Four ways to solve complexity in digital ad campaigns

From programmatic ad exchanges to data clean rooms - digital marketing can be a daunting industry to get to grips with. But a ‘test and learn’ attitude and first party data focus can give you an edge on over-planning competitors.

James Simpson, EMEA Client Lead, Xaxis and Alexander Cardno, Director of Operational Excellence, Global at Xaxis offer four tips to help make modern marketing work for you - no matter how complicated. 

It seems like everyday there is a new solution or industry acronym. This constant change makes it challenging for those within the digital advertising industry to keep up – let alone our clients. I’m often reminded of a quote from the film ‘The Big Short’: “Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they do.”

This is of course a cynical view. In fact, our industry is ever moving, and developing new ideas and tech to improve effectiveness is one of its greatest strengths. 

However, it’s important we don’t let complexities cloud our ability to do the simple things right, because those can often result in the biggest wins. With that in mind, here are four ways to help streamline digital campaigns:

  1. Continuous testing will lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness

Setting up continuous testing on campaigns – such as via a test and learn program – is a great way to achieve efficiencies. And running tests such as this should not be restricted to programmatic; building efficiencies can be done across all digital advertising channels. It’s important to gather information on the performance, goals, and general activity of PPC, SEO, and Social to enable a comprehensive understanding of your campaigns.

This understanding allows for a wider perspective, so you can learn how the campaigns you’re running align with your business objectives. A savvy marketer can activate across different channels from display, video, connected TV, and digital out of home — all directed towards one business goal. Combinations of these channels can be deployed in campaigns that meet core objectives by bringing about 15-20% improvements in media effectiveness. 

  1. Cutting out over-planning will cut out complications

Planning too much at a granular level can be restrictive. It can limit the opportunity to be flexible with real-time campaign optimisations, especially through responsive advanced solutions such as artificial intelligence. 

Algorithms need reach and volume to learn from, so try not to choke them from the start with specific targeting based on best guesses of where your customers might be. That’s not to say pre-campaign planning isn’t important, but when a campaign launches you should start broad and refine audience optimisation as an active, ongoing process. 

Post-campaign analysis is also key — understanding what audience strategy worked well can create an insightful feedback loop that informs future campaigns. 

  1. Put first-party data at the core of activation

There are many ways to collect, store, and use first-party data. This data takes us deeper than website-level actions so we can be more specific with our activations — more personal, relevant, and engaging. In short, it enables us to remove the wastage inherent in more broad-stroke retargeting efforts. 

Previously, it was easy to activate and learn from first-party data via demand side platform pixels on your company website. With the advent of cookie deprecation, everyone must work a little harder to reach relevant users. This doesn't need to be complicated, however. There are practical toolkits being developed that can be deployed to do this successfully, whether those are packaged custom artificial intelligence algorithms, website analytics data, or other in-house solutions. 

  1. Stop putting interest audiences at the centre of planning

The way we target internet users based on interests is evolving. The cookieless era will bring in new ways to identify audiences via the unified learning of contextual advertising and a publisher’s own audiences.

Instead of only using audience interests to inform your AI algorithms, diversify the initial source data and use it to form the basis of campaign testing. Contextual signals tell marketers the content and websites their audiences are engaging with; location signals allow the targeting of certain cities, regions, and store locations; search engine trend data can match search behaviour; and weather signals can help target users according to their local weather conditions.

Let AI find the signals and combinations that work best and take these learnings onto the next campaign. Of course, some of these identifiers are more straightforward than others, but the ambition is that they can help declutter the way marketers approach campaigns.

The rapid evolution of the advertising industry is one of its greatest strengths. New challenges are constantly surfacing, but it is our resilience and creative thinking that enables us to tackle these problems and still reach audiences. As we all know, however, this can lead to digital ad campaigns becoming increasingly tangled and complicated. It is the job of digital marketers to use these complexities to their advantage, harnessing emerging technologies and utilising them for greater campaign effectiveness and efficiencies, and ultimately achieving better business outcomes. 

By James Simpson

EMEA Client Lead



Alexander Cardno

Director of Operational Excellence, Global