From the October 2001 issue of Startups

Online ads are kind of like Tae Bo videos: Some folks swear by them; others are convinced they're overhyped wastes of time and money (not to mention sweat).

The naysayers have a point-online ads won't click for every company. Is this because the Web is an unreliable venue for communicating an ad message? Hardly. The real reason some companies don't score with online ads?

  • Their ads are poorly conceived and weakly written.
  • Their ads are placed on sites that don't attract the target audience they're trying to reach.
  • They didn't have a clear goal in mind when planning their campaign.

To ensure that your ads look good and communicate persuasively, you should hire an experienced creative team. To get your ads on sites that pull the eyeballs you're trying to connect with, a seasoned online media buyer needs to be brought on board. The goal of your online ad campaign, however, is yours to define. And for a campaign to bring tangible benefits to your company, you should have one of three specific objectives established at the onset: promotion of your company, branding of your company, or selling of your company's products or services. Let's examine the essential elements of each.

Promotion

  • Objective: to build awareness of your company's product or service.
  • Components: logo, line of business (preferably expressed alluringly and concisely-e.g., "Looking for first-class office renovations at economy prices? CorpRenovator.net. Click to see our latest designs").
  • Strategy: By initiating an ad campaign that promotes your product or service, you'll be offering the messaging equivalent of an online Yellow Pages ad: basic, direct and "let's get down to business."
  • Formats: static buttons, banners, pop-ups, towers or interstitials.
  • Advantages: simple, clear message; inexpensive to produce and run.
  • Disadvantages: not as eye-catching as animated (and more expensive) ads.
  • Expectations: An ad campaign that promotes your business is a long-term investment of time and money. What you're hoping for is that the repeated presentation of your message will lead to the bookmarking of your site by potential customers, who will contact you when your product or service is needed.

Branding

  • Objective: to build loyalty and trust in the minds of potential customers/clients by projecting a unique and memorable image.
  • Components: logo; tagline; copy that communicates the essence of your brand (e.g., "Silkience Lingerie Shoppes. Skimpy. Sexy. Cool. Click to enter our showroom."); a distinctive design that's consistent with your offline ads, promotional materials and marketing communications.
  • Strategy: By launching an online brand-building ad campaign, you'll be seeking to develop new business, increase repeat business and boost word-of-mouth promotion.
  • Formats: animated buttons, banners, pop-ups, towers or interstitials.
  • Advantages: increases user resistance to substitutions, increases impulse purchases, increases user willingness to pay a higher price.
  • Disadvantages: can be expensive to produce and run; requires tremendous focus, planning and consensus to envision.
  • Expectations: Like ad campaigns that seek to promote, brand-building ad campaigns require patience in order to see results. Yet while promotion-oriented campaigns are focused on the simple offering of a product or service, brand-building campaigns are much more strategic: They help to develop and establish long-term customer awareness of your company as a brand. This means that customers won't just be buying your product or service-they'll be buying your brand and the imagery, promise and quality it represents.

Selling

  • Objective: to increase sales of your company's product or service.
  • Components: logo, offer (e.g., "Acme Widgets. Over 10,000 varieties in stock. Save 15% on first order! Click to start shopping.").
  • Strategy: By offering a specific, tempting hook (the offer) to potential customers, you'll be seeking to increase your company's e-commerce sales.
  • Formats: static or animated buttons, banners, pop-ups, towers or interstitials.
  • Advantages: straightforward, urgent and irresistible message; simple way to increase site traffic and potential sales; results can be instantaneous.
  • Disadvantages: requires your Web site to accept e-commerce transactions; may only result in short-term, offer-driven sales rather than development of long-term customer relationships.
  • Expectations: In order for a selling campaign to actually move units, your ads must be placed on sites that attract droves of the users you're trying to reach; offer something you know your target user would respond to (e.g., free shipping, a discount or a free demo).

To convert offer-seekers into loyal customers, you'll need to follow up all sales with a thorough CRM (customer relationship management) program. The extensiveness of your CRM efforts-which can include e-mail newsletters, special discounts and a frequent-buyer program-can vary with your budget.

While a promotion- and sales-oriented online ad campaign can be effective for SMEs, the comprehensiveness of a branding campaign is designed for organizations with the budget and persistence to support it. Whichever option you decide to go with, make sure you keep your messaging and execution consistent throughout the life of the campaign. The closer you adhere to the objectives, strategy and expectations of your original choice, the greater the potential for your online ad campaign to generate genuine benefits-with minimum sweat.


Barry Zeger is the president of Vertical Cloud Inc., a provider of copywriting and content strategy services for ad agencies, venture capitalists and start-ups.