From search to social media, the Web has transformed the traditional sales cycle, making it possible to move consumers more quickly and seamlessly from awareness to consideration to purchase.
A single ad can inform a customer about a product, provide instant access to the more in-depth information they need to make a decision, and lead them to an online storefront to complete the transaction -- all in a matter of clicks.
To date, this effect has been limited to direct-response advertising -- at least, as far as we've been able to measure it. We know which banner clicks have led to immediate sales, but we haven't had a way to evaluate the impact of brand advertising on conversions. Instead, we've had to take it on faith that investments in brand adverting are money well spent.
We allocate these investments according to our best guess on where they will do the most good. After the fact, marketers face the attribution challenge: determining the impact of specific marketing activities on customer conversions. Which of our brand ads were most effective? Did people who didn't click on our banners end up converting through another channel anyway? Faith is not a prudent strategy.
About those metrics: while the search continues for a way to assess the impact of individual brand ads as accurately as direct-response clicks or calls, broader industry studies are beginning to clarify the relative effectiveness of different forms of performance-based brand advertising. As you evaluate the data to guide brand investments, pay attention to the campaign effectiveness figures that most directly impact sales: awareness, association, recall, favorability, and purchase intent.
There is no single remedy to address the attribution challenge for brand advertising, but there are steps marketers can take to make it both more measurable and more effective in moving people down the sales funnel. At the very least, there are participatory, engaging ad experiences that will guarantee message comprehension and eliminate some of the guesswork.
Consider the following scenario. As the weather in New York City turns cold, we'll see more ads for tropical destinations. If Air Jamaica advertises on billboards, bus depots, Taxi TV, television and the local NY newspapers and magazines, I'm likely to connect with their message one or multiple times.
It won't be clear to anyone where actual cognition with the marketing message occurred, and the purchase of a ticket will come through an online travel aggregator, over the phone or through their site in the absence of that attribution. A search engine will likely take the credit for being “the last mile,” but they have not created demand -- they have simply harvested intent.
In order to get closer to better brand attribution solutions, the first step is to stop measuring the wrong things. Since the earliest days of online advertising, we've focused largely on clicks -- that's what we've been able to count. But being measurable isn't the same thing as being meaningful.
While direct-response advertising provides a way to connect ad units with specific consumer actions, brand advertising is by nature less direct: We're instilling brand memories and creating emotional bonds -- but again, there's no way to precisely know where and when that sale will actually take place.
By confusing the measurement of direct-response performance with brand advertising impact and value, we only cloud the issue and make it harder to gain real insight.
It is important to focus on serving brand ads where people are most likely to be engaged by them. The vast majority of online advertising is simply ignored by most consumers. Unless they are already predisposed to pay attention to a specific message --for example, when they see search ads that reflect keywords -- even the best ad creative is unlikely to catch their eye. And banners have it even worse. Where brand advertising is concerned, the banner is dead.
Instead, “fish where the fish are” by buying ad units that deliver your message where the consumer is already paying attention. Video is one way to engage consumers through a more integrated advertising experience, and authentication and other challenge-response tests are another, prompting users to interact with your ad and delivering a more meaningful impact on the metrics that matter most.
The last mile in brand advertising is a long and twisted road. As an industry, we aspire to match the binary decision-making of the direct-response world, but we are making great strides in determining some of the instances where attention was definitely paid.