CMO Strategies: A playbook for marketing channels from social media to streaming

This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →

Each marketing channel comes with its own complexities and nuances. Keeping this in mind, Digiday+ Research has analyzed strategies and challenges across leading marketing channels — like programmatic display and social media — to identify key trends and best practices in our CMO Strategies series.

To map out marketers’ current digital playbooks, Digiday+ Research sent out three surveys asking 635 respondents about past and upcoming investments, marketing channel tactics and preferences, and business challenges.

Here you can find highlights and links to each in-depth, channel-specific report in the series.

Side-by-side comparison: How channel strategies stack up

Each of the four channels Digiday+ Research examined in our CMO Strategies series draws on a different set of tactics and is influenced by different trends. But Digiday’s surveys found some clear standout results and even some commonalities that can be helpful for marketers to know.

Among the four channels researched, social media had the highest overall channel usage for paid ads, at a 97% usage rate among respondents. Display ads was also a top channel, with well over half of respondents (61%) saying that they use the channel for paid ads. Based on those usage rates, it is likely that these two top players also consume a majority of marketing budgets. Lower on the list were retail media and ad-supported streaming, both with less than half of respondents indicating that they use the channels, at 38% and 28% respectively.

Drilling deeper, Digiday’s surveys found that three of the four marketing channels studied have a clear top platform — or a small subset of platforms sharing the top spot — in terms of budgets, with display advertising being the only exception. 

Social media offered the clearest example in this regard, with Meta-owned platforms and TikTok soaking up the most marketer spending.

Retail media and streaming video advertising, on the other hand, each feature a single, concentrated top platform — Amazon and YouTube respectively. The other platforms within these channels fall dramatically behind those platform leaders in terms of usage. Both retail media and streaming video advertising are also strong contenders to be channels that offer alternative data collection possibilities in a future without third-party cookies, due to their access to either sought-after consumer purchase data or attention-oriented video-viewing data.

Display ads is the odd channel out of the four analyzed: It has the most even marketer budget distribution among its platforms, with each platform option (including display, programmatic and email newsletter ads) serving a specific need that marketers find equally important.

While marketer budget distribution may vary among the channels, cost of media is one of the biggest challenges marketers face across channels, Digiday’s surveys found. While there were some outliers when it came to specific platforms — such as 56% of respondents saying their biggest challenge was the lack of scale on Amazon Freevee in our ad-supported streaming video report — the majority of respondents cited cost as the main barrier on all channels. Retail media faces the largest hurdle in this regard, with 92% of marketers saying that cost of media was the biggest challenge.

While all channels studied had similar challenges preventing further adoption, their most popular key performance indicators were quite different. Many of the KPIs were dictated by a channel’s interface itself: Social media and streaming video were key examples of this, with marketers mainly looking at engagement, likes, comments and shares on social media, while watch time was most important on streaming services.

For display ads, click-through rates and impressions were typically the key metrics for marketers, Digiday’s surveys found. Thirty-two percent of respondents said click-through rates was a KPI for programmatically purchased display ads, and 27% said impressions was a KPI for direct-sold display ads.

Similar to the way in which retail media stood out among channels with the largest cost of media challenge to adoption, retail media also had the clearest singular — and obvious — KPI, with 95% of marketers saying that sales are their main metric of success for the channel.

Read on for highlights from our research on each channel and links to the full Digiday+ Research CMO Strategies reports.

Social media

Read the full CMO Strategies report on social media.

Research highlight:

Overall, platforms that took the top spots for social media budget allocation in our CMO Strategies report — Instagram, Facebook and YouTube — were unsurprisingly those that have feeds where ads were much more common. TikTok was the only exception to this. However, despite its success, the Chinese ByteDance-owned platform still faces uncertainty with ongoing U.S. congressional hearings about a possible ban and potential regulations on its use in the country. As TikTok continues to evolve and regulations take shape, marketers will have to stay flexible with their plans for the platform and measure brand risk accordingly. 

Key findings broke social media platforms into three categories:

  • Out-of-the-box-ready: Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are in this category. This group consists of platforms with a long list of ad options for marketers to choose from to target and interact with consumers. More specifically, the platforms are well-established performance marketing channels.
  • Too-soon-to-tell (i.e. TikTok): TikTok is the only occupant of this category. While TikTok does offer tools for marketers, most of the platform’s benefits come from its ability to generate organic viral moments. However, these viral moments are typically unplanned and unpredictable. With a plentiful number of brands and influencers posting on the platform, casual and unedited content often has as much impact as professionally created content.
  • User-dominated: Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter (now X) and Reddit are in this group. These platforms may have offerings for marketers, but their sites are more suited for users to casually post and interact with one another. As a result of the platforms’ focus on user-generated content, branded content can feel out of place.
Retail media

Read the full CMO Strategies report on retail media.

Research highlight:

Amazon is the clear main character in the retail media story, with 76% of respondents to Digiday’s surveys saying they use the platform for selling their companies’ products. As a sales platform, Amazon has an advantage over other retail media networks due to the sheer volume of consumer data it collects. Amazon is the fourth-most visited website in the U.S. — behind Google, YouTube and Facebook — and it is the most visited e-commerce and shopping marketplace, according to web analytics company SimilarWeb. Due to the massive number of monthly visits to the site — 2.3 billion total visits worldwide in May alone — Amazon is able to collect data from a wide range of demographic groups with varied audience interests. That means Amazon can offer brands access to more consumers, and their data, than other RMNs — putting it in the No. 1 position as a retail media partner in terms of scale. 

Key findings:

  • One edge over other channels for retail media is its access to purchase data through sites that are built for commerce. With data privacy laws becoming stricter and Google continuing to inch closer toward the end of the third-party cookie in 2024, access to a network with customer purchase data is an attractive future alternative.
  • Marketers saw strong sales lift on retail media, and the majority of marketer respondents said that they measure retail media success via commerce or sales rather than awareness metrics like impressions or engagement.
  • Amazon is the clear leader in the retail media category, with 76% of respondents saying they use the platform for selling their companies’ products. But, Amazon also plays a unique secondary role when compared to other retail media networks.
Display advertising — sites and newsletters

Read the full CMO Strategies report on display ads.

Research highlight:

For impression-based measurement, marketers’ main goal is to place ads in strategic spots where brands’ consumers do not necessarily exist yet — but where marketers know their interests align with brands — in order to build up brand recognition. When emphasizing commerce and sales measurement, marketers place ads on sites where they know consumers are already likely to exist in order to increase conversions. For example, a brand may promote more expensive or different products to known consumers with the intention of increasing the average order value (AOV) of a conversion. 

Key findings:

  • Buying display site ads programmatically can invite brand safety concerns. Marketers don’t know on which sites their ads will appear, nor alongside which types of content. And direct-sold site display ads ensure marketers have control over ad placement in their preferred context to reach a preferred audience, but they can limit the audience reach.
  • Programmatic site ads are facing new brand safety risks amid the generative artificial intelligence boom. As the popularity of large language models leads to AI-based creation of volumes of text, images and video content, the question is increasingly focusing on whether advertisers will end up funding low-quality content — even unintentionally.
  • Email newsletter ads are generally a more targeted play. Because email newsletters are not the channel for scale at all costs, they don’t command huge budgets. However, email newsletter ads may see increased marketer interest in a cookie-less future. 
Ad-supported streaming video

Read the full CMO Strategies report on streaming video advertising.

Research highlight:

Impressions turned out to be the top success metric — or of equal or greater importance as watch time/view duration/average — on platforms where marketers devoted a mid-range of their ad placements, according to Digiday’s surveys. Impressions, which measure how often viewers are exposed to the initial in-stream portion of a video ad, can help drive the shift of TV ad dollars to streaming by providing a commonly understood measure of ad-supported streaming’s performance in the language of ad views. 

Platforms are keen to offer this data as proof of scale as they seek to grow their streaming businesses and to woo advertisers away from traditional TV, using it to paint a richer, often demographic-based picture of their audiences. Impressions give an assessment of how many — and which types of — people are viewing ads on a particular streaming service, allowing marketers to determine how far a streaming platform, and a campaign, are reaching.

Key findings:

  • YouTube came in first among advertisers for ad placements and 2022 budget allocation mainly due to its massive audience reach and lack of a paywall. The platform has more than 2 billion monthly logged-in users, according to YouTube, which far outpaces other platforms. 
  • Among the marketers Digiday+ Research surveyed, watch time/view duration/average completion rate was the No. 1 success metric that advertisers considered for the top three streaming services where they placed the majority of their ads. 
  • More than half of marketer respondents selected cost of media as their top challenge on all platforms, excluding Amazon Freevee and Pluto TV, where lack of scale was their main barrier.

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