Remembering Your Audience

Questions about the value of display ads continue: Are people “seeing” banners? Is what happens with a banner any different than what happens with other ads? Can we fix the problem? Do we need new, bigger banners? Is video the answer? Yes, no, sometimes, sometimes and sometimes.

These are fine questions to ask and we should continue to look into Web success metrics. But I worry that in focusing on impressions and clicks we’re ignoring something much bigger. I’m talking about digital’s chief benefits: The ability to “remember” consumer/brand interactions and to create relationships with consumers that transcend campaigns.

That is, if someone has seen your latest brand campaign, have they seen anything else you’ve done? Are they following along? Do you know? Thanks to the Web, you can.

In the days before the social Web, brands expended time and energy getting users to give up their e-mail addresses, usually unsuccessfully. What was being offered in return? Spam? I know firsthand that many brands’ e-mail lists are gathering virtual dust because they can’t figure out what to do with them.
But the instinct is correct: You want to know and follow up with your customers.
Maybe goals for interactive branding should be based on cumulative successes-not on how many impressions you received on a particular campaign, but how many carried over from the previous one. The great thing is you don’t have to rebuild from scratch the mechanism for tracking user interest in your campaign; design your campaign to have some meaningful interaction with the social network/s du jour and the tracking is done for you.

Over the last few years, some brands believed they should have their own social networks, and so diverted their time and resources into creating them. For example, some brands tried to imitate Facebook. But it’s becoming obvious (to most) that you should only build it if nobody else has done so or is going to. All major social platforms have some sort of open programming interface and a marketer can integrate the technology into its digital presence when appropriate. A brand can now be aware of a consumer’s interaction with its marketing nearly anywhere on the Web.

A marketing campaign’s touch points, for instance, can be designed around social media such as Twitter and Facebook Connect, both of which have open programming interfaces so you can “know” which users are interacting with your campaign.

Now, the tougher part. Let’s say you plan ahead-far ahead. You put in some extra effort and design your marketing so you’re not only integrating with new social technology, you’re remembering people as if you were actually their friends. You remember their names. You launch something clever this October and it catches my eye, say, and I interact with it (maybe I tweet or use Facebook Connect to simply log in). The system takes note. Fourteen months and two campaigns later, you do something else that catches my eye and I interact again. Your campaign should remember me. It should be able to more or less say, “Hey, Benjamin. How’s it going? Remember those pants you liked?”

This is where digital can offer something unique and manifestly effective in the way of building direct brand relationships.

Are we there yet? In terms of the technology, we’re getting there. But in terms of our marketing approach, it seems we have a long way to go. Ultimately what stands in the way is the campaign mind-set of the marketing world. In the past, the approach made sense: It was expensive to make a commercial and even costlier to run it. Then, once you stopped paying, people stopped seeing it. This clearly is not the case on the Web, where we have the opportunity to not just tell stories that last longer than a month (or even a year), but also run our marketing all the time instead of in short spurts.

Although it constitutes just one part of the digital puzzle, think about how silly cost-per-click search ads are on a “campaign” basis: If you’re only paying for qualified leads, who cares if they come in December or April?

Obviously, this gets us into the realm of budget allocation and all the rest, but we shouldn’t let those things stand in our way. Digital lets us do things differently. Why don’t we start?

Benjamin Palmer is CEO and co-founder of The Barbarian Group.