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Does Brand Awareness Advertising Even Matter Anymore?
It’s been a good week here at A Media Operator with a number of published pieces, new ad partners, and a big jump in new subscriptions.
But before we get into the meat of the piece, I have a small request. I want to keep making AMO better for you, so would you please take this short product survey? This way, AMO Pro can become exactly what you need. Take the survey here. Thanks so much!
Now, let’s jump in…
Before the internet, advertising was a glorious business. Being an ad salesperson was as easy as signing insertion orders. There wasn’t much competition, and tracking performance was more of an art than a science.
19th-century retailer John Wanamaker is notorious for saying, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” When you didn’t know which half was a waste, you had to continue spending, hoping that overall sales would offset the waste.
The internet changed that, though, but it has taken time. That’s why the earliest online advertisements looked like print ads with brighter colors. Over time, we’ve seen a proliferation of ad-tracking technology, attempting to prove that advertising was working. And yet, there’s quite a bit of waste. According to the Association of National Advertisers:
The study’s primary conclusion is that the $88 billion open web programmatic media ecosystem is riddled with as much as $20 billion in waste, a figure that represents 23 percent of the total open web programmatic media investment by marketers. One of the key reasons is that incentives driving advertiser behavior are often misaligned with the goals of their marketing campaigns, the report said.
Burning nearly a quarter of all dollars on fraud is not exactly what advertisers want. That money could either be redeployed to other advertising sources or pushed to the bottom line, making their businesses more profitable. Despite the internet promising legitimate tracking, it’s evident that things are still very bad.
And so, the natural end state of all of this is for there to be a push toward performance. If we can’t trust ad impressions, why not simply trust actual conversions? Nothing is more trustworthy than the sound of a cash register going off (digitally, of course). And that’s effectively what Mike Shields over at Next in Media wrote this week:
Which made me wonder whether these conversations we’ve been having about new currencies and panels and new ways to track reach and frequency are going to look pointless if a few years, especially as performance media takes over, and more of these kinds of executives take on leadership positions.
For example, even the traditional media companies at the Summit, (I won’t say who, as the event was mostly off the record) talked openly the need to move their own colleagues past old-school thinking regarding measurement and branding.
They boasted of bringing more performance metrics to their platforms, which is leading to thousand of new, smaller advertisers.
And, of course, this makes sense for the advertiser. Why pay for anything that doesn’t immediately translate into a sale? Naturally, this could have publishers concerned since we derive a solid percentage of our advertising revenue from brand advertising. One reader reached out to me after reading our Tuesday piece on newsletters and said this:
So for newsletters, whose value proposition is to cover and communicate clear information, people are reading these to not leave the newsletter and decide to book a flight in the carpool line. I just think it has blown my mind to see this push to a marketing environment that puts zero value on top-of-funnel brand awareness. Impressions from the right audience who trust the publishers matter a ton.
You also see this as the tail is wagging the dog in all these brands forcing a race to the bottom for affiliates. Hey, let me tell your audience about how great our product is, and I will only pay you if they click/convert.
The frustration is understandable. Moving to a pure-play performance play is effectively free brand advertising since you only get compensated on closed deals. And so, if you promote a product, the user doesn’t click, and then that user buys said product another way, you get no credit even though you helped make them aware that the product existed in the first place. I, of course, would be very frustrated by this.
Yet, the trend toward performance isn’t going to stop. Marketers need to know that their ad dollars are working for them, and the easiest way to do that is with conversions. And so, to use something my friend Heather over at H2K Labs said to me on a call recently, “You have to focus on the things you can control.” And when it comes to brand advertising, a few things are squarely in your control.
First, publishers need to educate partners on the value of brand advertising. It is not enough to say, “brand is good.” Instead, you need to help partners articulate to their bosses why it’s vital for the business's long-term health. I come back to this quote from Colin Fleming, senior VP of Global Brands, Events and Customer Marketing at Salesforce:
We found a great study on B2B buying behavior showing that two-thirds of the time, when a business decision-maker purchases software, they already have a brand in mind. And 94% of the time, the buyer ends up sticking with that brand. So if you’re not part of the original consideration set, there’s no way you’re getting bought.
Help partners understand that they will miss out on business if they are not promoting their brands and show them the data. That’s 62% of prospective deals not going to a product if they are not promoting their brand. This comes before the performance ad. This comes before the lead gen.
Second, you need the right products. Too often, publishers get lazy with run-of-site brand advertising and say, “banner ads are good enough.” Are they, though? At this point, we are all blind to them. Instead, we need to push products that get a reader engaged. I’m a big fan of using content for this, which is why one of the products I’ve introduced on AMO is the sponsored deep dive. It’s an opportunity for the brand to be around helpful content specific to what their target buyer will be interested in. And if it has to be a banner ad, at least let it be contextually relevant to the content.
Third, you need to tell a story about who is actually engaging with those brand assets. In other words, you should be able to tell the advertiser whether their target buyer was engaging with the content. This is why the website is increasingly becoming important. Reading a newsletter ad is hard to track, but reading an article is much easier thanks to CDPs and 1st-party cookies. Therefore, you can let your advertisers know who engaged with their content so they understand that their target buyer is learning about the brand.
Finally, you need to look at brand advertising as part of a funnel. Once you’ve educated your partners, created the right products, and told a story about who was engaging with those products, you can now create more holistic packages for partners. A reader who sees a brand advertisement today could just as easily click on a performance ad tomorrow. Therefore, make sure ad packages can actually support this full-funnel approach.
As I said up top, we cannot get away from the fact that there is an intense push toward performance. So much money is wasted on “reach impressions.” But that doesn’t minimize the fact that brand building is important, and we, as publishers, should be compensated for that. We need to arm our sellers and partners with the information they need to help overcome the resistance toward brand building.
Brand advertising isn’t going away, but it will get more challenging. Education and data… are things you can control, and that’s how you can retain those budgets.
Thanks for reading today’s AMO. If you have thoughts, hit reply or join the AMO Slack to chat further. It has been rather active these last few weeks, so I hope to see you there!
Also, if you missed the latest stories we published this week, dig in here. We published a sponsored deep dive with BlueConic, a “what-if” scenario of Best Buy acquiring CNET, a deep dive into transparency for membership businesses, and then an analysis of what comes next for BuzzFeed.
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