Dethroning the Click-Through King

by Kristi Moss
June 11, 2012

It’s rare that I attend a client meeting where the topic of digital advertising effectiveness is not part of the conversation. Marketing departments need to prove ROI, and it’s our job to assist clients any way we can.

Unfortunately, a decade ago the entire industry bought into the idea that click-through rates determine the “success” of digital marketing. Who thought it was a good idea to apply a direct response mechanism to all digital advertising, regardless of objective of message?

The answer is ALL OF US.

The same industry that understands and does not question the absolute effect of branding thought we should unfairly place responsibility for proving ROI with the lowly banner ad.

So, what now?

Click counts alone cannot be an effective campaign success metric, for any number of reasons. Most importantly, we must remember that a click is essentially a direct response (a request for more information), so for a click to be a true measurement of success, the digital campaign would need to be built as a direct response campaign, not an arm of the existing branding campaign.

Slowly the conversation is turning back to branding – yet the digital advertising industry still lacks the tools to help frustrated clients and marketers prove its branding value.

Nielsen seems to be getting traction with the idea that digital advertising effectiveness should be measured the same way radio and television is measured: with the Gross Rating Point (GRP). Yes, the archaic broadcast measurement everyone loves may be coming soon to a web publisher near you.

Measuring consumer digital advertising through GRPs is itself a highly contested topic, and one I feel will not benefit agrimarketers. Here’s why:

We need more detail

GRPs use a definable demographic with a measurable audience; GRP evaluations typically only incorporate traditional age and gender demographics (men 35-64 in the example below).

Here’s how Nielsen is telling me I should buy digital media: If my digital target is men 35-64 and I buy 20 million impressions against that target online, I am essentially buying GRPs, just as I would with TV or radio. The population is definable (there are 58 million men 35-64 in the U.S.); to figure GRPs I take impressions divided by population times 100. In this case it equals 34 GRPs.

Obviously consumer buying formulas won’t apply to agricultural websites. Most agrimarketers don’t work with a traditional age/gender demographic. Agrimarketers expect more detail and rightly so. It’s why ratings and audit companies are in business.

We need to think differently

Dumbing down campaign success to the GRP level doesn’t take advantage of the differentiating factor between TV and digital: online targets can be more psychographically defined. We have the opportunity to serve an audience, not a demographic. It’s sad that the entire industry wants to walk away from it.

What if they zig … and we zag?

While the industry wants to simplify, I want to improve the digital experience for my clients.

I have high expectations of the people in this industry, and I refuse to believe that dumbing down expectations and analytics is the answer.

I believe this type of thinking is the future of agrimarketing, and that’s what I get excited about when presenting ideas to clients. Digital can be just like traditional media—a place where quality of audience matters just as much as mass reach.

The click-through rate will never go away; when building a direct response digital campaign it’s a perfectly acceptable measurement. But in other cases, ROI attribution for all of marketing will continue to be a challenge. In short, it’s time to knock the click-through king off its throne.