Monday, February 19, 2007

Online Advertising Analysis Paralysis

In the quest for metrics, are we stifling innovation and forgetting how to tell stories?

I’m not sure when spreadsheets became a must-have tool for publishers, advertisers and their agencies, but it’s getting tougher each day to separate the media people from the bean counters and number crunchers. A byproduct of the Web’s legitimacy as a mainstream medium is that everyone from the CFO, to the marketing director, to the account executive to the media buyer is getting involved in the marketing process and they’re demanding “metrics” 24/7. That’s great for Excel lovers. No so great for the rest of us.

Phillips Business Publications recently surveyed 300 B-to-B marketers to find out how well they thought they were doing. Turns out half (49%) gave their online marketing efforts a grade of C or lower. Imagine what their prospects think? And may I ask what you’re all measuring so intently? That online advertising works?

Based on the conversations I’ve had with our clients and agencies this year, it seems those who are most anxious to get their weekly (sometimes daily) click tracking reports from us are the ones least likely to answer my basic question: “So what do you guys do with all this data?” Usually an awkward pause ensues or a mumbled comment about a boss needing the data ASAP for a budget meeting that afternoon.

Sometimes I ask: “Now that you have all the clicks, opens, impressions and pass-alongs from your campaign with us” can you tell me what kind of conversion rates you’re getting from our readers on the back end?” Another awkward pause follows.

I’m not that smart. But I’m smart enough to know where to find the smart people and this is some of what they’ve shared with me. If you’re trying to develop a campaign that’s really going to “break through” to business professionals, then you might want to read on.

“It’s great that everything is so measurable on the Web. Unfortunately we get bogged down in metrics and that tends to stilt innovation,” noted Steve Weitzman, CEO of CMP Media at the Business Marketing Association’s monthly breakfast roundtable earlier this month in New York City. CMP is a leading producer of magazines, Web sites and events for tech folks.

“In the zeal to get our value proposition and ROI across, have we forgotten how to tell a good story?” asked fellow BMA panelist, Deirdre Bigley, IBM’s Vice President of Advertising and Digital Media. “If you’re not engaging the prospect, they’re going to skip over you. You have to produce interesting and compelling content and do so, on a regular cadence.”

I’m still looking for a utility in Excel that enables you to do that.

“Marketers have so many more ways to reach their audience, it’s not the same as before,” said Bob Felsenthal, Publisher of Media Business Magazine, who moderated the BMA roundtable. Felsenthal pointed out that online advertising has been growing at 27 percent a year — five times faster than the overall business advertising economy — and now accounts for eight percent of the $24 billion spent annually by B-to-B marketers. A half decade ago Web advertising accounted for about one percent of the total. In the mean time, print media, the largest component of B-to-B’s $9.2 billion spending total, has been essentially flat (0.1% growth in 2006).

“Online is clearly the ‘at-work’ medium,” said Geoff Ramsey, CEO, of research firm eMarketer, who was also a panelist at the February BMA breakfast. “Most business people are online daily, and two-thirds of them are online at least two-and-a-half hours per day. No other medium comes close to this kind of ‘mind share’. Online weaves across the whole purchase cycle, especially the pre-purchase information gathering phase.”

The BMA panel agreed that “sponsored content” is becoming increasingly important to B-to-B marketers and eMarketer research shows that e-mail, Webcasts, Web sites and search engines are now rated among the “most effective” marketing tools it tracks.

According to eMarketer, more than half (53%) of the business audience watches Webcasts versus 22 percent of the overall U.S. population. Among “at-work” viewers, 72 percent consider Webcasts “very convenient” and 44 percent say they find them effective. What’s more, 95 percent of business viewers view the archived version of Webcasts, rather than the live versions. Thanks to the Web, consumers are taking control of the content they want and consuming it on their own terms on their own time. They no longer accept having your message pushed at them.

Business marketing has always been about getting qualified buyers and sellers together. “Nothing’s changed about that, but the Internet has leveled the barriers to doing this better,” said CMP’s Weitzner. “The Web used to be part of the Experiment Budget. Now it’s part of the core marketing mix.”

Weitzner says the size of a company influences how likely they are to adopt new media advertising. CMP’s smaller advertisers have actually been more likely to cling to print advertising its larger ones. They don’t have the Experiment Budget. The larger guys have a better understanding of the ‘customer buy cycle'. They’re not just looking for quick leads. They’re looking for full and strategic integration of their media spend, Weitzner says.

The Internet has been great for separating the ‘tire kickers’ from truly interested prospects. It’s also made marketers more accountable and responsive to potential customers. “The Web’s great for qualified lead generation, but you better respond within 24 hours,” cautions Weitzner. “Otherwise, you have pissed off prospects on your Web site and probably telling public forums about your follow up performance.”

Borrowing From TV and Video

Deirdre Bigley said IBM is borrowing from television and magazine journalists to show the human side of IBM. “We’re like ‘brand journalists’ now and believe me, it’s not easy. We’re trying to take one good story about what IBM’s doing to help the world and move it across multiple platforms — video, TV, print, the Web and so forth.”

“We’re still in the early stages of online video,” said eMarketer’s Ramsey. “We’re still trying to figure out the business model, but storytelling by advertisers and agencies will be huge. Unlike television, [online video] is much more measurable. Much more accountable.”

For B-to-B marketers, the difference between the Web and other media is that on the Web, it’s not relaxation time, you’re still at work, said CMP’s Weitzner. “Marketers have to figure out how to be in context when they deliver their messages to busy people at work. The key is not just will they watch it? It’s how will they watch it?”

Branding on the Web

Is it possible for business marketers to accomplish brand building on the Web? Steve Rappaport, Knowledge Solution Director for the New York-based Advertising Research Foundation, thinks so. I caught up with Steve on the train to work last week and bent his ear for a few stops.

“I’m not sure that the distinction between brand advertising and lead generation/direct response remains as meaningful as it once was,” Steve said. “Online advertising’s interactivity and involvement is moving marketers to new models, such as Engagement, that blur the boundaries of these traditional functions. Because customers now have greater choice and control in dealing with marketing communications, savvy marketers recognize the need to make it worth their while by creating and delivering compelling brand experiences that inform, entertain and educate in ways that lead to purchase, retention and loyalty.”

Hmm. Any examples of this? “Sure. VISA USA’s Business Breakthrough program provides one example of this approach. In just three months it generated two million site visits by small business owners who sought to engage with the brand, not just for card services, but for business insight. That’s more than just branding or direct response.”

READER NOTE: Steve is one of the authors of “The Online Advertising Playbook,” published by John Wiley & Sons 2007. If you’re serious about taking your Web advertising results to the next level, you should get yourself a copy.

Now that’s smart.

1 comment:

willson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.