Automation Strategies for More Agility and Better Results During Peak Seasons
For many of our clients there is a make-or-break peak season that determines whether or not they will hit their company’s annual targets. And that time frame is not always the Q4 holiday season -- it could be back-to-school or open enrollment, for example. Successful peak seasons have a number of key ingredients including compelling ad creative, the right audience strategy, enticing promotions, and so on. Equally important is the budget planning and forecasting process to maximize spend when demand is the greatest.
Today I’m sitting down with Charlie Rock, a Product Manager on Rise’s Innovation Team and former paid search leader, to share his perspective on why the difference between a peak season boom or bust can come down to which brands have the best forecasting processes and can act the fastest hour by hour. Read on for his recommendations on how marketers can use automation to better plan spend ahead of these critical time periods and also adjust in real time.
Natalie: What are some of the trends you’re seeing as it relates to media management and automation, and what roles do these play in planning for times like holiday?
Charlie: Even just compared to last holiday season, many ad platforms have pushed new automation capabilities and have even eliminated some of the levers that had been available to advertisers in the past. Google sunsetted one of the Ad Delivery settings, for example, which previously gave the advertiser the option to spend as quickly as possible for campaigns limited by budget. Don’t get me wrong -- when applied with the right rules and strategy, bid automation is a critical and valuable component of a paid media strategy. But there are many data points that ad engines don’t have any visibility into, like the larger business context of what a brand’s peak season or holiday strategy is. For example, we have clients who create their own major promotional days that aren’t necessarily aligned to typical high volume days like Cyber Monday or Black Friday, and we need to make sure that we’re properly planning spend based on anticipated performance of each day of the peak season as dictated by our client’s business strategies. Once that high level plan is in place, leveraging automation capabilities like Google’s Auction Time Bidding can supercharge efficiency and results. That’s why a human + technology approach is best when setting up budget flighting rather than leaving all of the decisions in the hands of the platforms.
Natalie: Great point Charlie. What does that planning process look like, and how do those factors translate into the media plan and real-time management of that media once it’s live?
Charlie: One of marketers’ best ‘secret weapons’ when going head-to-head with their competition during peak season is having a better data-driven budget plan that forecasts spend based on when it has the highest probability of creating the greatest impact. This is a combination of using the right historic data and incorporating the business context of the promotional plan. It’s important for brands not only to look at their own ad data from previous years, but also to cross-reference it with general market data like Google Trends and consumption data. Then, the rubber hits the road once campaigns are live and you are reacting to real-time demand and reforecasting spend based on the trends and performance data you are experiencing. As far as how to manage this all when we’re in flight, it depends on how flexible client budgets are. The ideal scenario is that businesses have the budget to fund marketing as it performs if the media is exceeding goals and there is opportunity to capture more demand. Some marketing departments have that flexibility, but that isn’t the case for all organizations. We need models in place to tackle both scenarios. For brands with more fixed budgets, we work to shift spend so every dollar works as hard as possible, taking into account expected future demand and current performance. For brands with more flexible budgets, we react to what the data is telling us in real time if there are opportunities to push spend, and advise our clients on how much additional budget they could invest.
Natalie: Yes, nimbleness and reaction time are everything when you’re in the thick of the peak season. Speaking of which -- I know you were a key player in developing Connex’s seasonal pacing capabilities that recently launched. What exactly did you help build and how will it impact our eComm clients going into this year’s holiday season?
Charlie: Coming from a background of managing search campaigns, I was very passionate about making variable pacing during peak seasons as easy as possible, including the pre-planning and in-the-moment adjustments. Connex allows us to do both. We can plan budget by day well in advance and use automation to continually re-adjust and re-forecast based on actual spend and performance. It may sound simple, but the ability to pace spend each day to a very specific percent of a total budget or dollar amount is not easy to do without additional technology built on top of the ad engines. And it’s so important -- like I mentioned earlier, Google and Facebook don’t have line of sight into the larger business context of why it would make sense for a client to allocate their budget in a specific way. There might be a surprise sale planned for the week following Cyber Monday that the client should have media coverage for, but the ad platforms aren’t going to know that and might spend too aggressively relative to the promotional calendar. With this new functionality, teams can assign specific budgets day by day and Connex will automatically re-forecast spend based on previous performance in alignment to that plan. I pushed to automate every step of the re-forecasting process as I had experienced firsthand the time it could take to do so manually. This holiday season our media team members can spend more time advising clients on when to accelerate and how to respond to the performance data as it happens.
Natalie: Congratulations on such a timely new release! I can’t wait to see the results next month.
And that’s all the word count we have for this blog! If you’d like to learn more about how Rise can make your life easier this holiday season, Contact Us today. Here’s a bonus peek behind the curtain to see promotional pacing yourself: