Time to Put the Banner Down

Have you heard about how they catch monkeys in Thailand? A small wire cage has a red ball in it and an opening just large enough for a monkey’s hand. Captivated by the red ball, the monkey puts a hand into the cage and grabs the object of its attention. But then it finds it can’t pull out its hand because it won’t let go of the ball. In Thailand, they eat monkeys.

For five long years, a lot of bright people have been trying to make the web-centric model work. Indeed, most online activity is web-centric, particularly when it comes to e-commerce and the role of banners in driving traffic to sites.

Banners, at first blush, seemed like a godsend, and before we knew it, virtually the entire industry scrambled onto the banner bandwagon. Businesses were launched with revenue models based solely on selling banner advertising. Ad agencies developed stand-alone units that specialized in creating and placing banner ads. All of this was done with little scrutiny of the ad format and its long-term effectiveness. Everyone just assumed the banner and the web-centric approach was right: “Build it, and they will come.”

But each year the performance of the banner dropped, and the data became harder to deny. Yet people continued to deny the obvious: “What we need is better creative,” and better creative was developed. But response and site visitation still dropped. “What we need is more precise targeting,” and better targeting was developed. Response and site visitation dropped again.

Then the Internet community embraced the concept that offline media should be used to drive web traffic: “Spend millions on TV advertising to drive activity.” And while traffic did increase, it was not enough to justify the cost.

So the focus returned to the banner.

“What we need now is still better creative — aah, ‘rich media.'” The response needle rose — but only to what had previously been deemed an unacceptable level. “What we need is even better targeting and to dynamically serve the ads.” But, alas, even that has shown itself to be a false hope.

“OK, we figured it out. It’s the pricing structure. Banners should be performance-based — cost per action. CPM is so brick-and-mortar.” But even this brainchild couldn’t turn around a bad idea. Getting a sale for $15 is terrific. But getting only 112 sales when you need 12,000 is not good.

My friends, the time has come to let go of the ball. What we have been doing hasn’t worked. Unless you want to end up like the monkey, it’s time to try radically new ideas. It means saying goodbye to your old friend the banner and the web-centric world view.

For too long the industry has remained web-centric — and in denial of how people actually use the Net. And while we have acknowledged that email continues to be the “killer app” of the Internet, we are in denial of what this really means.

What it means is really quite simple: People want the Internet to be simple. It’s easy and effortless to find relevant information waiting to be read in an email inbox. Most of what is on the Net is not easier than email. It’s harder. It takes longer. And more often than not, it doesn’t work.

Elaborate ordering systems have been created, when instead the marketer would be better off directing the user to pick up the phone and call.

Yes, folks, many times it would simply be easier, faster, and cheaper. And you know what else? Nicer. Yeah, nicer. People like talking to people and developing relationships with people.

Look at Dell and CDW (another computer marketer). Both companies have progressively taken advantage of the Net. But they never lost sight of the fact that their customers sometimes like to speak to someone. Their infrastructures support what the consumer wants.

On the surface, the web-centric approach looks great. Transaction costs can be drastically less than those of our brick-and-mortar counterparts. We won’t have to hold any inventory. Technology will be the master.

But being web-centric means that you want the user to do all the work. Find us. Navigate through our site. Don’t ask questions. Fill out the answers to personal questions. Then wait days to get the product. Are you still wondering why more people aren’t ordering online?

I have a theory that the more experienced people become online, the less they go out to the web. They certainly stop surfing. Why? Generally speaking, it’s a waste of time and a big disappointment.

Currently, the people you most want to reach online have been online for a while. They have already wasted their time. They have already been disappointed. As a result, they have changed the way they act online. They go to the web with a specific task in mind, they do that task, and then they log off.

The dot-com industry folks love the web-centric approach. So much so that even when it clearly has failed, they won’t give it up. But online users have spoken. They want simple, easy, and fast.

Are you ready to accept reality? Or are you going to hold on to that web-centric ball?

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