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In today’s episode of E coffee with experts, Matt Fraser interviewed Avril Tomlin Hood, the Head of Digital Marketing and Media of Idea Rebel, a full-service Digital Marketing and Web Development agency. Avril shares her experiences of buying media and reveals her top methods and tactics for successful media buying that your competition doesn’t want you to know about. If you’re looking to stay ahead of your competitors, this is an episode you won’t want to miss!
It is important to always look at your funnel in a comprehensive manner. The biggest brand advertisers, spend 60% of their marketing budget on awareness and 40% on performance marketing.
Thanks for having me, Matt. I’m happy to be here.
I think a lot of good things in life happened by accident. My degree, as you mentioned SFU and communications. I actually had a narrow focus on media education. So, I was initially interested in more of the educational arena in terms of media literacy, but twists and turns and different experiences ended up leading me to work in media. In advertising in particular. So yeah, I historically worked in PR, event management, and financial marketing. This was maybe back in early 2000. So, digital was at a different stage. In 2012, I ended up partnering with a woman and working for her media buying agency, and I learned a whole lot about the industry from that side of things. We worked across all industry verticals. I gained tons of experience working in sports and entertainment. Travel and tourism were also a really big part of our business. CPG, consumer packaged goods, apparel, food and beverage, a ton of experience. We were a little agency, a little media-buying shop, and we took anything that was thrown at us. So, that was an excellent learning curve. I learned how to do kind of everything from the ground up, from creative worksheets to UTM building to the little nitty gritty tasks of media buying up to strategy and planning and directing teams ultimately. So yeah, a bit of a circuitous route ultimately, but about ten years ago I ended up in media buying, and that’s been my specialty ever since.
We talked about this in the pre-interview, and it’s something that I see defined differently everywhere. And most simplistically, I would define it from an umbrella perspective as any ad space bought and sold is an under-the-media buying market. So that could be Google, PPC ads, pay-per-clicks, or it could be a billboard you see on the side of the highway or a bus stop or a television ad or programmatic display that you search for. So media buying is essentially an art and science. I would say 80% science and 20% art of negotiating, buying and then placing the right ad against the right audience in the right place at the right time.
Yeah. And I think it’s important to distinguish, and that’s why the term gets used sometimes to refer to programmatic.
It often does. But I think there are different silos of expertise, and different platforms and tactics within that are really their own business, their own unique area. So like Google, a PPC expert, a paid search expert could very well only do that because it’s such a specialized overseas media buying. But I still call it media buying because you’re still buying media placement. But often, media buying gets referred to as just programmatic. So, I do like to make the distinction.
Yeah, that’s a great question because what drew me to it, as I mentioned in the beginning, is it was a bit more happenstance. I was interested in marketing as a general career, and I did a lot of marketing and then I ended up stumbling upon media buying, specifically. And I stayed for all these years, this past decade because I really like a couple of things. I like the fact that it’s always changing so it’s never boring. There is never an opportunity to get bored and digital marketing because things are moving so quickly. I mean, it’s almost like we’re struggling to catch up. But we always sort of like jogging to catch up because if you’re not moving, you’re dead in the water when it comes to this industry. Because technology changes so quickly and there are so many exciting and new solutions on the market. I also like the puzzle of trying to figure out what’s what and what is strategically the best fit for my clients because there are so many options, so many players in the space, and so many vendors. When we’re speaking of programmatic specifically, that’s different. I mean, we’ve got our Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Meta, Google and so it’s never boring. I do like that but it is formulaic in the sense. It’s a bit more science than art and it’s predictable. And that for the most part, if we follow the funnel, although that’s a little bit outdated, to call it a funnel, it’s a little bit more non-linear consumer experience journey, I would say. Of course. I mean, nothing is just like that anymore, it’s multiple touchpoints across multiple journeys really, and I like that it still does to some degree. We can say, we’ve seen over and over again if we allocate a certain amount of budget to prospecting, a certain number of customers using targeting that is proven and data that is legitimate, then we can guarantee with relative certainty an estimate of results. So, I do like the predictability of that in the sense it is funny because it’s offset with the complete, almost chaotic and Wild West nature of the media buying industry.
Well, I think that it could have a million answers, depending on the different inputs. So, it’s also dependent on a client’s particular needs and KPIs. But in general, it always starts with what a client wants to achieve. And then we work backward from there. But I think to answer in a very general way, the most important thing and the most important place to start is a foundation of solid brand marketing. So, I think the problem that I can see over and over again and the desire of a lot of businesses is that they want to spend a certain amount of money and they want input-output. They want to put in money and get money and they want that formula to continue. And the formula can’t continue if you’re not taking a more holistic view of everything. So, if you don’t have a solid brand and Assets that aren’t good, the website is crap or the artwork in display ads or the Facebook ads or the text copy is poorly written, or in any of the brand content, there’s no cohesiveness. If there’s no clarity and no strategy and no clarity around the brand and then media buying is like the final link in the chain. It’s like we reach the customer with all the hard work that’s been done to build the brand beforehand. If that foundation is not solid then we can’t do our jobs as media buyers because you know, we can get people to the site potentially or we don’t even get them to the site. So, you could spend as much money as you want and then the other part of that is the money in money, our money expectation like we have to look at again that funnel. So, we can’t just spend $100,000 a month on performance Google ads. That might work for a while. We have lots of clients where we come with that and that’s been working for them for three months or six months or even a year where they have been spending against a highly qualified audience and we’re driving them down the funnel or we’re driving them to convert because they’re low down the funnel and tight campaigns, but we run out of people. So, that again, that’s only one part of our funnel. So, it’s really important to look at media buying within the holistic context of both the brand and then the media strategy. It’s all holistic, it’s like nothing occurs in a vacuum and we do see that a lot. I think there’s an expectation that’s what media buying should be. It’s 100% science, it’s discounting the 20%.
It’s common with a certain size. But it doesn’t have to be exclusive to smaller companies. There are lots of companies that don’t invest or understand the importance of that. I think it applies to both of the things that I mentioned. The challenges in terms of having the branding strong or the imagery strong like that foundation plus not taking the full funnel into account. There’s kind of a hesitancy or a fear to invest where there’s not going to be an immediate return. And so that’s what I observe from working with people and businesses and in that regard, like, oh no, we don’t want to pay $50,000 to redo our website because that’s $50,000 we can’t account for when it comes to returning on assets or ROI. We can immediately see the benefits of that. Why can’t you just run some Google ads for us and we know that you can just with media buy, so you should be able to get results? But I think we’ve gotten around that by we tend to advise very early on in a relationship with our clients. We manage expectations from the very beginning. So KPIs are established and if your client has an unrealistic expectation of a KPI, then we’re very clear and direct because we want to set ourselves up for success.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a good question. I think that allocation of budgets, I approach it, firstly from a funnel perspective. An allocation of budgets between awareness, consideration, intense conversion-driven campaigns and minutes into the tactics. In terms of that allocation, there’s definitely no formula for that because it really again depends. So, we have clients, the flooring client and their products are very creative and their visual content appeals to the DIY and the home renovators. Pinterest takes a big portion of that budget more so than Facebook. But if you were an auto dealership, she would certainly not be advertising on Pinterest or might, depending on the KPI. We’re looking to generate engagement with people’s dream vehicles or something. Dream boards or PIN boards. I don’t use Pinterest, but we do work on it as a platform. So yeah, I think that question, it’s very much dependent on that KPI. So, what are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to capture people who are searching for tourism experiences, they’re traveling from Seattle to Vancouver for the weekend and they’re going to do things in Vancouver. We’re going to account for that user journey. So, really, we’d start by looking at the funnel and allocate budgets percentage-wise against the funnel to ensure that we have robust and consistent feeding of the funnel. And then we look at what we can call a day in the life experience. So, we kind of put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and we think that would dictate more percentage breakdown of platforms as opposed to tactics and approaches. So if our customer is a female aged 34 who has no kids, the professional who has a certain demo psycho profile, we look at that and then we place them in a media touchpoint model so we can allocate and strategize that way from that information that we create.
Yeah. That’s about right in trying to retain, re-engage, and push down the funnel. So, it’s when someone is showing that level of intent based on all those things that we spoke about. The funnel, the persona, the day in the life and then getting ultimately people to the page where we want to encourage them to convert whatever that may be. If it’s booked a test drive, enter their email information, whatever it is. They define our KPI, we can define our conversion metrics. And then if someone gets very, very close, then retargeting is absolute. I mean, I think every when I meet people. I have my friends, they joke that I’m the Chandler of our friend group, the reference from the Friends show. You know, no one ever knew what he did for a living. And I tell people, you know, when you’re looking for a pair of shoes and you go and you look at them and you don’t buy them, and then all these little ads follow you around the Internet for the next week. That’s what I do.
Yeah, absolutely. So, Google Analytics setting up those conversion goals is essentially important, especially with e-commerce, it’s critical. My experience spans are so different. I mean, e-commerce is centrally critical, that is you are right in terms of what you are building from and building towards and then there are media buying campaigns where it’s centrally important that we generate engagement among a target audience. In that case, we’re not looking at Google Analytics in so far as setting up conversion rules. It’s more service metrics on platforms. So, it’s like any platform can be deep. For reach and impressions, yes, we measure that if it’s just a reach play, like if a client just wants to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible. I mean, historically that’s what was measured only. So, when you buy television, when you buy broadcast, basically, it’s a different language. I will get into that and I can’t speak to it too intelligently because I only have enough working experience that I can get by, but I don’t do it as expertise. But it’s reach, you’re measuring impressions, which is very limited, and it still is in digital too, because you can’t really go beyond the fact that the ad was served and someone thought maybe they didn’t want it above the fold. Is it below the fold? It’s gotten more sophisticated in the last ten years, and there’s a lot less fraud around that kind of stuff.
In terms of measuring success. So, that’s pretty standard, we look at CTR, and that’s the click-through rate. If we’re trying to drive people to a site and we’re not necessarily like it’s maybe a secondary KPI as a purchase, but our primary KPI is to get traffic to the site, and we’re looking at CTR. We always look at CTR because it’s an indication that someone is interested enough to click on an ad. You have to be careful when we’re looking at CTR with mobile ads because they generally tend to be quite a bit higher. I had a colleague who used to call that fat fingers because the more we click on mobile ads all the time. So, take those with a grain of salt.
Yeah, But you can’t.
Yeah, I think so. So CTR, we do look at impressions, we look at reach, we look at the time on site, we look at video view rates. We look at the return on investment and return on Ad spend. We measure everything. Just what we’re centrally focused on will depend on what the ultimate KPI of the client is and what we’re trying to drive toward because we’re not going to pay too much attention to the click-through rate if our trick is awareness or engagement. Engagement clicks count as engagement, but it’s not what we’re going to be zeroed in on trying to improve. So, our ad offices will not be focusing all their efforts on getting the click-through rate up. If what our client wants us to do is brand awareness play and get a piece of creative in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
Well, it depends, I think programmatic is another area that I get kind of pedantic about because programmatic is technically how we buy, like all ads that aren’t contextual. So that’s the system that is used, it’s the bidding system. So yeah, Facebook is programmatic, and Google is programmatic. But if you’re talking about like programmatic display, like DSP…
Then brand awareness. I mean, like unless it’s where you’re programmatically buying video through a DSP or native ads through DSP, I would say those are brand awareness, but display banner ads should programmatically buy and should never just be used on their own to do anything. It’s an asset. We use it for retargeting as you did at the dealership.
Yeah, we have clients like e-commerce heavy clients where we spend 70% on Google and 30% on Facebook. And that’s it. Then we have a separate spend that’s looked at as like an awareness-based spend where we’re not measuring direct return on ad spend in real-time, we’re measuring it over time, around left measurements. And we allocate that to budget, CTV and display mobile because it will not be a great conversion driver. Also 25, 25, 10, you came up with it. You don’t know how, but you tested it. And I think the idea is central. You tested it and it works. You kept doing what worked and when something didn’t work, presumably you stopped doing that. So, we sell a service to our clients. Like that’s what we’re selling, essentially. We’re selling this expert ability on the back end to be constantly testing, pulling back, moving forward, deep right, deep left. We’re very agile as the media buyers have to be good ones because you’re reading the data, making informed decisions to capitalize on what’s working and putting aside what’s not or changing.
I believe that Justin Dowling Tim.
Yeah, you would go into your source medium in Google Analytics and you can see this came from a social ad or this is a referral which could mean anything.
Well, I think with UTMs, we can probably get around some of that as an agency and that we tell them this is our process. For the most part. For the most part, yeah. We’ll come in and say this is our operating procedure. These are the things that we do non-negotiable. This is how we activate and optimize campaigns. So, we do have that being said, we do work with some clients in sensitive verticals. They have some limitations around tracking and measurement on their sites, and that’s where we run into resistance with technologies like pixelation and UTM tracking. And so, we have to do some workaround stuff. I won’t get into that, that’s a whole other podcast, but for the most part, for most clients, that’s not been something we’ve come up against. I think it’s also something that we often do with third-party Out Serve or anything programmatic for verification and control on our backend. So, we would use DV360 and so instead of just sending like we used to do, in the olden days where we send a publisher, aka DSP, if we would find it ourselves, we’d send them a folder full of banner ads, and we’d send them an Excel worksheet with all the UTMs that we created. And there’s like a Google UTM builder. You could plug in all your parameters, my campaign, creative side, and all that stuff, and we’d send them those too. And then they put them together, and then they’d serve them through the DSP. Using a third-party observing tool is preferable when you’re serving programmatic effort at all anymore. So, you input all of those unique parameters and the creatives themselves, and that generates, instead of third-party ad tags that you then send to the publisher. So, you send them the codes, and then they serve the codes, which translate into the Ads when they’re served. And then, all that information is sent back through our central third-party ad serving system. So, it eliminates the possibility of any reporting discrepancy, and we can control what creatives we rotate in and out of the backend ourselves without having to send anything to another publisher. So, that third-party ad serving tag integrates the tracking codes we need to UTMs we use specifically like we input those manually and in Facebook and google, programmatically, third-party surf.
We’re in a transitory time around, like anything to do with Google. Anything to do with any of the big three. And when I say big three, I mean Meta, Google and Amazon, you know, like things are shifting under our feet. Before I would have said, Yeah, absolutely, I use a third-party DSP for retaregting. Your reach is going to be higher, and your cost is going to be lower. But Google is, as I’m sure most of your listeners are aware, there in the industry like the third-party cookies, no more essentially as of 2023. So, the date keeps getting changed, but that’s ultimately going to happen. These third-party DSPs are going to be essentially cut off at the pass when it comes to accessing the behavioral data that they need to retarget effectively across Chrome, which is I think 80% of the market share.
Yeah. So, it was like 60, 75, 80. I’m looking at it right now on my screen. So now my answer is different. We’re a little bit beholden to Google, and it’s a suite of products in the same way we are to Facebook and Amazon to some degree. But I also see other changes in response to that. And I think in the next few years, we’ll see some shift in that market dominance, that monopoly, that Google has. But who knows? I’d be richer if I had the answer to that question.
It’s all bullshit.
Same with Apple. And I think anyone who will listen to me right now, I have some passionate things to say about it. I call it the greenwashing of privacy claims that Google and Apple are doing. I understand they’re marketers, and I understand what marketers do. They’re positioning this as a privacy concern. It’s nothing to do with privacy. Sure, that’s a consumer-facing benefit, but there’s something that motivates them to build walls around their walled gardens, and they are getting higher and higher. The data they’re producing from within them is getting more robust, and their profits are increasing. And that’s what’s happening. It’s not because they truly care. And also, regarding anything with privacy, I think they’re under pressure. I don’t know the exact number today, but it’s almost laughable how many current existing lawsuits are in play against Google by the US government on whatever level. There’s lots of pressure coming from that. So, as I say, it’s like the ground is shifting under our feet; it could be ten years before it’s different. It could be five. Who knows? But things are moving.
Yes, I think some for sure. I think some have not moved over the last couple of years; there’s been a long runway. So, I think companies have been given time to pivot or time to figure out solutions or create strategic partnerships and alliances or be acquired or take their technology and apply it to another different way. But, in general, I think that Google is in the midst of, I don’t know what, the most recent one, I know they came up with that it was called Floc Privacy Sandbox. They’re working on developing a solution, quote-unquote, to third-party cookie demise. So, measurement tools that you know the Floc was and whoever was reviewing it from a privacy regulation standpoint threw it out and said, you can’t use Floc because it’s too similar to cookies. And Floc stood for federation learning of cohorts, and it was Google saying, okay, you can’t replace third-party cookies. Still, we’re going to gather these admittedly lookalikes to a certain degree like model groups. That with cached IDs, and you could then buy against those audiences. But then the privacy regulators just said, no, you can’t use that. So, it was back to the drawing board, and they’re in the process of figuring out something to offer as a solution. So, Google is working on something. There are all sorts of tech companies always working on something creative, something new every day. I mean, you could drown in the amount of information out there and companies that are doing this and that. What I’m seeing is a trend also, which makes me laugh is especially because it’s such a young industry and young people are in it, and it moves quickly, and articles on digital that are, you know, I can’t remember what they call it, but it’s like an acronym for a new measurement system. And it’s no measurement system. It’s like what we used to use a decade ago to measure performance. And contextual advertising is making a big comeback. Such things as private marketplace deals where you can buy against a whole bunch of publishers at once, but it’s not programmatic. So, a lot of things that everyone thought were going to be obsolete, that we were useless, that we were falling out of style, are all coming back again. Everything old is new again. Because when we’re left without this really powerful and integral tool that we’ve been relying on for many years now.
Over ten years. Then we’re going back to what used to work, and I think contextual advertising can be powerful. Contextual advertising is how advertising always used to be, newspapers and billboards. I think that there’s something to that. It’s part of the funnel, and we’ve gotten used to this luxury of kind of input-output, input-output, using data to get the results, and it’s changing.
Anywhere you shop, but also Walmart and Lowe’s and Home Depot and other online retailers. I would not be surprised if Target were next building its e-commerce marketplace DSPs. So, that’s the trend.
Yes, very smart. And instead of having these sort of three major walled gardens with the kind of like low walls that everyone has historically been able to jump over and hop between, the walls are going to get higher, and the walled gardens are going to multiply. So, there will be more players in the space, like an Apple or Walmart or a Target, for instance. In terms of your question, personally, yeah, I agree. I have this conversation with people all the time. Like I would rather have personalized ads. I get annoyed when stuff is served to me that’s irrelevant when I’m Miss Target Edge. I mean, I think everybody does. People say it’s creepy, but quite personally, I would rather have something useful being served to me and even though I know how it works, I know they got my number. But I think that it’s also what people tend not to understand fully if they’re not in this world is that there are paywalls that are going to start popping up a lot more frequently because the reason so much of our content on the Internet is freely accessible, because of ad revenues. And so, when publishers are receiving these ad revenues, people will have noticed this probably in the last couple of years, like paywalls and all the major publishers that maybe didn’t have them or some that didn’t have them. It’s harder to access that free content because that’s what they need to bring up again, which was generated by. I understand that I don’t have a problem with it. I think that there is a lack of a holistic understanding of what this data is used for. And it’s not all nefarious, and it’s like your name is not stashed as a whole.
Yeah, it’s not personal in that way. It’s profile-based.
It’ll be interesting to see when we talk about paywalls and advert ad-supported content, like Netflix coming out with an ad-supported tier. They’ve partnered with Microsoft, which is interesting. It’s worth digging into a little bit, and they’re their DSP, so that will be very interesting and an indicator. Disney Plus is also working on an ad-supported streaming version. Some people say people who are going to pay for the subscription will pay for it anyway because they don’t want ads and have the financial means to do so. It’s just going to create a whole other customer base.
Always less than that. It used to be five bucks.
Yaa, not dead.
Yeah, it’s a good question. I think it will be fairly democratic. There are lots of different elements of this. So, at the moment, from what I have heard or read, is that the first rollout of offerings will only be contextual. Initially, on Netflix, I can’t speak to the other platforms at the moment, but advertisers will be able to buy 10-15 second spots during Gilmore Girls, I don’t know but against that, you know, the person in the profile who you assume would be watching that show.
I think it’ll scale. It’ll be like CPMs are going to vary depending on the show, depending on the target that you’re going after. I don’t think anyone can say too much about it because all these deals and these technology developments are quite tight-lipped when it comes to big partnerships that were just released. They chose Microsoft. So we’ll see how it goes. I think what’s interesting, and I just alluded to this a minute ago, but in terms of who we’re going to be able to reach, like the person who can afford 1699 a month to avoid ads on Netflix is probably still going to avoid ads on Netflix by paying 1699 a month. And what I would think, and maybe I’m wrong because I’m learning all the time. But people in those socioeconomic households with income above x are not going to be as reachable on the free ad streaming tier of Netflix because they can afford to choose not to. So, suppose you’re a brand like a Rolex or a Porsche or whatever and you’re looking to reach those users. In that case, Netflix may not be the place for you because the people that are still opting for the ad-supported tier can’t afford or choose not to because they’re spending their money elsewhere. So, I think that’s something to watch.
Yeah. And they could be sneaky, too, because I think of them all the time, and it irritates me. So, I’m someone who pays. I pay not to get served ads when I am in an immersive experience. So, I don’t want ads if I’m listening to a podcast or watching Netflix. That’s a great benefit, I will pay for that. I paid for Spotify premium, but over the last six months, Spotify has gotten around that. So, when you pay for Spotify premium, you’re paying to have an ad-free streaming experience.
Technically, but not anymore. So, it used to be the radio and it all. But since podcast advertising has been evolving over the last couple of years, they have this dynamic. It’s not the dynamic insertions that interrupt you. It’s post threads that of course, you can’t use, like or pod bites where they like a place in the podcast.
Maybe Netflix will end up doing something like that. Like when you go to the movies, and you saw at the beginning of the movie, six ads for cars. It could be something like that. But I don’t know. We’ll see. It will be interesting to watch how it unfolds.
Yeah, people pay for it.
That’s old news in this industry.
I figure if they were going to buy them, they would have done it, instead of partnered. But, again, as I say, I’m learning.
Something we missed. Yeah, I think. I think it will depend again, like everything we’re talking about. So, if our audience right now is mainly agency owners and media buyers. I don’t want to presume I’m telling anyone anything they don’t know. But it’s a conversation that I have over and over. And I think it’s just the fundamental importance of always looking at your funnel comprehensively. And I always mention this, but the biggest brand advertisers, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo, spend 60% of their marketing budget on awareness and 40% on performance marketing.
So, when we have clients come to us and say we want, you know, 10% sure we can run some awareness ads, but 90% we want to drive conversion, and we want to make returns. And we say, well, think about the long term and that’s always the example I give. And taking into account the consumer journey and experience and how we respond like the art of it, and how we as consumers respond to the advertising we will purchase. But we need to be cultivated a little bit. And I think we also need to be finding new consumers. It’s not like anyone needs to learn about McDonald’s. We all know about McDonald’s. We are now in brand marketing. Yes. It is integral to longevity. So that’s something that I’m always having conversations around.
Sure. Yeah. Hit me up on LinkedIn. Just my name is Avril Tomlin Hood. Message on LinkedIn, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yeah, absolutely. Anytime. This is a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.
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