I’ve been a business technology junkie throughout my career. Early on it was robotics and software development, and more recently it’s been digital marketing. I enjoy speaking to business owners and C-level executives to understand what makes their industry tick, how their value proposition fits into their competitive landscape, and how I can assist with some smart insights and a creative strategy to get them to their next milestone. When I follow up with them months later and hear how our team made their day or helped them pivot their business in these challenging times, it’s extremely gratifying – it’s what I love about my job these days.
When we launched OpenMoves almost 20 years ago, clients would hire us to develop media buying strategies that would reach their target audiences with the right messages at the right time. Today, clients want us to improve their performance through marketing strategies aimed at delivering qualified leads and profitable e-commerce sales, primarily on big digital platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon. We spend most of our days diving deeply into the tactics and data of digital media buying and tweaking campaigns, target audiences, creative approaches, and bids to try to reach goals and improve performance for our clients.
Our business has changed substantially over the past couple of decades. It now moves super fast, with new developments every day. Even in the media chaos of the 2020s, some of the industry’s macro trends are coming into sharper focus. Here are the three big trends we think will shape the coming years of digital media.
Machine Learning Can’t Be Creative
The Google and Facebook Ads platforms are the biggest media buying tools in the world. Anyone who uses them regularly knows that with every new feature and development, they become more automated and rely increasingly on machine learning and black-box optimization tools.
Have a look at Facebook’s current “Power5” guidance for advertisers: the basic idea is to automate everything, leave the campaign planning to the Facebook Pixel, and trust the machine.
For today’s media buyers, we know the future of advertising isn’t about fiddling with technicalities like bids, audience segments, and testing roadmaps. These human-powered media mechanics will soon be irrelevant in an increasingly algorithmic world.
Creativity is one area that machines can’t mimic, though, and we predict it will remain the only arena where algorithms will be unequipped to compete with humans. Google and Facebook are great at testing creative and even making creative variations, but they cannot develop a unique idea, tell a joke, or empathize with an audience.
Most paid social teams today still spend the bulk of their time dealing with technical stuff: you’ll hear deep conversations about CBO, cost-cap bidding strategies, lookalike percentage, and so on. We predict that these discussions will have a short shelf life as automation ramps up rapidly. Formerly geeky media teams may soon find themselves needing to become creative shops.
All Media is Digital Media
Before the Corona virus, AdAge reported that the internet would account for over 50% of all ad spending in 2020. Post-corona, we imagine it will be even higher. However, what’s missing from this picture is the increasing move towards digitization of non-digital media.
For example, in the old days of internet advertising, brands that wanted to buy ads on big publishers would call an ad sales team, negotiate a deal for a specific media buy, deliver creative directly to the publisher, and get reports back directly from that publisher.
Then came ad networks, programmatic media, a hundred layers of adtech, and huge platforms like Google Display Network. These tools took much of the manual, person-to-person aspect out of media buying and made it possible through self-service dashboards for a solo media buyer to manage it all independently.
This same process is happening right now to all sorts of other media, including TV, radio, and out-of-home. The way that we buy ads now on Google and Facebook will soon be the norm for most of the TV ads we watch, the radio ads we hear (on podcasts and Spotify), and the billboards we see.
The Triopoly Reigns Supreme
Google, Facebook, and Amazon dominate today’s digital media landscape. Despite pressure from various fronts this year, we don’t see this three-channel oligopoly going away any time soon.
Clients often ask us to develop media strategies for other platforms and emerging channels. We’ve tried platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, and plenty of adtech platforms and tools. The reality is that none of these platforms deliver real direct response performance like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
This dominance is self-sustaining. The more data the big players get, the better their optimization becomes; ads then become more efficient, and the market reacts with higher ad spend. Obviously, we don’t think channels like Twitter or programmatic are going away tomorrow, but we see the future of digital media concentrated in the big three for a long time to come.
Here’s the takeaway: most digital media is owned by these three massive platforms. Google, Facebook, and Amazon are all working hard to automate everything they can. The non-digital media landscape is a few years behind but following the same script. Today’s marketers will survive by embracing the algorithm, resisting commodification, and injecting creativity into the machine.
The digital media landscape will continue to evolve and change – and the pace of that change will only increase. As that happens, media buying will become more efficient and target marketing more precise…but human creativity will remain a priceless commodity. At my company, we’re going to continue incorporating and adapting to these trends. After all, we think change is good – as long as you’re prepared for it.