I met with an entrepreneur late last week and he mentioned that he had read my blog (I didn’t believe him either) and that he was curious as to why I think online advertising will continue to be effective when all of the data shows that consumers are increasingly ignoring online ads. I realized that as much as I write about online advertising on this blog, I haven’t really defined what form I think it will take over the coming years to be effective. It turns out that The Cluetrain Manifesto had it at least partially right years ago. To paraphrase and to put in the simplest terms, marketing is about conversations.
The right message. The problem with online advertising to date has been that it has taken the form of delivering a one-way message and talking to a consumer, much like in traditional media. In today’s web world, consumers realize that they aren’t a captive audience. They are free to continue doing whatever it is that they came to a website to do, either by ignoring or skipping ads. That is why the “right message” doesn’t work any more. Online advertising in the coming years will be a dialogue between brands and consumers and amongst consumers themselves within the context of a brand. Widgets and dynamic rich media in various forms, such as games, review panels, and personal utilities, will take the place of banners and text ads (although probably not for search). Interactivity, community and engagement will be top of mind when developing campaign creatives.
The right person. The targetability and measurability of internet advertising will continue to improve. With so much anonymous and user-provided data available on the web to be used for targeting, finding the right person with whom to engage in a conversation will be easier than ever. Contextual targeting and the current approaches to behavioral targeting have not proven to work well in many contexts. Certainly, new targeting models will emerge and prove effective for discrete online environments.
The right time. The traditional purchase funnel (roughly defined as awareness, consideration, intent and purchase) isn’t such a straight and narrow path any longer. The idea of finding online consumers at exactly the “right time” in the funnel (again, with the exception of search) isn’t just difficult, it’s also outdated. The focus of agencies and brands will be in building relationships with consumers at all points in time, because on the Internet, information and influence is coming constantly and from all directions. The only way to rise above the noise will be to engage consumers in a sustained conversation using the new, rich tools available to marketers.
So what’s the right answer? Hopefully, the right conversation with the right person whenever possible.