“Finally, the ad I’ve been waiting for!”
There are almost seven billion people on Earth, and virtually none of them have uttered the above sentence. Our theories of effective advertising leave much to be desired, to say the least.
I believe that we can re-imagine online advertising to create a better world for both businesses and consumers. This model, if properly executed, would represent a disruptive, revolutionary step forward in the history of advertising.
That sounds exciting, but before we look towards the future of new and unique advertising ideas, we must first understand the nature and problems of online advertising today. “Those who do not understand the past are doomed to repeat it“, right?
The problem with advertising is two-fold:
- Advertising is forced upon us – People don’t choose to see ads. As a result, consumers feel exploited and sometimes fight back using ad-blockers and TiVo.
- Advertisers have a vested interest – Companies are trying to sell products, and consumers can’t trust them to tell the whole story. Lots of people lave learned how to use forums and websites to provide unbiased reviews and advices – something that has long been lacking in advertising.
As a result, advertising is generally mistrusted and resented. Online advertising, which will be the focus of our conversation here, ranked quite poorly on Nielsen’s trust in advertising survey, as you can see from their diagram below:
In Search of Effective Advertising
It is against this backdrop of consumer resentment and mistrust that we embark on a journey to re-imagine advertising and create a new solution that is better suited to the needs of all parties.
Today there are two broad categories of online advertising that we need to understand. There is traditional advertising, which I will broadly define as any advertising that involves the paid placement of text, image or video messages. The second category is social advertising, which is made up of a brand’s engagement with audiences through social media.
Both advertising models have a piece of the puzzle, but there are a few entirely new elements that will need to be added (we’ll get to the innovative stuff in a moment).
Traditional online advertising techniques have been largely transplanted from the physical world. Highway billboards became banner ads, TV commercials became video ads, and so forth.
Broadly speaking, traditional online advertising comes in two forms:
- Conversion advertising
- The business wants you to buy something
- You click on an ad and are taken to a sales page
- The business can:
- Make money
- Easily track outcomes in the form of profit
- Optimize their conversion rate
- The business cannot:
- Measure your feelings or actions with respect to the brand outside of the purchase process
- The business wants to shape your perceptions
- The business can:
- (Ideally) create goodwill or a sense of affection
- The business cannot:
- Track the results of their campaign very effectively
- Optimize future campaigns very effectively
Traditional advertising is generally forced upon us whether we want it or not, which sometimes creates resentment. In addition, the conversation is inherently one-way: the advertiser pushes messages on us, and the only way we can express our opinion is by attempting to block ads entirely. Annoying people with ads is bad for everyone, this is why we desperately need to invest in new advertising ideas.
This communication breakdown is bad for both parties. Consumers see ads that annoy or offend them, and businesses are forced to think of their customers as nothing more than sales statistics and conversion rates. The ‘sale’ itself is only the tip of the brand-customer relationship iceberg, but it’s all that businesses can see.
Advertisers are flying in the dark without radar, so to speak.
Social Media Presence
Perhaps the answer is social media, as the gurus and “unicorns and rainbows” consultants claim. Maybe businesses just need to “join the conversation,” and better customer relationships and profits will follow (we hope).
By this point, most businesses at least have a presence on social media. Conversion advertising still exists (brands can simply buy ads on Facebook or Twitter, for example). However, businesses can also engage with individuals, their broader audience or the entire marketplace.
Two Forms of Social Presence
- Conversion advertising –
- The business is still trying to get you to buy something
- Basically the same as traditional advertising, but you can add social signals (“3 friends Like this page”, “your friend John recommends this business”)
- Relationship and audience management –
- The business can interact with individual customers by:
- Providing customer service
- Engaging with promoters and detractors
- The business can interact with individual customers by:
- The business can interact with its audience as a whole by:
- Sharing information, offers or other media to promote discussion or conversion
- The business can interact with the broader marketplace by:
- Monitoring discussion about the brand
- Tracking the reach of their messages
- Responding to product-related comments
Social media gives businesses the ability to interact with and understand their customers face-to-face, one person at a time. Social platforms facilitate word-of-mouth spread of information and enable many-to-many conversations.
Today, smart businesses generally use social media in an attempt to build closer, more personal relationships with their customers. (Less-smart businesses use social media because everyone else is doing it, but that’s another story).
Social media platforms are certainly powerful and revolutionary, but they haven’t been utilized to their full potential, as we will see in a moment.
Now that we understand the current advertising situation, let’s start forging a new and better model. To start, we need to understand and address what each party really wants.
|Revenue today and trusting, referral-generating customers tomorrow.||To live better lives.|
|A way to generate and measure results in terms of profit, trust and referrals.||To be connected with a healthy amount of the right products and services.|
Let’s pretend you have formed a group of thought-leaders (people like Danny) who have each created information products to help entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Your job is to create an advertising platform that fulfils the expert’s and consumer’s needs as effectively as possible.
Imagine this Solution
Build a website designed to help entrepreneurs and small business owners continually improve their enterprises by leveraging the experience of your thought-leaders. Relationships in this ecosystem will be built on the basis of mutual obligation and trust.
Step 1: Identify Customer Needs
Customers interested in improving their businesses will create an account with your advertising platform by logging in through Facebook. They will then select the areas of business development that they are most interested in, and indicate how much money they think it would be healthy for them to invest in information products each month.
For example, I helped start a local thrift store called Encore. I could indicate that increasing store traffic was our highest priority and that I am willing to invest $20 per month.
Take a moment to appreciate the potential here: a traditional advertiser would probably kill for these insights into the buyer’s needs.
Step 2: Rank Products
You would then establish objective rating mechanisms to determine which of the many information products you represent are best suited to specific needs. User reviews, refund statistics and a standardized method of measuring the actual results the product produces could all be leveraged.
Step 3: Match Products to Customers
Next, you would need to create a computerized matching system to connect the right products to the right customers, making sure not to ask them to buy more than they are willing to spend. This is the difficult part, but even if you had something very basic to begin with (or even did it manually!) you could buy yourself time to steadily improve your service’s personalization capabilities.
Step 4: Spark the Transaction
All that is left is to present your customers with the recommended products. You should experiment with different channels, but anything from email to text messages to personally targeted banner ads could work. Each product should be sold from a standardized page on your site. All of the objective information, such as user reviews, results and refund percentages should be available for the customer to see.
Remember that the best sales pages simply assure customers that they have all of the information needed to make the right decision.
If the customer buys a product, then the advertising platform (you) would earn a modest commission. This gives you an incentive to match customers with great products as effectively as possible.
Remember that power is still in the customer’s hands: if a certain business betrays their trust, the customer can choose to never see that business’s products again. This “sledgehammer” feedback mechanism would act as a red flag indicating that a business had badly stepped out of line.
Metrics that make Businesses Salivate
Hopefully this idea appeals to you as a consumer (trust, focus on results, and personal control sound pretty good to me), but the best is yet to come. If you’re a business owner, that is.
This platform offers amazing advantages for businesses or product owners. Instead of just measuring revenue, the business could gain insights on two other critical areas: trust and referrals. Even better, businesses could benchmark their performance against their competitors and use that data to drive constant improvement.
Measuring trust (and changes in trust) would be relatively easy. The platform could simply ask customers to answer the net promoter question before and two weeks after each purchase. Customers would have the option to leave comments explaining any sudden shifts in trust.
Imagine the power of this insight for businesses! A business owner could immediately see that customers who buy Product A think more highly of the brand two weeks later, while Product B significantly reduces their trust. Products themselves could finally be optimized based on real data, not just anecdotes.
Recall that customers signed up through Facebook. They could easily be incentivized to link their Twitter accounts as well.
This connection would allow the advertising platform to track any mention of its brands or products, and evaluate whether each comment is positive or negative. It could also record direct links to product pages – the most obvious forms of referrals.
Businesses could also use this Facebook and Twitter strategy to identify customers who are biggest referrers and engage with them appropriately. They could also monitor the content of brand-specific comments just after the purchase of particular products to gauge its “talk value” or “viral potential.”
Finally, businesses could compare their brands, products and customer engagement stats with the rest of the marketplace. This transparency would incentivize each business to improve its offerings and customer relationships over time.
Objective, immediate, actionable feedback would allow businesses within the ad network to optimize their products and customer experiences far faster than the competition outside the network. Imagine how easy it would be to recruit businesses to an advertising platform that also provided a sustainable competitive advantage.
While you might not have the resources to create an entire advertising platform, you can certainly work to build closer relationships with your customers and more effectively measure their trust and referrals. Allowing your customers to post public, objective reviews is a powerful first step towards both increased transparency and better feedback.
A new era in business is dawning, one where “the sale” is only the tip of the iceberg. Most businesses can’t see or measure anything below the surface, but those who do will have an enormous competitive advantage.