New Online Marketing Model First?

Well, the call for a new Online Marketing Requirements doc to correct the Wrong Model, Dumb Money problem did not get much traction so far.  So I’m thinking maybe you need a new Online Marketing Model first to hang the Requirements doc on.  Fair enough.

Here’s the challenge: I don’t think there is a universal enough agreement on what online brings to the Marketing party.  Sure, it gets explained in tons of ways, but for the most part these explanations are all Tactical stuff – do this, get that.

That’s not good enough, that’s too small, and it’s not unique to online.  CEO’s and CMO’s are looking for the Strategy edge, and they are looking for ways Online is a “logical fit” into the Marketing Mix.  What is online “for”, and perhaps more importantly, what can it do better than what we already have?

This is important because if you can get to this place, then you have leverage, then you have the ability to draw more money into Online Marketing / Analysis – because it is different.


When everything we come up with replicates the Offline model but doesn’t work as well – take Display advertising, for example, the business model most every “new idea” uses – then how would you expect to get any respect?  Seriously, it looks ridiculous from outside the small world (Marketing budget-wise) of Online.  What other medium relentlessly pursues a failed business model so persistently, hoping something will change?  There are exceptions.  But most of these exceptions play in such a small sandbox or are so recursive (selling Facebook widgets on Facebook) they are irrelevant to the broad scope of Marketing (example).  They don’t scale.

I have always loved the Lean Back versus Lean Forward modelone of the earliest attempts at explaining why online is different.  The first time I heard this phrase, back in 1997 on the ClickZ discussion list (RIP), I knew exactly what it meant.  It’s visual and I could immediately write a page or two describing the “Online Difference” this idea implies.  But I’m a Behaviorist, I get all the implications of this idea.  Problem is:

1. The vast majority of Marketers are not Behaviorists, they are GRP-ists.  For these people, Marketing is about demographics and psychographics, not Behavior.

2.  Lean Back / Lean Forward is probably too abstract to be very directional for the Technologists, they can’t get to the Requirements from there.  And direction is what they need.

3.  I’m not a fan of “Either – Or” models in Marketing, just too cute.  I often talk about the concept of a “slider” on a continuum between ideas like Brand versus Direct (like a Low – High Volume control).  Marketing is always a mix, and the Optimal slider position between ideas like this varies by product, media, audience, etc.  Marketing is not an Either – Or concept, much as I’m sure some would like to think it is.  Would be more convenient for the Tech side!

I’m not going to try to convince you what the right model might be here.  I would much rather have a discussion about concepts, and build the model together.  But I will tell you something that keeps coming to my mind over and over as we watch all this play out, as the different business models succeed and fail.  I see a high-level commonality running though all the results to date.

As you probably know, I’m into Marketing Productivity – Online and Offline.  I want to generate the highest, most accountable return to the company I possibly can on Marketing spend.  This attitude does not mean I can turn every dollar spent into an ROI equation.  I look for probabilities, likelihoods, any signs I can find of Marketing impact.

When I look at the Marketing world through this lens, and holding true to the Psych model AIDAS (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, Satisfaction) that describes how humans process Marketing information, here is where I land:

Media – offline or online – are in the business of aggregating audiences.  Marketers want to access those audiences to spread messages.  The fundamental “model” problem I see is a dimensional one, meaning how the audiences are “described” or segmented.

In offline media, all you have is demographics, maybe psychographics.  This is useful because you can quantify Reach and Frequency and talk about “Awareness” among a certain population, the first step in the AIDAS model.  Online, the very nature of the activity – the “Lean Forward” idea – is past Awareness in the AIDAS Path. 

Thinks about this: are Demographics and Psychographics relevant when you have Interest?  Do you care what the characterisitics of an audience are when they are already Interested?

Online, you are talking about audiences that have reached the Interest stage already.  This is why “Broadcast” or Display messaging is so irrelevant to these audiences unless it is hyper-contextually targeted.  They literally don’t care to be Aware of other things when they already have Interest in a specific thing.  Their minds tend to be shut to Awareness in this mode.

And this is what Online brings to the media party that is new, is different, is desirable.  Something very difficult to find Offline – the idea of Aggregated Interest – and a reason to invest in Online. 

In other words, Dollar for Dollar spent,

Offline is more efficient at aggregating Awareness than Online

Online is more efficient at aggregating Interest than Offline

If you have Marketing budget to waste, I’d agree this line of thinking is probably irrelevant.  But if you’re looking for the highest and best use of that budget, does this idea make sense to you?

Can we start building the new Online Marketing Model from here?  If the Tech side developed more “Interest tech” and less “Awareness tech”, don’t you think Online Marketing would be better off?


6 thoughts on “New Online Marketing Model First?

  1. Hi Jim,

    I agree with you that online is not the best place to build awareness, and that that aggregating interested people is one role, but believe it goes further. Surely the real benefit is being able a marketeer to be involved in the whole “interest-desire-action” journey.

    Pre-web we had no real idea where an individual consumer was in this ‘consideration’ journey – now we do.

    Smart online media is about recognising not just that they are interested, but where they are on their journey and doing something *relevant* about it.

    Talk soon

  2. Matthew, thanks for the comment!

    Agreed, and you’re right about the tracking side of it. However, if you look at really good direct campaigns, for example, the GEICO series here in the US, you also see evidence of “interest-desire-action” being generated through TV, print, and direct mail.

    So I don’t think it’s a matter of Either – Or, it’s a question of how do you allocate Marketing resources to highest and best use? And using Online to generate Awareness for the vast majority of products is simply not a great use of resources. I believe Marketers, at least the smart ones that control large budgets, already know this.

    So it makes no sense for the Tech side to continue to develop “Awareness Platforms”. They need to move on already and create “Interest Platforms”, AdSense being one of the earliest and not so functional (yet) attempts.

    The reverse is also true. Offline should recognize Online is, dollar for dollar, one of the most powerful “interest-desire-action” generators available to them, and construct campaigns appropriately.

    In other words, because of the way consumers use the web, Online is fundamentally a Direct medium, but without the Reach of other media used for Direct. But, Online makes up for this fault by being much better at the non-Reach part of the AIDAS chain than other media. So, instead of fighting this reality to the death, the tech side would be much better off acknowledging it and building better platforms to support this reality.

    Make sense to anyone?

  3. Is inbound / outbound marketing sort of what is meant here by leaning forward vs. leaning back?

    I think you are rightfully saying that the nature of the web is such that marketers should focus more on making it easy to buy rather than selling.

    In the end, we do both, of course. We try to make the web site as user friendly as possible. We try to make the offers we flash up as relevant as possible. But if you don’t buy what we have got, we’ll still send you an email in the hopes that you will come back to complete that shopping cart 8-).

    Still very useful for the marketer to align with the nature of the medium and lean back, as you say. If I understand correctly, anyway.


  4. Hi Akin!

    Not inbound / outbound, guess I should have ‘splained myself more.

    Lean Back versus Lean Forward refers to the “state” of someone being exposed to advertising on a computer screen versus on a TV screen.

    When you are using a computer, you’re in “Lean Forward” mode – you are active, trying to accomplish a task, while being exposed to advertising.

    When you are watching TV, you’re in “Lean Back” mode – you are passive, simply paying attention to the screen.

    If you are in active mode, you have less free Attention than if you are in passive mode. This is one reason why Display advertising is not as effective online as Search advertising – Search is action oriented.

    I was trying to take this idea into the “model” arena by linking the same duality to AIDAS.

    In other words, the reason Offline is better than Online at aggregating Awareness is there is more aggregate “Attention” available when the audience is in “Lean Back” mode.

    The reason Online is better than Offline at aggregating Interest is there is a task orientation when the audience is in “Lean Forward” mode.

    If you think in terms of funnels, the Awareness audience is at the top, is much larger but more differentiated than the Interest audience at the next step down. This implies the “real” audience for Display is much smaller than people think, one reason click rates are so low in quantity and quality – Display is an “Awareness” approach to an “Interest” audience.

    LB / LF has other Marketing implications, for example copy, see:

  5. Hi Jim,
    I think Display advertising gets a bad rep sometimes. Many marketeers are starting to understand clickthrough rate is not the metric we should be measuring and new metrics such as dwell time are becoming more popular. And display is still good at putting your message across to lots of users, especially if you can target intelligently.
    The question I’m trying to get to really is if people are always in ‘lean forwards’ mode when on the web? How do you explain the continued popularity of portals, the rise of online games? If, like you and I, we sit in from of a computer most of the day, we will take breaks and go online to watch a movie or read the news or just surf!

  6. Hi Chico, thanks for the comment!

    It’s the “if you can target intelligently” part of the equation that is really the problem, isn’t it? Because Display only really works efficiently “in context” due to the nature of the way people use the web. And if it’s in contezt – like Magazine ads usually are – that means there is already Interest. Take some of the B2B verticals, for example. Display generally performs well in those environments, but the impressions are to an audience already Interested. But the real questions is: dollar for dollar, do these Display ads outperform the magaznes for the same verticals?

    Regarding the “click-throughs” issue, you would think that’s a pretty low standard to ask from a piece of online advertising. After all, the web site is really the ad, and if people don’t make it to the web site, did they really become Aware? I will bet you something right now: someday, someone will publish an honest (non-vendor originated) study of the “Awareness” created by Display advertising and find it to be substantially different in quality than the Awareness created by other media – something like this one.

    For example, looking at audience that are completely UnAware on a neutral, non-Interest related site, they will find the Awareness created by Online is more transitory and has a very rapid decay rate compared with Offline media under the same conditions.

    As far as lean back activity on the web, sure, it happens and maybe that is different, like the study that showed people who click on Display ads are poor targets and basically do it because they are bored, not because they are Interested.

    I, for one, can believe that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.