We’re Really Screwing Up The Banner Conversation

justin-choiData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Justin Choi, CEO at Nativo.

Over the past several months, the debate on banners has heated up – and gone in the wrong direction.

While I have read some interesting provocations, none have covered the future of display quite right, which is leading to conversations that miss some key issues.

As content becomes a more integral component of marketers’ strategic mix, I see several seismic shifts in the media landscape that are beginning to right-size, not eliminate, the role of banners.

The Move From Clicks To Attention

For the most part, banners were modeled after print ads, where context mattered and most advertisers didn’t expect consumers to immediately call and convert since brand metrics still showed favorable outcomes. But that all changed when direct-response metrics were introduced, without consideration to the consumer’s frame of mind (context). Impressions and clicks became the de facto units of measurement for digital advertising.

Click-based measurement reached its limits long ago. As better technology surfaced, we’ve seen a changing of the guard around digital measurement as many in the industry moved from clicks to attention. With greater access to performance data, the optimal role for display is coming into focus. In a DoubleClick study, display campaigns had the most impact – as high as 70% – in the middle of the funnel to create desire and boost purchase interest. In contrast, display only had about 15% to 20% impact on helping customers gain awareness. Furthermore, recent studies on retargeting display ads show significant downstream lift in conversions.

This data reinforces the argument that display serves as a great mid-funnel and lower-funnel tactic. That was always the case, but marketers overextended banners’ duties across the entire funnel because no other good options existed. Going forward, agencies, media planners and publishers should adapt their display strategies to take advantage of where banners perform best – to further the customer journey, not initiate it.

Content (Scaled) Changes the Funnel

Having established that display’s best role is further down the funnel, which marketing tactic is most effective at the top of the funnel? Content.

For years, marketers have known that content is the best vehicle for influence and engagement. That’s why marketers don’t post a stream of banner ads on their social streams. That would garner zero engagement.

The challenge with content has been scale, so marketers heavily used display as a crutch. The typical flow, with search and social excluded to focus on banners, would look like this:

Display (interruptive banners to grab a consumer’s attention) > Content (to drive influence) >

Display (to remind consumers) >

Brand site (conversion).

This flow is clunky and not aligned with today’s modern consumer journey. And with the low click rates of banners, the top of the funnel effectively looks more like a straw.

But today, marketers have much more sophisticated and efficient ways to scale content, allowing them to facilitate a more natural, streamlined path for consumers:

Content > display > brand site.

As consumers, we all know how jarring it is when someone dives right in with the hard sell. So why do we start with a hard sell in digital?

Now that marketers have the tools to scale content to initiate soft, ongoing conversations with consumers at the beginning of the relationship, display no longer must do double duty as an awareness and lead generation driver.

Connecting The Dots

Banner issues around fraud and viewability will eventually be addressed and solved in one way or another. But what’s missing from the banner conversation is the bigger opportunity to connect the dots between attention and action so that awareness, branding and influence don’t live separately from action and conversion.

If we don’t make this connection, we risk content’s potential, relegating it to just another traffic metric that marketers use to justify their ad spending. Content ends up devolving into yet another direct-response option for advertisers and we will have wasted our efforts.

The display conversation shouldn’t be headlined by the notion that banners are bad – we’ve just been using them incorrectly. Content, working in conjunction with banners, is a way to connect the dots and align with the natural customer journey.

Follow Justin Choi (@JustinCie), Nativo (@NativoPlatform) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Cushman

    Well written and reasoned Justin. Brands that have been studying their multi touch attribution metrics are seeing budget move up the funnel and I’m hearing more brands discuss the idea of mid-funnel marketing. This is an obvious evolution to me. Starting with Search and last touch marketing basically jumped from top of funnel TV to bottom of funnel Google. Since then display’s measurability and consumers’ switch to digital media is decimating the print business, but has failed to replace the high context quality of print or its ad production values. For example, where is digital’s equivalent of the Vanity Fair Hollywood edition? That’s a big gap……but I like how you are thinking about it.