An Introduction to Sequential Advertising
With a seemingly endless suite of digital marketing tools and channels at our disposal, it’s easy to fall into a mentality of throwing ad budget at the wall and hoping something sticks. The odd display ad here, an email out to your subscriber base there, something will get through to your audience, won’t it?
Well, perhaps not. In today’s world of multiple devices, social networks and dwindling attention spans, it’s never been more difficult for brands to catch the attention of their target audience online. When you could be competing against as many as 600 marketing messages a day for an individual’s attention, being relevant and meaningful should sit at the top of your priority list.
What is Sequential Advertising?
Rooted in the concept of presenting your consumers with the right message at the right time, in series, Sequential Advertising is just now gaining real momentum, thanks to advances in ad tech over the last half decade that have seen it develop from a smart idea to a practical advertising strategy your brand can start implementing today.
Put simply, Sequential Advertising is a process by which ads are presented to a target audience in a predetermined order, with each message triggered by a user’s previous action. Rather than persuading a user to take action immediately, this approach allows brands to tell a linear story - using a variety of creative methods and multiple channels - which builds towards the desired outcome as brand awareness and purchase intent increase along the customer journey. One of the most crucial benefits of Sequential Advertising is the ability to continually optimize the performance of each component while the campaign is still live.
The positive impact of such a constructive approach isn’t just marginal; a controlled study by Facebook of consumers who were exposed to sequenced ads before being presented with a CTA (call to action) compared to non-sequenced ads found that there was an 87% increase in people visiting the brand’s landing page and a 56% increase in subscription rates. It pays to be patient!
Sequential Advertising in Practice
For less well-known brands, Sequential Advertising is an optimal strategy for driving early awareness and crafting the brand’s story, before introducing the call to action to drive traffic and conversions. It’s about not asking for too much until a meaningful connection with the audience has been established.
However, it has equal importance for established brands looking to develop brand perception, launch a new product, or re-engage their existing audience.
While the structure of your Sequential Advertising campaign will depend on the nature of your business, product or campaign objectives, we can consider the approach in terms of three basic phases focused around nurturing the consumer’s intent, rather than repeatedly encouraging them to act at each messaging stage.
Phase one: Whether your target audience is familiar with your brand or you’re looking to create initial awareness, this funnel-based approach begins with a basic introduction to your brand, providing the user with a knowledge of the brand’s substance and values before presenting the CTA.
Example: Targeted pre-roll video ad for Audi A3 Sportback.
Phase two: Having introduced your brand, the next stage should showcase what your brand can offer, building on the brand’s value with specific messaging relating to products, offers or services.
Example: Cookie-based display ad featuring Audi A3 Sportback available at 0% finance based on video completion rates.
Phase three: The final stage is providing a ‘hook’ by communicating a clear CTA which ties together the previous messaging and brand story. This could include inviting the target audience to subscribe, visit the brand’s homepage for more information or even ‘Buy Now’ messaging.
Example: Location-based ad as a result of previous ad engagement, offering test drive booking at the user’s local Audi dealership.
Sequences are a great way to make the most of advertising on platforms like Facebook because they help engage users in a way that’s natural and compelling. They make your ads less disruptive, more relevant, and more in tune with the user journey and eventual sales funnel.
As organic reach on Facebook starts to die out, sequencing on Facebook will become even more of an essential marketing strategy, so it’s worth experimenting with this ad format today.
Types of Sequential Advertising
A campaign can involve the use of a range of marketing channels. For example, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software company may commission a research guide about the advantages of marketing automation and make it available to download for users who enter their contact details. Anyone who has downloaded the resource could then be targeted with an email containing a link to a short, engaging video explaining the product’s benefits and, lastly, those who watch the video to completion could be followed up with a phone call offering a free software trial.
Equally, a campaign could employ just one channel, such as display ads, with multiple creative variants served depending on how the user has interacted with the brand, the products they have viewed, or even an abandoned shopping basket.
Here are some creative combinations that Facebook have found to be effective:
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How to Order Your Advertising Sequence
According to advertising agency Mindshare, there are three types of sequencing. Serving the ad creative in the same order for every consumer is not always the most effective solution, so long as each message remains connected contextually:
This approach will display ads 1, 2 and 3 to the user in a sequential order. The first group of viewers who see ad 1 will then be served ad 2. The second group of viewers, who have viewed ad 1 and 2, are then served ad 3.
While this approach allows for a high level of control over the narrative presented to the target audience, it can require a lot of resource and expenditure in order to drive a substantial amount of full sequences, but the high quality and relevance of this group can be an advantage if your campaign objectives aren’t just volume-focused.
No Sequential Order
Following this approach, users may see ad 2 before ad 1, and then finally ad 3. In this case, a display ad campaign could cap impressions on each of the ads to ensure none are being viewed more than average. Each brand message could be describing a different benefit or service the company offers, without a strict order necessary.
The final approach displays the campaign messages within predetermined time phases. For example, ad 1 could be displayed for two weeks, ad 2 could be available for one month and, finally, ad 3 could be served for one week. This can be effectively utilized when marketing an event, such as a conference or product launch, using creative variants to create a sense of urgency.
The Next Stage of Sequential Advertising
We’ve touched on the concepts and benefits of Sequential Advertising, but it certainly doesn’t stop here. Once brands have the basics in place and are seeing the gains of a more attentive marketing strategy in terms of overall campaign performance, marketers will be able to optimize and add more sophistication to their ads, such as special promotions to their most engaged users.
Meanwhile, the advantages of Sequential Advertising do not just stop at the final conversion; brands can continue to reap the rewards of nurturing customer intent after the first purchase by evolving their messaging for repeat purchases and brand loyalty.
Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she loves to share her experiences from the digital trenches. She’s a woman with big ideas and a tiny dog. Trying the digital nomad thing in 2018.