Not a day goes by, it seems, when we're not on the phone talking to advertisers on behalf of our clients. What's most stunning about all these conversations is that even in 2007, there remains a remarkably high level of web ambivalence out there. I used to feel that a lot of these advertisers just didn't get it. Now I am coming around to the view that a lot of publishers don't get it, with "it" being an understanding of what their advertisers want from them.
The biggest disconnect occurs in markets that are mature and increasingly consolidated. Consolidation means fewer players in the industry and less advertising overall. But this does not mean that advertising disappears, even in markets where companies can credibly claim to know most if not all of their prospects. Instead, companies shift their advertising objective from lead generation to branding. And make no mistake about it: these companies know what they are doing, and they are confident that brand advertising is important, delivers good value, and most importantly, supports their other selling activities. If only publishers these days could muster the same resolve about the power of brand advertising!
What about ROI? These advertisers know that ROI is difficult to measure for brand advertising, and as a consequence, few make any real effort to do so. And what about online advertising? Typically, we find these companies are devoting 10-30% of their advertising budgets to online, and most reluctantly confirm that the online percentage continues to increase each year.
Why the reluctance? Because these advertisers aren't seeing any compelling places to do brand advertising online. Most industry websites look weak and tired to them, and in the case of b2b magazine websites, they're usually correct. Where they do run across energized sites with good advertising potential, they actually feel a disconnect with the publisher's focus on lead generation.
There is no small amount of irony here. Just as publishers have begun to deliver the ROI-driven online products that advertisers have been clamoring for, a sizable number of them seem to be shifting back to brand advertising.
In short, all this provides more proof that neither the web, nor our advertisers, are monolithic, and that "one size fits all" online strategies are increasingly fraught with risk. As always, the prescription is clear: stay close to your advertisers, and don't be swayed by conventional wisdom. There's a lot of change going on out there, and it's not always easily discerned.