Brand Marketers Speak: iMedia Conference Report

Mix several score blue-chip brand marketers with an equal number of advertising sellers, sprinkle in a few research companies and technology providers, and stir, liberally adding sunshine. This recipe creates an intriguing exchange of issues and ideas, such as experienced last week at the iMedia Brand Summit, just outside Jacksonville, FL.

Although this conference featured the standard blend of PowerPoint and panel discussions, what made it special was an opportunity to spend time with brand marketers and get their take on the state and direction of online marketing. Though industry insiders currently seem wrapped up in determining online reach and frequency models (a worthy goal), marketers seem to have broader concerns.

Here are some points the advertisers made.

Give us solutions, not impressions. The currency of Web media is impressions, but defining marketing opportunities in those terms leaves marketers nonplussed. A key message from brand advertisers was: “Give us packaged marketing solutions that address our specific needs, not just a bunch of space on your site.” They also said that including elements unique to the Web, such as interactivity and data-gathering, should be key parts of the offering.

Cross-media integration works. Marketers emphasized the Net is a marketing channel that must be used to fulfill the overall strategic goals of their brands. Recent high-profile campaigns for Pepsi and mLife, which used both broadcast and the Web as key parts of the mix, were proudly presented. In light of recently released results of MSN’s cross-media research for Unilever’s Dove brand, which showed the synergistic value of online advertising, integrated marketing emerged as an important objective.

Give us standards. Sometimes the debate over what constitutes an online ad impression resembles the debate over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It can seem endless, esoteric, and, ultimately, pointless. Marketers I spoke with seemed to feel a standard — any standard — is necessary to put this dissipating argument to rest. It’s time to put a stake in the ground.

Click-through for branding campaigns is (still) dead. Jon Raj, director of advertising at Visa, told the conference he refuses to report on click-through rates (CTRs) for branding campaigns, even when his boss asks for them. The consensus among marketers was that CTR is virtually meaningless as a success metric, and traditional methods, such as brand tracking, pre- and post-studies, and control/exposed studies, are much more relevant to their objectives.

Don’t forget the moms. A recent study released by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) reveals interesting information about media consumption. The study shows at-work Internet consumption, which coincides with reduced consumption of all other media, makes the daytime a good opportunity for marketers. This is especially good news for quality financial sites such as CBS MarketWatch, which can offer access to an important demographic. However, the brand marketers I spoke with emphasized women head most households, and they make many of their families’ purchase decisions. Since many of these moms don’t work outside the home, marketers shouldn’t start thinking of the Web as a work-only medium.

The sophistication and bullishness of brand marketers, even among the admittedly self-selected group at the iMedia Summit, rallied spirits. Blue chip brand marketers will be leading the evolution of online marketing. The industry should continue to be all ears.

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