Advertising is a Catalyst, Not an Answer

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on January 23, 2010

Thousands of years ago, we learned how to tell our story visually.  Commercial messages have been found in the ruins of Pompei and paintings on rock walls were quite popular for awhile.   As more people learned how to read and write, we evolved how we communicate.  Rock walls lost their fizz and town criers became cool until we created the printing press.  Eventually, someone had the bright idea of creating a daily update and we moved into the world of newspapers.  With all this new space available to reach people, it wasn’t too long before the first paid advertising occurred in 1836 in the French newspaper, La Presse.

Once ads started, ad agencies were not far behind with the creation of Havas in the 1840’s as everyone realized how ads could help newspapers lower price and reach valuable customers.   Not much changed for the next 150 or so years as we learned how to get more sophisticated in how we advertise, but the concept was largely the same.   We went from rock walls to billboards.  From commercial messages in Pompei to commercial messages on TV.  The concept was the same and when done well, it was amazingly effective.

Fast forward to 1998 and our friends at Google emerge with a new way to learn and tell your story.  Disruptive for sure, but we are often slow to change, so many folks, even today, still hold on to the idea that advertising is the way to tell your story and for customers to learn about your brand.  Just one more billboard…one more SuperBowl Ad….just one more of a lot of things.

The reality is we are experiencing a shift in the importance of advertising.  It is still important, but in a much different way.

Advertising is no longer the most effective way to tell your story.  Customers believe their peers are more credible.  Most of us form our first impression of a brand via search.  We read ratings and reviews.  We learn on YouTube.

Advertising is now a catalyst that triggers an offline and online experience that leads customers to learn, share and decide what they will do in the future and they do this on their own time.   Anyone who spends a lot of money in advertising or email marketing or other forms of promotion is experiencing this change.

Future leaders in Marketing will  use advertising strategically to start conversations or to shift the conversation, but will not have the expectation that the campaign will be the answer and the key driver of all sales success.  It will lead to more focused use of advertising and less continual drip versions of campaigns.

The answer is all about what your customers, the people who buy your brands, do when their awareness is triggered.  And they do this for weeks and months after their interest is triggered, not when you want them to do it.  Here is a sample of what is happening today.

Consumers exposed to display advertising are spending far more time (55%) than average visitors going to a site up to 30 days after the ad is seen (and page views were up 50+% in the same study)

48% of Twitter users introduced to a brand on Twitter say they are compelled to search for additional information.

30% of this same group say their inspiration is to learn more.

44% recommend products in social media and 39%  have discussed a product specifically on Twitter.

Essentially, advertising starts the search to learn more.  And I mean, search, literally.

Even the large holding companies are embracing this change.  Group M, part of WPP, did research showing that consumers exposed to a brand’s social media and paid search programs are 2.8x more likely to search for that brand’s products compared to users who only saw paid search.

So next time you are thinking of investing money in an advertising campaign, ask yourself the following questions:

#1 – Is this an integrated campaign that will create the right learning experience for my customer?

#2 – Am I measuring the online impact of how people search, recommend and discuss my brand related to the advertising over time or am I still stuck measuring the old school stuff, like traffic to my site and other short-term transactional measures?

#3 – Am I launching a campaign that actually builds intelligence on how customers want to interact, so I can understand how to build a lasting communications model that works for the brand and the customer?

#4 –Is my campaign flexible enough that I can adjust to what I learn?

#5 – Am I investing in what really matters to move the needle?

We are at the beginning of a major transition in how we utilize advertising effectively.  It will remain valuable, but how we use it will change significantly.

All the best, Bob

By: Bob Pearson

Bob is the President of W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies. He is an author, frequent speaker and instructor for Rutgers center for management development. After the success of his book Pre-Commerce, Bob is currently working on a new book on the future of media titled Storytizing that will be available in 2014. Prior to W2O Group, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function -- an industry-leading approach to the use of social media, as highlighted in the best seller, GroundSwell. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee. He also serves on a variety of Boards in health and technology. Highlights include serving as an original member of the P&G digital advisory board and being appointed by the Governor of Texas to serve as chair and vice chair of the emerging technology fund for the State of Texas.

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Pre-Commerce Check out W2O Group President Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on! Join the conversation #precommerce.

2 Responses

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  1. Outstanding insight, Bob. Truly.

  2. I believe we are in the eye of the storm which is bringing a paradigm shift in the way media is delivered consumed and monetised. Consider a scenario where the consumer begins to rapidly narrow his or her vision to a handful of destinations, because they’ve settled to a large degree on what they want so won’t be ‘searching’ for it anymore. Buying choices and media consumption all start to be done socially by recommendation (fb, twitter, foursquare, trip advisor etc.) and let’s be honest the so called targeted ads on any of those are so tacky and irrelevant they surely aren’t sustainable. Then the answer is increased branded entertainment and social engagement with consumers and not advertising at all. Which would put Google on a downward curve and WPP et al on a steep uphill one… Brands are currently starved of elegant ways to engage through the aformentioned, but that will gradually change… Look forward to discussing your client sponsorship of one or more of our profiles on 😉

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