Many of us have sat through industry conferences where respected leaders in the digital space quote the industry average 0.1 percent click-through rate (CTR) as a “99.9 percent failure.” On the flip side, digital media teams will cheer results like CTRs 0.4 percent as being “four times the industry average!”
So while fans of old-school TV-heavy plans like to call digital media teams to the carpet for this type of performance, I like to remind them of a simple fact: no one clicks on TV ads either. For those of us who work in digital media, we are confronted with the absence of an action as a performance indicator. If only we could prove how many people leave the room or look at their tablet when the TV commercial airs…
Taking the higher road, I would challenge your colleagues to think about it like this: Would you care if your click-through rate was zero if you could prove that display ads moved the sales needle and did so efficiently?
When Disruption Went from Good to Bad
With big moves in digital spending going to content creation and paid posts on social media, display ads are more and more frequently being referred to as a waste of money. But think of what they started as and what they can mean now.
In the beginning, display ads were new and eye-catching and were meant to drive you somewhere — usually to a brand website or content destination. You could look back and measure where your site traffic was coming from and optimize appropriately. Contextual ad placements and retargeting were progress in the space, followed by high-impact and rich media executions. These latter versions were better at “disruption,” but became more annoying than useful, and hence, have largely become invisible.
But at their core, the standard units we all know are still in fact ad units — as in advertising.
Having worked both agency and client sides of the business, I have seen a trend for marketers to drive down the costs of these units to become almost commodity-like. As a result, most display units became quickly executed, inexpensive ad buys, and — let’s face it — they looked like cheaply made ads. And when brands actually spent money on ads, they tended to spend on sizzle versus substance and forgot the basics including brand registration and product benefits.
Making Display Work Harder in 2014
As marketers continue to find ways to harvest all the available data at hand, a few key players in digital media targeting have accomplished what used to be the impossible — linking online ad viewing to in-store store sales*. And it’s not just the measurement that is important; we can now target who sees our display based on historical purchase behavior.
I recently worked a campaign for our Wisk brand that we deployed 100 percent digitally across several display and social media partners. What we found was surprising; our display ads that were delivered based on real-world, purchase-based targeting were consistently showing abysmal click-through rates. But when we finished our campaign and measured the performance of each vendor, the purchase-based targeted display ads proved to be top performers.
Some other key learning for us was to be conscious of not putting too fine a point on our targeting. It’s tempting to get very specific with your data, like finding pet owners who have allergies, shop at Target and buy lots of yogurt, but every layer of targeting you utilize makes the target audience smaller. When using this data, you have to be aware of balancing your need for scale against your ability to target.
And we most certainly saw that context still matters; our targeted ads worked better when the messaging was linked to, and delivered in, places most closely related to the consumer’s mindset. For us, that was split into areas where our brand’s product benefits made sense with subject matter our users were searching out or when we delivered value messages and offers to those who were more in a shopping mode.
Display isn’t dead. Not yet, anyway. Like any good marketing tool, you have to keep up with emerging technology to make it work as hard as possible for you.
Creative matters. You don’t have to put print-ad efforts behind every piece of display, but you can’t ignore the basics of good advertising.
It’s not just who, but also where and when. Yes, reaching targets based on their purchase behavior boosts your odds of success, but the context of environment and message still has to make sense.
Over-targeting will kill your campaign. The ad business is still largely a numbers game, but with digital, the numbers are a lot more visible up front. Balance needs to ensure you can hit your overall objectives.
And remember, the next time someone throws low CTRs at you as a sign of failure, remind them that no one clicks on TV ads either.
*There are limited solid players in this space, and I’d imagine that readers of this post will know them; however, I don’t want to turn this post into an ad for these vendors. Message me on Twitter @BrendanOmarra if you need to know who they are.