Commentary

Escaping the Black Box

Advertisers benefit tremendously from the vast reach that blind networks provide, yet struggle on how to protect their brand and message when they can't see the face of their audience. Marketers can select a particular channel or category, allowing them to reach people based on a particular interest in a category. If they are truly maximizing online advertising to reach their marketing objectives, then marketers must leverage each network opportunity -- both transparent and blind -- as best possible.

So how do you achieve a healthy balance of targeted reach across transparent and blind networks?

First of all, tailor your ads differently for the audiences you know vs. the audiences you don't. Think of it as a date. If you know the person you're about to go out with, you'll know enough about the date from previous discussions to know how to dress, where to take your date, what to say.... or maybe more important, what NOT to say. On the other hand, if it's a blind date, you may want to exercise greater caution on what you say, what you don't say, and err on the side of conservatism when deciding what to wear.

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Same is true with advertising. One creative and marketing strategy doesn't fit all; use the opportunity to customize to your marketing opportunity and leverage the size and scope of networks to reach your target audience. On Google Site Targeting, or any other transparent network, you select exactly where you advertise, and can tailor your creative and landing pages to meet their interests. With blind networks, you may want to take a more cautious approach, especially if you're protecting your brand, as you really don't know exactly where your ad will end up. Transparent brand site networks can provide a nice list of quality content sites to associate your brand with. Everything from creative to copy should be tailored to the environment it will be displayed in.

For example, if you're a luxury shoe retailer, you could select to advertise on a haute couture site, tailor your message and highlight your brand. On the flip side, if your ad is on a blind network, you may not want to use the same message, as your brand could easily get associated with a less desirable site like "Tony's Obsessive Compulsive Shoe Site." It may be highly relevant, but you may not want your brand affiliated with Tony's. But if these blind networks provide huge reach opportunities at a fraction of the cost of the branded networks, then how can you protect your brand while still benefiting from the lower cost networks?

Marketers concerned specifically about protecting their brand while still needing to reach certain ROI metrics should consider having an entirely separate "blind" display campaign that only focuses on the direct response objectives, leaving their brand entirely out of the display advertisement and in some cases the landing pages to avoid an adverse brand association. If you are concerned about your brand, adjust your message to be more focused on the end goal and less on the brand message or association. If you are using this type of network, then focus your message to reflect the end goal of the campaign, not so much to the brand. If the consumer is interested and clicks, then you can determine whether or not you want to send the consumer directly to your brand's site, or to a generic landing page. It really depends on how closely you want to align your brand with a blind network yet still accomplish performance marketing-like metrics.

Whether your campaign hits your desired conversion rates, click-through rates, costs-per-acquisition or other defined metric is all that truly matters when it comes to blind but vast networks. Protect your brand and pay for performance while using customized landing pages that continue the direct response message.

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