Don’t let amazing digital tools and tactics damage your brand through poor execution and not getting the basics right

July 2021

Although I don’t talk that much with non-work friends about how I earn a living, they of course know I work in marketing. So it often comes up in conversation, with a common topic being their amazement around how they see adverts online for products and services they’re actually interested in – and as if by magic. I’ve developed a layman’s explanation for the phenomenon, which is basically along the lines of it being called programmatic advertising and means they’re served these ads based on a ton of stuff Google, Facebook etc. know about them and in real time.

Depending on the reaction to the explanation – which, understandably, can range from immediate overt boredom to ‘wow tell me more’ – I either move on to talk about the weather or wax lyrical about the complex world of algorithms.

I love programmatic advertising, and if you’re not that familiar with the term then a concise professional description would be: ‘The automated buying and selling of online advertising, which targets audiences using relevant data so that companies pay for ads delivered to the right people at the right time, with these people being individuals or in segmented groups.’ This is very different to broad-brush advertising that doesn’t target any individual or often not even a group – e.g. a TV ad appearing during Coronation Street – though the two often work hand-in-hand. For example, someone sees a TV ad then searches online for that or a similar product or brand, the search then becomes part of the data set about you, and up pops appropriate ads wherever you go online. Those ads could even appear in front of you on a digital screen in a railway station, and this because your mobile phone gives your location away. Or in much the same way, the radio station you’re listening to on you mobile device serves you an ad for a retailer just as you pass their front door on the high street.

You’ll no doubt be getting the idea anyway.

All of this is mind-blowingly clever, and there are no shortage of experts (and charlatans for that matter) – self-employed and in agencies – to help SMEs get in on the action in the way the big brands have been for a decade or so (with ever-increasing sophistication). However, where the whole idea generally falls down is not around the technology, but how well it’s used and also because the basics aren’t in place for follow-through and ultimately conversion. Let me give you an example . . .

A few weeks back an ad came up on my Facebook newsfeed for a company called Nonna Tonda, which have a seemingly wonderful offer of fresh pasta which they deliver to your door. It’s a husband and wife team who own and run it, and there’s a great sense of passion on the website for what they do. The ad came up on my newsfeed because Facebook knows I’m interested in good food and drink (in truth a tad too much of the latter but anyway), so in this respect programmatic is working at a market segment level.

Although I’m not a big pasta lover, my wife is so I thought I’d delve deeper by clicking on the ad – and encouraged by the ‘nationwide delivery’ message. Onto the website and having clicked a CTA button reading ‘start sending me pasta’ (and I liked that) I go straight to the postcode function which allows me to see what day of the week they deliver to my area. But now it starts to go wrong, because the function doesn’t work and simply deletes my postcode when I click go. Wondering if the function didn’t work at all or was rejecting my IV postcode because they don’t actually deliver to my area (and despite publicising nationwide delivery and advertising in the region I live in), I entered my brother’s postcode which is south London and immediately a delivery day appears. So it’s the latter issue then, and notably the company in question is also in London.   

Back to the Facebook ad and I politely point out in the comments the postcode issue and invite a response. Not only did I never get one, but neither did any of the numerous people who were pointing out other issues or asking questions – and going back many weeks.

But it gets worse, because now programmatic kicks in on an individual level and starts relentlessly serving me ads from the same company – or ‘retargeting’ ads as they’re called – on a host of different websites such as one for weather radar which I go to each day. I click on the ad and again try the postcode function but it still doesn’t work.

The issues and lessons here are simple and obvious but I’ll outline them anyway:

  • Don’t promote nationwide delivery when your offer is apparently a regional one (a pretty basic point, I’d have thought)
  • Only advertise in the regions you can actually deliver to (postcode targeting on Facebook is a doddle)
  • Respond to questions and comments in your Facebook ads (like why the hell wouldn’t you)
  • If a central part of your offer involves postcode search to inform on delivery days, then get it set up for non-valid postcodes with a message that states something like ‘sorry we don’t deliver to your area’  (hardly a difficult task for a decent web developer)
  • Crucially, don’t retarget people you can’t deliver to – which is simple enough to do in any programmatic platform

All of this will be costing the nice people of Nonna Tonda a packet, because they not only start but continue to market to someone they can’t actually deliver to. Which frankly is crass, but the bigger issue for me is that they’re significantly damaging their brand in the process.

I suspect that the business owners have entrusted an outside individual or agency to fully handle their marketing, and this so they can concentrate on making the products they sell. This basic approach for SMEs largely makes sense, but it only works if you also ensure that a) whoever is doing the work knows exactly what they’re doing (and a basic check here would quickly reveal otherwise), and b) you retain ownership for your brand reputation and don’t allow a third party to trash it through incompetence.  

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