Has the Balance of Power Finally and Permanently Shifted?

Although creative talent has long been at the center of most traditional agencies, online advertising has spurred a shift in the balance of power between creative and media. Thousands of online publishers and their myriad of potential placements create an overwhelming array of media options. Through strategic planning and data-driven optimization, media planners now play a critical role in the success of most online advertising efforts.

Naturally, the growth in targeting options makes media planning even more important. Media can now be purchased in almost any format imaginable (and combinations thereof): daypart, broadband/dial-up, PRIZM clusters, past advertiser interactions, and publisher surfing profiles represent just a handful online media options.

By utilizing effective segmentation schemes, advertisers can generate significant improvements in performance. For three recent Advertising.com campaigns, published research cited lifts in conversion rates ranging from 167 percent to over 3,100 percent for targeted media relative to untargeted advertising.

Any advertiser who is not experimenting with targeting increasingly runs the risk of being outmaneuvered by clever competitors. At the same time, any advertiser who focuses solely on media targeting without giving serious thought to creative is making an increasingly common and costly mistake.

Perfect Partners: Targeted Media and Innovative Creative

In the most successful online targeting campaigns, effective segmentation schemes go hand in hand with innovative creative.

As an example, consider the marketing challenge faced by a national broadband provider. A very simple targeting scheme would deliver different messages to dial-up users (much faster at a comparable cost), broadband surfers (switch now, first month free), current customers (free month for each referral) and lapsed customers (reduced monthly rate). By tailoring relevant messages to each specific segment, campaign performance would likely be vastly enhanced.

Alternatively, consider a luxury automobile manufacturer who implements a simple re-messaging targeting scheme aimed at past site visitors. Recognizing that automobiles are a longer lead time, highly considered purchase - and well aware that past site visitors comprise some of the most highly qualified potential buyers - the manufacturer could afford to message this smaller, highly qualified audience with larger creative sizes and rich media. More expensive and compelling creative would reinforce key selling points and evoke strong emotion and aspiration among these past visitors.

While it sounds simple -- incredibly, many online marketers fail to enhance their targeting efforts with relevant and innovative creative. As a result, these marketers may erroneously conclude that targeting does not work - when in fact the real problem lay with the corresponding, irrelevant creative.

Some Practical Advice

In order to maximize the effectiveness of targeted media, advertisers should adhere to several principles from the very start of campaign planning:

- Start with a strong campaign brief. Prior to launching any targeting efforts, advertisers should take the time to craft a thoughtful and detailed campaign brief. Included in this should be descriptions of each potential customer segment - and the brief should require that both targeting scheme proposals and potential creative treatments fit against these segments.

- Invest some of your projected media savings into more compelling creative sizes, formats, and offers. Targeted media has proven to generate higher ROI for many advertisers, largely by reducing media waste to unqualified prospects. Since waste is eliminated, advertisers can afford to utilize more expensive creative and more compelling offers to the remaining targeted prospects. This can further improve recall and response rates. In fact, rather than reduce the importance of creative, targeting should provide fuel for explosive creative innovation.

- Plan to test different messages to each unique segment. For each unique customer segment, several different creative themes and messages should be tested. Within two weeks after launch, the best creative treatments can be identified and further improved.

- Be patient. Advertisers should not expect best results at launch. Rather, through ongoing testing and optimization of media and creative combinations, far stronger performance can be achieved after four to six weeks.

- Force your creative and media partners to work together. Perhaps most importantly, advertisers should provide strong leadership to their creative and media partners. Creative talent should sit in on media plan discussions, and vice versa. And where possible, an extra week or two should be built into campaign planning to allow adequate time for full discussion and iteration.

Ultimately, the balance of power has not shifted from creative to media. Rather, the recent growth of targeting allows both disciplines to cooperatively produce more value than previously possible. Creative is more important than ever - and so is media.

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