Want Results? Cut the Complexity!

The thing about interactive media is that it’s just that: interactive. That is, the media’s designed and built to allow people to do things, and to get results from those actions. I used to work with a phenomenal creative director who, back in 1998, said: “Every click is a wish.” What an amazing line. It reminds us that every time someone presses down on that mouse button, she’s expecting something great to happen, and the best sites are the ones that deliver on that wish.

But there’s also a sneaky little problem hiding inside that interactivity, especially for marketers and advertisers using the Web. The interactivity of interactive media is a siren’s song, beckoning us to come closer, closer, closer — to invent reasons we believe people will click and engage, each time getting closer and closer to a purchase.

Problem is, each click in that chain of actions also means you’ve put another step in the process of receiving and believing your commercial message. Complicated interactive experiences place the product, the brand, and the message farther away from the consumer, and made her go through more steps, just to get to the finale.

So, the steps you add better really be worthwhile.

Every Step Means a Conversion

I refuse to name names in this rant…er…column. But I’m sure you can imagine some, either that you’ve seen out on the Web, or potentially coming out of your own company. Generally, there’s a well-meaning strategic thought that underpins the concept. Someone, somewhere says: “We’ve got to hook people and get them involved. You can’t just have flat content on the Web.” They argue, “That’s just brochureware and nobody cares and nobody clicks.”

So a consumer journey is imagined. A banner suggests a story and links to a video. The video tells a few details and points to a Web site. The Web site has a game and finally you get to see the product.

Often, these consumer journeys sound interesting, intelligent, and sometimes quite dramatic, with each step communicating something else about the product, building mystery, intrigue, and a desire to get to the end. The thing that gets forgotten, though, is what happens to the audience along the way of this journey.

Every step in a marketing and advertising project means there’s a conversion: the number of times a message is told divided by the number of people who take the desired action. The most elemental of all these conversions, of course, is the click-through rate (CTR), which is the number of times an ad is shown (impressions), divided by the number of times it’s clicked. Show a banner 5 million times and it gets 1,000 clicks, and your CTR is .02 percent (whoo-hoo!).

But what if that clicks just takes you to the video? Of the 1,000 who clicked to the video, let’s shoot high and say that half, 50 percent watch the video. Now we have 500 people. Let’s further imagine that this is best-case scenario and each of these steps is actually more successful than the previous at moving the consumer along. Let’s say that 80 percent of the 500 go to the site. We’ve now got 400 people.

Cut out the imagined extra step of the game for right now. Or, let’s figure that the designers were smart enough to put the game in another section of the site and just got communicating the message. Was it worth it?

Creativity is the wildcard in any analysis of advertising efficacy. Top-notch creative will always be a winning campaign’s most successful element. But for the sake of (this) argument, let’s set it aside and imagine that the extra steps in the process don’t represent a significant creative boost. Looking, then, just at the cost of traffic in each of these steps, you begin to recognize the need to ask “is this worth it?”

In this scenario, although the steps were increasingly effective, they ultimate delivered 250 percent fewer people to the product page than if the ad simply linked there directly. That hurts. For every person attracted to the destination, two and a half people wandered away along the journey.

How Might it be Worthwhile

I’m not necessarily against creative concepts that bring consumers through a journey. I am against the business people behind these journeys not looking at them critically. Even in the scenario described above, you can imagine some very solid justifications for each of these steps. For example, maybe each step really qualified the consumers so that the ones who landed at the end were absolutely going to buy. Or, perhaps, the consumers that fell off along the way were precisely the wrong kind of consumers — only someone who would go through all of the steps would be the right person to engage with.

These are reasonable scenarios. The only thing that’s unreasonable is the use of interactive technology simply to interact. More often than not, you end up with something that’s overly complex. And although it may be creative, it doesn’t match up with the desires (the wishes) of the consumer.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.