The Slow-Dance Of Publishers And Brand Advertisers

Most web publishers on the internet today acknowledge that developing a site that attracts branded advertisers must be a key objective. But, surprisingly, very few of these publishers agree on how to do it. (The exception to this, of course, would be e-commerce sites.)

Below are some fundamental benchmarks that web publishers should consider in any plan to attract branded advertising.

Define your site’s mission.

First, publishers must establish a clear-cut web brand to distinguish their site from the myriad of web sites in their category. Doing so establishes a compelling value equation for advertisers.

Publishers should ask themselves: What’s the heart of the brand? And what is its soul? What are the key elements that bond the web site and its user? And, what does the brand mean to its users?

Like editors in traditional media, web sites must first and foremost establish a clear mission: The heart of the brand. They must also establish the site’s voice or personality: The soul of the brand.

The site’s mission hones content to achieve a specified objective — to inform, entertain, or instruct. The voice and personality must establish the relationship that creates the user bond and fosters user loyalty.

Remember: The more tightly a site is focused, the more likely it is to draw a highly defined user base. And the more highly defined a user base is, the more focused and deliverable your ad targets will be.

Determine the depth of your content.

After defining the thrust of the main content, many sites fail to expend the same energy toward developing the more focused content areas that drill down from the home page. The depth of this sub-content, and the ability to deliver it in a natural flow, helps increase user page views. It also allows the user to develop more than a passing relationship with your site. The more loyal and involved your user base becomes the more sought-after they become for advertisers.

For example, DrKoop.com demonstrates these principles. The site clearly reflects Dr. C. Everett Koop’s mission of empowering consumers to access information, which enables them to make smart decisions about health-related issues. The site engages its users by disseminating information targeted to the user’s lifestage, current health status, or preventative health maintenance. The information provided ranges from top-line news to professional medical resources. And the site allows its visitors to drill down to keywords that are specific to both diseases and drugs, allowing each user to tailor the depth and breadth of his or her experience.

Look at the importance of major ad brands.

At the start of looking for advertising prospects and ad targets, many publishers push for the quick-fix revenues from advertisers who are already on line. What they should be doing instead is developing a long-term plan that strategically includes branded web advertisers as a way to reinforce their own web brand. For virtual brands with no offline component or previously established brand identity, the rub-off from branded advertisers can be a great asset.

Conversely, under-utilizing the power of branded advertisers to reinforce your web brand is a missed opportunity that fails to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship of content and advertising.

Major ad brands exude a strong identity. Including luxury automobiles, high-end electronics and computers, or expensive travel destinations on your site sends a strong signal to the site user, as well as to other advertisers about the implied lifestyle of the site audience.

Likewise, incorporating ads for cutting-edge apparel, early-adopter technology, and various virtual web-based services sends a message about your brand and builds an environment that will attract other early-adopter products to advertise on your site. The careful use of ad brands early on in setting the tone of your site is more valuable to the long-term success of your ad revenues than quick-fix, non-strategic ad dollars.

In the case of DrKoop.com, the site has an ad policy which restricts advertising on the site to products that are specifically health care products, or health-related marketers in categories such as fitness and nutrition. In its case, including advertising and sponsorship content from leading prescription drug brands will reinforce the serious nature of the site’s information and its overall mission.

Consider the value of sponsorships.

Many sites miss an opportunity to incorporate an ad sponsorship model when they develop the design and content perspective of their site. Most, instead, focus mainly on banner ads to build ad sales revenues.

A well-laid out plan will develop sponsorships and microsite ideas for advertisers that extend their content and provide additional information for their users. Advertisers look for integrated ideas. Merely placing an advertiser’s brand logo next to existing content is not attractive to most media buyers. It does not make use of sponsorship ad dollars to deliver something that is truly compelling to users and offers an enhanced environment for advertisers.

Dr. Koop.com, for example, has built a series of health resource centers. Those centers provide unique, in-depth, content microsites that can be sponsored by appropriate advertisers, thus fostering a true partnering relationship.

Think of sponsorship ad dollars like fellowship money. These are dollars that allow you to develop enhanced content and services, involve your users with the advertiser’s brand, and add dimension to your site.

Of course, this concept of ad integration is not new or unique to web media, most mainstream media, including television, radio and print have been using this strategy in a variety of ways for some time. TV sporting events have historically done a great job integrating and showcasing brands and content through tie-ins — where’s the last place you saw the Goodyear blimp?

But, as television has grown as a medium and live television has practically disappeared, ad-integration has also diminished. Print has almost always separated advertiser-sponsored editorial by use of the infamous imprint, “advertorial,” above the content. Radio is the most integrated medium, through its use of announcer-read ads and high listener value promotions. Still, web media offers a unique set of challenges.

Integration can reach its maximum potential in the web, combining real-time delivery and user/brand interaction. The challenge for the web is to develop its own unique models for integration that make use of its real-time nature, its collaborative content model, and its interactivity.

By thinking of advertisers as benefactors and not a necessary evil, site publishers will be able to develop opportunities — for both their sponsors and end users — that can greatly enhance and expand the long-term value of a web site.

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