So Google for the second quarter running is unable to hit predicted analyst targets, which is something I find saddening on one hand, but positive on another. Sad because I think it heralds an end of an era of how online advertising has come to be justified as effective, but positive in that it also signals a new phase of development for what lies ahead.
Seeing the web as a merely direct response medium as opposed to its true branding potential (especially when you evaluate the shift towards entertainment content over mere information) is something I feel must be addressed to ensure longevity for the industry. Online branding is still being justified by a response based metric, i.e., the 'click' for the most part. We would not measure TV by the number of people making phone-calls unless the creative said specifically 'phone this number now'. It is therefore creative-dependent, and related to the required call-to-action. I would argue the same is also true of online video. New metrics need to be identified -- and by that I am talking about user time spent with a brand -- as opposed to anything relating to a response from clicks or interactions.
The dotcom rush was all based on spurious business plans surrounding data. In essence no-one really knew how to turn that data into hard-cash, and when that was spotted, the carpet was pulled from under a lot of businesses by nervous financial backers and the dotcom crash was the inevitable result.
It was people like Amazon, who embraced the customer experience, as opposed to a designer's ego, who managed to save the day by stripping back creativity that presented web design as narrow-minded online brochure-ware into realistic businesses based around customer demand. What they noticed is the online experience was radically different to print and was based around product search, leading to a subjective experience of said product further linked to ease of purchase. It was also thanks to the simplicity of counter-creative Google who had managed to attract a lot of interest in the search market, and them taking a clever and timely marketing position to justify online investment. 'Put your toe in the water, it’s ok it won't burn you. You only need to pay when you receive a response' was their pay-per-click (PPC) mantra. Sheer poetry in motion -- and to this we owe a great deal in restoring confidence in the online industry. But that was more than eight years ago. Times have moved on. YouTube, Facebook, GPS, iPhones… think about it. Where were they back then? Have they changed your interactive digital experience? Similarly metrics also need to change, and I dare say a lot of commercial business models for online, excuse me, 'DIGITAL', too.
Working for one of the key movers in digital advertising, the rich media concept was designed to break the clutter of the page and create stand out. That is no longer the primary case. It is more about delivering content to the user to enhance their experience with a brand in-situ, than merely a traffic-driving vehicle elsewhere -- people just can't be bothered looking around anymore, we expect things brought to us, where we are, when we want -- and soon -- on any device. Therefore digital advertising is finding itself moving from mere utility services to immersive entertainment -- as all the best advertising should be. It's about creating emotional experiences, and a timely and relevant thought about the product or service which is at the heart of brand awareness, and it is tricky to measure a sub-conscious thought. Only when a consumer moves beyond this into a conscious inquiry phase, i.e., research, should any kind of response other than that which reveals an emotional stimuli, be measured -- and this alone would be the natural place if looking for the 'click'.
It would seem timely, therefore, that as we shift gear from response to brand marketing with the likes of pre-roll and microsite ads as a pre-cursor of what is to come, that joining the dots should be a natural conversation piece. Cross-channel advertising in its simplest form seeks to ascertain the connection between brand and response. A user becomes aware of something, spends time thinking about it, then seeks more information -- the question is would that be by clicking on an advert, by interacting with an advert or by seeking more information via a search engine? From a technology viewpoint, it's about joining the dots of all digital delivery methods, in order to find new insights into the true digital user experience for your brand.
The question every brand should be asking themselves right now is not what is my click or interaction rate (the latter being an even more spurious a metric) but what is an effective path to conversion for my users? Understand this and we truly will deliver not just compelling experiences, but tangible results… And when we find new ways of justifying that brand time with a display advert leads to search which ultimately leads to conversion elsewhere, we can all then give the 'click-response' a good kick back into the nineties!
Dean Donaldson is digital experience strategist, Eyeblaster.