The Banner is Dead-Long Live the Banner

Is there something wrong with that headline? Not really.

A lot of experts think the thrill is gone when it comes to banners. A recent Nielsen Media Research study said average banner ad click-through rates have dropped to below 1/2 percent from 2 percent a year ago.

But you know the Internet. It re-invents itself every few seconds. So while many Internet marketers may proclaim the death of the banner for others, the banner lives on.

You may not have to ditch banners entirely, even though banner ad click-throughs are generally falling. That’s because the smart b-to-b marketer knows it isn’t the click-throughs that matter, it’s the qualified prospects that prove there’s gold at the end of the rainbow. And that’s where banners could still be effective — if you’re smart about using them.

Here are seven ways for business-to-business Internet marketers to make better use of banners.

1. Get rich quick.

The one banner bright spot right now is rich media, as many ClickZ writers have noted in recent months. The de facto standard in rich media, Enliven, is now owned by the @Home Network, and that means there’s big money behind the technology. Enliven points to some impressive success at boosting banner click-throughs, as well as involvement.

For example, Enliven claims that brand recall is about 34 percent higher than with a basic gif banner, and that over half the visitors spend from 30 seconds to as much as 5 minutes interacting with a rich media banner.

Still, rich media banners will cost more to produce and place; they are not available on all web sites, and not everyone is a rich media fan — the banners can sometimes slow down web page loading times. But if you were serious about building banners into a media plan, you’d do well to do a head-to-head test of the cost-effectiveness of rich media vs. traditional banners.

2. Test media and creative approaches.

Dropping click-through rates means dropping media costs so you may be able to get a bargain at some sites. Pick web sites that effectively target your audience and try to negotiate aggressively for the most attractive rates. Test web sites against one another.

Also test at least two different creative approaches on the same site by asking the site to randomly rotate the banners. It helps to make an offer (keeps the offer consistent to test creative). The banners should lead to different web response forms so you can track responses to each; don’t terminate the banners at a corporate web page because you’ll lose the lead. Even if you don’t test creative, you should change banner creative frequently. The average life effectiveness of a banner ad is only about 15 days.

3. Test banners against email newsletter sponsorships.

Another worthy test is banner advertising vs. email newsletter sponsorships; the text-only ads that run within the body of an email newsletter. Find one or more newsletters with sizeable circulations that appeal to your target audience. Compare the cost-per-thousand for banner advertising on a comparably targeted web site to the email sponsorship.

Test banners and sponsorships head-to-head and judge them in terms of lead quality rather than quantity. Include a link to a web response form in the email ad, and link the banner ad to a different web response form so you can accurately measure response to each.

4. Use banners as pre-campaign teasers.

Banner advertising can be created with much shorter lead times than traditional print advertising or direct mail. Use this to your advantage by placing banner ads strategically on sites that reach the same prospects as your forthcoming print advertising or direct mail campaign, before the campaign runs. If executed properly, you can leverage the creative by being clever about it. Have the banner ad act as “an electronic advance man,” teasing the audience and preparing it for the traditional media advertising messages to come.

5. Promote an Internet event.

Banners can be effective alone, or in conjunction with direct mail, email, or email newsletter sponsorships in driving traffic directly to the “front door” of an online seminar. Here, the banner acts as a teaser invitation, pushing the prospect to an online promotion page with a registration form that must be completed prior to seminar entry. The prospect can be offered the opportunity to sign up in advance or enter the seminar immediately.

Online seminars are proving to be extremely cost-effective for business-to-business marketers who previously invested in live marketing and sales seminars. They also eliminate the logistical headaches for the marketer and make it possible for the prospect to “attend” from the convenience of office or home.

6. Use banners to launch and support affiliate marketing programs.

Affiliate marketing is projected to grow beyond banner advertising, so don’t miss your opportunity to jump on this Internet bandwagon. If you have products or services that can be re-sold on the Internet, consider creating an affiliate program and providing your affiliates with free banners they can place on their sites It will enable them to sell more of what you have to offer.

7. Generate revenue directly from banners.

You can actually get banners to pay you back immediately by using rich media e-commerce banners. These banners can have a built-in order area, expandable order forms, and even secure server technology to protect credit card transaction. It all happens from within the banner. Since the prospect doesn’t have to leave the host site, this potentially could facilitate e-commerce and lead to instant revenue. It’s certainly worth a try if your product or service doesn’t need a lot of explanation and is easy to order.

Put these ideas to use and you, too, may breathe new life into banners.

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