For Digital Publishers: Ditch the Survey and Embrace the Scientific Beauty of Web Analytics
After 23 years of conducting advertising research, I have reluctantly come to this conclusion: Most digital ads aren't very good, and unless advertisers alter their approach to digital-advertising research, many are likely to assume the medium doesn't work for them and prematurely give up on it.
Why are so many online ads so very bad? It's not because the medium is inherently weak, as some suspect. Rather it's because very few online advertisers are getting useful feedback about their online efforts and so aren't exploiting the medium's extraordinary power to create dynamic and, most important, mutable advertising that consistently attracts and holds reader interest -- and promotes sales and branding.
Here is the problem. Most online advertisers are still using research methods that made sense in the last century and for the advertising vehicles of the time. Those research methods employ what we might call an "exogenous" approach: the advertiser and research are on the outside looking in, using surveys with small samples and asking respondents to report on their attitudes, buying habits, and advertising readership. Of course, there are several problems with this approach, two of which are that: a) some respondents lie, and b) the rest, being human after all, are often inaccurate, uncertain, or incomplete about their attitudes, buying habits, etc.
Yet, some digital publishers still use sample-based online surveys to measure evaluate advertising effectiveness for their clients, and none of the information gathered from a survey is likely to provide advertisers with the kinds of insights that can turn a weak advertising campaign into a juggernaut.
It doesn't have to be this way. With a little creativity - and a willingness to break new ground - an online publisher can move almost any advertiser from the outside to the inside: from simply observing and waiting for advertising results or for a research report, to delving deeply into the center of an advertising campaign, getting vital intelligence about what's working, what isn't, and why - and, most important, quickly enacting and testing changes to increase the power of the ad until it starts to fully realize its goals.
Surveys don't allow you to do that. Web analytics does. And if they're going to thrive, publishers have to become more adept at web analytics to demonstrate their true value, which is real and considerable, but awaits discovery through the use of accurate measurement tools.
Advertisers don't need surveys, not when they can harness the flow of information at far less cost with web analytics, which delves deeply into the center of an ad campaign and allows you to monitor and test creative elements (headlines, layouts, photography); engagement with the material (time spent on a page, downloading of featured items, usage of links to Facebook, etc.); and action elements (quality and content of inbound phone calls, coupon downloads, requests to contact representatives). No survey can even approach the quality and utility of this kind of advertising information.
With this kind of information, the advertiser gets real-time, behavioral feedback, not fallible memories of behavior. Perhaps more important, with the analytic information in hand, the advertiser can immediately improve the creative, an opportunity that no other medium provides to this extent. And the publishers who can provide advertisers with this service? They reclaim the client relationship from ad networks and earn client loyalty for providing such a valuable service.
This win-win approach isn't new, just recontextualized: Right now, Google provides and promotes the Google Analytics system to its advertisers for free. The reluctance of so many publishers to provide analytics tools for their clients has negated the Internet's great advantage - its measurability - and publishers have missed the opportunity to demonstrate their value, which our analytics data suggest is considerably higher than they - or their advertisers - fully appreciate.
Survey research, done right, is still a valuable tool for print and broadcast advertisers. But digital advertisers who ignore the power of web analytics in favor of survey research are more likely to approach excellence than to achieve it.