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Guest comment: Online display advertising – the new black in retail advertising

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by David Kiashek

For decades, the full-page ad or a colour circular in the Sunday newspaper was the epitome of retail advertising. People the world over leafed through their Sunday newspapers in order to find out what to buy, and where to buy it.

Fast forward to today, and newspaper readership is declining and those still reading newspapers are spending less and less time with them in their print format. Beyond this, retailers are now seeking advertising opportunities which enable them to engage with their users in order to further the sales process.

With its ability to engage users, provide video and even chat with a store representative, link to product reviews, social networking pages and blogs, and ultimately, enable a buyer to make the purchase, online display advertising is becoming the ‘new black’ of retail advertising.

I’m particularly excited by the potential of the following display advertising tactics:

Video If there is one online advertising tactic which brings the experience of visiting a retail store to your computer or smart phone, its online video. Video lets the prospect see every angle of a product, and lets them drill down and get additional information regarding every product feature, all from within the display ad. The video often contains greater information than can be provided by the sales associate in store because the information often comes directly from the manufacturer. Therefore, the following results from web metrics provider Coremetrics should come as no surprise – that video product tours result in a 35% increase in online sales conversion. By placing the product tour in the display ad, retailers are taking the product experience from the store and bringing it directly to the prospect.

In the past, cost was one of the main reason retailers invested less in video, but today, there are automated solutions, such as SundaySky, which enable creating a video based on several product images and a few screens of text. These solutions enable any retailer to create product videos for their entire range of products into video display ads.

Personalised Retargeting Another display advertising tactic which is generating significant results for online retailers is personalised retargeting. Personalised retargeting is when a retailer runs personally tailored display ads targeted to users who had previously visited their website. Personalised retargeting ads run on the most popular content websites online, including news, sports and entertainment sites. Like traditional retargeting, personalised retargeting is laser focused exclusively on previous site visitors, reducing much of the wasted advertising. Where this differs from traditional retargeting – to the retailer’s benefit – is that personalised retargeting is able to automatically generate in real-time an optimised display banner ad based on the products the user browsed, as well as the website they’re now visiting, the time of day and other variables. For example, a website visitor who browsed for a pair of trainers might be served an ad for the same pair of trainers while reading about this Sunday’s football match online. By analysing all the relevant variables, including the website the user is visiting, day, time, the performance of other ads, today’s personalised targeting technology is able to optimise ad performance which in turn results in strong lift in return conversions.

Recent research from comScore shows that retargeting generates a better campaign lift than other online advertising tactics. These results are echoed by UK retailers like M&Co, Karen Millen, Maximuscle, Wilkinson, Republic and many more who are generating uplifts in return conversions greater than 500%.

Social Media Today, it’s possible to run display ads in social media and to integrate social media into your display ads. With 500+ million users, Facebook is one of the largest advertising opportunities available. The targeting functionality on Facebook includes targeting according to specific location (down to a few mile radius of your store), connections (fans or group members), language, gender, age, birthday, work place and more. Depending on your target audience, don’t discount the other social networks, including Bebo, MySpace and LinkedIn.

Beyond social networks, there are many blogs with lots of qualified and highly targeted traffic who accept display advertising. And some blogs will even find opportunities to extend the relationship with you, through product reviews and other editorial opportunities.

In addition to advertising in social media, you can further leverage opportunities found in social media by incorporating social media into your online display advertising. Why not run a survey and link it to your Facebook page asking users what they think of a new item, and then letting them send the poll and the new items to their friends in the social network. Just don’t expect your users to work for you in social media – simply engage with them in a fun and friendly manner while you respect their time and support. And be sure to always thank users for any support they provide in social media. A quick ‘Thanks for the blog comment or tweet’ post can go a long way in social media.

As any retailer knows, fashions change quickly, and some of the aforementioned tactics might be usurped by other, more effective ad tactics in 2011, but online display advertising will only continue to grow in its importance to retailers in the years to come.

David Kiashek is managing director, UK, of personalised retargeting company myThings.

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