The digital display landscape shifted over the past several years as Facebook leveraged its tremendous audience to scale a disproportionate share of the overall growth.  The result was that the company built a $1.7 billion business from nothing in a virtual blink.

There hasn’t been that kind of seismic share shift in digital ad dollars since Google exploded onto the scene a decade ago.  I think we can draw two conclusions from that change:  first, that Facebook built a better mousetrap than the legacy players, and second, that marketers continue to search for formats and outlets that convince them that their display ads are working.

Facebook share Ad spenIt’s the second conclusion that fascinates me.  Display advertising is a more nuanced science than response-based advertising, but no less important to the overall goals of brand advertisers.  That’s not a consensus opinion, of course.  There are a lot of people who look to data-driven marketing as the zero sum of the digital age, and yearn for a pure market of measured outcomes and zero waste.  Talk with experienced marketers, though, and they’ll demo

nstrate intelligently why building brand across multiple channels that create multiple touch points with consumers pays off over the long run.

The problem is that the bulk of digital marketing doesn’t have the tools to apply science to the brand outcomes, no matter how much data they have access to.  Some recent research by the digital marketing firm Vizu points to that gap:

The attraction of Facebook’s display advertising solution lies partly in the ability to gauge the engagement with the brand, and to feel comfortable that by connecting with the brand as part of their social graph, the consumer has granted permission for the brand to ask for their continued awareness.  It’s not wholly scientific, but it speaks to the brand marketers goals more clearly than many other measures currently can.Agencies, however, said they are primarily optimizing against various measures of engagement 58% of the time, or even click-through rates at 19% of the time, as opposed to the 16% of the time for brand awareness.

eMarketer’s view of the digital display ad market says that the game isn’t over yet, and that there’s still the probability that a lot of share is going to move around.

According to a recent forecast, eMarketer looks to Google to quickly surpass Facebook in terms of display revenue, ultimately commanding 21.7% of the market by 2014.

Who should you bet on in this race?  The company that does the best job of creating accessible information sets about its user that can be accessed and customized by brands so that audiences can be targeted and campaigns measured against brand-specific criteria.  When brand marketers and their agencies are able to use proprietary insights to create dynamic audiences sets that scale efficiently and can be measured easily, then dollars will flow toward that source.  Until then, it’s an open playing field.