PPC Town Hall #7: From Phantom Menace to New Hope
For the past six weeks, we’ve discussed how to adjust to this new normal and find hope in difficult situations. With signs of life starting to creep back into the digital advertising space, this week’s episode focused on solutions as we start to emerge from the sense of doom.
The panel for episode 6 included:
- David Szetela, President, Paid Search Association and CEO, FMB Media
- Navah Hopkins, Director of Paid Media, Hennessey Digital
- Brandon Jones, Director of Client Operations, (un)Common Logic
So without further delay, let’s dive into 9 insights that consultants, brands and agencies can use to guide the next phase of their PPC strategy.
And remember, you can watch or listen to past episodes of PPC Town Hall on our dedicated page.
1. People are starting to spend again.
“I saw something interesting with a furniture client who has both B2B and B2C e-retail,” David said. “Each one had a moment of total crisis where sales just stopped, and we were all trying to figure out why. In retrospect, consumer confidence had vanished — along with their money. But then it started to pick up around late March and early April.”
But that’s only half the story. While David’s client experienced slowdowns on both fronts at the same time, the recovery has been dramatically different.
“The interesting thing is the pickup for B2B has not yet brought them to parity with what they saw in January and February, while B2C is higher than they’ve ever experienced.”
2. Businesses are more flexible than ever.
During one of our first PPC Town Hall events, Julie Friedman Bacchini of Neptune Moon predicted that businesses can only succeed if they adapted to the prevailing situation.
Brandon has seen that play out firsthand.
“SMBs experienced a number of weeks with a lot of reluctance and trying to figure out what exactly was going on,” he said.
“I’ve been really impressed and surprised with our clients and the conversations we’ve had, and their attitude to getting back out there and maintaining their presence on digital. I’ve seen that more often than I expected.”
3. Courage is paying off.
According to Navah, “Clients who stayed the course throughout the flux are in an amazing position; the ones who pulled back their spend are experiencing a far more intense recovery. The former have been able to capitalize on cheaper CPCs and really own the ‘compassion conversation’ to stay top of mind.”
So what’s the final verdict: should you turn your campaigns off or keep them on?
“We can debate turning campaigns off versus keeping them on with a $5 budget, but leaving the campaign on can be worth the $400 or $500 you’d spend. It can help make sure you don’t face thousands of dollars in wasted time when you want to ramp things back up.”
4. There’s no formula for recovery.
Once again, another set of panelists confirmed that the absence of a playbook means they are handling each situation independently.
“I don’t have set times or dollar amounts [as benchmarks for the recovery phase], as the variables differ greatly from client to client,” David said. “When I sense that we’re going to have to adjust the budget significantly, I will often switch to manual bidding and try to steer the account in the right direction.”
5. Manual bidding might be necessary as advertising activity picks back up.
The lack of data to guide Google’s machine means that advertisers who paused campaigns will find it a challenge to jump right back into Automated Bidding.
“I’ve seen about a two-week period where campaigns coming back on benefit from manual bidding before re-transitioning to automated bidding,” Navah said. “What’s also been useful is target Impression Share with a bid cap just to protect the system. But for manual bidding, I don’t go more than two weeks provided we have conversion data.”
Read more of Navah’s thoughts on the subject in her latest blog post for Search Engine Journal.
6. Digital marketers can’t stay isolated.
With data scarce and attribution not so clear, the divide between digital and traditional media is narrower than ever.
“Bridging the gap between traditional and digital media has become a far more important conversation, and digital marketers need to be more comfortable interfacing with their traditional media counterparts,” Navah commented.
“Pre-COVID, we were comfortable living in our tower of data with perfect attribution, and this crisis has shaken the foundations of having a pure data approach.”
7. There is no ‘one channel to rule them all’.
Even hardcore specialist agencies that focused on one or two channels have been open to new things, like Brandon’s organization (un)Common Logic.
“One of the learnings of the last few months for me relates to diversification and having a few more channels at our disposal. We’re typically a direct response and PPC-heavy agency, and connected TV is one of the things I’ve been interested in,” he commented.
And speaking of exploring new things…
8. Now’s the time to experiment with creativity.
If you need an example of agency and brand teaming up to succeed by trying something unconventional, you’ll love this anecdote from David.
“We have a client who’s around the middle in terms of market share, and they noticed their competitors were drawing back in advertising. So we did a branding campaign of all Display Ads using no CTA,” he told us.
“We featured their name and logo, and something about the position they wanted to occupy in the minds of their consumers. We ran those ads on the sites of every major city’s media outlets and got many millions of impressions for almost nothing. It was surprising how much it affected sales — the numbers truly did shoot up.
“It’ll be another conversation whether that altered their position in the market, but a lot of those purchases were new.”
Talk about a curveball!
9. Years of pivoting have made agencies priceless.
Anyone who’s worked for an agency knows how agile and flexible they have to be. Turnaround times are short, deadlines are always looming, and agency pros have made a life out of pivoting at superhuman speed.
So who better to call when you need a partner who can change direction in a heartbeat?
“What we’re doing more of is double-checking and making sure things are working well. I think we’ve seen fairly consistent performance, but we’re spending a lot more time in the accounts making changes where necessary, and just providing that oversight where it’s needed,” Brandon shared.
“Our approach with clients has been highly consultative. The first thing we did was start having conversations not just about marketing needs, but what their businesses were going through. So we’re trying to adapt our strategy to that.
“We’re primarily a PPC shop, but we do have expertise in other areas, so we tailor our solutions to each client. Being able to pivot and stay flexible has been key for us.”
A glimmer of hope
It’s May, and while it feels like more than just a few months since the COVID crisis began, we’re starting to see some positive signs around consumer behavior and supply chains. With luck, we’ll start to see additional medical advances and a subsequent restart of the economy in earnest.
As we’ve said from the beginning, the only way out of this for the PPC community is by sharing all the information we have. One graph, one observation, one insight — any of these could spark an idea that leads to a solution we can all use.
Please continue to join us for our weekly PPC Town Hall sessions. You can add it on your calendar, subscribe to email notifications, access the podcast and videos from previous sessions, or catch the live Town Hall on ppctownhall.com. It’s one hour that might be the most valuable investment you make all week!