Online Media Planning: Testing is Still the Best Medicine
It amazes me every day when I see RFPs come back for one of our shop's most recent buys. We send out RFPs requesting some specific information about a site, a proposal for inventory and placement, acceptable creative units, and some pricing. We even give a range of what we are looking for in terms of inventory type and level of spend. Most of the time our spending levels are dictated by a strategy applied universally to our clients when they are going onto the web for the first time. That "categorical imperative" (forgive me, Immanuel) of online advertising is "testing."
When pressed, nine times out of ten, a client will always come to realize that the buy you put together for them needs to satisfy a direct response strategy because their success (read YOUR success) will be judged by a cost-per-action metric.
Yet many times, sites continue to advance proposals to clients that seek significant monthly spending commitments above and beyond what seems like a reasonable test. Many of these sites are unproven and in this day and age of accountability, advertisers are expecting to learn from their advertising in ways they'd only been dreaming of before. What messages resonate with audiences? Which turn them off? What combination of placement and ad unit yields the most efficient cost per action? Which sites drive customers with the highest lifetime value? The list of all the things advertisers want to, and can, learn about their advertising and about those to whom they advertise is long.
Ad vendors have hawked their wares for years using the claim that their audiences are the best suited for an advertiser. In traditional media, when asked to prove this claim, planners and buyers were inundated with reams of research and subscriber studies to demonstrate the intrinsic value of a vehicle. Surprisingly, this was enough. But that isn't good enough for a medium as accountable as the web is (and it won't be good enough for traditional media, either, in the future). Advertisers need to be able to test the vehicle before buying into it big. They need to be allowed to minimize their financial exposure at the outset and learn just whether or not a given vehicle works.
So for the first month's buy, pick the sites that have the audience you are looking for and come at a low CPM. I understand cost isn't always the reason to make a choice for or against a site, but you really want to minimize your exposure first time out of the gate. If sites are performing well, bully for you! If not, well, at least it didn't cost you a small fortune in branding opportunity sponsorships to find out.
This approach is in everyone's best interests. - It's good for advertisers because it retains their enthusiasm for the media at large because of its flexibility and utility. Making expenditures with some smarts doesn't look too bad to a board or a balance sheet, either.
- Sites win because, if, indeed, they turn out to be for an advertiser w