Back in the autumn of 2012, a few months into my first job in online publishing, a member of the commercial team rang me at my desk.
“I’ve just landed a massive £10,000 banner advertising campaign,” he breathed. All we need to do is deliver 1,500 clicks on this ad across the site. Can I say that it’s OK?”
Initially, all I could think was that we were getting a very good deal.
I knew that the website in question generated millions of page views per month and had a reasonable idea of the click-through rate we could expect from an ad unit of that size – so this seemed like a remarkably good deal. Naively, I gave my approval.
Six weeks later, the campaign had fewer than 500 clicks and had burned through over two million ad impressions. By the time the run had finished in the days before Christmas, the advertiser had been given over six million impressions – four times the level we’d conservatively forecast.
What went wrong?
What I hadn’t accounted for when agreeing to the deal was that the ad we’d be provided would be of such poor quality. The advertiser had spent all of their budget on paying us for clicks and – having been promised a certain result – had given no thought to how their ad might look on the site.
On reflection, I felt very much like the Indian king in the old fable who rewarded the inventor of a chess game with a grain of rice – cumulatively doubled for each square on the new board – only to find that this was more rice than his kingdom could ever hope to produce.
For the publisher, it was the last time they ever offered a campaign based exclusively on click performance and moved instead to billing on total impressions.
Inform your campaign with insight
Click-through rates and page-view numbers have an enduring appeal and provide top-line understanding to the success and failure of a marketing campaign. However, the most instructive lessons are learned by digging far deeper.
Publisher struggles in automating native advertising and content marketing mean that insight becomes so much more important in creating a tailored experience for each client to ensure that they want a direct solution to their content goals.
Bad content is often more dangerous to publishers than a poorly conceived banner ad or page of print advertising, so there is a certain duty of care to each brand when material is pulled together.
That said, too many publishers see quality content on its own as enough to generate great returns – but there is rarely enough of an understanding of how relevant eyeballs are pulled to the right place and kept there.
Insight should interpret the various fruits of a campaign, but at its most effective, the department ought to inform strategy too – else the true benefit of the function is only felt as a retrofitting afterthought.
Integrating content with insight
The enduring struggles of more traditional online formats – be it banner advertising, content aggregation widgets or pre-roll video – mean that a bespoke content service tied in with digested data is increasingly valuable.
Too much is made of the friction between content marketing and more widespread mediums. The formats can often become the subject of a tiresome and unnecessary either-or argument.
Marketers will – and absolutely should – talk to potential clients about the threats posed to banner and automated native advertising. Yet, there are transferrable lessons available to each medium.
Content marketing is undoubtedly on a longer fuse when it comes to its need to prove its worth in company budgets. But it will face many of the issues concerning traditional platforms in years to come, so it makes a lot of sense to future-proof any existing offering while time remains on its side.
Unilad’s overreliance on Facebook and subsequent collapse demonstrates the dangers of following profits rather than being led by insights. On the other hand, ploughing new furrows in your content offering could help you capitalise on hitherto inaccessible audiences – the Financial Times’ success in boosting subscriptions via audio content, and the Washington Post’s forthcoming daily news podcast, are two good examples.
In B2B, audiences are all the more niche, meaning reaching them requires content to be all the more tailored. Your insight team can help; bake them into content strategising from the outset, or face difficult questions further down the line about why key demographics just aren’t being reached.
In short, fail to be proactive with your insight and you risk having to harvest a hell of a lot of rice.
Cameron Sharpe, Head of Insight