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Capturing the Clicks: Eight tips for making online advertising that really works

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By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 8, 2007

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Special Feature


Capturing the Clicks: Eight tips for making online advertising that really works

by Dottie DeHart

June 8, 2007 -- The World Wide Web has been up and running for a little over ten years now, and during this decade many new frontiers have opened. You can email a business associate who's on the other side of the world, watch your favorite TV shows online, download music, and take customer orders from your state-of-the-art website. But even after a decade, there is one area that still leaves many marketers and business owners befuddled. Online advertising. And if you're still puzzling over why your latest campaign failed, the experts at The Advertising Research Foundation say you've probably been chasing those all-important mouse clicks in a way that's, well--less than scientific.

You've probably been chasing those all-important mouse clicks in a way that's, well--less than scientific.

"Most Internet advertising campaigns are based on hunches and guesswork, not on the endless amounts of research that show what really brings great results in online advertising," says Joe Plummer of the Advertising Research Foundation. "Until now there hasn't been a standard resource that marketers could turn to for research-backed, trustworthy advice."

The Online Advertising Playbook, written by Plummer and coauthor along with Steve Rappaport, Taddy Hall, and Robert Barocci of The Online Advertising Playbook: Proven Strategies and Tested Tactics from the Advertising Research Foundation. promises to become the go-to guide for marketers, brand managers, agency leaders, and entrepreneurs--has changed that reality. It provides actionable, proven principles that will help all marketers leverage the vast opportunities that exist in Internet advertising. The book synthesizes research and learning from over 1,200 research documents on Internet advertising, providing a comprehensive look at what it takes to build a successful online advertising campaign for any company.

What do we really know about using the Internet to advertise effectively? More to the point, what should we know? The authors shed light on eight key areas to consider.

Target the right consumers

With online advertising you can locate precise groups of consumers, whether they are current customers or attractive prospects. You do it by targeting, and the practice will help you deliver messages that really matter to your customers. "There are several newer online targeting approaches from the old school, which is demographic and geographic, to the new school, which is purchase-based," says Plummer. "You'll need to get as much information about your customers as possible to determine which method is going to work for you. One thing to look out for is over-defining your market. If you do, you could end up advertising to your most responsive customers, but they may represent only a small slice of your customer base. Keep your focus on the targeting approaches that help you create the most innovative, cost-effective, and successful advertisements."

Advertising effectiveness is all about reaching the right people the right number of times with the right combination of media.

What about reach and frequency?

Learn the magic numbers. Advertising effectiveness is all about reaching the right people the right number of times with the right combination of media. So how many times can you present an ad before it loses its effectiveness? According to a common industry rule of thumb, most brand objectives reach diminishing returns somewhere between four and ten exposures to an individual. Success will come for those who strike a balance between reach and frequency. Successful online marketers will be those who embrace online advertising with concepts and metrics that emerge organically from online advertising, and reduce their dependence on traditional reach and frequency measures.

Don't try to recycle your offline ad

From offline to online, how should your ad change? Probably quite a bit. It's likely that you won't be able to simply tweak your offline ad, toss it up on the World Wide Web, and watch as it brings in customers. You'll need to create an ad with a prominent logo, clear ad flow, and a format matched to the job it needs to perform in order to effectively get across your message. Ad types, ad sizes, and the use of rich media video, games, and other new creative forms impact branding and advertising effectiveness in a positive way. Creativity is critical. Colorful, engaging executions with eye-catching headlines or interactive capabilities will be needed as clutter increases and as brand advertising becomes more interwoven with content."

Strike a connection between online search and advertising

Search engine marketing has proven itself for traffic building, lead generation, and branding. The first step is using offline print and broadcast advertising to drive consumers to their computers to search for your products. "Consider using highly specialized search engines beyond the big three—Google, Yahoo!, and MSN—because research shows searchers who are on more intense missions spend more time at the specialized sites," says Plummer. "Keep in mind that most search activity is time-challenged, so you'll need to create highly engaging search text ads with excellent titles. Always make sure that the text ad or listing you use takes consumers to landing pages that will be most beneficial for them. This helps meet their expectations and immediately engages them in your brand experience."

Taking customers to landing pages that are beneficial to them helps meet their expectations and immediately engages them in your brand experience.

Take advantage of online shopping and buying

Online or offline searching, shopping, and purchasing all go together. Some 90 percent of shoppers conduct some sort of research before buying from a web retailer or offline store. This is a major opportunity for online advertising that shouldn't be ignored. "Online shopping and/or buying sites need to reflect a genuine commitment to the consumer," says Plummer. "The key for success is for marketing and IT to work together to create a user-friendly, brand-building, and action-driven experience with minimal hassle for the customer or potential buyer."

Use email and word of mouth to your advantage

The communication capabilities of the Internet have made email and word-of-mouth marketing viable possibilities for marketers. Research from eMarketer shows that close to 90 percent of all Internet users aged three and older--162 million kids, teens, and adults--used email at least once a month in 2006, sending messages about their business and personal lives, and yes, even recommending products they like to friends and family. Yes, that's word-of-mouth marketing at work.

"Both email and word-of-mouth marketing have their challenges," says Plummer. "With email marketing you'll need to create an ethical permission-based email marketing plan in order to keep your messages out of spam folders. And as for word-of-mouth marketing, just remember that you can't control it. Negative word of mouth can often disseminate much faster than positive word of mouth. Therefore, it is critical to integrate email marketing with positive product usage and service experiences." 

While digital media are more trackable and accountable than most other forms of advertising, the noise-to-data ratio remains high.

Measure your success

The original promise of online advertising was that the Internet would allow more accurate measurement, the ability to gauge effectiveness, and the opportunity to optimize performance in real time. While digital media are more trackable and accountable than most other forms of advertising, the noise-to-data ratio remains high. There is such an overwhelming amount of information that can be collected that it becomes increasingly difficult to discern actionable metrics and insights under the avalanche of data. "Thankfully, many measurement services are available," says Plummer. "Depending on your goals, budget, and degree of sophistication, you may need to utilize several services to get a complet view of your online marketing."

Three new advertising models

Research from The Advertising Research Foundation discovered that three new models of advertising are emerging, and they're different from the mass-media-rooted interrupt-and-repeat model and the search-based targeting model currently in vogue. It's likely that all three of these will ultimately override the current models. Let's take a look at the future of online advertising:

Model 1: The permission-based (opt-in) model, centered on engagement, not exposure
Model 2: The model of consumer empowerment where both the time spent with messages and even the generation of word-of-mouth messages emanate from the consumer
Model 3: A model of advertising as a service to consumers

"These new models of advertising, while stimulated by experimentation online and emerging media forms, will become valuable models for advertising in general, not just online advertising," says Plummer. "It is an exciting time for marketing and advertising practitioners and for consumers as well."

About the Authors

Joe Plummer, PhD, is the Chief Research Officer at The Advertising Research Foundation and recipient of the 2006 Distinguished Marketer Award from the Academy of Marketing Science. He was previously executive vice president for McCann-Erickson WorldGroup.
Steve Rappaport is the Director of Knowledge Solutions at The Advertising Research Foundation.

Taddy Hall is the Chief Strategy Officer at The Advertising Research Foundation and a well-known authority in the fields of innovation and strategy.

Robert Barocci is the President/CEO of The Advertising Research Foundation. He was previously president of Leo Burnett International.

The Advertising Research Foundation was founded in 1936 by the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies. It is the preeminent professional organization in distributing fact-based knowledge to aid decision making in the advertising, marketing, and media industries.

About the Book

The Online Advertising Playbook: Proven Strategies and Tested Tactics from the Advertising Research Foundation (Wiley, 2007, ISBN: 978-0-470-05105-4, $29.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797.

 

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