Digital Billboard: What’s in It for Consumers?

After last week’s column on AdDiem’s Digital Billboard, I received a flood of questions, including: Why would an Internet user willingly accept a billboard on his desktop? What’s the value for the consumer? Some marketers even wondered about the logistics of such an application, citing corporate firewalls that might prevent users from downloading desktop applications while at work.

Admittedly, the appeal of such an advertising channel to consumers might not be immediately apparent… if you consider it from this perspective alone. But this sort of application is more than just a conduit for advertising. It’s also a custom publishing tool.

Custom publications, sometimes called branded content, are exactly what they sound like: magazines, newsletters, and the like created by a company for its customers. They mirror third-party publications in that they contain information of value to consumers, content readers find both entertaining and informative. The difference is all that content is branded, incorporating the company’s products or services in some way.

This medium started in the world of print, but slowly companies are translating their traditional work into sites, online advertorials, and e-newsletters. It isn’t nearly as prevalent or extensive in interactive media yet, but tools like Digital Billboard stand to improve availability.

The reason custom publishing has thrived (and continues to) offline is it’s highly effective. According to a 2005 study by research firm Roper Public Affairs conducted for the Custom Publishing Council, custom publications are a “preferred source” of information for consumers.

More than 80 percent of Americans surveyed said if they’re going to get information from a company, they prefer it to come in an “interesting collection of articles” rather than in an ad. Sixty percent said companies that provide information about their products in this fashion help them make better purchasing decisions. Fifty-five percent are likely to buy from the company that provides them with a custom publication, and 59 percent have bought something they’ve seen mentioned or promoted in this way.

There’s more. Consumers who receive custom publications rate the companies behind them more positively across all key metrics, including product and brand affinity and recommendation of the company to others. When was the last time you heard such an affirmative response to an ad view alone?

Desktop applications like Digital Billboard provide interactive marketers with an opportunity to reap the benefits their offline equivalents already enjoy. Like custom magazines received in the mail, they are delivered directly to consumers and can be reviewed at their leisure. They can be segmented and customized for different audience groups and stocked with branded content that subscribers find useful, such as tips, advice, recipes, and stories.

And because custom publications are generally read at home, the way magazines are, company firewalls that could bar a successful download become a moot point. Consumers are far more likely to seek out and read a custom publication like Digital Billboard at home in their free time than in the office, where they’re already overwhelmed with software. All the better for the marketer. Since they’re read at the discretion of the consumer, custom publications tend to possess a reader’s undivided attention.

What’s the value for consumers? Content that’s informative, interesting, and entertaining. Consumers will willingly accept a billboard on their desktops because they already willingly accept other forms of custom publishing: branded magazines, email newsletters, and online resource guides. The fact the delivery vehicle for this content has to be downloaded is of small concern to a consumer who already has, or is interested in forging, a strong relationship with a brand.

Branded content that’s deemed valuable by consumers is a powerful thing.

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