A cou­ple of days ago at the Medi­a­post OMMA Behav­ioral Insider event, I pre­sented to the audi­ence about what should be the best friend of behav­ioral tar­get­ing net­works: site opti­miza­tion and site targeting.

I took the stage imme­di­ately after indus­try leg­end Dave Mor­gan, whom Steve Smith, the host of the event, called “Mr. Behav­ioral Tar­get­ing.” Dave’s larger-than-life his­tory includes found­ing Real Media and then Tacoda, sell­ing to AOL, and becom­ing their SVP for Global Ad Sales.  I have long admired Dave, and have met with him a few times over the past 5 years to dis­cuss how behav­ioral tar­get­ing and Web ana­lyt­ics could work closely together. From the first cup of cof­fee we shared in New York 5 years ago, we agreed that both the ad side and the site side were co-dependent.

So, being care­ful not to offend the media buy­ing and advertising-centric crowd that was sure to make up this event, we talked about the need for the online adver­tis­ing folks to not only real­ize that the site is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of every cam­paign, but to start evan­ge­liz­ing for inte­grat­ing site opti­miza­tion to increase cam­paign suc­cess as part of their efforts.

As the total inter­ac­tive ad spend grows from its cur­rent $20 bil­lion to the $61 bil­lion that For­rester esti­mates will be spent by 2012, we are begin­ning to see smart mar­ket­ing exec­u­tives real­ize they must invest more in the site. After all, ads fun­nel vis­i­tors to the site — with­out a site that hums, noth­ing is sold, and no mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ship is built.

That means that the ads actu­ally depend on the site for ROI. But cur­rently, the money in inter­ac­tive spend still skews much more towards the ad-spend side than the site side. If you con­sider that the typ­i­cal web site for a com­pany receives the major­ity of its traf­fic from non-paid sources, one could argue that the spend is weighted on the wrong side for strate­gic value.  Some may say that this is because mar­keters are still learn­ing how to mar­ket using this new chan­nel, and buy­ing traf­fic is a rel­a­tively easy process — eas­ier, at least, than tack­ling the multi-dimensional strate­gic design, voice, flow and usabil­ity of a web site.

Think of an ice­berg: the tip of the ice­berg, which rep­re­sents ad spend­ing, is more vis­i­ble and easy to focus on. The tip is also what is eas­ily seen, and what there­fore first engages a new audi­ence. How­ever, the mass of the ice­berg, as we all know, is 90% below the water. In other words, 90% (or more) of the process of turn­ing a vis­i­tor into a cus­tomer hap­pens on the site.

The ice­berg is a sin­gle entity — the 10% above the water and the 90% below are indeli­bly con­nected to each other. From the visitor’s point of view, the ad starts a brand impres­sion that is con­tin­u­ous, from view to click to site visit to con­ver­sion to repeat visit. Vis­i­tors don’t view the ad impres­sion as a sin­gle step from the media team which then hands off the site to the site team. They view the whole encounter as an ice­berg, a sin­gle brand expe­ri­ence with you.

Cus­tomer expec­ta­tions are on the rise with the Web Chan­nel, and when they see an ad that is rel­e­vant, their antic­i­pa­tion grows that the next click will deliver even greater value.  When the next expe­ri­ence leads them to a place where the con­ver­sa­tion is for­got­ten or worse, where the con­ver­sa­tion goes com­pletely side­ways and is dis­jointed, the antic­i­pa­tion leads to dis­ap­point­ment and the vis­i­tor leaves.  We call this unfor­tu­nate series of events “antici­point­ment.”  Today the chasm of antici­point­ment is great for most com­pa­nies, and the real costs in low con­ver­sion rates, lost brand value add to the poor cus­tomer expe­ri­ence in still to be tack­led effi­cien­cies of the Web chan­nel for marketers.

To offer solu­tions to the prob­lem of antici­point­ment, we have been work­ing hard to build out our online mar­ket­ing suite over the past 18 months.  There is a con­cept called the Online Mar­ket­ing Value Chain that we are dis­cussing quite a bit.  The idea is sim­i­lar to the ice­berg metaphor.  The vis­i­tor sees a mes­sage whether it’s in the form of a behav­iorally tar­geted ad, a tar­geted email, or a search result, and they decide whether there is enough value in that mes­sage to engage in the next click.  If they do, and they arrive on your site’s land­ing page or home page, they are look­ing for more value with each click they make, as they 1) engage deeper in the site, 2) make their way through the con­ver­sion oppor­tu­nity, and 3) become a loyal customer.

Com­pa­nies today are invest­ing in a host of tech­nolo­gies to deliver more value to the cus­tomer and enhance their expe­ri­ence and engage­ment in the site, from efforts such as land­ing page opti­miza­tion using MVT or AB test­ing, or on-site tar­get­ing, or on-site search, wid­gets, cus­tomer reviews, sur­veys and rec­om­men­da­tions.  These appli­ca­tions have the right intent but need to be part of the log­i­cal cus­tomer dia­logue and not just another exam­ple a one-way dis­jointed con­ver­sa­tion from the com­pany talk­ing out­ward.  To make this a dia­logue with each cus­tomer that makes sense, a com­mon cus­tomer dataset must be shared across all of the appli­ca­tions so each appli­ca­tion knows what level of engage­ment the cus­tomer had with each other appli­ca­tion and takes that into account as it is invoked, so it con­tin­ues the same con­ver­sa­tion and doesn’t change course or start it all over again.

We used the ice­berg anal­ogy, and talked through the Online Mar­ket­ing Value Chain at the OMMA event, and the audi­ence seemed engaged the whole time. They seemed to agree that they were ulti­mately depen­dant on the site itself for con­ver­sion and ROI suc­cess. Still, it was clear that most of the folks don’t have respon­si­bil­ity for the site — so while they agree, they feel they aren’t really in a posi­tion to do much about it.

As a dig­i­tal indus­try, we can’t accept this state of affairs. We need to go far­ther than nod­ding our heads and then going back to the same con­ver­sa­tion we had yes­ter­day. Dig­i­tal indus­try folks need to start inter­nal­iz­ing and evan­ge­liz­ing that the site is A CRITICAL com­po­nent in every cam­paign, and we need to plan, buy and exe­cute every cam­paign with both own­ers in the room work­ing together. The site needs traf­fic to hit its growth num­bers, and behav­iorally tar­geted traf­fic has been proven time and time again to be among the high­est yield­ing traf­fic an adver­tiser can drive. That same traf­fic needs a site that con­tin­ues the con­ver­sa­tion in a rel­e­vant man­ner, from land­ing page through to con­ver­sion, which in many cases takes a few vis­its to occur.

At the end of last year, a group called the Cor­po­rate Exec­u­tive Board came out with a report called “Iden­ti­fy­ing the Dri­vers of Dig­i­tal Effec­tive­ness”, in which they eval­u­ated the four major areas of dig­i­tal invest­ment in mar­ket­ing: dis­play adver­tis­ing, email mar­ket­ing, search mar­ket­ing, and the web site itself. They found that the most strate­gic area for invest­ment for most com­pa­nies should be the web site. The report didn’t get much media atten­tion, prob­a­bly because the media that report on dig­i­tal love to talk about the sexy side of the busi­ness — which tends to be ad-centric rather than site-centric.

So all in all, we were really pleased with the warm wel­come we had at the con­fer­ence, and we look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with the online adver­tis­ing indus­try in future events.  But we believe there’s still a lot of work to do. Every pro­fes­sional in the dig­i­tal indus­try needs to begin break­ing down the silos between the ad side and the site side, and real­iz­ing that silos are a huge pre­ven­tion to the age-old mantra we all learned about in our first jobs: inte­grated marketing.


I completely agree with the article. "Still, it was clear that most of the folks don’t have responsibility for the site " is typical scenarios that we face with our clients. Even when areas of improvement in Site is identified and informed to the client the time taken by time to set things right is really long. It is where i believe an Internal Web Analytics Team may have a better success rate in convincing the management. Advertisements create the expectations in the minds of visitors, make them click and when the visitor feels the site doesnt deliver what he expects, he moves out as fast as he entered. Hence it is ultimately the site that will have to do the selling... Pals

Avinash Kaushik
Avinash Kaushik

Here is a quote I have been using recently Brent: "Never let your ads write chq's that your website can't cash." - AK. :) Like in real life that leads to bankruptcy! Your post is a timely reminder. -Avinash.