You've heard the warning: "You get what you pay for." For online agencies and both brand and direct marketers, I recommend we change that to "You get what you say you pay for."
I know a number of online advertisers who pay for impressions -- buying ads on a CPM-basis from web publishers -- but at the end of the day they aren't fully satisfied if they simply get impressions in return. Why? Well, they are actually measuring something else. Other important goals of their media buy likely include driving interaction with their brand, driving traffic to their website, or ultimately encouraging people to buy something. Are you telling web publishers those are your goals?
Marketers want to make an impact
DoubleClick recently conducted a straw poll of nearly 100 of our clients. Of those who work at an agency (the majority of which mentioned that they prefer to buy for brand advertising over direct), the vast majority said that they look at response metrics of some sort when evaluating campaigns, with over four-fifths of them looking at clicks and over two-thirds evaluating their campaigns based on sales as well. Over four-fifths said they would make future buying decisions based on these metrics.
These were surprising metrics-- brand marketers care about measuring performance of their campaigns? When you step back and think about it, though, it makes sense. All marketers want to make an impact on their audiences. The internet is one of the most quantifiable media of all time; why not take advantage of its accountability and measure some of that success?
Today, web publishers are very well-positioned. It's a seller's market-- the advertising market has been in an upturn, and online media is at a premium. With all of the advertisers who are currently paying high CPMs and competing for media space in this tight market, there is an increasing focus on direct metrics and ROI-- and everyone is trying to determine whether that added spend was worth it.
Online is just the beginning
The good news for advertisers is that, more than ever, online publishers have tools at their fingertips to help them reach their overall objectives. Since their accountability is much higher, they know that how well they meet your objectives will determine whether they get a bigger share of your media spend next time. Fortunately, both your objectives are completely aligned: You want to maximize the impact of your media spend, and publishers want to align with you to help you reach your goals. But you have to tell them what they are!
And although accountability has long been the mantra of the internet, the reality is that online publishers are not the only ones under the gun. Today, offline media outlets are being called to task as well; for example, Nielsen recently announced it will be rating the viewership of TV commercials for the first time. I bet that is keeping network executives up at night. NBC also seems to be pioneering the way here. The Wall Street Journal reported in July that the TV network will give advertiser Toyota additional "make-good" advertising time, or put more Toyota ads in shows that are garnering better attentiveness from audiences, when certain parts of NBC's program schedule do not meet their guarantees.
How to make your media buys more effective
Advertisers need to realize that publishers truly think that you've received what you paid for. You bought impressions, publishers delivered-- end of story. Web publishers may not know that you, the media buyer, are actually judging the campaigns running on their sites based on different criteria. In other words, I am imploring you to ask for what you want upfront. That may still mean paying on a CPM basis-- but if you want to make your media buy more effective, tell the publishers that you are looking to drive interactions, or clicks, or conversions. Nowadays there are a number of things they can do on your behalf to help you reach your goals effectively, but they have to understand what your true goals are.
How can savvy advertisers really leverage web publisher accountability? The trick is not to shoulder the burden of campaign performance on your own. Ask publishers to implement surefire ways to enhance it. Granted, you already expect the publisher to play a role in your campaign success; after all you select media based on its reach and alignment with your target audience. But those attributes are just baseline expectations at this point. There's a lot more publishers can do to dynamically enhance the outcome of your campaign.
Keep this in mind as you're forking over the big bucks in this so-called "seller's market:" The buyers still have a lot of power as well. This advice applies whether you're a direct or brand marketer because, frankly, the distinction in advertising goals between the two is becoming more blurred, especially on the internet.
The internet has always been a playground for direct marketers. Response and conversions are more easily and instantly measured here than in any other medium. Google and Yahoo! tipped the balance towards pay-for-performance even more dramatically with their wildly successful CPC advertising models. By now, online direct marketers are quite accustomed to the joys of web metrics and gleefully track their conversions.
What's less habitual to many marketers, however, is the second must-have: acting on your data by optimizing your campaigns both in real-time and for future executions. Marketers should be proactively asking publishers what they're doing to facilitate that. Shouldn't they be bending over backwards to make your results really sing? Thankfully, it's not hard these days to achieve measurable lift with sophisticated optimization technology, but you need to ask for it.
Optimization is a systematic method of outlining your goals, challenging your assumptions to select the best media to reach those goals and modifying ad delivery accordingly. Optimization technology takes advantage of online data to automatically match your ads with the audience most likely to respond. In the end, you will have a measurable output for how well your campaign performed against your original set of goals. Your online publisher partners should be offering this capability to make that pricey media buy worth your while. Ask for it!
How does this advice apply to brand marketers? Perhaps considered a bit more of a high-brow discipline (cultivating awareness, association, favorability et cetera), branding is less concerned with crass clicks or conversions, right? Well, think again. While there is a subset of brand marketers who truly only care about branding metrics, I would submit that it's branding's dirty little secret that many do care about specific response metrics, and will hold their media partner accountable just the same as their direct-marketing cousins online.
Branders are also starting to realize through trial and error that, in advertising, sometimes "targeted" campaigns don't produce the best results, while more non-intuitive pairings do. A previous article of mine titled "," spent some time on this concept.
In a nutshell, sometimes beer and diapers, of all things, sell well together if they're put on the same shelf. Who would have thought? Insomniac new dads out there might be vigorously nodding their heads, but for the rest of us, this model upsets the traditional targeting paradigm. Optimization can find these patterns and automatically take advantage of them.
Branders should be very clear with themselves and their media partners about what goals they want to achieve, and be more open to surprising ways to achieve those goals. Only through optimization techniques can you uncover these gems. By setting goals, keeping an open mind, testing and optimizing, branders may start to see some amazing conversion metrics (something which becomes quite addictive). Yes, you will start to change your relationship with the publisher, who may not have realized you could be such a stickler for measurement, but that's not a bad thing. After all, you're paying top dollar, remember?
Ask for what you want
In order to make your media buys more effective, you have to let publishers know your overall goals. That same DoubleClick poll showed that over four-fifths of our agency clients would be more likely to buy media on a publisher site that had an optimization solution (a technology designed to improve advertiser campaigns) built in. You should take advantage of that with online publishers as well.
Yes-- the sell side might be laughing all the way to the bank in today's blazing advertising market. Hopefully, we're all reaping a few economic benefits from this upturn. But while the buy side is loosening its purse strings, take a second look. Rather than blindly falling in line and dreaming of the day when the balance of power shifts back, my advice to you is to question your media partner's commitment to your success today, right now. Ask your nearby online publisher to help you optimize your next campaign to your goals-- and see what happens.
Brad Bender is vice president of Optimization Solutions at DoubleClick. .