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Display and Search Advertising: Neither Cannot Stand Alone

  |  June 8, 2009   |  Comments

A new measurement system tracks how conversions happen when combining display advertising and search. It's just a start, but it's long overdue.

Everybody knows search and display advertising support each other. Display ads provide the brand awareness and search drives the response.

That's the theory anyway. But how do you measure the combined effectiveness of the display/search synergy? It's a no-brainer to count clicks on display ads and clicks on paid search links, but neither is a true measure of how your ads are performing. Counting a click and tracking it to a conversion might give you some idea of how your ads are performing, but conversions are a lot more complicated than clicks-to-conversion measurement. It's not one or the other that works but rather the entire marketing program that drives sales. Arguments shouldn't be over what medium or format works best but how they fit into the larger communications ecosystem that works to build awareness and drive sales.

Think about your typical consumer. Heck, think about yourself. Are you a single-medium consumer? If you're reading this, chances are you're not even close. During the course of your day, you probably move from surfing the Web or listening to the radio (or both) at breakfast, listening to the radio or podcasts during your commute (with some out-of-home advertising impressions thrown in along the way), spending all day online at work, and watching TV and browsing the Web before bed. During your daily journey, there's no medium that will be the one to drive you to buy something or take some action. It's a combination of media that affects your awareness and influences your decisions.

If all this seems obvious, it's because it is: we all experience it every day. Yet our marketing strategies often ignore this reality. Instead, we look at each individual medium -- search ads, display ads, print ads, TV spots, radio, out-of-home -- as separate entities that seem to have no influence over one another. We might measure our campaign's effectiveness by an ultimate success metric -- such as conversions, sales, leads, or even page views -- then build ROI (define) metrics based on how well each individual form of advertising we used performed against that metric. We may look at cost per conversion by looking at how many banner clicks lead to sales or look at ROI by how many dollars we spend on TV spots lead to increased calls to a toll-free number. They're simple metrics that everyone can understand and they make perfect sense.

But they don't tell the whole story.

Why? Because calculating ROI based on display advertising clicks-to-sales omits how many people didn't click but later remembered your brand and searched for it when buying your product. It doesn't take into account people who decided to click on a banner because their interest was piqued by a TV or radio spot they experienced earlier in the day. And it doesn't take into account people who were driven to action not because they saw an ad but because a friend mentioned your product on Facebook or sent out a tweet about the positive experience they had with it.

Everything we do as marketers is related, and, ideally, all communications build on each other. Consumers respond in different ways; some might call a toll-free number, others might buy online, while still others might prefer e-mail. There's no way of knowing exactly what will do the trick. Our job as marketers shouldn't be to figure out what the one tactic will be that gets the job done but to build an entire strategy of tactics that meet consumers at different touch points and that support each other through cross-media synergy. It's not about campaigns anymore; it's about building a communications ecosystem that can provide influence at all consumer entry points.

The problem is that building this communications ecosystem is tough and measuring it is even tougher. And in an environment where ROI is king, not being able to measure the synergy across media makes it difficult to persuade your clients that combining two tactics, such as search and display advertising, is better than going with one or the other.

Havas-Yahoo: One Step Forward

But things are starting to look up. Havas Digital and Yahoo recently announced Artemis, a new measurement system that tracks how conversions happen when combining display advertising and search. This tool has shown that combining the branding power of display advertising with the response mechanism of search has a significant impact on conversions in a measurable way. Interestingly, their results also seem to confirm that reducing a display ad spend to boost spending on search may have a negative effect on overall conversions. That's something to remember in lean times when budgets are on the chopping block.

Armetis is just the first step in understanding how the communications ecosystem works. It's clear that the choice isn't display or search but that the two need to be combined to provide the most bang for your buck. And while there isn't a similar system in place for all the other elements of the communications ecosystem (such as mass media/public relations/search), it's clear that advertising across multiple media (provided it's targeted correctly, of course) seems to provide a synergistic effect, where you end up with results that are more than the sum of the constituent parts.

Maybe in the end the lessons involving advertising across multiple media aren't that different than lessons from the current financial crisis: it never pays to put all your eggs in one basket.

Stop thinking "campaign." Start thinking "ecosystem."

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Sean Carton

Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.

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