If you want to know why consumers don't click on ads, ask yourself why you don't click on them.
I had the pleasure of hearing Guy Kawasaki speak at AD:TECH in San Francisco. Guy, a former Apple Fellow (now managing director of Garage Technology Ventures) was part of the team responsible for bringing the Macintosh Computer to market in 1984. He was candid in his session about several close-to-disastrous mistakes Apple's marketing team made in the early years and shared some hard-learned lessons. One of his rules really stood out for me: "Don't ask people to do something you wouldn't do."
If you expect consumers to act in a specific way, you must be pretty sure that's the way they want to behave. Take the standard banner ad. For years, online advertisers have created buttons consumers are expected to click to be taken to a Web site. Though this seems straightforward, people don't want to click on the ads and be taken to another Web site... without good reason.
We advertisers have a tendency to be a bit arrogant in our expectations. I've had long conversations with agency reps about the desire to drive traffic to a Web site. When I press for the reason behind decisions to focus entirely on traffic, I'm often greeted with reasoning along the lines of "Sheeple aren't all that discerning. They'll click on anything."
Well, we're all sheeple.
If you want to know why consumers don't click on Web ads, ask yourself why you don't click on Web ads. Reasons behind our inaction range from no perceived need for the products or services offered (if we even understand what is offered) to not wanting to leave our current location to go someplace else.
Rich media ad formats can allow advertisers to start a dialogue with consumers. Advertisers can point out the benefits of doing business with them. Consumer questions can be answered before they pull the trigger. Traditionally, file size restrictions on standard banners stilted the unit's communication ability. A 14K GIF ad was generally enough for only a very simple animation and the message: "Click on this ad to visit our Web site and we'll tell you why you should care." Though rich ad formats (namely Flash) allow more content in the same file size, the final message is often still "Click on this ad to visit our Web site and we'll tell you why you should care."
With interactive rich media formats, advertisers have much more ability to tell consumers why they should continue the dialogue. Video formats, microsites, even smaller format page ads allow consumers to get directly involved in the marketing process. Advertisers can tell stories in a way that drives interest, and traffic.
What drives behavior can be broken down into two fundamentals:
We're very me-centric. We spend all our time inside our own heads. What matters to us is what's important. What we want or need is based on our own experience and perception.
For an advertiser to get my attention, he must first determine what it is I want. Most consumers want benefit. They want to know buying a product or service will solve a problem, improve a situation, improve self-perception, entertain, enlighten, make them happy, quell a fear.
Consumers don't generally want to click through to a Web site because the act of leaving the known for the unknown causes discomfort -- unless the reasons for doing so outweigh the fear of discomfort. For advertisers, this means focusing on letting consumers know why they should care.
Don't ask potential customers to behave in ways that are counter to how they would normally behave. Don't keep the benefits of doing business with your company a mystery, revealed only after they visit a Web site. Don't expect them to do something you wouldn't consider doing. And if you're the person responsible for crafting the message, ask yourself what it would take to get you to pull the trigger on any offer you see. You may be surprised at the answer.
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Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.
A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.
When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.
He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.
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