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Digital is reinventing whole industries. In sector after sector we are seeing incumbent market leaders threatened, and sometimes displaced, by new entrants who can deploy digital technologies quickly and effectively – because they have the new skills and don’t have to protect their cash cows and legacy infrastructure.

Advertising is a good example – advertising in the digital domain is big business. Huge business in fact. Fewer of us are watching terrestrial TV and, even when we do, we tend to do so when it suits us – and hence watch the recorded programmes we want to watch, fast-forwarding through any adverts along the way. So much of the advertising revenue is switching to other media – those pop-up banners that appear whenever we view any digital content on our phone or PC. Cookies are tracking us wherever we are on the web, with everyone watching everyone else to see who clicks on what. Our online persona and browsing history is a remarkable portal into our own personal world and, as such, has very real value to a lot of companies.  

However, less is sometimes more. P&G was recently in the news for reducing its digital marketing spend in the second quarter of this year by more than $100 million. What happened? Nothing. No visible impact on any of its product lines. Those products that were growing continued to do just that. Why? One theory is that a great deal of its previous spend actually went on advertising P&G brands on websites that were more likely to be viewed by bots, not by you and me.

How is this so? Are bots about to take over? Not quite but they are here to stay – they’re already driving most of our internet search traffic, trawling the web on our behalf so that search engines can provide the fastest and most accurate page feedback. The problems start with their misuse (they can generate huge amounts of ‘false’ web traffic) coupled with companies who evaluate their own digital marketing success simply by analysing the number of clicks/page views.

As P&G has now realised, context is king. Simply analysing web activity isn’t enough to plan and predict the success of marketing campaigns. Companies need to better understand the context around any given click. They need to recognise and eliminate automated behaviours, and better respond and adapt to those increasingly rare occasions when it’s actually you and I doing the viewing and clicking. Bots may well ultimately become our trusted digital assistants, as they mature into our preferred go-to interface to the digital world. But, for now, they are largely uncontrolled and can confound our metrics and key performance indicators. 

As digital marketing channels continue to morph and develop at an ever-increasing rate, it will be the companies that truly understand the intricacies of this future world – and can build the new tools and systems to navigate through it – that will thrive and dominate.   

If you’d like help with figuring out how to succeed in your own digital world, please get in touch with us via hello@cambridge-design.co.uk.

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