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If you're not going mobile, you're not really going anywhere – all the latest trends in international e-commerce at Ad:tech London video

The death of banner ads, the optimisation of digital marketing for mobile platforms and the importance of understanding regional online preferences dominated the proceedings at Ad:tech London, the global online advertising event.

Photo: Ad:tech London: meeting place for the UK digital marketing community.
Ad:tech London: meeting place for the UK digital marketing community.

Ad:tech London saw many of the leading lights of digital marketing gather to do social networking the old fashioned way – face-to-face. The London event, held in the suitably hi-tech Olympia Conference Centre, was the latest stop in a globetrotting tour for Ad:tech, a tour that has already taken in Tokyo, Kyushu, Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, New Delhi, New York and San Francisco.

Predictably for an industry in a seemingly constant state of flux, the event's recurrent motifs were the implications of persistent change, endless innovation and tireless reinvention. Ever-improving technical sophistication, it was almost universally agreed, is driving digital marketeers to react faster, improve integration and focus on the rise of mobile technology as a means of interacting with consumers.

Indeed, at Ad:tech, if you weren't going mobile, you weren't going anywhere. Amine Lahiani, Key Account Manager for Paris-headquartered Edatis, a global online consultancy, was just one of many to emphasise the importance of this on-the-go medium.

He said: "Everything should be done for smartphones. Getting online through desktop is now getting very old. Brands need to make it easy for users to now do on smartphones what they used to do on desktops."

In those markets where web use and access are still maturing, optimising all digital marketing for mobile devices is seen as especially important. In many of these territories, consumers are now widely seen as 'skipping' the desktop stage when it comes to getting online and using mobile devices as their primary means to access the net. This, of course, gives brands a powerful means of influencing consumers' decisions at the very point of retail purchase, as well as within the online shopping environment.

James Kirkham, Managing Partner at Holler, the digital wing of the Leo Burnett global advertising giant, was one of Ad:tech's keynote speakers. Addressing the realities of the smartphone world, he said: "Mobile is here and mobile is increasingly seamless. Every brand needs to build for mobile first. It's vital.

"It's your last point of in-store contact before a consumer gets distracted by the likes of buy-one, get-one-free sales promotions. It should be as basic as serving them up ads in proximity to the retail environment."

With this in mind, the thinking on how online ads should be bought, sold and placed relative to content is also undergoing something of a transformation.

The proportion of online ads bought through RTB – Real-Time Bidding – is accelerating fast. Essentially an automated auction, potential advertisers bid for advertising slots on a webpage, as it actually loads on a user's screen. The size of the bidding depends on how valuable an individual's browsing and online shopping history appears to any given advertiser.

The highest bidders' ads then load with the remainder of the page content. The whole automated process takes around 0.5 seconds, ensuring the user is entirely unaware of the transaction. According to the latest figures, UK RTB spend has risen 54% over the last 12 months and is accelerating even faster in the US market.

Nick Marr, UK Director of Sales for Ideal Media, a London-based digital media specialist and one of the exhibitors at this year's event, believes that the time has finally come to bury the concept of the online banner ad. He said: "The trend we're seeing is for advertisers to move away from banner ads, because they are seen as expensive and not really performing. This is obvious from the way the price of banner advertising is falling."

"The big thing for us now is Native Advertising – ads that appear to be almost part of the page, appearing at the foot of an article and tending to be very relevant."

The way brands now use social media to interact with consumers is also changing. The model is evolving beyond simple "like-chasing", where brands previously sought to establish a tenuous contact with consumers through social platforms by, for instance, encouraging them to click the 'like' button on Facebook. Currently, establishing a genuine two-way dialogue between brands and consumers is seen as far more desirable and far more effective.

Explaining this new, more sophisticated model, Keith Pape, Senior Vice President of Social Engagement for Singley + Mackie, the California-based social media specialist, said: "Marketers made mistakes early on, focussing exclusively on push marketing. If it's not engaged, if it's not two-way, then it's not truly social marketing.

"There is a three-stage strategy for brands looking to use social media. First, grow your audience – get lots of people on board. Then, engage – earn their trust. Then, convert – sell to them. If you've earned their trust, that's okay. People know that you're a business."

"Right now, in terms of social platforms, Facebook is where the engagement is happening, Twitter is where customer service is happening and the real rich media experience is taking place on Pinterest and YouTube."

With the ever-increasing number of digital platforms available, winning consumer trust and finding ways to cut through social media background noise is becoming a real challenge for marketers. For many at the event, the digital Holy Grail was to find the means to present high-quality, high-relevance content across a number of social media platforms.

With the attendees at the event naturally having a distinct pro-digital bent, it was no surprise that any brand seen as placing less emphasis on social media than traditional advertising was deemed likely to fail. Social Media Users Expect More was the unofficial mantra being espoused by many.

For a significant number of the attendees, there was a huge emphasis on integrating all brand/consumer touch points. Expensive TV or press campaigns, for instance, were seen as sorely lacking if they neglected to incorporate a social media dimension. In light of this, it was believed that brands need to give consumers the chance to get added value through interaction, thus getting the maximum return from any creative investment by reusing it in the social sphere.

The two-way communication between brand and consumer was also deemed to give companies greater opportunities to accelerate the product development cycle. Eder Holguin, Chief Executive of Ideal Media, cited the example of on particular American sports drink launch. Outlining the turn of events, he said: "Everyone on Facebook and Twitter started complaining that the product was great but the taste was terrible. With traditional media, it would have taken a year or two to get that sentiment back from the consumer. With social media, though, you can react a lot faster."

Despite its global reach, it was acknowledged that digital marketing does not always have global appeal. As with any marketing medium, one size clearly does not fit all.

While some key principles apply universally, getting it right in different national markets is not a matter of just ticking the same boxes. It is far more than a simple case of just making sure any written content is translated without unintended negative or comic nuances.

Oban Multilingual SEO, a Brighton-based global search specialist exhibiting at the event, maintains a "cultural database" of online user preferences across the world. Explaining its value, John Sellwood, the company's Strategic Account Manager, said: "You need to think about translating more than just language when it comes to targetting different markets.

"In the West, we might look at a page and think that it's nice and clean, all 'above the fold', but that's not the way Chinese prefer their information. Web users over there like the content all on one page and don't mind scrolling.

"In Germany, greys communicate technology and engineering. In the West, red stands for danger, whereas in the East it has other meanings."

Photo: Kirkham: 'Every brand needs to build for mobile first.'
Kirkham: "Every brand needs to build for mobile first."
Photo: Pape: 'If it's not two way, it's not social marketing.'
Pape: "If it's not two way, it's not social marketing."

Online communities' sharing behaviour, as well as their preferences for media consumption, also have a bearing on digital marketing strategy. In a bid to factor this in, London-based Crimson Hexagon, a social media monitoring and analytics company, uses advanced algorithms to monitor and assess consumer sentiment. Taking a small sample of consumers' social media postings to 'train' their system to look for patterns in social commentary, it then quantifies how often those patterns appear. The company believes this process offers more robust results than simply scouring the net for rigid phrases that indicate positive or negative sentiment. Crucially for international marketing initiatives, the company doesn't rely on lists of sentiment phrase markers in any single language.

Illustrating the varying social media preferences of different nationalities, Luke Moore, Crimson Hexagon's UK Sales Manager, said: "One successful US-based recipe information-sharing brand undertook a study before entering the Japanese and Chinese markets. It looked at the different ways in which people shared recipe information. The results were quite striking.

"In one culture, they were very averse to sharing their knowledge of recipes and preferred to focus on easily-controlled closed communities. The other culture was far more open to sharing and happy to share with anyone who might be interested.

"If they had subsequently adopted the same approach in both markets as they had in the US, they wouldn't have been successful. Identifying cultural sensitivities, preferences and ways of sharing information is a vitally important piece of entry research."

Despite all the finer points related to regional preferences, a number of broader principles still apply. Looking at these global protocols, Kirkham said: "For social media, even in China, there are certain principles that remain the same. Brands still need to make their content interesting, identifying material that people are likely to engage with and share.

"Even though there might be slightly different rules in any given region – such as the nudity taboo in the Middle East or a preference for different platforms Weibo in China for instance, the principles of flexibility, being capable of doing things on the fly and responding quickly to social media users remain totally the same."

Predicting the future in such a fast-changing and relatively new industry is hugely difficult. Pape, though, already sees an opportunity for rethinking just how social media is delivered.

He said: "The way we tell stories on mobile social is completely different. That's where our research should be. How do we tell a story with a Vimeo or an Instagram video on mobile?

"We either need methods that are shorter and more concise or we need to leverage other means of making the mobile experience even stronger. At the moment, mobile is still a secondary consideration."

Photo: Ad:tech: social networking the old-fashioned way - face-to-face.
Ad:tech: social networking the old-fashioned way – face-to-face.

Described by its organisers as "where the UK digital marketing and media community meets to benchmark its digital strategies and to understand the latest trends and technologies", Ad:tech London attracted 169 exhibitors. Filling six seminar rooms and featuring more than 50 speakers, the event ran from 11-12 September in the National Hall of London's Olympia Conference Centre.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, London

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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