Use online ads to bring your brand to customers

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Question: What's the best way for online advertising to effectively grab customers' attention?

Answer: Stop placing ads. Instead, focus on branded, actionable interactions within interactive media. Think beyond the "messaging" banner. Move from a strategy of exposure to one of engagement.

The typical online ad is a leftover from traditional advertising, focused on exposure and message placement. But online advertisers have the added goal of prompting a click, an action that is contrary to what the customer went to that site to do. That's like expecting you to drop this magazine now to go online and check out an offer. No wonder the vast majority of online advertising spends fall short of their goals.

We should consider changing our usual patterns and start using interactive media to their fullest capability. Consider the ad a customer's first experience with the brand, not their first step on the way to a product's site.

Imagine that you're targeting a customer so they'll buy your gadget. You've placed a banner that touts the gadget's features and benefits, asking customers to click to find out more. But why not offer customers a chance to experience the gadget right there? Bring the experience to the customers by letting them rotate the gadget within the banner. Let them see close-ups, colors and sizes. Give them real-time pricing, shipping and delivery information. Then, when customers do click through, configure the site to know them by delivering a customized experience, showing related items or other service options.

Some groups have picked up on this and are reaping the rewards: EBay lets customers search within the banner. BrownCo placements provide cost comparisons and real-time quotes for likely investors. And CNN streams real-time news into banners.

I love reminding myself that while we place media, customers place themselves; and while we decide what to offer, customers decide what to accept. It confirms that online is different. It's unlike any other medium because the customer is in complete control, and we have to reach them on their terms. When done right, online ads become an extension of the overall brand experience. It's no longer advertising, but brand participation. It is engagement instead of exposure. It is a branded experience that is compelling, relevant, actionable and satisfying, right then and there.

Stephen Thompson is VP-creative at interactive marketing agency He can be reached at [email protected]

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