With click-through rates tanking like a pair of concrete boots, the dot-com crash, and other recent adjustments occurring in the industry, people are starting to learn that the hard sell doesn’t always work on the web.
Many online marketing initiatives commodify clients’ products by trying to sell on price or even worse, for the novelty of buying online. Consumers aren’t buying these tactics anymore. Even the sweepstakes promotions that were driving traffic aren’t getting the response rates now that they did a year ago.
One thing people should realize is that during the period of time that banners were getting very high response rates (approximately 5 to 10 percent CTR up until two years ago), there were few sophisticated ad-tracking systems around. Without accurate tracking systems, many marketers couldn’t draw a direct connection between high click-through rates and meaningful business hurdles like transactions, for example.
It’s ironic that as ad-tracking and site tracking have become more sophisticated and accurate, click-through rates have been dropping. Which, of course, makes you wonder why CTR was ever considered to be a meaningful metric by itself.
It’s too bad so much investment and development went in a direction that’s core underpinning was based on novelty to the consumer, rather than focused on building one-to-one relationships and communicating brand values through consumer interaction. So now the industry has to learn other ways to provide value to consumers and how to show ROI to clients.
Perhaps the web is a better channel for communicating to consumers through soft-sell brand-building initiatives, to be followed through with hard-sell tactics after rapport between the brand and the consumer is established.
A traditional example of this kind of approach might be Coca-Cola. Its consumer advertising focuses on consumer-centric brand communication on TV, but when you go to the grocery store, in-store point-of-purchase incentives are used to get consumers to purchase.
The web can simulate this kind of approach quite well. How? Well, for one thing, there isn’t as strong a dividing line between content and online advertising as there is between content and traditional advertising. This results in a unique opportunity to create advertorial or advertainment vehicles for marketers looking to build their brands online.
What do I mean by advertorial or advertainment vehicles? You can create content that’s centered on your customers’ interests — content that is entertaining first. Then leverage this kind of content, using a soft-sell technique to push products and services related to consumer interests.
Identifying your market and starting a meaningful relationship using relevant and entertaining content is generally a much more compelling tactic for creating loyal customers; it shows you really understand them. Check out the Intel WebOutfitter site to see this approach in action.
Sure, putting the word “free” in an ad or waving a “carrot on a stick” promotional incentive is a much easier and cheaper tactic to get people in the door, but it’s not likely to keep them coming back. This approach doesn’t do much for communicating what the brand is about, either.
With all the opportunities to research and cross-reference products on the web, marketers have to do more to convince consumers that their products and services are relevant and that consumers need these products and services for their lifestyle.
So what if hard-sell tactics don’t work much better online than they do offline? Marketing to consumers is always a complicated process. For those of us in the interactive advertising industry, now’s the time to roll up our sleeves and do what we do best: help build brands.