The click is dead; long live the click

Online doesn't get its fair share. Ever. What can we do about that? Everyone's online teams and CMOs should pay more attention to online. September's iMedia Brand Summit afternoon town hall description said it best: "No matter how many CMOs (in public) embrace online, don't you get the feeling that first thing in the morning -- before they open their eyes, pour the coffee, grab the iPhones -- they wish the internet would just disappear?"

Sure, that's one perspective. Here's another: why can't we stop whining and look at the big picture? Not that I am averse to complaining (I am usually the first in line), but all this talk about fairness and unnecessary complication is enough to alienate even the most forward thinking marketers in the crowd.

Leaving aside the assumed iPhone ownership insult, gaining marketing mindshare without histrionics may yet be possible. I wonder if seeing both sides of the issue in gaining an understanding of the CMO's perspective and the industry issues might warrant some additional thought. Naturally, I have a few suggestions.

Gripe 1: Online marketers are unwittingly addicted to click metrics
Remember when the online ad business was crashing and those silly little search ads everyone in the industry made fun of effectively kept the biz from falling off the face of the earth? What metric did search ads follow? Clicks. The currency of online advertising.

So let me see if I have this correctly. The online ad business was happy with the click before people stopped clicking on them in the beginning. The industry was also happy with the click when it rescued the online ad world from disaster many years later. Now, all of a sudden, the click is just no longer enough.

The IAB Click Measurement Guidelines Version 1.0 was released on May 12, 2009. That's right, I said May, 2009. Yet, the first clickable internet ad appeared way back in 1993 and the first banner ad, bought by AT&T and appearing on HotWired, appeared just a year later. With this major lag in measurement standards, is there any wonder why it's been hard for the interactive marketing industry to gain credibility?

So, it's 15 years later and we've finally officially defined the click. Of course, defining process and achieving consensus within multi-tiered constituencies takes time. And while the click may not be more than just a catalyst for greater action in the business, it needn't be forced to a cruel death.

Gripe 2: Social media isn't measured properly
Measured? How about defined? This is one of those classic gripes coming from an emerging arena. So, should I turn my entire marketing strategy upside-down just because the latest trend in measurement says so?

Did anyone ever consider the possibility that many of the people making marketing decisions have seen a zillion trends come and go? Maybe even a few in the "social" space? Classmates, Friendster, MySpace...

I believe most CMOs would have a difficult time rushing into the CFOs office for some measurement FTEs and a few contracts for vendors in lieu of thinking it through a bit first.

Maybe, just maybe, it's better to think of measuring as a process that has multiple constituencies. The term "social media," and its association with measurement, has so many moving parts that it makes perfect sense for companies to approach it with caution, particularly in turbulent economic conditions.

I favor forming work groups (because the word committee implies paralysis) to test and evaluate new areas with appointed delegates from each constituent department. Logic and reason wins over panic and desperation to keep up with the trends.

Gripe 3: Online doesn't get its fair share
Here's an unpopular opinion in the online space: Maybe the online space is getting its fair share of the overall advertising spend, and we are just waiting for a metrics consensus to demonstrate it. As the IAB report above notes, it did take 10 years to "establish the minimum acceptable counting procedures for the media buying currency -- clicks."

What is a fair share? Fairness seems to be the war cry of mobile, radio, newspaper, even certain types of television advertising. Isn't it more accurate to say that certain media channels receive an appropriate share of advertising media dollars as determined by the advertiser's need?

After all, advertising, marketing and media dollars fall into several buckets, each having its own needs. Most online marketers have never seen a budget for a creative initiative that, once executed, has to be dispersed across multiple media outlets. There are quite a few mouths to feed when it comes to allocating dollars, and the traditional media folks have had to bear the burden of those budgeting needs since long before the online ad was conceived.

Count the number of large scale initiatives that fell into an online budget from take-off to landing without including massive distribution outlets like broadcast. For example, there are costs associated with photographers, videographers, production, talent, unions, creatives, perks, and venues; these all cost big money, and they aren't getting any cheaper. Adding up all the costs of creating an advertising initiative -- not just comparing media spend -- makes the complicated process of multi-click attribution look like child's play.

Stop buzzing, start doing
It's trite, but it works. The Nielsen Company's latest Three Screen Report indicates a big jump in the amount of time people spend watching video online, but it's still not worth writing the big media check for. 

The biggest consumers of internet in the world spend between 4.5 and 5 hours a day watching television. Yet, according to the Nielsen report, we spend less than an hour a day (perhaps while watching television) on the internet doing all kinds of web things, and we spend only 5 minutes a day watching online video. How can you compare the massive distribution, penetration, and reach of a five-hour-a-day activity with one that consumes only five minutes a day?

Then again, I suppose if media sellers weren't complaining about how little dollar share they get, we'd have to be worried about their sanity; in other words, I've never known a salesman who had enough.

At the end of the day -- as if anyone has read this far without calling me a heretic on Twitter -- it's not the idea of interactive media taking a seat at the big boys table that I oppose. It's the means many are using to get there. Prematurely attempting to crucify the click or directive response measurement metrics (calls, map prints, text messages) with brand love babble isn't the way.

Kevin Ryan is CMO at WebVisible.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

 

Comments

Jeff Ferguson
Jeff Ferguson November 18, 2009 at 2:05 PM

When I used to talk metrics internally back when I was working for Hilton and Kimberly-Clark, I liked to bring in this big plastic goose that I actually got from GoTo as a promo item. The trick was to put the goose down on the table next to me and not acknowledge its presence until someone called me on it.

When they did, I would say that the goose represented the problem with this industry... people are paying attention to the wrong metric because they're distracted by another, just like how the people in the room were distracted by the goose instead of paying attention to me, the speaker.

We have so many damned metrics to play with, I think we just lose focus sometimes of the real reason we're in the game. This is why in SEO, people still talk to their C-level staff about goofy metrics like PageRank or number of links when they should be showing increases in traffic, sales, and revenue.

Keep your eye on the prize, folks.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan November 17, 2009 at 3:06 PM

Agree Brian, the click isn't enough, but it sure was a good start!

Brian Carter
Brian Carter November 17, 2009 at 9:02 AM

Nice, well I'm a non-CMO sorta-social-media-guru who pretty much agrees. Except the click isn't enough ;-)