In the early days of online ads, the promise of a personal relationship and communication between individuals and brands was quickly seized upon as with the idea that 'data equals power'. The original capital investment in online was all based upon the thought that online was going to replace all other media and the promise of 'data' providing a power for wielding commercial success. The problem was with all the data collection, we did not know how to turn it into immediate hard cash, money was as ethereal as the net itself, and panic withdrawal of investment funds led to the first dotcom crash.
It didn't take long, however, for Google to turn the tide against the slow, graphically rich providers of the day and offer us simple access to the online world. Beyond that, it also found a way of commercialising this online data with the launch of 'pay-per-click' advertising which quickly afforded businesses of all sides a manageable alternative to other media by making itself scalable and accountable.
But since that moment, we have all approached online advertising as something linear. By assuming that users automatically 'see-then-click' has made brand awareness campaigns into nothing more then re-badged direct response campaigns -- we even call them 'brand-response' campaigns to ease our consciences and justify it by reducing conversion cycles as a result of immediacy.
This was based in online looking to 'the click' as the only way of measuring the media, and this has been used ever since to mould the full breadth of branding mechanisms into doing nothing more then providing a vehicle to response. The promise of digital and personal relationship has been lost within a subtle lie.
Web 2.0 has showed us that users have a voice and are not going to accept being controlled anymore, no matter how loud you turn up the ads. We can see how this has developed by looking at examples such as Amazon, where reviews became blogs and users became critics (and creators) of content, and could potentially destroy a brand online as quickly as the marketers created it. The individual's free choice is now the key to continuing the consumer conversation. So, conversation will ultimately end up in conversions, and these converts will not stay silent but will end up sharing the good news. They will wear the brands on their tee-shirts and send virals to their friends. The new world has seen huge investment by the likes of Google, and the business model for digital response has finally challenged the most established brand medium of all, TV.
The spate of investment this year into advertising technology reveals a confidence in a new business plan, where data does indeed have a commercial outlet in user profiling and cross-channel media convergence. Behavioural advertising should be about asking a person what they are interested in and then feeding them the information in sequence and giving them the tools to be able to make an educated and informed decision for themselves -- forming a bond and a relationship.
Each part of this process can be measured, but not by a mere single response alone, but rather by learning and listening to what the metrics (ultimately the users) are saying. They are spending prolonged time investigating, they are assimilating information, they are discussing with peers, and they are building up a positive perception until they are ready to make a commitment. These are important building blocks and are powerful and potentially measurable, but it starts with individuals who collectively make up the mass.
There are some useful examples coming from global brands which define the present and near future of digital advertising. A campaign for Sony Ericsson's K500i that ran across the smaller European markets this year, not only followed a user through a conversion life cycle, but also followed them through a range of MSN properties, breaking out of the browser, into email and onto the desktop and any combination thereof. It is the tangible start of cross-channel advertising in a real and measurable sense. To go a stage further (by following that same user from the browser, to desktop, onto mobile, to TV, then to the digital billboard), is now just about adding extra channels: and a graspable achievement, as all media becomes digitally enabled.
Dean Donaldson is responsible for channel development, EMEA, at Eyeblaster.