The good news: just as many RFPs are going out now as did last year.
The bad news: the average site had a 50/50 chance of getting on the buy last year; the average site now has a one in three shot. After years of expansion, the digital marketplace is consolidating during this recessionary economy.
If you are a well-regarded ad network or a top content site, you are taking a good deal of share. If you are a social media company or a portal, you are more than holding your own. And if you are a leading content site, you are in very good shape.
These are hard times, though, for content sites that are not perceived as leaders in their category. According to Advertiser Perceptions (a client of mine), the top 15 content sites in advertiser conviction ("will place ads over the next 6 months" with the site) are rising dramatically in conviction, compared with the other 170 sites tracked in the company's Advertiser Intelligence Reports.
What separates the winners from the rest in this tough market? Let me share five key findings from the most recent survey:
1. The composition story is critical. Advertisers increasingly view audience composition as a critical separator. The best sites are seen as delivering an audience target that clearly connects with an advertiser's goals. Example: Food Network has built its site on its TV brand strength, offering food advertisers online content that is seen as a perfect match to advertiser goals and audience demographics.
2. Advertisers see leading content sites as an ideal "image environment" for their brand message. Top advertisers need to believe that their brands will gain by association with a site. Image environment reflects the position the site holds in the mind of the advertiser. Is the site a leader, attracting the right audience in the right numbers with the right depth of engagement? And who else is advertising there? Advertisers still pay close attention to the "follow the leader" game. Avis may try harder, but if Hertz is there, you can be, ahem, in the driver's seat to get their business.
3. Don't get carried away by the clickstream. Clickstream metrics are important for advertisers to quantify their success. But we are seeing a return to prominence of "traditional" results advertising criteria: impact on brand awareness, return on investment, product awareness, and so on. Impressions, hits and clicks need to point to something larger -- such as top- and bottom-line results.
4. Research, research, research... In a marketplace where advertisers expect your story to be quantified, research is an essential key to a successful sales story. In fact both syndicated and media-property-sponsored research are becoming increasingly important on advertisers' "must-have" priority list when they are considering a site.
5. Knowledgeable salespeople are key. Advertisers continue to reward sales teams that they perceive as knowledgeable. In fact, online sites that have teams perceived to be knowledgeable see a 57% increase in conviction ("will place ads") over sales teams that do not get high ratings. And this connects to what we have said about the importance of ad results and research. You need a salesperson who can connect all the right dots, one who knows first and foremost all about the advertiser's goals and priorities and is able to weave a results story around his or her deep knowledge of your site's wonderful audience.
The game is changing. Ad networks are no longer just telling a reach and price story. Increasingly they are emulating the likes of Yahoo and Google by providing a rich audience knowledge story that dovetails with an advertiser's campaign goals. And as I mentioned in my last article, Microsoft can offer a sophisticated brand-mapping story that shows how its network is delivering impressions to prospective customers at various stages in the advertiser's sales process.
Front-end audience knowledge via research, effective story-telling around syndicated research, and post-campaign analysis are just a few examples of what advertisers are expecting from the very best digital brands.