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A Holiday Miracle: Digital Transformations for Challenger Brands

Giulianno Lopez

Content Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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In dating, lonely hearts can go the traditional route to find love, like making eye contact across a crowded bar. Or they can download an app and swipe left until they find the right swipe-worthy profile. Either method eventually results in a match, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other.

When it comes to challenger brands trying to find that right connection with their holiday customers, the same can’t be said for taking the traditional route over the digital one. There is a multitude of reasons why savvy marketers have thought outside-the-box to help their brands be seen and heard this holiday season. But, what does it actually mean to swim upstream and challenge larger, more established businesses in your industry?

What is a Challenger Brand?

challenger brand is a company that isn't a market leader or a niche brand but has big ambitions and is looking to disrupt their industry. Rarely do challenger brands have the budget that their counterparts take for granted, so it’s important that they get the most out of every dollar they spend on marketing to make the biggest splash and deviate from the norm. According to a study by Adweek, 49% of respondents saw storytelling, and 48% saw category disruption as the most important, defining characteristics of a challenger brand.

The High Cost of Traditional Media

The high up-front cost of traditional media is a big barrier for challenger brands — especially during the holidays. Just buying 30 seconds of airtime for an ad on a local TV network will cost at least $5 per 1,000 viewers. That same 30-second spot broadcast nationally will cost around $115,000. To add insult to injury, those costs don’t even include hiring an ad agency, creating the ad, shooting it, editing it, and packaging it for broadcast. For brands just starting, particularly online brands with a national presence, TV ads are extremely costly and don’t guarantee results.

There's also print advertising in magazines, but that’s also pretty costly. The more popular magazines, like Vogue and Vanity Fair, can charge over $180,000 for a full-page, four-color ad. That also doesn’t even include design and setup; you’ll have to pay a creative agency for that too. While space in the glossies may work well for the big box stores and designer brands of the world, it’s a lot for a challenger to spend.

Radio advertising is another option, but it’s also expensive. In a market like New York or Los Angeles, companies can expect to pay $4,000 to $8,000 per week for air time. In smaller markets like Green Bay, WI or Topeka, KS, it’s less pricey, but still around $500 to $1,500 per week. Again, that’s only air time and doesn’t include developing the actual ad.

How Do You Measure Traditional Media’s Impact?

Another big challenge with traditional marketing is that it’s much harder to figure out whether or not your ad worked, or if it was even seen. For example, you might run an ad on TV and have someone type in your website address — but you don’t know for sure if that’s what got that visitor to your site. In print advertising, the publication’s circulation numbers don’t necessarily equal the number of people actually reading the magazine or newspaper.

Additionally, if you’re trying to reach younger consumers, TV, radio, and newspapers are not nearly as effective as social media. A study found that social media is the most effective way to advertise to consumers aged 18-34. While these same consumers indicate TV is effective, they’re also increasingly cutting traditional TV from their budgets and using streaming services that don’t show ads.

If you do figure out how well your traditional media ads are — or aren’t — working, changing an element or two and testing it isn’t easy. You have to pay the same rates for air time and column inches and speculate on whether or not the changes worked.

None of this means that challenger brands shouldn’t consider traditional media once they do have the budget for it. Omnichannel marketing gets great results for brands; research shows that customers spend 13% more per order when they interact with a brand on three or more channels. This is because they see your message in multiple places, and the repetition keeps you top of mind when they’re ready to buy.

Digital Marketing Provides Better Brand Awareness

It’s much easier to track how well digital marketing is working, compared to traditional marketing. The very nature of digital makes it possible to see when someone viewed, clicked, loaded, or otherwise interacted with some of your collateral. Take the example of a billboard — with traditional marketing, you could get a rough estimate of how many cars take a certain road and use that to guess how many people saw your ad; with a digital billboard, you know every single time someone has loaded your ad, and can often even tell if it's a new unique viewer or if it's a repeat viewer. Then you can go a step further and find out who clicked on your banner, and what other ads they've seen from you, and follow their journey as they interact with your site.

You can also test different versions of the same ad, like using a product image in one ad and a lifestyle image in another, to see which one gets the most clicks. When you run those types of tests, also known as A/B testing, you can then refine the ad campaign you’re running. For example, one ad could use a red “Click Here” button, and another could use a blue one so you can see which version gets more people to take that action.

Gain Flexibility with Audience Segmentation

Even better, in digital marketing, you don’t just push out an ad and hope someone sees it. You can segment and target your visitors by location, buying behavior, and other demographic information, then send them personalized messages. And personalized emails make people happy; 62.6% of consumers described their feelings as “happy” and “excited” when they receive personalized emails.

As a reminder, segmentation is the practice of grouping an audience into intent blocks (e.g., cart abandoners or product page visitors) or groups with similar demographics (e.g., within an age group or living in a certain part of the country). When possible, direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands should segment based on the stages in the purchase funnel.

Actions reveal more about shoppers and their intent, than demographic information alone. Now, it’s important not to completely ignore demographics altogether — they carry a lot of weight. But relying on them solely can ensure missing the whole picture. People are more than age, ethnicity, location, and salary. That’s also true for your target audience.

Final Thoughts

For challenger brands, not only does digital marketing allow them to reach more people for a fraction of the cost, but it also makes it easier to discover what works best to engage visitors and turn them into customers. That can include testing new messages and new elements for their ads, personalizing their communications, and analyzing what works and what doesn’t quickly to pivot.

Ultimately, a mix of traditional marketing and digital marketing can make a significant impact on the bottom line. However, for challenger brands with limited budgets, digital marketing can be the most effective way to reach their target audiences and turn them into happy holiday customers.

Are you interested in learning how to launch your very own holiday marketing campaign? Check out some of our other pieces of holiday-related content.

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