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5 Ways to Stop Wasting Money—and Alienating Consumers—in #Digital

This post first appeared on O&M’s Fast Company page by Nigel Hollis is Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown, and Gordon Pincott is Chairman of Global Solutions at Millward Brown.

Advertisers must understand these 5 things if they want to stop wasting money—and alienating consumers—in digital.

In spite of the billions spent on digital marketing, Millward Brown research suggests that many ads are ineffective, ignored or, worse, have a negative effect. To change this, advertisers must understand how consumers behave online and how that behavior influences responses to digital marketing. If we understand the motivations and instincts behind people’s digital behavior, then we can create a better return on our investment.

To achieve their maximum potential, online communications must make instant connections to impact the many, not simply engage the few. Advertisers must understand the consumer motivations of the spaces their ads inhabit and work within those spaces – not get in the way.

The digital space represents a huge opportunity to engage people in new ways, but it comes with many perils. These need to be acknowledged, understood, and considered as digital campaigns are planned and executed.

Digital is Purposeful

Digital users are usually looking for specific information or content; they have a purpose. Users know what they are looking for and it is not ads. Our eye-tracking database suggests that on average only 50 percent of people even look at (defined as the eyes resting for 0.1 second) an online ad. High page engagement on sites with relevant content means longer dwell time and higher likelihood that users will notice ads. Thematic relevance also increases the likelihood that people will give time to advertising communications. Purpose is why brand recognition is crucial in the online environment. The brand is an important cue of personal relevance.

Digital is Demanding

Digital is often described as “lean forward” – the user must attend to a smaller screen and is largely in control of content and sequencing. Thus, the experience is nonlinear and user-driven. Ads must be simple and visual to communicate brand and message quickly, and they must not assume a linear mindset or an attentive audience. An ad must make a good first impression on everyone who sees it, not just on the few who engage with it at length or click through to other digital assets.

Digital is Instinctive

Humans have evolved to react first, think second. Academic research finds that it takes one twentieth of a second for people to make a decision about the visual appeal of a web page. Thinking is hard work, and consciously deciding where to click is slow and ultimately tiring. As a result, people quickly and instinctively judge whether content is relevant, so the first instant of ad exposure must be as impactful as possible. People’s attention to an online ad is intermittent and fleeting, and ads must command that attention and use it effectively.

Digital is Dangerous

Advertisers must consider users’ purpose and ease of experience when determining ad placement and type. Brands need to recognize that prominent placement comes at a price. A brand that gets between a digital user and the content they really want risks a negative reaction. Quite often, users find ads intrusive, irrelevant, and obstructive. In fact, 27% of all online ads have a measurable negative effect on purchase intent. A negatively received ad experience erodes brand value. This is the hidden cost of online advertising. Behavior alone is not a good predictor of overall effect since there is no correlation between click through and attitudinal response.

Digital is Opportunity

Dynamic Logic finds an additional 1.3 percent of people claim they will buy a brand as a result of being exposed to an online ad. That’s 14 times higher than the click-through rate, and the conversion to a sale is similarly higher. And we can do better.

To achieve their maximum potential, online communications must make instant connections to impact the many, not simply engage the few. Advertisers must understand the consumer motivations of the spaces their ads inhabit and work within those spaces – not get in the way.

The digital space represents a huge opportunity to engage people in new ways, but it comes with many perils.  These need to be acknowledged, understood, and considered as digital campaigns are planned and executed.