The Internet has been both blessed and cursed by the click. Blessed because it differentiated itself as more measurable than traditional media -- and cursed because it has pigeonholed the medium as an engine of direct-response.
A new survey of top marketers by Forbes.com confirms that the Web has far to go to prove itself as a vehicle for brand building. When asked what measures they used to gauge success, just 31 percent said brand building topped the list, and 14 percent said reach.
Direct marketing metrics, on the other hand, scored highly. About 82 percent of those surveyed identified conversions as the leading gauge, 55 percent said registrations and 51 percent said clicks.
"On the Web specifically, advertising has moved into more demand fulfillment as opposed to demand creation," said Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com. "That's not really advertising. There's nothing wrong with it. Doing search marketing and point-of purchase-displays all works, but it's not advertising. It's not about creating demand and improving brand metrics."
The attitudes reflected in the study bode well for search and e-mail marketing compared to display ads and video. SEO, pay-per-click ads and e-mail were identified as the most effective means of generating conversions. Video and display ads were at the bottom.
The survey polled 119 senior marketers and was conducted in February and March.
The challenge for those selling brand advertising online is not to run from measurement, Spanfeller said, but to embrace new forms of evaluating its effectiveness. "We're going to need to go forward with a supportable ROI, but I think we'll have to push the type of metrics being measured."
That means a move away from relying solely on bottom-of-the-funnel metrics to include more brand-health measures -- and embracing frequency online, which can drive up perceived costs in a cost-per-impression model, Spanfeller added.
The most widespread digital marketing still happens with old-school approaches like e-mail and search optimization, both of which were used by 74 percent of respondents. In comparison, 38 percent used CPM buys on Web sites and 28 percent ran video ads.
Respondents expressed the most satisfaction with their direct response tactics. Eight-five percent said they were satisfied with their search optimization efforts and 78 percent were positive about search advertising. Impression-based advertising scored lower, with 63 percent satisfaction. Just over 50 percent were pleased with ad networks, which scored lowest.
When it comes to branding, some direct response vehicles performed surprisingly well. For instance, 32 percent said SEO was most effective for lifting brand perception and 30 percent said e-mail newsletters -- that trailed site sponsorships (43 percent) but beating out CPM ads (25 percent) and video spots (18 percent).
Looking ahead, viral marketing, SEO and behavioral targeting were the tactics most frequently identified for budget increases in the next six months. Ad networks fared worst, with 53 percent anticipating decreases.
CPM ad buys are also at risk, with 35 percent expected to decrease spending. (They performed better with marketers spending over $1 million, with only 23 percent anticipating cuts.) Another 31 percent said they would cut spending on site sponsorships.
Display advertising is not faring as well as search in terms of maintaining spending in a recession, but it should rebound with bigger ads, better creative and a better understanding of how each piece of the marketing ecosystem works, Spanfeller said.
"There's a need for branding and advertising has exited for 100 years or more because it works," he said.