Commentary

Relationship Advertising

All advertising has a direct role in selling. The goal of your advertising is to continually move a consumer towards a desired action. It is time to erase the thick line - perhaps canyon is a better word - that separates activities that build awareness and activities that create an action.

It is time to view advertising as a continuous relationship where the goal is to build a deeper commitment through a series of interactions resulting in revenue. Behavioral targeting is a key tool in putting this philosophy into action

To borrow terminology from CRM, I call this view, "relationship advertising." In relationship advertising, every message is a call to action. These actions don't have to be immediate purchases but they are successive commitments in the mind of a customer.

Instead of waiting for a prospect to serendipitously do a keyword search that leads them to you, relationship advertising moves the prospect to action at the customer's natural pace. It leverages behavioral triggers to draw the customer closer to your brand one mental commitment at a time.

What would relationship advertising actually look like? Let's take an example of a couple thinking about a romantic vacation, and a cruise line trying to attract such couples. When that couple first considers a vacation, they may find themselves reading articles about travel and lifestyles in their favorite online newspaper.

The goal of the cruise line, at this point, would be to make the couple aware that a cruise is a great choice for a romantic vacation, and the call to action is for the couple to learn more about a cruise. The competition here isn't another cruise line; it is another vacation choice or no vacation at all.

Once that couple clicks on the ad or simply reads an article about cruises, the cruise line's new goal should be to strengthen the budding relationship. The prospect has shown an interest in cruises, so the message should change from: "A cruise is a great way to have a romantic vacation" to "Our cruise line is the cruise line for you and here is a great package."

The new call to action is activated by the prospect's own commitment level. Once the prospect tries out different cruise configurations, the next set of messages should be deal closers. This thinking can even apply beyond the close to the upsell and for building loyalty.

The point is, that people have processes for making considered purchases and these natural processes have behavioral triggers. Advertisers can either ignore these triggers or build on them. The choice is yours (and your competitors').

So if relationship advertising can be done and it's attractive, what is the barrier? Ignoring logistics for a moment, it is the status quo that separates the metrics, goals, and techniques of direct response and of branding that is the real barrier.

When thinking in a brand mode, the metrics and goals entirely ignore the natural process. An impression is an impression, and that is that. There is no distinction between an impression that reaches a target and an impression that reaches someone who isn't even thinking of a vacation. There are finer nuances that are ignored as well, such as between a traveler who has already decided on buying versus someone who is still deciding between a cruise and a road trip.

With direct response, we have the opposite problem. If the call to action doesn't achieve a sale today, through this link, right now, it is worthless. There is no consideration of the customer's decision process; there is only an end point.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way. Think about your own experience with relationships; I think you'd agree that a build up is usually a good thing. The same is true with relationship advertising. With behavioral targeting, the infrastructure is there for advertisers to view selling and brand building as parts of an integrated process.

We can be sensitive to the behavioral triggers people share and use each one to prompt a call to action and a successive commitment. Now there's a concept: advertising that is continually closing every step of the way.

Omar Tawakol is senior vice president of marketing for Revenue Science, a leader in behavioral targeting for online advertising. He can be reached at feedback@revenuescience.com.

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