When To Guarantee Performance

Many interactive advertising clients come to agencies seeking guaranteed performance in their contacts. I know this from personal experience, as well as from speaking to colleagues in the industry.

Often, agencies can make educated guesses as to what an Internet advertising campaign might bring in terms of leads and sales, but these projections are just that — educated guesses. Agencies need to know what to consider before inking a guaranteed performance deal with a client.

No agency should guarantee performance without making sure that it has ultimate control over the client’s web presence. In order to make guarantees, agencies need to be able to control all of the variables of an online direct response campaign. Many of these variables lie within the client’s site, for instance

  • Bandwidth issues – No one likes to buy something on a site that’s slow. Often, lag times can turn good customer relationships into bad ones.
  • Synergy between offer and site content – If a potential customer clicks on a banner ad offering half-price widgets, that click better not take him to the home page of a widget manufacturer. It had best take him to a page on which he can purchase the widget within a click or two. If an agency doesn’t have control over the selling process on the back end, how can it be held responsible for sales?
  • Creative synergy – Advertisements should have the same look and feel as the web site that they click to. Without control over the creative on the site, there is no way to ensure this.
  • Technical issues – Commerce servers can die in the middle of a campaign. Databases and web servers can crash. T3 lines can get severed by clueless Con Ed employees. All of these problems can result in decreased sales. Obviously, the agency shouldn’t be held responsible for them unless it has total control over the client’s web presence.
  • Offer presentation – Often, the web site is where the potential customer gets to see the sales offer in full detail for the first time. (After all, there’s only so much you can fit into a banner.) The presentation of the sales offer sometimes needs to be tweaked to maximize response. The agency should have control over this presentation if it is to guarantee performance.

There are countless other variables that contribute to the success or failure of an online direct response campaign. So many, in fact, that no one can accurately predict response 100 percent of the time. If agencies are considering guaranteeing the performance of an online campaign, they need to control as many of these variables as possible.

At the very least, before signing the contract, the agency should perform some usability testing to take some of the risk out of the equation. Even then, the risk is considerable, so be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before inking that guaranteed performance deal.

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