In the quest to be disruptive, indies are the missing link

Megan Hourston

Our industry is defined by the great disruptive products of the past, but maybe it’s time to let them go. Outbrain’s Megan Hourston explains.

Disturbance. It’s what turns no-name startups into global powerhouses and spawns entirely new industries. It’s a quest to find better, more creative ways, and much of what we enjoy these days is rooted in our desire for transformation. We just need to look at companies like Uber and AirBnB to understand what a truly successful disruption can look like.

Of course, the advent of digital advertising has been one of the biggest disruptions to the marketing and advertising industry. But we’ve been riding this wave for more than two decades now, so it’s time to stop thinking of it as new or complex. It is the foundation of a modern marketing plan.

But it is also time to reassess the role that independent media agencies can play in shaping the future.

Banner ads and display ads are a key example of disruption that needs to evolve. Created almost 30 years ago, they have gone from being the shiny new thing that people just had to click on to something that many users actively avoid and even block.

Rather than excluding them from campaigns altogether, we should better understand how we can use the Disruption Principles to add them to our online experience. Trying to grab attention with a massive banner or flashing display ad as consumers scroll past isn’t ideal.

With the precious seconds of attention that brands can attract, we need to ensure that we maximize the impact for our brands. Closing this loop is critical to ensuring marketers get their money’s worth, and this is where a pull strategy can be more useful than a push strategy.

Instead of grabbing someone’s attention by detailing your brand’s products, another approach is to meet their real needs and solve their problems. Invite them to learn more and create your campaigns with relevant, creative and engaging titles.

Pulling rather than pushing is a change of mindset, but it’s necessary to reach today’s ad-weary audience. It used to be that disruption was a case of “strength over finesse,” but it’s the latter that’s now needed to generate true engagement.

This is exactly where independent media agencies, or indies, can come in. It seems like every week there’s a new trend or technology that marketers have to deal with, and it’s precisely this relentless change that makes indies best equipped to deal with it. It’s clearer than ever that we’re not a one-size-fits-all industry.

While agencies of all sizes have a role to play, I believe it’s the freelancers who will lead the change for the simple reason that they’re usually closer to the decision makers at their clients and have the agility to act quickly when the opportunity arises.

Take Kaimera, who has taken an opt-in approach and used Outbrain’s native technology to run campaigns for Sky News Australia for the past six months. The agency used technology that allows it to dynamically pull headlines from its RSS feed, which regularly downloads new ads and headlines directly from the website in real time. This means there is no need to manually change the creative from campaign to campaign.

By changing their approach to this attraction marketing strategy, Kaimera saw their cost per click drop to $0.09, with click-through rates averaging 0.50%.

As competition intensifies in so many digital channels, it’s the agencies and marketers who are willing to be inventive and creative who will find the burgeoning opportunities and find the most effective new ways to speak to new clients.

The need for value for money does not go away.

A real marriage of creativity between a client and an agency also helps to alleviate the pressure of purchasing efficiency. There are many ways to buy media, and each media outlet and vendor specializes in their own offering and, more importantly, with their own measurement criteria.

Centralizing processes and removing as many steps as possible will allow you to get the most out of your campaigns and get the lowest cost per click. Giving consumers the option to opt-in rather than opt-out is key to achieving this true effectiveness and reducing campaign costs.

I also believe that Independent Media Agencies Australia (IMAA) have a huge role to play in helping independents take this next step. Bringing disparate agencies together into a collective voice and creating greater efficiency and a bigger seat at the table has not gone unnoticed in the industry.

When it comes to the relentless pace of progress, we’ll be sure to discover plenty of new ways to find audiences. But when it comes to being one step ahead, use the independent agencies best equipped to handle disruption and turn it into something productive for good.

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