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Click-Through Déjà Vu

  |  July 24, 2002   |  Comments

Online advertising is a proven branding medium. How come click-through remains the sole metric for measuring email success?

The online advertising industry gets more than its fair share of bad press. For years, mainstream and business media have been announcing the failure and imminent demise of all forms of online marketing.

Attacks on Web marketing over the years have sounded a common theme -- click rates are declining therefore online advertising is becoming less effective. With click-through rates averaging as high as 8 percent in the mid-90s, a precipitous (and inevitable) decline has been fodder for dozens of negative stories.

The industry has fought back, pointing to data proving the branding potential of online advertising. I made the branding argument against click through in this space three years ago. Since then, most publishers and advertisers have bought into the fact that online branding works.

Now the media is using the old click-through attack tactic against email marketing. A recent MSNBC story is a good example. The article describes a declining efficacy in email advertising, pointing to declining "click," or conversion, rates.

This time, the media isn’t entirely to blame. Even within the online advertising industry, few discuss (and fewer measure) the branding effectiveness of email.

It’s ironic an industry that promotes relationship marketing and CRM still hasn’t acknowledged a great selling point for email marketing: building brands. Whether the platform is TV, the Web, or the inbox, branding cannot be properly measured by the number of people who click.

When I worked at an interactive agency a few years back, we created a marketing program for a diaper brand targeting expectant mothers. Every month during the course of the mom-to-be’s pregnancy, she would receive messages describing the developmental milestones occurring in her body via an email "brought to you by" the brand.

Most women who received the email had no use for diapers. They hadn’t yet given birth. The campaign was designed to build a relationship between the brand and the mothers-to-be and to position the brand as a solution they could trust. That’s not something that can be measured in clicks.

The value of many email campaigns should not and cannot be measured by clicks alone. Here are just some of things email can do that need to be measured in other ways:

  • Brand building. Brands spend millions in Web marketing to acquire names for opt-in email programs. Sadly, many of these names go to waste because companies can’t figure out what to do with them.

    Sending branding messages to "hand-raisers," customers who provide their names on a Web site or through a promotion, can be an effective way to increase awareness, build favor, and boost other measures of brand equity. Sure, not everyone is going to click through to a site or landing page. If your goal is branding, that may not matter.

  • Offline sales. Some marketers do a terrific job of blending coupons and promotions into email marketing efforts. But some people, such as myself, never use coupons. Nevertheless, providing people like me with relevant information about a product might help tip the scales toward that brand when they’re shopping for the product.

    Clicks can’t measure this type of value. Metrics such as purchase consideration and purchase intent can.

  • Relationship building. Some people are interested enough in specific brands they want to get information and updates about them. Sometimes this information can induce an online sale, but not always. A brand shouldn’t always try to get customers to click. Loyalty is built through a dialogue, not a series of sales pitches.

Smart marketers know they need to measure campaigns based on specific objectives. The media can get it wrong by claiming low click rates mean we are failing.

There’s no excuse for the industry to make the same mistake.

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Jeffrey Graham

Jeffrey Graham is vice president of client development at Dynamic Logic, a company he joined in January of 2001. Dynamic Logic specializes in measuring the branding effectiveness of online marketing. Jeffrey has served as research director at two online advertising agencies, Blue Marble and NOVO, and has worked with clients such as General Motors, Procter & Gamble, and Continental Airlines. He has taught Internet Research at New York University and has a Masters degree in the subject.

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