The Value of ‘Later’

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a client who asked me if it was possible to bookmark the location of an online ad. I explained that this was generally not possible unless the ad is static on a specific page. Otherwise, because of the rotation of ads, the linking of ads to keywords, and so on, trying to find a specific online ad often requires knowing just where to look or refreshing one’s browser window a couple of dozen times on a specific site in hopes that the ad will appear.

I pointed out that the odds of the average user going through this much effort to find an online ad hovered somewhere between slim and none. Unless the ad originally struck a major chord with the consumer, the average user wouldn’t be spending much time trying to relocate it.

In the past, I have written about the value of online marketing messages to consumers. I have pointed out that many of the messages being presented are of value to the user, but that the bad timing of when the ad was shown to the user prevented the user from taking any action. And unlike, say, a print ad, once the online ad has gone by, the user may never see it again.

In traditional advertising, the readers, listeners, or viewers are provided information that helps them to make an informed buying decision. Advertisers in the traditional media have learned over time that reinforcing the offer and message through repetition is the best way to get users to take action. For most of these ads, the timing of the offer is open ended, apart from the occasional “Three-Day Sale” message alerting customers that the coming weekend offers big savings. Most ads don’t expect immediate action on the part of the customer. Can you imagine the success of any television ad if its goal were to get viewers to spring from their sofas and drive immediately to the mall? Yet, in fact, that is exactly what online advertising models constantly try to do. I’ll let the record of success in this approach speak for itself.

For the online customer, ad messages are presenting themselves constantly. In many cases, the customer has no need for the products or services being offered. In other cases, the customer may have a need but isn’t willing to take the time to explore that need. Since the ad will generally vanish when the customer clicks to another Web page, the opportunity to make the ad work for both the customer and the vendor vanishes as well.

Getting back to my client… Her concern was, What are the options for the customer who is interested in the ad’s offering and wants to follow up on the offer later? It is a very good question.

The value of “deferring” online marketing has been limited by the general structure of most online ads. Animated GIFs, the focus of which is to drive traffic to a Web site, are pretty much a one-trick pony. The user either clicks on the ad or (in most cases) doesn’t.

However, rich-media-advertising approaches can offer marketing deferment opportunities in a number of ways. For example, Enliven Inc. and Bluestreak offer a print functionality that allows a customer interested in an advertiser’s offer to simply click a button and instantly print out the offer and contact information. Then, once the customer’s schedule allows him or her time, he or she can follow up by visiting the vendor’s Web site, calling the toll-free number, or reading over the brochure. The printed piece also can serve as a branding tool. Depending on how long a time the customer ages the printed material on his or her desk, it is possible for the printed material to work for several days (or even weeks) as a reinforcing marketing and branding message for the vendor.

There are few restrictions on what can be printed this way. In the past, Enliven’s clients have printed coupons, multipage brochures (in color, if the customer has a color printer), white papers, articles, data sheets, and even the first chapter of Tom Wolfe’s book “A Man in Full.” The print content is HTML based, so the hard copy will directly resemble the layout, including the graphics, of the print file. The effort needed to take advantage of the print functionality on the part of customers is minimal and allows them to postpone the marketing experience until they pick the pages out of their printer tray.

Both Enliven and Bluestreak also provide technologies in their rich media ads that can allow the customer to download content such as PDF files, audio clips, video clips, and software demos.

Some rich media solutions can also support immediate-response email capabilities. Both Enliven and Bluestreak offer features that allow the customer to simply type in an email address and instantly receive a brochure or marketing package in his or her email box. The email can feature links to different Web properties, and in the case of Enliven’s solution, each of those links can be tracked as part of the Enliven reporting capabilities. Once again, the marketing is postponed, and the customer is free to continue without interruption. After that, customers are free to read the marketing info when it better fits their schedule. With an “email instant response” approach, the vendor also is able to compile a mailing list of potential clients to which it can provide additional information in the weeks following the initial response.

Customers want to have choice. They want information that allows them to make informed buying decisions. But they want it when it’s of most use to them. Being able to defer online marketing messages is another way that customers and vendors can come together in a mutually beneficial way. It’s a beautiful thing.

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