Adding Value to Added Value

Back in the olden days — approximately six years ago — CD-ROMs were all the rage. In retrospect, the rage seems to have been more among developers than consumers, but the market was new and untried, and many people had visions of making so much money that they would be able to swim through piles of it in their living rooms.

Among the offerings to the market were high-quality games, educational and training programs, and a whole bunch of “other” products. As a software developer during this time, I was constantly being approached by potential clients who had an “idea.” For many of these clients, the idea consisted of taking material from another form of media and translating it into a CD-ROM format. In many cases, the design of the new product pretty much matched the design of the old product, but the new one was digital. We referred to these products as “shovelware.” It was this practice that first helped me grasp the concept of added value.

Added value can best be described as content or features that make the essence of the product being offered better than an existing version of the product or other products of this type. A good example today is the rerelease of movies on DVD. In many cases, the added value to the consumer is the addition of new material or features that weren’t possible using videotape formats. This is appealing to consumers who want to feel they are getting a better value.

Back in the days of the CD-ROM race, added value was often the missing ingredient in many new products. For example, many “new” versions of existing books started to make the shelves. But just taking a book and porting it over to a CD-ROM format doesn’t really make the book more valuable. In fact, I suspect that most people would much rather sit on a subway reading a paperback than reading that same paperback from their laptop screens. However, if the publisher were to incorporate some sort of search or indexing tool as part of the CD-ROM version, the product would have functionality and value that the original book format can’t provide.

The reason I bring this up is that the world of online advertising has yet to learn the value of providing added value. In my experience of working in advertising, one thing became pretty obvious: Nobody likes being advertised to. Most of us regard advertisements as annoying noise unless it meets a personal need. Only when an ad represents a product that we are in the market for, that is entertaining, or that meets an emotional need do we have the tendency to regard this as “information” and not noise. In fact, if TV viewers could go home every night and see nothing but ads for products they personally bought and supported, then the complaints about the ads would most likely diminish.

Online advertisers have a tough task. On one hand, they want to have their ads seen by as many different users as possible. On the other hand, they need to get the ads in front of the right users. But most online ads today are still billboard-style ads whose whole function is to be seen and provide a link to the advertiser’s Web site. Is this really the only model we have to work with?

When designing interactive content, I have to put myself in the shoes of the customer. The main customer question I need to be able to answer is: What does this mean to me, and why should I care? Try answering this question using more traditional online ads and see how you fare.

Providing added value to online consumers is one of the things that make online advertising unique and more viable. In rich media formats, there are many opportunities to add value, such as capturing customer information, providing the customers with a printout or access to a piece of software, or providing entertainment through interactivity. Does this mean that the average user is going to take advantage of these features? Not necessarily. Once again, you have to get the right message to the right customer. For those who don’t have an immediate interest, the ad may serve as a branding tool — allowing future customers to tuck some information away about the particular advertiser. However, once you reach the right customer, you can now provide a fulfilling and valuable experience for that customer. This, in turn, benefits the advertiser.

When considering added value for an online ad, think about other, more traditional advertising media and their strengths and weaknesses. In most cases, the greatest limitation of the ads is that they are purely passive in how they advertise. The information is designed to go from the advertiser to the consumer, and that’s it. However, because direct information is not flowing back to the advertiser, no one really knows how well the ad is performing as a marketing tool. With a rich media format, the ability to measure how the consumer interacted with the message should more than pay for running the ad.

Most importantly, ads should be about the customer and the customer’s needs. The advertiser’s needs are of little importance to the customer. Remember, before they can make any decision to act upon an offer, customers always needs to answer the question, What’s in it for me?

Think about what you can offer the user that will answer this question. With rich media ads, the ability to offer greater benefit to customers is at your disposal.

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