Interruptive advertising isn’t going anywhere. This isn’t a popular point of view among the inbound community. It’s definitely not on message for an inbound marketer. It also happens to be absolutely, empirically true. In fact, it’s so unequivocally true, the statement nearly renders itself pointless. Don’t agree? Lets do the numbers:
"Internet ad revenues spiked 18% over last year to more than 20 billion dollars in the first half of 2013--that’s a record. 3 billion of those dollars is owed to mobile ads alone, while search and display ads saw revenues of 8.1 and 6.1 billion respectively. Impression-based ads--read social--and video ads saw big spikes too".
While the numbers associated with these types of advertising efforts are not necessarily a measure of their efficacy, they are a pretty good indication that marketing hasn’t changed as much as marketers would have you think. The tools we use to craft our messages have evolved, sure. And the mediums by which those messages are disseminated have become increasingly complex, without question. Even the language we use to describe our work has transformed. But the essence of what we actually do. . .well, that has remained remarkably unchanged. At the core of marketing--inbound, outbound, traditional, whatever--is the goal of arresting the attention of the audience. That truth remains central to work we do. We interrupt, we engage, we sell. The new marketing exists at the intersection of interruption and interaction. For the purposes of illustration, PPC advertising is a perfect example of that intersection.
Let’s take a simple query. . .
and observe the search results:
You’ll notice that the first three results are paid advertisements, two of which don’t contain my keyword anywhere in their copy. Each takes the me to a landing page, complete with CTA and form--the classic inbound this-for-that information exchange. One offers a request for a free demo, one a Marketing Success Kit, and one a Gartner Magic Quadrant Report. So, why all this marketing based on a query with no additional qualifying information? The answer is simple. The advertiser is making a bet. In the same way television and print advertisers are making a bet that I’ll interact by having an emotional response or reaction resulting in an eventual sale, the inbound marketers responsible for these SEM ads are betting I’ll interact by clicking the ad and filling out the form, thus interrupting the organic search experience, and opting-in to their brand message. The methodologies may differ from traditional marketing, but the intent is the same: interrupt, interact.
Of course, in the example above, these ads are very poorly targeted, even bordering on intrusive. Why intrusive? My basic query returned three paid results that led to a form requesting personal details in exchange for basic information. Heck, one was a demo signup. Based on what? Which leads to the next point. . .
Advertising Is An Interruptive Act, But It Doesn’t Have to Be Intrusive
I could wax intellectual about whether or not putting an ad for something in front of a person who is already searching for something similar is actually interruptive, but those conversations tend to obfuscate rather than inform. So, let’s take it for granted that PPC and the like are, in fact, interruptive. As an inbound marketer, the trick then, is making the interruption feel less intrusive. How do we do it?
We micro-analyze everything. Breaking down our target audiences into small subsets. We make sure our offerings are properly differentiated, and direct our efforts appropriately.
The next step to softening the interruptive blow of our advertising efforts is placement. Simply positioning our message in the appropriate place has a huge impact on the perception of the brand we’re raving about. To accomplish this, we need to do a close-study of users’ online habits, and make some common sense determinations regarding the sensibilities of the target audience. Perhaps a social media buy isn’t the best idea for that colon-cleanser? We’ll save that one for paid search. . .
Arguably, one of the most important factors separating interruption from intrusion--timing, as the saying goes, is everything. To ensure the appropriate timing of the brand message, we have to meticulously monitor multiple analytics sources to discern the intent behind certain search queries, then build our ad-groups accordingly. Every stage of the buying/interaction cycle should have its own ad-group to which all of our keyword/negative keyword and targeting data is perfectly aligned. There is nothing more annoying to a prospect than getting hit with a middle or bottom-of-funnel offer when they’re in the information seeking phase. Or, conversely, getting a link to an e-book or white paper landing page when a contact/signup page is what they’re really searching for.
In some cases, gated entry is appropriate. In others, not so much. We have to be mindful that we don’t ask for too much, too soon. Asking for an email address in exchange for freely available, or even basic, information, depending on the audience, is intrusive. We might want to think twice before throwing up an info-gate in front of that mortgage calculator. Remove all unnecessary barriers between your brand and the individual on the other side of it.
The new marketing isn’t that new. These rules have pretty much always been the same. Its our application of them that’s changing. There is this feeling in the inbound marketing community, that paid media is a dirty word. That earned and owned are somehow more pure. I would argue that the boundaries between the three have pretty much disintegrated over the past few years. What matters more now, is the quality of our interactions, regardless of the channel that initiated them. If anything has really changed in marketing, that would be it. This change--focusing on the quality of our interactions, rather than the volume of them--is one that will help guide us away from intrusion. Life is filled with interruptions; I politely interrupt people many times a day. I engage them respectfully, without insulting their intelligence or asking too much of them too soon, seeking only interaction. Happy marketing.