YouTube continued on its explosive growth path in Q3 2021, growing 43% year over year to $7.2 billion in advertising revenue. As the most visited site around the world with 2 billion monthly active users, it’s no surprise that YouTube has risen to the attention of advertisers. But it’s not just about eyeballs; this platform is the perfect battleground for advertisers who want to conquer the “messy middle” of the purchase journey.
The intensifying focus on the messy middle—what happens on the journey between triggers and purchase—reflects a growing awareness, supported by behavioral science, that this part of the journey is anything but straight. It involves rounds of exploration and evaluation on the part of the consumer, under the influence of the consumer’s own cognitive biases, that keep the consumer circling around in what may seem like a never-ending loop. This is why YouTube has the attention of advertisers—its video medium is ideal for building the messages that go beyond awareness to steer a consumer toward ultimate selection of a product and the brand it embodies.
Video ads on YouTube work very differently than video ads on traditional TV. On YouTube, eight out of 10 consumers, given a choice, prefer Trueview ad formats that can be skipped after five seconds. Making a quick impact, to give consumers a reason not to skip your ad, is the name of the game. Google’s “ABCD” guidance recognizes this important difference and emphasizes the need to lead with your brand and frontload your story—being as direct, clear and concise as possible while also using emotion and storytelling to capture fleeting attention spans.
How do you ensure the relevance of your value proposition to the broadest range of your audience—for example, those who care most about product certifications versus those who care more about product availability—if you only have such a short time to cut through? The key is to move away from the old thinking that has shaped TV/video ads: one great idea, leading to one great ad. That approach may still work for a Super Bowl ad when a large number of eyeballs are staring at exactly the same screen at the same time. However, highly fragmented audiences on digital media are really the biggest opportunity for digital video ads if you can personalize the ad for each audience and relate your product and offer to their different purchasing decision determinants. In other words, shape your ads to help them sort through the messy middle.
For retailers, research shows that different audiences react differently to different offers and calls to action. In fact, research from Google and The Behavioral Architects has demonstrated the importance of cognitive bias as a key dimension of personalization in the messy middle, on top of a multitude of other demographics and situational dimensions that can make up an audience profile.
The precision of personalization makes a difference. Showing fewer products or a single product works better than a range of products. In the auto industry, for example, one major Ad-Lib.io client saw a 78% improvement in their media effectiveness by building more targeted, precise ads that used location, time of day and audience preferences to improve ad relevance. In the food and beverage category, ads that connect to the regional and cultural trends of specific localities will perform better.
The good news? This level of personalization at scale is no longer too expensive or time-consuming, now that tech platforms can automate ad creation and production with reusability and customization in mind.
One often-used tactic to drive campaign performance on video is to limit the frequency with which you show the same ad to the same person. This protects against consumer annoyance and ad blocking as a result of ad fatigue from overexposure and repetition.
However, research from the University of Washington suggests that ad variety is an alternative way to boost user engagement with an ad. And furthermore, by observing how users reacted to ads (even when they were rejected), advertisers have the ability to sequence the way in which users see ads to maximize their utility to the consumer. In the end, this research only further supports the view that the traditional “one great ad,” at least on digital, should give way to approaches that maximize variation and relevance.
Creative intelligence is an interesting byproduct of ad variety. The more ad variations you have, the more data you can generate about the correlation between different creative elements and performance. Armed with this data, creativity becomes an optimization dial. Granular data generated by how ads perform can inform how you can tune the design, tone of voice, offers, imagery, messaging, calls to action, frequency, sequence and more. Building YouTube ad variations that are optimized to these dimensions will attract consumers like a magnet—shortening their wanderings through the messy middle and building a stronger relationship with the brand of their choice.
YouTube, if paired with relevant creative, allows advertisers across verticals to activate the mid-funnel at scale, accelerating both exploration and evaluation and leading faster to action. To do it best, shape design to the platform, build relevant ad variations and collect creative intelligence to test and learn. By using technology platforms to help you scale production, personalization and optimization on YouTube, this whole process can be done in minutes, not months, opening up huge new opportunities to engage with your audiences and win the battle for the messy middle.
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