Wednesday, August 19, 2009

MEDIAPOST: Ad Crack: Gotta Get Your Fix!

From my Mediapost Online Spin this week...

Have you ever been in this situation; you spend hours, days and weeks developing your client’s online strategy and the strategy is about building the brand through awareness and impact, but when that first performance report is delivered and the initial click-through rate is low the strategy magically transforms immediately from a long term brand play to a short term “improve the click rate” campaign?

If you’ve ever experienced this situation then you’ve been a victim of the Ad Crack Addict!

The addict is a difficult role to deal with; we know that. We also know that “crack is whack” (for those of you who remember, that’s what they said in the 80’s). Ad Crack is whack, too! It happens when we plan a strategy and delineate metrics with which to judge the success of a campaign, but that first report shows poor CTR and the last 15 years worth of online advertising history and experience takes over causing people to start freakin’ out. It’s not a criticism as much as it’s an observation of human nature. Humans are creatures of habit and we need to break the habit of relying on immediate click through as a measure of gauging success. We need to get ourselves weaned off of the ad crack of CTR, but we also need to recognize that this is not a cold-turkey, overnight addiction that we can break. It takes time, it takes attention and it takes willpower; along with a strong rationale and a basis in strategic thinking.

I moderated a panel at OMMA Metrics in San Francisco recently and the wrap up of the panel was summed up in one sentence (and I quote the panelists on this one); “Click through rates are not dead yet, but they certainly do smell funny”. Most serious digital advertisers understand that CTR is not the primary metric anymore, but the problem is there’s no immediate industry metric to put in its place. There are a host of metrics that advertisers are using and their focus is dependent on what they’re trying to achieve with a campaign. The needs of each marketer are different and therefore the primary metrics used to define engagement are different for each marketer. The term of the day may be “engagement”, but the definition of the term is a case-by-case occurrence. You need to define it for yourself; no-one can do it for you.

The solution to fighting the addiction to CTR lies in the service of your client’s business. Call it an intervention if you will in order to continue the theme. To be successful in this business and provide a strong service for your clients, you need to provide strategic rationale for what the primary metrics will be and maintain focus in the face of the ad crack addict. As soon as the first report shows up, you need to battle the instinctual reaction to focus on CTR. You can do this by one of two ways; either you deal with it head on or you remove CTR altogether (avoidance may not typically be a good strategy, but in some cases you need to remove yourself from a situation in order to fight an addiction).

I know a number of agencies who won’t even show CTR to their clients if they are focused on branding and impact. They’ll show impressions and cost efficiency, and they’ll show time spent and interactions on the site or in the ad units, but they won’t show CTR. In other cases I know agencies and marketers who will show the CTR but place it in the back of the report, not highlighting it upfront or in the summary reports. In most other cases, CTR is prominently displayed, but the client service team maintains a maniacal focus on the awareness, consideration and intent-oriented metrics and won’t even talk to the CTR with their clients. All of these are strategies that can work at weaning the client off the ad crack which they so easily get addicted to and can lapse back into examining and considering.

The hardest thing in client service is to push back on the client. No-one likes to be told that they’re wrong and no-one likes to be told “no”, but it’s especially hard to put your client in that position. Sometimes it backfires and they get upset, but to provide a valuable service you have to be willing to stand up and fight for your ideas. When the client asks you to start optimizing the campaign in week one and improve the CTR, it can be difficult to push back and refuse, however if you maintain that focus on the strategy and execution of the strategy that was agreed to upfront, then you’re doing the service that your clients are paying you for. If you buckle and lapse back into a revised strategy without giving it its due course then you’re just enabling the ad crack to take hold and no-one will improve!

What strategies have you employed in the past to service your clients and maintain that focus on your initial strategy? I’m sure our readers would like to know, so please share with us on the Spin Board!

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