Brand Marketers Need to but Don't Deliver Satisfaction Online

Caught in Direct-Response Mindset, Why Banner Ads Continue to Underwhelm

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The number of people spending time online is rapidly increasing -- a brand advertiser's dream, right? But the brand dollars spent offline haven't really translated to online spend at the same rate as direct response dollars. While brand marketers have tried with banners and other forms of display ads, users aren't taking to it. Why? Simple: Display ads don't focus on users.

Focus on the Customer and All Else Will Follow
Direct marketing works online because of one reason: intent. When a user knows what she is looking for, what is better than typing into a search engine and finding exactly what she was looking for, even if it's a commercial offer? Satisfying this intent is the user value, and direct response marketing on the internet accomplishes this better than yellow page ads and classifieds ever could.

But brands don't work this way. Brand interactions aren't necessarily rooted with intent, but rather with a core need for satisfaction. They strive for, "I like this."

Satisfaction: The Difference Between Expectation and Experience.
Brands can't satisfy users with banner ads because they are misfiring on the two key ingredients in the satisfaction calculus: expectation and experience.

Imagine it's a hot day and you expect a Coca-Cola to quench your thirst. You put money into the vending machine and out comes that classic red can. There are two scenarios: "your first sip is ice cold" versus "your first sip is lukewarm."

In scenario one, your experience meets or exceeds your expectation; you are satisfied. In scenario two (lukewarm), your experience is below what you expected; you have negative satisfaction, or dissatisfaction.

TV ads are the ice cold can of Coke. When you sit down to watch your favorite show, you expect entertainment. You hope the ads aren't boring. Then you see a cute kid dressed as Darth Vader playing with his dad's new Volkswagen. Your experience exceeds your expectation. You are satisfied, and in turn, so is Volkswagen.

Online banner ads are that tepid soda. The next time you sit down to read about restaurants in your neighborhood, you will likely see a 728x90 leaderboard, a 300x250 on the right rail, and a photo to start the article. Here's what's missing: the content! Users expect to read an article, and they experience a distraction while trying to hunt for the content they wanted.

Social is a Good Start, but the Expectation is Missing
Brand marketing has begun to improve online with hypertargeting. Take a social network, for example. You can serve an ad to someone who clearly indicates that they have an affinity for football, high fives and drinking Miller Lite. If you're Bud Light, you can serve a small ad to the right side of the user's experience.

Amazing for a brand, right? Find your target age, gender and psychographics... and serve an ad to them! But your odds of interaction are pretty low. Why? Because the user is expecting to go and stay in touch with their friends.

If your friend happens to endorse a brand based on a great experience (with the product or with one of their TV ads), you may or may not interact with the brand. The targeting is there, but the likelihood isn't. Users don't expect to discover your brand when they're on a social network.

Surpassing Expectation is Key to Brand Advertising
Do you remember the first time you saw the E*Trade baby? What about the Geico Cavemen? You were likely entertained. You discovered a new brand (or at least a new side of one) that you may not have thought of. Expectations were set that you would be a drone in front of the TV and then you were entertained. Eureka! You experienced discovery.

An online delivery platform yielding a discovery experience has not been in the forefront. Yes, we can play a mid-roll video with high targeting, but how is that an improvement to the user from what we do on TV? Targeted audience, sure, but it still disrupts the overall entertainment value proposition.

Interactive websites are a brand marketers dream. Sony Pictures (Salt), Electronic Arts (Deadspace 2), and Nike (Air Jordan) have shown that there are new and engaging ways that we can create content for prospective brand enthusiasts. They have shown what marketers can do with a tabula rosa: create rich treasures for customers to discover.

The Discovery Mindset
Browsing content across the internet is a mostly pointed activity. You want to read news: you probably go to Want to shop? Go to Amazon. What about when you just want to see things that are interesting?

Humans are curious beings, yet the options for discovery across the internet have been limited in number. Curiosity breeds complexity, which has made for a difficult product challenge. StumbleUpon was created to address this challenge directly: how do we discover content that is geared specifically toward us.

In a world where URLs become less relevant, advertisers' need for discovery becomes increasingly important. A brand must find a way to create an experience that delights a user when they are expecting to discover something new.

Jack Krawczyk is senior product marketing manager at StumbleUpon.
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