Smoke, Mirrors and Digital Advertising

Having worked in the digital space for well over a decade I have witnessed first hand the ability of digital marketing to deliver tangible business results. From quantitatively robust research insights, through to enhancing multi-channel relationships and of course market share and profitability increases.

But there�s a big but. Not all digital marketing is created equal. Not all solutions are going to keep shareholders/senior management/your wife happy once the digital dust settles and the numbers are objectively reviewed.
For example, it�s very hard to get excited about digital display advertising when the average click-through rate is 0.05% (2019). Let�s put that in retail terms: imagine you run a store where you need to pay the cost of goods, rent, utilities, staff, cleaning, security etc. before putting a cent in your pocket. Then after dealing with all that, for every 2,000 customers who walk in your door only one shows any interest in what you�re selling. Note, I didn�t say they actually bought anything. They just asked a lukewarm question or two. Perhaps they�ll buy; chances are they won�t.

It�s not a very attractive business model. Yet that�s exactly what advertisers are being sold by website publishers every day. It�s what I was sold some years ago when I was marketing a travel related product. The salesperson from what was then Australia�s largest travel site got me all excited about contextual relevance, traffic numbers, time on site, engaged users blah, blah, blah. After spending many thousands of dollars, the rep proudly informed me that my campaign performed �off the charts�. Apparently it almost doubled the site�s display advertising average click through rate. And what rate was that? 0.7%.

We ended up paying $X00 per click and achieved virtually nothing because of the few people who did click most didn�t do what we wanted them to do. It was a disaster.

Now there will be many in the digital advertising business who will say that maybe:

a) My creativity sucked
b) There was no compelling call to action
c) Display is most effective when part of an integrated campaign
d) I didn�t test enough various creative, offers etc.
e) I wasn�t on the right � read their � site

You know what; there maROIy be some truth in all of those points. But I keep coming back to the numbers. Or in this case, THE number: 0.7%. Unless you�re selling nuclear reactors or Ferraris where you ROI per single sale is very high and your target market is very specifically defined, digital display advertising can be a very big and very black hole.

If you are looking for maximising the returns from your digital marketing investment, look to create and then leverage your own digital assets. Sure, other digital strategies like social media can drive engagement and be a big contributor to your online success but never forget that unless your last name is Zuckerberg, you don�t truly own the communities on your social media pages, accounts etc. Someone who does own them could decide to change their platform and �your� community could disappear in a single mouse click. Pretty scary, don�t you think? What you can control is your own website, blog and opt-in email database to which you can send relevant, targeted eDMs. You can create compelling content to syndicate on a variety of platforms that will be online forever and will continuously drive interested people to where you want them to go.

All of this is sounds a little small time to the �awareness merchants�. Schooled in the art of doing big brand building ad campaigns, this is all a bit fiddly. And they�re right. Interacting with individuals can be, let�s face it, a pain in the neck. Particularly when you�re used to paying for exposure to someone else�s community or audience.
If you want someone to buy what you�re selling there�s no better way to achieve that than to talk to them belly to belly and find out what they want and need and to then craft your pitch accordingly. Short of being able to do that, being able to digitally connect with them individually is the next best thing.

Of course traditional advertising is not dead and can still be highly effective, but as we�ve known for decades much of the investment you need to make is wasted and doesn�t achieve the desired results. As we�ve seen, digital marketing is by no means immune to wastage. The difference however, is that by running cost-effective tests and then implementing proven strategies it offers savvy, results-oriented marketers leverage well beyond what they�ve ever had before.

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Peter Applebaum

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