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Evan Russell 

Environment matters: getting online branding right

Environment matters: getting online branding right

InSkin Media's Evan Russell says there is a very fine line between people thinking a brand is clever online - and just plain annoying. So what should brands do to get it right?

I've always believed that effective online branding should be about good-looking, impactful ads, carefully placed in relevant, premium environments. At InSkin Media, we've always reported back on dwell times and engagement insight; but, all too often, the success metric comes down purely to CTR.

CTR can be a useful metric; it's often a campaign KPI and gives an indication of interest - but should not be the sole measure of the success of an online branding campaign. There are so many more interesting things to evaluate. Even if we (generously) think that 1% of users that see an ad will click, what effect is that ad having on the 99% of users that see it and don't click?

According to our recent research, Familiarity, Frequency and Fine Lines, carried out with media planning and buying agency, Rapp, and market research company Research Now, a third of people never click on online ads; but that doesn't mean that they are impervious to online advertising. If we solely focus on measuring CTR we're missing a lot of potential customers, and may well be missing the key point of the branding activity in the first place.

Accidental clicks are skewing things too: according to the research, 32% of people had accidentally clicked on an ad in the last week. Analysing post click dwell times gives us insight into whether people are intentionally clicking and staying around - something else to add to the success metric mix.

Data awareness is mainstream

We are seeing more and more ad targeting based on algorithmic predictions of who we are likely to be, and what our interests are. These automated decisions are based on our browsing history, previous purchases, where we live, how old we've told Facebook we are, among many other digital details of our personal lives.

With recent front page stories on The Economist and Wired about the ad industry's use of data to target ads based on behaviours, this issue goes beyond niche industry publications. Our research revealed that 77% of people are aware that data was being collected about them to serve advertising, and only 1% had never heard of cookies.

In the pursuit of performance (ROI), with the sole measure of success being a click or purchase, brands can lose sight of the potential for negative brand impact caused by excessive frequency or over-targeting.

Other factors need to be taken into consideration, to avoid irritating consumers and doing lasting damage to the brand image. Our research showed that 53% of people initially consider online ads interesting and useful. However, when seen up to five times, they become 'annoying' and 'intrusive', and at 10 exposures, 'angry' is the dominant reaction.

Environment matters

Environment and context are key areas for advertisers to consider, to improve not only the performance, but also the sentiment towards their brand. An ad which is considered clever in one environment, can quickly be thought of as intrusive in a less-relevant environment.

Our study showed that people are twice as likely to like an ad if it appears on a site that they think is good quality, and 37% more likely to interact if it's on a site they trust.

At a time when brand safety is paramount, advertisers need to give thought to the negative brand impact of serving ads in irrelevant environments.

We also need to offer multiple opportunities to engage consumers at whatever point they may be in the decision-making process.

People are four times more likely to be encouraged than discouraged to buy something if they see a relevant ad during their research, but ads seen after research or purchase can discourage further brand consideration.

So 'buy now' is not always an appropriate call to action. Let's offer the consumer options - find out more, see the range, book a test drive, Like on Facebook, watch the 'making of' - the options are many, and can be tailored to suit all points of the consumer journey.

Tips for success

These powerful stats back up that not every impression is equal. We should be thinking about environment and context from the very start of campaign planning, and attaching value to getting it right. We need to adapt our approach and creative to suit these environments. Targeting should be a strategic, brand-led consideration.

- Make sure you think about the environment, context and timing of your placements. A well placed ad is worth its weight in gold. These can be the fine lines between people thinking your brand is clever, or annoying.

- Adapt your creative to suit the context and environment that the ad will appear in. Try to avoid the 'one shoe fits all' approach.

- Consider where users may be in the decision-making process - offer more than a 'buy now' to be more relevant if they aren't ready to purchase. Or already have.

- Allow people to be in control of the experience. Try not to force or trick them into anything, and always let people know what's happening during their interaction.

- Remember brand recall can be negative as well as positive - look deeper into how people feel about what you are doing. Then adapt your approach if you need to.

- Set out your KPIs to measure online branding success in more than just CTR.

- From a data and tech point of view, just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should.


Evan Russell is InSkin Media's UK sales director

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Tess Alps, Chair, Thinkbox on 31 Oct 2014
“It's a great and much-needed study that I was lucky enough to see presented at the launch. Do ask to see the whole thing. One thing that emerged during the post-presentation discussion was the dangerous silos that exist within brands where online response ads, including retargeting, are often not the responsibility of the Marketing team, but the online trading or acquisition teams. These people only have a short-term focus and they are trashing brands in their pursuit of a click at any cost.”
Martin Ash, Director, Millward Brown on 31 Oct 2014
“This a neat summary of what those of us in the branding world have been saying for a long time; but is a very timely reminder of some branding principles that are in danger of being forgotten in the surge to chase audiences via automated trading. I applaud InSkin for their work!”