A Crisis of Unrealistic Expectations

The dot com industry spawned its share of buzzwords and buzz phrases that can no longer be used in casual conversation without eliciting a groan and a roll of the eyes – "paradigm," "push technology," "outside the box." The last time I was able to talk about these things outside of the context of a joke was in 1998 or so.

There's another phrase I'd like to see go the way of the dinosaurs – "Crisis of Confidence."

As the news media cover various ethical slips in the bookkeeping practices of companies like Enron, WorldCom and others, we're seeing individual investors pulling out of stocks en masse and investing in things like real estate, precious metals and other commodities. What's really at work here is a Crisis of Unrealistic Expectations. Sure, we should hold accountable those companies that misclassified revenue and attempted to hide debts, but I think we have to look at the big picture here. Investors seem to be stuck in the "go go '90s" and want to realize the unbelievable returns of the dot-com era. Obviously, this isn't happening any time soon.



What does the crisis in the financial markets mean for our business? It should be obvious to everyone. Whenever a public company needs to cut costs to make a stock more attractive to investors, usually one of the first things to be slashed from the budget is marketing.

With interactive marketing's reputation taking the lumps it did after the bursting of the dot com bubble, interactive marketing and advertising programs stand out like a sore thumb to a marketing director who needs to cut budgets. That is, they do unless we can beat the rest of the marketing and media vehicles that are a part of the mix.

We can make interactive marketing initiatives very difficult to "turn off" by leveraging their superior accountability and measurability. I'm not talking here about moving things back toward click through rates and click to buy metrics.

Predictive tools to measure reach and frequency are still in their infancy. However, most ad servers have the ability to show actual reach and frequency for campaigns as they are running. If clients have specific reach and frequency goals, particularly a given reach at a certain frequency level, we have the tools to be able to provide this information with no guesswork. Traditional media vehicles can't make this boast – they tend to get their reach and frequency information from projections.

Traditional media still can't measure audiences as well as interactive media. In the case that a client's planning target differs somewhat from their buying target, we should be quick to point out that Interactive media isn't constrained by traditional demographic breakouts. We should be showing our clients how interactive media reach their target more precisely and efficiently. Contextual and behavioral targeting should help make this case.

Bottom line results are very important right now. Interactive programs are comparatively cheap and efficient. We need to show our clients exactly how efficient interactive programs can be. Clients are going to want to see exactly what their expenditures are getting them, so we should break from the traditional post-buy analyses and get into what they're really looking for – ROI analysis.

Try some new cost/performance metrics when recapping the performance of an interactive program. If your goal is to lift consideration of the brand, try measuring the effects of your online campaign with an online brand study. It might be interesting to your client to see a metric that showed how many prospects were moved how far down the consideration funnel toward purchase, and at what cost. Past experience has taught me that online advertising can have a very substantial impact on brand metrics. We can quantify this effect, so the next logical step is to figure cost into the equation. You might find that interactive programs are more efficient in driving consideration than their counterparts in traditional media. We can create significant interactive programs for the cost of a prime TV spot or two, so now is the time to really drive the cost effectiveness home.

One approach I took with a former client was assigning points to lifts in consideration. By adding up the total points achieved by the program and dividing by the total number of program participants, I was able to get an average figure for the entire campaign. From there, we were able to develop "cost per consideration point" metrics to put the campaign's effectiveness in perspective. The obvious next step would be to compare these custom metrics across various media packages.

The Crisis of Confidence is going to affect the advertising and marketing industry in many ways, all of them negative. Let's take some time now to showcase interactive's performance and make sure that interactive doesn't represent the first neck on the chopping block.

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