Better Focus on Net's Offline Effects, Too

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Branding, branding, branding. Did you know the Internet is an effective branding medium? Yes, it is. In every study conducted by companies with a vested interest in proving that the Internet can brand, it has proved to do so. Oh, and did I mention that Web ads are effective at branding?


DoubleClick CEO Kevin Ryan pounded home that message in his keynote speech at Jupiter Media Metrix's online advertising forum in New York last week. Do a head X-ray of everyone who attended, and the Internet-can-brand message will show up seared into their brains.


The evidence indicates that Ryan is right. That he's evangelizing that message is certainly understandable.


But a more important point he made during that speech was that the Internet advertising industry must learn more about the effect of online advertising on offline purchasing.


As long as so many marketers focus on Internet advertising's ability to drive immediate response, while reluctantly acknowledging that Web ads may nudge awareness up a bit, sellers of online advertising are in trouble.


"You can't just look at these things in isolation," said Kate Bergin, vice president of marketing at Chicago pay-for-performance marketing firm Performics, in a discussion about the Jupiter conference. "Everybody's looking at this thing with a fixed-pie mentality. And if you do that, you lose the game before you start."


One of the Internet's challenges as a commercial medium is that many marketers view it mainly as a mail-order medium.


And one tenet of direct marketing is that some people buy via mail order and some don't. The trick for business-to-consumer direct marketers has always been to find people who will buy products without having seen or touched them.


That was one of the tenets behind DoubleClick's ill-fated attempt to marry information from its Abacus Direct division's co-op database of catalog buying behavior with Internet users' clicking behavior. The idea, as I understood it, was the following: Get people to register their names on a DoubleClick Web site, match them against the Abacus file, identify the mail-order buyers and the non-mail-order buyers, and pitch them all accordingly on any site in the DoubleClick network.


But it was not to be. So now it stands to reason that a lot of direct-response-oriented Internet advertising still reaches poor prospects for remote selling. But just because they're not likely to make a mail-order purchase doesn't mean they're not worth reaching. It only means they're not good prospects for mail-order companies looking for immediate sales conversion.


According to Ryan, the auto industry understands this concept as well as any business category does.


"They don't spend a second thinking about whether it works," he said. "They just know that half of the people who buy cars are online, so they have to be there."


But a lot of the blame for what sellers of online advertising view as marketers' misconceptions of the medium belongs right on the shoulders of the sellers themselves.


In his keynote, Ryan remarked that during the online ad boom, "we did not do a good job at providing analysis."


No kidding. Why spend time proving your product has value when people seemingly can't spend enough money on it?


But now that the time for analysis has clearly arrived, it must move far beyond just measuring Internet advertising's impact on brand awareness. It had better convince marketers that online advertising efficiently drives offline sales. And no time will be too soon to do it.


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