I recently wrote an article for CMO.com about the middle of the funnel–the somewhat muddled area where marketers work to move consumers from awareness to preference. These are familiar challenges for marketers, who, even now, surprisingly seldom turn to digital media for a solution.
For the past five years, digital has been increasingly perceived as a direct media. Brands have been the absent presence, allocating a little more budget each year, but never matching the allocation that the online audience would seem to warrant.
Why? Digital supposedly changed the world. It offered accountability that couldn’t be found in other media. Some blamed the medium’s creative options, or “limitations.” Now, I’m not an agency guy, but I believe that if creative were the true hurdle, it would have been jumped a while back. In fact, as recently as last month, Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the IAB, offered brand marketers this reassurance: "The [digital] medium has more creative opportunities than any preceding medium in the history of the universe.”
But new creative units alone will not lead brand marketers to allocate more of their budgets online. Video will help, but the root of brands’ reluctance clearly lies elsewhere.
Ironically, one of the attributes that initially made digital so appealing to marketers now blocks the path to brand acceptance. The accountability that comes with quantitative metrics like CTR and CPC was initially alluring. Even more so was the capacity to “optimize” campaigns within weeks of launch.
However, the metrics that determine a marketer’s success weren’t accounted for by an evolving list of C-metrics. They were looking toward the upper half of the funnel to measure awareness, and then back to the middle for the even more difficult shifts in preference and attitude. Online media lost the hearts and minds of marketers because great brand builders know that consumer engagement and brand relationships cannot be measuredby the bevy of C-metrics.
No doubt it is difficult to get enthusiastic about moving money into a medium where you have little chance of proving your success. So in response, the digital industry came forward with multiple methods for measuring online success, the majority focused on more refined means of targeting online consumers. A lot of promises were made for the impact of behavioral tracking, search metrics, following online purchase behavior, and accounting for content preferences. Combining these together offered a potentially richer means to look at results and even understanding customers.
Still, a gap remains. Why? All of these new methods start from the same point: What can digital offer? But no one asked what marketers need. And not just from digital media, but from all media. Digital supposedly changed the world–why not ask it to change all media?
Marketers simply want the seamless transformation of their complex, multilayered understanding of consumers into actionable media. They want a media buy that defines and reaches audiences based on the values and attitudes that truly motivate consumer behavior.
The wish list also would include reaching an audience defined by their insights, not prepackaged segments. Throw in the ability to optimize against their audience based on the values and attitudes that drive behavior, not CTR, CPC, or the limited KPI’s of a brand study. Thus, these are campaigns that generate insights based not on what sites they visit, but the implications of the values they exhibit.
But why not give digital a bigger job? Pave the road, open it wide, and create an opportunity unique to this medium. Give brands a means of turning all of their consumer insights into action, generating a media strategy, executing a plan, and then optimizing against those insights to measure success or change course.
If the online advertising industry wants to attract more brands, it needs to consider how marketers measure success. Looking at what digital has to offer–creative and performance metrics–starts the process, but transforming our expectations for the medium from delivering CTR to delivering consumer insights through actionable media is within our grasp.
In other words, we need to give marketers more of what they need, not just what we want.