign was to take the message to a national level using very focused targeting. Using research to determine why people travel to Minnesota, beyond just visiting family and friends, niche audience segments were created to target at the national level with this hyper-focused approach. Within the Spring/Summer campaign, targets included Mountain Biking, Hiking, and Arts & Culture. The niche campaigns were developed to encourage these people who have already found their “True North” passions and are willing to travel to experience it. And if they’re willing to travel and experience it, why not Minnesota?

Because travel planning decisions take longer than a typical transaction, two KPIs were used to measure the campaign — short term: site traffic; long term: actual visitation to the state.

Strategy

There were three components to each of the niche campaigns. 

  1. Each campaign launched with digital tactics to reach the identified audience. This included display, video, programmatic, native, and social. Ads within this portion of the campaign featured key locations in the state where it is possible to experience the passion activity, all driving to a custom landing page to learn more.  Beyond that, ads included additional activities that each niche may also be interested in, based on research. For instance, the mountain biking audience indexed high to also be interested in hiking and craft breweries.
  2. Incorporating content partnerships with relevant, recognizable local and national brands. These partners developed custom content with their unique voice to showcase Minnesota as a travel destination to experience their passion.
  3. The content that was created was then promoted to our national niche audience, using channels aligning with the content that was created. All content amplification drove people back to the content partners website as we wanted to ensure that the user was given a consistent experience based on what they clicked on. A retargeting strategy was then deployed, where consumers who reached the partner content were retargeted with Explore Minnesota niche creative, driving back to relevant content housed on the Explore Minnesota website.

To halo these niche campaigns, we also had an overarching general awareness branding campaign where both digital and traditional media were utilized. Four TV spots were created, featuring four distinct regions of the state, and capturing a variety of activities within each area. Spots were run in key markets in both linear TV as well as Connected TV. To drive additional awareness of the new campaign, a print strategy was put in place to reach consumers in a travel mindset. Digital campaigns included display, rich media, interactive video, native, email, and social media. 

Results

The Campaign ran from April 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019 and was very successful in driving traffic to the site. During this timeframe, there was an increase in traffic by 5% year over year, with an increase of new users by 6%. Time on site increased by 8%, showing that with the change in national strategy, we were able to drive not only more traffic to the site, but also engaged users.

Visitation was measured using a partner who was able to identify a person who saw an Explore Minnesota ad, and then actually entered the state borders. In order to capture these visitors, location based geofences were set up in key locations throughout the state.

Our geofences were broken up into three different categories: Outdoor (biking + hiking trails), Arts & Culture (museums, historical monuments, etc.), and Accommodations (hotels + campgrounds), based on our specific campaign breakouts (General, Hiking, Biking, Arts & Culture).

Overall, 232MM total media impressions were delivered throughout the entirety of the campaign, with a website visit total of 2.5MM. There was a total of 598K visits tracked by Factual pixels, generating a 0.3% visit rate. Of those visits, display creatives generated 47% of overall conversions — meaning someone who saw a display creative, also went into one of the geofenced locations around the state. Native ads were the second highest, generating 30% of overall conversions.

In addition to an increase in site traffic, there was also an increase in traffic to the ExploreMinnesota website from states that were touched by the niche campaigns, but were not previously advertised to. Some states such as Tennessee and Wyoming saw an increase in traffic of over 65%. With the ultimate goal of the campaign to be to expose Minnesota nationally to extremely niche audiences, These increases were a huge win.

Explore Minnesota and True Media Win Best of Show at AdFed’s Media Innovation Awards

January 25, 2020 (Minneapolis, MN) — Explore Minnesota and True Media Win Best of Show at AdFed’s Media Innovation Awards January 25, 2020 (Minneapolis, MN) — True Media, a media strategy and communications company with offices across North America, including Minneapolis, MN, is excited to announce their recent Best of Show win at AdFed’s Media Innovation Awards – or Minnies – for work done on behalf of client, Explore Minnesota, and its Spring/Summer 2019 campaign.

The overall marketing strategy was co-developed by Adventure Creative and True Media. The Explore Minnesota Spring/Summer 2019 campaign was an audience-first, consumer-focused approach that broke down traditional regional marketing boundaries and opened a national enthusiast audience by connecting with people who are so passionate about their hobbies they incorporate them into vacation time. True Media identified the hobbies, or niches, that drive people’s decisions to travel, and uniquely targeted them within a variety of traditional and digital passion mediums.

Looking ahead to 2020, the campaign will continue to innovate by integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other new tools to better reach these highly engaged consumers.

“The award is focused on recognizing and celebrating outstanding strategy and innovation in media,” said Jack Miller, True Media CEO. “Innovation is one of our key drivers at True Media, and it’s great when your own peers recognize the efforts involved when championing new thinking and doing things differently while achieving strong results.”

“Our audience-focused approach opened up a larger marketplace for Minnesota,” said John Edman, Director, Explore Minnesota. “Historically, our marketing dollars have been invested primarily in the five-state Upper Midwest region, and parts of Canada, and now we are reaching consumers across the country and exposing them to unique Minnesota experiences that are based on their passion.”

About True Media: True Media is a media strategy and communications company that specializes in helping corporations determine efficient and effective marketing and advertising plans that bridge traditional, digital, social and mobile media. With offices throughout the United States and Canada, True Media is one of the largest independent media agencies in North America.

About Adventure Creative: Founded in 2005, Adventure generates traction for active-lifestyle brands using a unique combination of end-to-end strategy, collaborative product design and award-winning creative execution. Our client roster features prominent national and regional clients including Explore Minnesota, Minnesota Zoo, Hatteras Yachts, Vasque Footwear, Old Town Canoe, Park Tool, Sun Communities, Cambria, National Loon Center Foundation and Schell’s Brewing.

About Explore Minnesota: As the state’s tourism promotion office, Explore Minnesota pursues an entrepreneurial approach, leveraging the state’s tourism investment with increased involvement by the private sector. Tourism is a $16.0 billion industry in Minnesota, and a key sector of the state’s economy. The leisure and hospitality industry – a major provider of tourism services – employs nearly 273,000 workers, representing 11 percent of Minnesota’s private sector employment. Leisure and hospitality also generates 18 percent of the state’s sales tax revenues. Minnesota welcomes more than 73 million domestic and international travelers annually.

Spotify Introduces New Technology for Podcast Ads

Spotify recently rolled out its new Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI) technology, enabling advertisers to access important podcast data such as impressions, frequency, reach, and audience demographics information, for the first time.

Podcast popularity continues to increase — up 60% since January of 2018 and expected to continue growing with 45% of listeners saying they intend to tune into more podcasts. 

“Up until now, very little performance data was available from podcasts ads. Podcasts were more of a “let’s use them because we know our audiences listen to them,” but were not able to report back meaningful data.” Senior Digital Media Strategist Margarita Klikizos explained. “Now we can see just how many people are actually listening to the ad and how they are listening. These reporting enhancements get Spotify podcasts closer to an equal playing field with other digital tactics.”

While this new technology is definitely a huge step for the podcasting world, some are concerned the space could become overcrowded as advertisers are more inclined to try it out. This is definitely a possibility, however, as more podcasts are produced there will also be more ad inventory,  so it might take a while for ad saturation to occur. 

Surprisingly, tracking hasn’t been the only thing that has kept advertisers at bay with podcast advertising. Senior Digital Media Strategist Anna Rice explains that there are a few factors that go into opting out of this tactic in campaigns, and it all comes down to your audience. 

“The inability to geo-target played a huge role in not using podcast advertisements. If I am working with more regional clients it doesn’t necessarily make sense to run a national campaign. Although now with the ability to run dynamically-inserted podcast ads (the alternative to live-reads – dynamically inserted is much more like a ‘regular’ streaming audio ad that you would hear on Pandora or Spotify for example) there is more potential for those regional clients.” said Rice. 

More options that would make podcast advertising even more attractive are being able to see how loyal listeners are to a particular podcast, as well as where loyal listeners of a specific podcast are also tuning into (i.e “Loyal listeners of xyz podcast also listen to abc podcast”).

Nonetheless, the medium is making huge strides in the right direction. With the ability to track more precisely, the podcasting sector becomes more transparent, which will attract more advertisers and continue future growth. 

Endless Opportunities with Programmatic Video

Video is here to stay, but the way in which audiences are consuming video advertisements will be ever-evolving. This past year, digital video on desktops and mobile apps began to hit a plateau when it came to viewer growth, engagement, and ad spend, while CTV and OTT gained a stronger foothold in the industry.

Although the platforms in which users are consuming video are changing, the key is to look at video holistically, and not just by device type. When planning a video campaign, all platforms need to be taken into consideration, including programmatic video, OTT, CTV, cable, broadcast, and social video. The best and most strategic campaigns will take all these avenues into consideration to plan a cohesive campaign. The beauty of viewing video as an overall video strategy across these mediums allows you to shift dollars in accordance with shifting user behavior and doesn’t lock budgets into unnecessary silos.

The positive thing about what seems to be a limitless increase in platforms is the increase in which to reach our target audience. Increasing reach is typically always positive — Especially for clients who are more familiar with traditional television buying, this is a great opportunity for them to somewhat remain in that comfort zone, just on a new “channel.”

The process in which to purchase inventory has taken steps to become more efficient and fair. Header bidding is specifically a win for publishers, as it allows them to better monetize their ad inventory. It can also be a win for advertisers, as it is a more equal playing field and an advertiser in a “lower tier” will have the same opportunity at the inventory as an advertiser in a “higher tier” of the waterfall.

Even though the inventory for OTT and CTV continues to grow, there are still a few areas of concern. For one, omnichannel identity and cross-platform measurement standardization are key areas of concern. Video must be thought of as a holistic channel, but these two challenges make the comprehensive measurement of video efforts more challenging. The key is to do the best with what we currently have, while also pushing as an industry for solutions in both of these areas.

Search Tactics & Viewing Patterns

The old list of ten blue links on a Google results page has been replaced by a variety of results, leaving users with no idea what to expect when they search for a new inquiry. A study by the Nielson Norman Group reveals how users have been navigating Google’s new layout — the Pinball Pattern.

While this pattern isn’t exactly new, it is evolving — much like the way Google SERPs are evolving. The new SERPs and how people interact with them is the main reason Google did away with the traditional position in paid search. 

Knowing the pattern consumers tend to make in even a single Google search leads is an important factor in implementing effective media campaign tactics, which ultimately leads to reaching more of your paid search audience. 

 

Our True Expertise:

Senior Search Strategist Steve Sherfy offers his expertise on Google’s SERPs and the evolving viewing pattern of users:

How does the way people are viewing pages when they search affect how the Search Team executes campaigns for clients? 

The changes in viewing pattern paired with the removal of the average position and it being replaced with top of page impression share has an effect on how we execute campaigns.  Many clients in the past liked to use the average position as a metric of success and we have had to steer away from that. Also knowing that the SERPs are evolving and how clients need to be present in many sections of the SERP is one reason why our clients should utilize True Local.  It changes how we approach what tactics we will use, the need to be much more strategic in our spending, as well as lays out more specific KPIs when on-boarding a new client or starting a new campaign.

What are your thoughts on the pinball pattern? how do you see it evolving?  

If nothing else Google is very consistent with the idea of testing and changing things.  The most important factor with search right now for clients is mobile optimization. Mobile site compatibility is now a major ranking factor not only for organic results but also it plays heavily into the paid search quality score which is the biggest determiner of how high an ad will rank or how often an ad will show.  Additionally, both of these play into voice search. It is imperative to stress that “voice search” is not exclusive to home devices such as Alexa or Google Home. The vast majority of voice search is conducted on mobile devices, therefore voice and mobile are going to continue to be the main things influencing SERP results. However, the one thing that will remain consistent is Google making sure paid search ads will feature prominently in the results.

As an expert in this field, what are some key things you take into account in order to provide the client’s the best results from Search? 

Relevancy is and will remain the most important factor when determining both paid strategy and tactics for clients.  We have many tools at our disposal to help us determine the best keyword sets to advertise on in order to present the most relevant ad to the right searcher at the right time. The good news is that with the changes in SERP we now have searchers spending more time on a SERP page which translates into a greater opportunity to catch attention and earn a click.

Streaming Services in 2020

With more and more consumers turning to streaming services, linear TV ad buys are no longer enough. While the industry has been shifting its focus to CTV and OTT options, the variety of services are plenty and have become spread out across many platforms. 

In addition to linear TV, the time consumers are spending viewing video will be broken up among the following:

  • Ad-free subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+)
  • Hybrid SVOD services with the option of ads for a lower cost (Hulu, CBS All Access, and Quibi)
  • Free ad-driven streamers (YouTube, Pluto TV, and Tubi)
  • Virtual Cable Packages (Sling TV, YouTube TV, and fuboTV)
  • Video products from social media (Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok)
  • Online video games (Fortnight) and esports platforms (Twitch)

The biggest streaming services are either entirely ad-free or offer the option for no ads, and even though there are ad-driven options there is still no standardized way to buy inventory, as well as a lack of transparency from streaming services about their audiences. 

The Drum reports that Pluto TV and Tubi both say they have around 20 million monthly active users, but neither service will disclose how it counts a user. Advertisers want to reach a large audience, but they also want to reach a unique audience, more specifically, their specific audience. Until there is a standardized to purchase inventory, advertisers will have to rely on self-reported figures that are calculated differently from one streaming service to the next. 

Beyond the lack of transparency in user count, there is also a lack of transparency in what programs advertisers are buying within programmatic auction. Buyers can only see channel, genre, or rating information depending on the service. However, this is not often seen as big of an issue because most advertisers purchase internet-delivered TV to buy on audiences, rather than content based.

All in all, the video landscape will be just as crowded and noisy in 2020 as it was in 2019, and the industry won’t implement a standard for internet-driven TV anytime soon. In the meantime, here are some tactics marketers will attempt to implement in order to drive reach in video ad strategies next year:

  • Buying inventory from aggregators that sell multiple publishers’ inventory through a single platform. (No guarantee in where ads will run).
  • Purchasing video ads across every type of ad selling platform they can access. (Requires a lot of time and coordination).
  • Going all-in on Connect TV (With supplemented linear TV and other digital video for big brands)
  • Striking product placement deals with the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (Expensive and exclusive).

Facebook User Engagement Predicted to Keep Declining

Despite its best efforts, the decline of user engagement on Facebook is still evident. In 2019, the average amount of time US adult Facebook users spent on the platform was 34 minutes. It is now predicted to hit an all time low of 33 minutes in 2020, compared to its peak of 40 minutes in 2016.

Users age 18-24 years old are spending more time on other platforms for gaming and videos, and while older users are still spending time on Facebook, it isn’t enough to offset the decline among young adults. 

Where are users spending their time?

While the average time on Facebook is dropping, the time spent on both Snapchat and Instagram is rising. In 2016, the average amount of time spent on these platforms was 24 minutes and 22 minutes, respectively, which is now up to 27 minutes on both. 

Why will Facebook’s user engagement continue to decline in 2020?

Their attempt at new features — such as stories, video shows, and dating features — won’t have a big enough impact to truly catch on. A study conducted by Bizrate Insights in October 2019 stated that only 32% of respondents said they had watched videos on Facebook Watch and only 22% had utilized Facebook Story in the past couple of years.

The decisions the company has been making about political advertising and content moderation is only hurting them more. As the discussion continues, users will continue to fade. While political topics has always been a dividing factor on Facebook, as the 2020 US election draws near users will most likely opt to simply stay away from the conversation. 

The draw towards platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitch is because users want social media to be an easy, fun, and mostly positive experience — something Facebook’s News Feed sparsely provides. 

How Do You Move Forward?

As the time spent on Facebook declines, make sure you aren’t spending money to reach inactive users. Most importantly, work with media partners who know where to reach your audience and how. As social media advertising continues to expand its reach, it will become more important than ever to know what platforms to spend ad dollars on and which platforms no longer draw your audience.