Measure Twice, Cut Once
Recently, a colleague gave a presentation on display advertising. Among the greatest reaction he received was to the portion that talked about how click-through is no longer the end-all, be-all measure of display advertising performance.
Frankly, it's a good thing that click-through isn't the only measure of success of display advertising or we'd all be sunk. Only about 32% of internet users actually click on display banners, and the demographics on those who do click don't exactly create excitement among marketers.
The good news is that we're seeing a lot of evidence that display advertising functions far beyond just serving as a direct link to your website. At their simplest, banners can have a similar impact on consumers that driving by a billboard does. At their more intricate, website takeovers and rich media units may even begin to broach the type of exposure and impact that TV can have.
And yet, if you're measuring solely on clicks, you'll likely deem these elements a failure.
It's not to say that your target audience doesn't click. But where and when they click is much more dependent on the point in the purchase funnel at which you catch them. And how you evaluate each element of your digital presence should be based on that timing.
In travel there are three distinct phases the consumer goes through prior and during purchase -- dreaming, planning, and booking. The use of display is appropriate in each of these occasions, but site selection, the message and the measure of success will vary.
At the dream stage your prospect may or may not even be actively thinking about their next vacation. At this point you're trying to trigger that thought, whether for immediate action or for filing away when the time is right. Site selection at this point should be broader, geared toward the everyday interests and lifestyle habits of your customer. Messaging should be more brand-focused, and measurement for these placements should be more about impressions than clicks.
Does this mean you can't put a CTA in this messaging? No. But acknowledging that your audience is most likely way at the top of the funnel at this point, this placement is more about creating a positive and lasting brand impression than about forcing an outcome the user isn't nearly ready to complete.
Planning and Booking are the two more active areas, where you should begin to look beyond impressions to clicks. You'll reach this audience in sites more focused on travel, from the broader reach travel lifestyle and media sites to the very down-funnel OTAs. But beware only measuring the Planning phase in clicks.
During the Planning phase, consumers jump all around to various sites, aggregating information as they work toward a decision. They are not necessarily ready to come to your site yet and are still most likely still viewing your display, whether brand or now, more likely, offer-based creative, as a billboard. So impressions are still a key measure in the Planning phase, but an added and very telling measure at this phase is Search activity.
The billboard affect in the Planning stage should have impact on your Search clicks -- consumers who see your message now but act on it later will most likely do so via a search engine, in a very similar pattern to TV. You should look for an uptick in searches for key brand terms and also offer terms, depending on the creative you are running in Planning phase-targeted media. So when do clicks really count? The Booking phase. Especially in the most down-funnel placements such as the OTAs, clicks become your greatest indicator of success because at this point it's not about interest, it's about action -- driving people to your site to complete the sale.
Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum. Your measurement plan must always account for outside influences, whether paid or earned media. But when evaluating your digital display campaigns, understanding the value of impressions and clicks, and where each one is most valuable, is critical to ensuring optimization of your plan against the right measures, hopefully leading to a more a successful outcome.