Early in my advertising career, I got a little obsessed with immersive video games. I loved how, rather than progressing through a step-by-step narrative, these games allowed me to navigate entire worlds and landscapes. The designers’ vision seemed present, but my experience changed based on how I chose to interact with the world they had created. It was like going from passively watching a feature film to actively participating in one.
Digital marketing is going through a similar evolution today. Though the traditional “right message, right person, right time” adage is still relevant, rapid changes in e-commerce adoption and industry-wide regulations around data privacy are putting more control in the hands of consumers over what they share, as well as when and with whom.
In addition, months of on-again, off-again lockdowns due to fluctuations in COVID-19 cases have created an expectation that brands will bring the experience of their products directly to consumers rather than waiting for them to show up in a store.
In this environment, the process of getting to know your customer is shifting from one grounded in research and intent capture to one focused on real-time active discovery, initiated on mobile platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. Interactivity on these platforms puts consumers in control, giving them ways to own their engagement and give input about what they’re looking for from a brand in real time.
Similar to how a game controller connects a player to a video game, a mobile device connects a consumer to a brand through interactive experiences, enabling a new kind of storytelling. Rather than thinking of a campaign as a linear narrative, with a clear beginning, middle and end that someone may experience in one sitting, marketers can design campaigns as an array of experiences adapted to a viewer’s personal preferences. Instead of a three-act-play, it’s a “choose your own adventure,” an ever-evolving landscape of entry points for engagement.
A new marketing paradigm
The starting point for this new strategy is recognizing that no single video or image tells the whole story. Interactive mobile platforms like Facebook and Instagram have a variety of creative canvases, such as Instant Experiences, Stories, Carousel Ads and Messenger, to name a few. The most effective stories are distributed across them, and many effective advertisers master this first and foremost through testing. For example, a Facebook-commissioned meta-analysis study found that adopting a testing and learning process to creative resulted in a 15% lower cost-per-ad recall and a 26% lower cost per action.1
This kind of testing mindset is helping advertisers extend into deeply interactive experiences, where customers create their own journeys. Customers considering whether to purchase a Volvo can see what the car would look like in their garage and explore a 360-degree view of the vehicle.2 When Sephora launched a new fragrance line called “Do Not Drink,” the company partnered with an augmented reality (AR) creator to develop filters, deployed in a variety of Facebook ads, themed to each fragrance.3
Putting the customer at the center through mobile
Interactivity and customer control are at the core of mobile experiences. In order to make the most of mobile and draw customers into entire brand worlds to explore, marketers need to design a strategy for this medium and mode of storytelling. Here are four best practices to keep in mind:
- Start small. Pick one new ad unit or experience to test, and storyboard around that experience. If you’re working with Polling Ads, what questions might you ask that could help you get to know your target customer a bit more? If you’re using an Instant Experience, what elements of your website, or key parts of your brand or product story, could you include to boost consideration? If you started with these ad units as the centerpiece of your campaign, what other, more standard elements like video and still image would you develop to support them?
- Draw inspiration from the creator ecosystem. Many creators are already innovating with interactive moments built specifically for social platforms. Find creators whose work inspires you, and consider partnering with them to design experiences that are bespoke to your brand.
- Design for deep interactivity. Highly interactive experiences like Messenger bots or AR filters offer new ways to tell your brand’s story. If this kind of interactivity is the marquee experience of your campaign, how would your narrative translate into these experiences? What constellation of content would you build around them, both to support them and tell other aspects of the story?
- Measure success holistically. In this new paradigm, the conversion lift of a single ad or even a linear series of ads can’t give you a full picture of success. Each customer takes a unique journey through your campaign, and some interactive experiences like Messenger might even exist outside of the ads themselves. Adopting methods like incrementality measurement or marketing mix modeling (MMM) enables you to see the cumulative impact of your entire platform strategy.
We’re living through a transitional and exciting time for digital marketing. Customers expect more dialogue with brands, and mobile devices offer a constantly growing set of opportunities for such moments to happen. “Right message, right time” can no longer be a static strategy but must adapt in real-time to the unique preferences and behaviors of customers, as well as to their feedback. To succeed in our rapidly changing digital reality, marketers should build a landscape of interactive opportunities.
1 Facebook internal data, 163 campaigns, December 2019.
2 “Volvo: Enhancing the car shopping experience with Facebook Augmented Reality ads”: https://www.facebook.com/business/success/2-volvo
3 “Sephora Collection collaborated with Instagram creators on new ad content”: https://business.instagram.com/success/sephora-collection