Search, Display, and the Media Multiplier Effect – Why 1+1 = 3

When I joined the media industry in the late ’90s, the industry was buzzing with the concept of Media Multiplier effect. As you may know, this refers to amplifying the “effect” of media exposure by using a combination of two or more media touchpoints vis-a-vis effect produced by any single media vehicle. The expression that we used to highlight this effect was “1+1 = 3”. This aptly highlighted the point about combination of two touch points (say TV and print ads) would yield disproportionately better results than just say TV. So, to put it in rather simplistically, if a client were spending $100 on TV and another $100 on print (optimizing each of the channels), the effect produced would be greater than $200 spent on any one channel. Inherently, the law of diminishing returns was playing its part. Beyond a certain point, incremental investments in one single media channel are not as productive.

The principles haven’t changed at all when it comes to digital. At one level, there is lot of work to prove a strong multiplier effect with offline and online channels. Marketers will notice distinct impact of the offline activities (such as TV/print ads) on online efforts. Some studies indicate that offline marketing boosts online effect by as much as 40 percent. You can look at one such eConsultancy/iProspect research here.

At another level, within the digital mix, there is tremendous leverage that channels can wield to make the campaign much more impactful. Take the case of display and search, the combined effect of the two is much more powerful than using these channels in isolation. Display is now, in a way, an extension of search and complements search efforts in other ways. If you want to know more on how the display landscape has evolved, refer to my previous post on Display 2.0 – 5 Things You Need to Know.

For long, online display advertising has played a second fiddle to search. Things have changed. Audience targeting, including user intent data, now drives display advertising. This means marketers can leverage search data (audience intent) to power their display campaigns. One can identify users doing relevant searches related to product category or brand to create actionable audience segments that can then be used for targeting through display campaigns. This in common digital parlance is called search retargeting and is logical extension of search.

Just to make this concrete, imagine a case of a hospitality brand trying to promote a specific hotel property located in Bangkok. Marketers can leverage search campaigns to re-market their campaigns to users who have done search for “hotels in Bangkok” or “cheap accommodation in Bangkok.” We all understand the power of search. The same level of effectiveness is now being built into display advertising. Not only that, it goes a step further as one can build in other audience targeting variables such as site visits, ad clicks on specific promotions, etc. to make it even more effective. Search retargeting via display ads is one tool that allows marketers not only to extend but the maximize the search campaign efforts.

Some other distinct advantages that make it imperative for marketers to look at use of search and display synergistically from a single lens –

1. New customer acquisition: With the advent of real-time bidding (RTB), audience targeting, ad exchanges and demand-side platforms (DSPs), display is now far more performance focused than it has ever been. In that sense, display now compliments search marketing in terms of effectiveness. Thus it is critical to set up the campaigns with clear objectives, leveraging on each other’s strengths to create maximum effect.

2. ROI: The fact that new customer acquisition from search is getting increasingly expensive given the rising cost of search, display can now chip in with customer acquisitions at optimal costs. The combination is likely to be more efficient in terms of costs rather than burning marketing dollars on higher CPC bids only on search.

3. Creative impact: For long, marketers have felt the need to have more visual and creative impact for their brands. And, this has always been a limiting factor with search. The fact that display can leverage search data and at the same time it allows customization of brand messages with abundant creative flexibility makes it an ideal combination for marketers.

Clearly, the combination of search and display, is pretty much a case of 1+1=3.

However, as always, the set up and execution holds the key – clear view on role and objective of each channel, quality of user audience (intent) data, threshold level of spends, and creative messaging will all play an important role. Display will only work effectively if the all elements are planned for success. At the same time, there is no point to hop on the display bandwagon if search is not effectively maximized. Both, search and display, in that case will lead to sub optimal results. Did I mention about the expression that we used to highlight this learning on media touchpoints? Well, quite understandably, it’s ½ + ½ ≠ 1.

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