Consumer confidence in online advertising has eroded to an all-time low. We package clever, but elusive, copy and flashy graphics inside of a display ad and buy up every available impression on the internet only to wonder why no one is clicking. What are we exchanging with consumers that gives them the confidence to interact with our message? Simply broadcasting a message to the masses doesn't necessarily leave consumers with enough information, or the confidence, to act on what they see.
I've often likened this confidence-building process to asking someone out on a date. I haven't been single for a number of years, but I remember the delicate dance of trying to engage a person in conversation as an entrée into spending some more quality time together.
A long time ago in a pub far away, I happened upon an attractive woman who was chatting with some mutual friends of mine. Aside from the occasional comment directed to the group, this woman and I said very little to each other. Still, she seemed nice and she was a knockout, so at the end of the evening, I sidled up to her and made some wise comment -- I can't remember now what it was, but it was probably related to the band Hanson and how important they were to modern American music. Whatever I said was enough to make her smile and nod which, for me, was a real bonus. And so, I asked her out.
She said "no." Not, "I have plans." Not "I have a boyfriend." Not even "Hanson. Are you kidding me?" She just said "no."
I eventually got over the rejection, but a few years later, I bumped into this woman again at a party. We struck up a more direct conversation that lasted most of the night. I finally worked up the courage to ask her about that fated evening and why she didn't go out with me. She told me that she had no clue about who I was and what I was about, and she didn't want to invest her time and energy based on a two-second conversation. She said that she needed more to go on before making that kind of a decision. I asked her out again, and this time she said "yes." We've been together ever since.
I learned two very valuable lessons that night. Never, EVER bring Hanson into a conversation with the opposite sex. It only serves to prove that you are, in fact, a moron. More importantly, I learned that the less you allow a person to engage with you, the less likely you are to get that person to do what you want. The same works with online advertising; the more you commit to engage the consumer, the more of a commitment you get in return.
As online marketers, we underestimate the level of commitment involved when a consumer clicks through to a website. The consumer is making several assessments in the blink of an eye -- will this be a waste of time? Will the site I click to be safe? Will the information I seek be relevant? Will I get what I need efficiently? There is a risk vs. reward scenario that we all play out when deciding to interact with an online advertisement. If we rely too heavily on the website destination to do our talking, we will likely find that no one will be around to listen.
There are a dozen or more practical applications of this for online advertising. Let's take a look at banner ads and use three examples to determine the level of information that is shared prior to making a commitment to act or, in this case, to click.
What can you ascertain about the product, its features or benefits by looking at this ad? Not much. It doesn't leave the consumer with a sense of confidence that clicking on one of the three weight loss options will help. We can't even call this a brand awareness ad since there seems to be no real branding in it other than the name of the fitness celebrity attached to the product. What is the product? This ad creates more questions than it answers. This is a curiosity click, which is not the most effective strategy for getting the consumer to commit to act, either before or after the click. The chances of consumers getting what they were looking for once they click are pretty low with an ad like this, and this is likely to affect whether they will bother clicking to begin with.
This ad takes a step in the right direction by placing additional information in the banner through a rollover. It makes a great statement in the introductory copy. Then, it tells you specifically what you will get if you click. The fact that you get more information in a rollover negates some of the assessing consumers have to do since they get some answers prior to being asked to click. WeightWatchers certainly has a ton of brand equity. But even if it didn't, I think most consumers will know what they will be getting when they click through with this ad.
This ad is packed with interaction and value to the consumer. I commend the advertiser and its agency on giving the consumer so many choices, the least of which is an actual click through to a website.
With this ad, we see the ability to interact with the many benefits of this product. We are getting a ton of information, which builds trust -- the kind of trust that is needed when making a commitment to act.
We also get a great takeaway with the ability to print a recipe from within the ad. A clickthrough to the website takes us to a landing page where we can get more recipes and coupons --- this could have been referenced in the copy, but the ad is terrific at letting the brand build a relationship with the consumer prior to the click.
Advertising doesn't need to be complicated. In fact, the simpler your message is the better. Regardless of whether you are selling a complex product like financial software or a simple one like a hula hoop, consumers need to understand not only "what" they are doing when they interact, but "why" they are interacting.
Through emerging technology and old-school copywriting, we have the ability to give consumers the "what" and the "why" before they click, which builds a great deal of confidence in your audience. They then become partners in the branding process rather than aimless sheep that need to be led. Seeing the consumer as a branding partner is paramount, not only in driving clicks, but in driving further interaction once the click takes place. It also stimulates conversions to sale, which is the whole point of advertising in the first place.
So let my cautionary tale of a dating life and these examples help guide you in your quest to re-instill some confidence in your customers. Or find the perfect mate. Or both!