IABUK: Digital Britain Comes to Manchester

IABUK: Digital Britain Comes to Manchester

In fourth-form History Mr Peake always insisted that we consider our sources. We were to eschew the idea of a definitive truth to any narrative and instead broaden our understanding of a text to include an appreciation of the situation, ambitions and agenda of the person who created it. Such studied cynicism has proven useful in this industry, where almost everyone you speak to each day has something to sell.

So while I have every reason to trust the veracity and transparency with which the IAB research their UK digital media spend figures, under no circumstances did I expect this advocacy body for the digital media sector to assemble a room of the great and the good (and me) and announce a drop in spend. Despite this, when the big reveal was made both the scale of the year on year growth and the rigour of the methodology were impressive.

Between 2012 and 2013 the digital marketing sector grew by £853m to a total of £6.3bn, outstripping the projected £6.1bn by a comfortable margin. Within this headline growth were some even more impressive figures and although I’ll précis them here I would urge you to dig out the full document and have a look for yourself (http://www.iabuk.net/research/digital-adspend). Spend on display advertising grew by 22% YoY, while social display grew 71% over the same period. Spend with mobile display grew 93% YoY, reaching £1.03bn (compare this to the UK’s GDP over the same period, which grew 1.7%: mobile online advertising grew 50 times faster than the economy did last year). As you would expect, many of the increases in spend have been fuelled by the increased distribution of new technology we have seen in recent years: the arrival of 4G has seen mobile video spend rise by 346% from 2012 to 2013; the 63% year on year growth in tablet ownership has seen a boom in tablet-only display activity; spend on digital video has grown 3000% since 2008.

Other presentations included the top-line findings from the IAB’s Real View research, which somehow persuaded a panel of volunteers to wear a camera around their necks for three days, taking a snapshot every 5 seconds. These voyeuristic data were used to build a better understanding of precisely how we engage with our various devices through the day, although many of the report’s highlights seemed to be an exercise in proving the obvious. 52% of us prefer to check our smartphones than to sit and think. 37% of us will look at our phones during a lull in conversation. Of key interest though was the relationship between the various devices during the buying cycle, with mobiles and tablets playing an important role at the research stage while the actual transactions tended to take place at a desktop or laptop machine.

The day was an odd mixture of long-view, big-picture evangelising and the assiduous reporting of data, and despite a succession of people assuring us that “digital isn’t a medium, it is a [insert loosely constructed metaphor here]”, the conference was all the more valuable and interesting for its rampant eclecticism. There were discussions of the 4 billion people expected to come online over the next six years, and Google’s project to assist this by showering wifi over Asia from a fleet of high-altitude weather balloons. There was the notion of moving past “mobile first” and on to “mobile only”, a particularly disruptive proposal given that 42 of the UK’s 100 biggest brands don’t yet have a mobile optimised website. We were taken beyond multi-screening and introduced to “omni-screening” (the practice of using a tablet or smart phone during any moments of downtime as well as when in front of a desktop, laptop or TV). We were promised (again) that the digital utopia of right person, right message, right time is closer today than it ever has been. We were schooled in how marketers who target mobiles have to appreciate the customer’s emotional relationship with their smartphone, and should tentatively “climb the emotional ladder” rather than asking too much too soon like a gushing fool on a first date. We learnt that ASOS.com is one of biggest online retailers in Australia, and that rather than pay for a distribution hub in Australia or the Far East, they distribute everything from Barnsley, flying three jumbo jets full of stock around the world each week. We were shown how UNICEF was able to track and assign a value to its web visitors in real time according to their propensity to donate and the likely size of their donation, and then use this information to influence bid prices through a DSP retargeting campaign. We were reassured of the importance of using paid media to kickstart a viral project rather than just investing in creative and hoping for the best.

And so the interminable question: “that’s all very well, but what use is it to me?” If you want a take away from the day, here it is: digital is no longer just another channel, it has long since become the medium through which all media are consumed. Print isn’t just print and surely soon will not be print at all. TV and radio are no longer only broadcast media. It’s already something of a cliché to situate our contemporary experience on a curve and to speculate what might be on the upper end of it, but consider this: the first banner advert was booked in your lifetime, in 1994. Five years ago display banners took a couple of days to book and to place, and the digital gurus were speculating about the distant prospect of real-time bidding. Today impressions are traded in real time and the industry is looking to move away from impressions towards views as the standard metric.

Not everyone can lead here: indeed leading tends to be an expensive thing to do and most of us would surely see ROI drop if we invested too much in trying to get ahead of the curve. The model is 70/20/10 after all, not 10/20/70. But there are companies out there ploughing a new furrow, and where they have proven these new technologies and disciplines to be fruitful, it’s surely only good practice for the rest of us to be learning what we can and making sure that in future we do what works, not just what we’ve always done. I think this is a pretty definitive truth. Just don’t tell Mr Peake.

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