I originally crafted this post on online advertising strategy a few years ago, but the fundamentals have not changed, so here it is with details updated for 2015. Enjoy!
Every off- or online marketer worth his or her mettle will tell you that a successful advertising strategy uses various tactics and touch points to reach the desired audience. You want your message to catch the eye (or ear) of a potential customer wherever he or she may be in the purchase funnel. A common acronym for the purchase funnel is AIDA, which stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. It simply recognizes that not everyone is ready to buy when you’re ready to sell. It’s common sense, or should be.
Let’s take the example of Joe, who wants to buy a pair of pants on the Internet. Buying pants seems simple enough, but let’s say that this Joe has always worn togas, so he’s new to the world of pants. He knows there are pants out there, but he’s not at all sure what he needs.
The purchase funnel for Joe may look something like this:
In the Awareness stage, Joe will go to his favorite search engine and search for generic terms, like pants and maybe more specific, like slacks, jeans, khakis. At this stage he just wants to learn more about pants.
Once he knows a bit more, he’ll move on to the Interest stage, at which point he’ll do longer tail searches, qualifying his search more narrowly. He’ll be trying to figure out whether dressy slacks are his style, or whether he’ll look better in budget classic American jeans, baggy pants, leather biker pants, expensive “Eurotrash” designer jeans, Heroin-addict skinny leather pants or punk rocker plaids.
Now Joe knows all about his options, and in the Desire stage he wants to narrow down his choices. So he may search for reviews on specific brands and styles (e.g. Levi’s, 7 For All Mankind, Diesel), etc.
In the Action phase Joe has made a decision, he knows what brand and style he wants, and he’ll be searching for his brand plus buy, purchase, store and similar action-oriented keywords.
And So What?
Some version of this very simple analysis can be applied to any potential customer, regardless of product and utilized to structure your online advertising campaign to meet them at each phase with the right message, for e.g. “Learn About Pants” in the Aware phase, “Choose A Pant Style” in the Interest phase, etc., and take them to a landing page or relevant section of your company website.
But that’s a very simplified view of what actually happens. In practice we know that there’s a whole lot more that goes on before a customer clicks on our ad and comes to our website. That’s why it’s critical to think about our advertising goals when structuring our advertising campaign.
Direct Response vs. Advertising to Promote a Brand or Raise Awareness
Advertising goals typically fall in one of two categories: either direct response or branding.
Direct response is action oriented. The goal is to get the customer to act when they come to your website. Ideally, you want them to move through the funnel quickly and buy your product, donate, join, etc. At least you want them to show engagement through a newsletter sign-up, a request for a quote, or some other form of conversion. Paid search advertising is a direct response channel.
Using online advertising as a way to introduce or promote a Brand is the precursor and corollary to a direct response strategy. Raising awareness is about driving clicks with a focus on engagement. This is particularly important when the brand is a small player entering a space with established competitors or where a brand association is lacking. Online advertising can be effective at building brand awareness by attracting and “buying” clicks at the top of the purchase funnel. Like our buddy Joe, most future customers first passively learn or research and read about products or services before they are ready to act. They may read blogs about a product category, view a YouTube video showing off various products “in action”, ask for input from friends on Facebook, post a question on Quora, visit a review site or forum, etc. That’s where more targeted online advertising comes into play.
The Bottom Line
The big takeaway is that an effective online advertising campaign should integrate direct response with (at least some) brand advertising for the greatest potential ROI. Brand advertising has typically been the cost driver, but now that Google’s AdWords, Microsoft’s Bing Ads and other online advertising platforms have evolved targeting tools allowing precise targeting by content, context, audience, geography, topic, interest along with ever more innovative and interactive ad formats along with the analytics to track it all, cost-optimizing brand advertising has become much easier. The tools are there to target your own Joe, find him where he is with a text ad placed near a review article, an display or video ad on a blog or an advertisement in a video on YouTube.