The lingering value in display ads

Clicks are as "old as them thar hills" in terms of internet history. Measuring them traditionally offered accountability and ensured the web firmly became established as a direct response medium. "I see, therefore I click" became the mantra for the online industry to justify shifting advertising dollars into digital.

But the problem today is users -- they are just not clicking -- at least not in the way a marketer would hope or expect.

Web 2.0 has seen a shift from the propagation of content towards communication and social interaction. Advertising 2.0 follows the same pattern. It is in essence the natural conversation that exists between an advertiser and their audience, which leads to intent to purchase. This is best seen in the relationship between display and search, where display in any media channel drives a heightened exposure to a message and search offers a platform for questioning and forming opinion. In this regard, the web has in many instances replaced the need to seek information from in-store representatives, or at least rely solely upon them, and has instead allowed consumers to discuss aspects of products and services amongst themselves.

As soon as we become aware of something and interest is piqued through whatever media channel, questions form: is it good value for the money; is it safe for the kids; is it available in red; from where can I get it; and how quick can you get it to me?

It is this aspect of the consumer-purchase cycle that the internet has revolutionized, by adding a universal qualifier to our decision process: Search. Rather than trusting merely what the advertiser says in their message, it seems consumers would rather trust a peer who has been through the pain of purchase, before we put our own hand in our pockets.

No media channel really expects a user to convert in-situation, except in a few small cases. Nor will they seek to be measured as such when users become digitally enabled to convert, whether its digital outdoor triggering a search on a mobile as you walk past, or TV ads prompting you to search the web on the laptop sitting on your knee.

It would therefore seem apt that in the decade since Google opened its door, it will finally begin to join the dots plotting actual consumer journeys as they move through all media; from exposure through research to conversion. Technology companies are starting to embrace a holistic view of media strategy and are finally breaking down the barriers between media disciplines -- and they are placing the click in its natural response environment: Search.

By keeping data in silos (rich media, response-based standard advertising or inquiry-related search) digital strategists have been left with making a lot of assumptions around consumer behavior. Any consolidation done historically was too slow to be a standard process within agencies. And that lead them to favor more simple touch points to justify online success.

Historically, rich media has pushed the benefits of online brand building due to the variety of touch points it is able to measure. Rich media presents the ability to answer questions such as: did they notice; how long did they engage for; and what did they do next? Following the delivery of a brand message in the user's environment, the concept is to track the actual consumer conversion process -- irrespective if a user clicks a display advert or not -- and place a key value in the power of exposure over an immediate response.

With clicks now amounting to 0.5 percent, the question now is really what is happening to those other exposures? By combining search and display data, we've found that up to 30 percent of online paid-search clicks en route to conversion can trace their roots back to being exposed to an online advert first -- a great confidence boost in digital advertising effectiveness.

The importance of these findings raises concerns for how media is currently bought and measured -- it calls into question the significance of display media clicks and optimizing frequency against such -- and highlights the skewed analysis if looking at data in pure silos. We need to pull ourselves out of the silo and deliver campaigns that reflect on how end users consume their media: in a holistic manner without regard to channels. Savvy marketers will focus on marketing strategies that span across channels and offer an integrated, transparent path to conversion. The last click will no longer rule when we follow consumers' footprints across all digital media.

Fortunately, after several years not only is there more data across a multiple of online media disciplines, but also more wisdom in ascertaining the online consumer experience against actual objectives. And maybe none too soon as we stand to face rising pressure to justify online ROI and conversions in an economic downturn. As the tide begins to turn it would seem that consumers today do not always see then click, and so, I for one feel we need to change our mantra for justification moving on to "I see, therefore I search."

Dean Donaldson is the digital experience strategist at Eyeblaster.

 

Comments

Doug Schumacher
Doug Schumacher February 4, 2009 at 8:39 PM

Dean,

Definitely in agreement with you on this.

I think another strong indicator is the percent of search terms that are branded, paid or organic. I've seen reports where 20% of monthly searches contain some component of the brand or product name. And they were generally the most deeply immersed, highest converting visitors, as well.

And whether it's a banner, TV ad, or whatever that drove the interest, the point is the brand name was established long before they headed for a search engine.

Mario Sgambelluri
Mario Sgambelluri February 4, 2009 at 4:54 PM

The Atlas Institute has been doing some groundbreaking research measuring ad effectiveness "beyond the last click" (http://www.atlassolutions.com/institute_marketinginsights.aspx)... by the way, great write up, Dean!

Dean Donaldson
Dean Donaldson February 4, 2009 at 1:48 PM

Peter, I agree the move away from ethereal impressions to unique viewers will be a significant and necessary shift, but all metrics will in turn need to be reviewed. Instead of X people saw ad X times then did X, we measure everything against imps, and hence our problem. This is starting to be addressed.

The initial 30% factor was published in the last Eyeblaster Analytics Bulletin (Branding the Holidays; page 5) available on: http://www.eyeblaster.com/Content.aspx?page=resource&id=44

There is a new document about to be published that will delve deeper to the conversion process as more data has become available.

Matthew DiPietro
Matthew DiPietro February 4, 2009 at 12:57 PM

Dean - Great article. Love this: "30 percent of online paid-search clicks en route to conversion can trace their roots back to being exposed to an online advert first."

Have you published your findings in a whitepaper? Would love to take a look...

Peter Gronland
Peter Gronland February 4, 2009 at 8:21 AM

I agree with the comments written. However, I wonder if impressions as a costed measurement is really acceptable anymore.

Costs per unique user would be much more appropriate, we love to say how accountable digital is, yet we generally still pay for impressions (about as uselful as press readership and TV viewing figures really).

In 2009 digital is moving rapidly towards an open, permission based, accountable media, lets hope that display moves with it or else it is likely to be left behind.