How to Build a Brand from Nothing

When most people think about brands, they tend to think about the ones that have been built up over a period of decades, if not more than a century. They think about a logo that even children can identify in less than two seconds.

Nike, McDonalds, Tide, Apple, and Macy’s are all examples of American brands with a lot of general awareness. Awareness alone does not make a business successful, but it helps a whole lot. Most people know what Sears is, but it hasn’t kept the company from severe cut-backs. When Apple was in the doldrums, the general awareness of what Apple was did not help it recover all that much.

Better products, starting with the iMac, and then moving onto the iPod, helped to resurrect the company.

Radio Shack’s brand awareness is not helping it sell more electronics supplies. Why not? Because the online stores are providing a better service, at a better price, more conveniently. Soon enough, unless something drastic changes, the brand will be as obscure as Magnavox is today.

The default problem of all new businesses, even those with great products, is that no one has any idea what the company is or what it stands for. The obscurity can be downright shocking. It can be demoralizing. It can be agonizing to look at a ‘share’ or ‘follower’ count sitting at ‘zero,’ especially if you have never had to deal with that before.

The way you can solve this problem is to:

  1. Find the people who can benefit from your company.
  2. Convince them that they’ll benefit.
  3. Sell them the product or give it away if you have to.
  4. Follow up and ask them if they would be willing to tell their friends about it.
  5. Do it again.

One error that sometimes happens is to think that advertising alone can substitute for sales acumen when the company is going from a cold start. The brand is the conceptual description of the company’s reputation. When the company has no reputation, there is nothing real to build off of. You start the core of the company’s reputation by spending a lot of time with your customers, talking to them, gathering their opinions, making them as happy as you can possibly make them, and then turning that into a process that you can apply with the next customer.

Before you even start thinking about a clever tagline for your full-page magazine ad, you have to get those basics right.

This is not a question of budget. Plenty of companies with multi-billion dollar funding mess this up and waste all their money on media buying.

The core of any good brand is happy customers who will validate everything that you say about your company.

If you have to start with family and friends, start with them. If you have to start with random people sitting in a bar, start with those people. Build out from there.

Why Clients Overlook Direct Response Advertising

When most people think about advertising, they think about TV commercials.

They’re the most obvious type of ad. They have the highest production values. The ads are often entertaining (even if they don’t improve sales). And they’re the easiest format to talk about with other people.

Direct response ads, on the other hand, tend to be made fun of. They’re the goofy infomercials on TV, the ads that show up next to your search results, or remnant ads that make crazy claims about magic berries or collectable coins.

They’re also written into things that are part of the fabric of everyday life that you might not even think about, but are critical for many blue chip brands. Coupons, special promotions, unique phone numbers, catalogs, loyalty programs, newsletters, and other methods are used to get customers together in a more measurable way.

The dichotomy between ‘brand’ and ‘direct response’ advertising is generally over-stated. The go-to man that most experienced advertising people choose is David Ogilvy to explain how to bridge the gap:

“We Sell Or Else”

Creativity is one of the most-abused words in advertising.

What clients need to know is that the end of advertising is not to be creative. It’s not to make funny ads. It’s to make sales. Every other proxy metric is not relevant relative to sales. Brand awareness doesn’t matter if you’ve made everyone both know about your brand and hate it.

When creativity is employed in advertising, it only makes sense if it leads to more cash for your business.

The difference between direct marketing and general marketing is that direct marketing has a direct connection to the selling process. It’s always possible to directly attribute sales to that particular ad, which makes it possible to do more accurate testing.

The direct response ad acts like an automatic salesperson. It either closes the deal or it doesn’t. If a direct response ad doesn’t out-earn its costs, it gets fired in the same way that you’d fire an under-performing sales rep.

Part of what Ogilvy argued for was to treat even general ads as if they were direct response ads. You can often tell the difference between a well-made ad and a bad one by whether or not the ad actually asks the viewer to do something at the end of it.

The one and only thing that makes advertising different from other kinds of media is that it’s designed to drive action. Any jerk can make up funny slogans that don’t actually get someone to do something. What you’re paying for is to measurably change the behavior of your target customers. Not to feel like a clever client for commissioning a piece of media. The media is just a means to the end of making more sales.

In industry jargon, this is the ‘call to action.’ If there is no call to action, the only way to measure the impact of the ad itself is to conduct awareness surveys and other metrics which are imperfect in terms of being able to establish impact on sales.

Big Corporations Aren’t Advertising Like You Think They Do

Marketers often cite Proctor & Gamble as the gold standard for product development and product marketing. What you don’t see when P&G wins awards for creative TV commercials is that it’s all connected into a more sophisticated back-end with an enormous direct response element. They test their TV commercials against internet components, print coupons, and store sales. Their ad agencies are not just coming up with big, creative ideas — those ideas are being held accountable using a mesh of direct response methods that collect a ton of data.

The boring coupons are there to back up and test different product lines, calibrate pricing, test packaging, and gather demographic information to help other aspects of their marketing.

Where small businesses tend to go wrong in emulating the creative ideas that they see on TV and hear on the radio is in going for the big idea without that back-end of data collection to support it.

What this usually results in is thousands or tens of thousands of dollars spent on design, logos, and other methods without any sort of accountability built into the system. On the other hand, there are some advertisers that ‘get it,’ using call tracking, coupons, and other methods to hold their general advertising accountable to their bottom lines.

Establish Direct Response Campaigns First

So, the trouble is not necessarily that small businesses tend to try to emulate the big guys and fail: it’s that they misunderstand what the big companies are really doing with their budgets.

It’s also not entirely accurate for direct response partisans to slag on Super Bowl commercials for being expensive and difficult to measure. It’s an enormous waste of money if it’s not backed by the before-mentioned mesh of direct response efforts that can help the company measure the impact of its other spending.

By establishing direct response campaigns first, you can discover what kind of language, imagery, and selling points resonates with your customers. One of the first questions I ask all my clients is what kind of language that they use to close sales, and what language customers use when discussing the product. When you have established direct response ads that make sales, you can transplant those words and images to general advertising, and those general ads (like TV, radio, display, and print) will be more likely to improve your bottom line.

A Contrarian Take On Print Advertising

Newscorp CEO Robert Thomson provoked some scoffs among the technology elite today by proclaiming that print advertising will begin to command higher premiums again, amidst skepticism about digital advertising.

The article buttresses this point by taking some pot shots at Buzzfeed for low content quality, and pointing out that the assessment has been shared by WPP, which also expressed optimism about print.

The chatter about this on the web is essentially taking Thomson out of context. He was also speaking about the value of premium digital properties to advertisers, of which the Wall Street Journal in particular owns one of the most successful properties on the web.

It should be pointed out that not all print advertising is quality advertising. Free newspapers tend to have terrible ads put down on low quality paper. They have to be low quality, because the only ads that can succeed in a free paper have some kind of direct response component to them, and the majority of local advertisers don’t know how to get the most out of direct response advertising. Because it’s free, advertisers can’t get accurate circulation numbers from free publications.

A similar dynamic is at play with free websites.

The key difference is really about premium content as compared to free content. When the content is paid, advertisers know the circulation numbers accurately, they know the demographics of the subscriber base accurately, and they don’t have to rely on sophisticated audience modeling to figure out who sees their ads.

This is another reason why cable TV still commands high ad rates: those subscriber numbers are accurate, and for better or worse, the viewers trust the stations on which the ads appear to provide a consistent level of content quality.

The web is still a young medium. Hypertext, the language of the web, was developed to make the lives of academics easier: it was not created to be a media platform. Google itself was built on the basic idea behind the web, which is that the link is a metaphor for the academic citation, and that a broadly-cited article by prestigious authors and publications is probably more relevant to researchers.

This is partly why people are moving towards consuming more news using apps, rather than through websites directly. The web was built to make citations simpler. It was not built to create a magical media consumption experience. Although the web’s being used for many more things than it was ever planned to, its essential structure was not built with the needs of advertisers in mind.

Newscorp and companies like it know much more about the business of premium media  than almost anyone else.

Arguments about print versus digital and TV/radio versus digital tend to be more tribal than based on the fundamentals of what the publications are, how they reach people, and how it impacts the functioning of the advertising.

Advertisers have to think harder about analyzing different mediums and different technologies to reach customers. The real conflict should not be about print versus digital, but premium versus free, and applications versus the web.

In general, ads against applications tend to be more reliable than ads placed on the open web. The most successful digital advertising platforms are ads against web applications. Google Search is a web app. Youtube is an app. Facebook is an app.

The advertising with the most mixed track record is web display advertising placed on web sites that charge nothing to users. Enormous amounts of energy has gone into trying to get digital display advertising more worthwhile, and there have been some successes — but the overall attitude among publishers has been one of disappointment.

A lot of work still needs to be done to justify higher ad rates for online display ads. Newscorp and WPP are just recognizing that fact.

How To Protect Your Adwords Account Security

Handing over the login credentials to your Adwords account to an outside agency should make you feel nervous.

Even though I know people do it, there’s no reason for you to give your login and password to anyone at all. If you follow these steps, you’ll improve your security and permit you to make more extensive use of outside help on all of your accounts. Similar processes are also available on Bing ads and for other major ad platforms.

If someone asks for your login credentials, you should report the person for phishing. If everyone in the paid search community is looking out for threats to security, everyone benefits.

Ask Them To Invite You From Their MCC

The way that you can have someone work on your search account without jeopardizing your security is to ask the person to instead invite you to share credentials through their My Client Center account.The only information that you need to provide is the 10-digit account number in the upper right hand corner of your screen.

If they don’t have an MCC, ask them to sign up for one. The process only takes a few minutes, and a Google phone representative can walk the person through it if they’re having trouble.

This is a feature used by agencies in the Google Partners program (like us) for both convenience and security.

Once that happens, the agency will invite you, and you can decide what level of access that they should have. If they’re only evaluating your account to make recommendations, you can give them ‘read only access.’ This will prevent them from making any changes to the account that could result in charges to your credit card. If you want to revoke the access later, you can do that.

If you decide to permit them to manage the account later, you can set it so that you need to review any changes made before they go live.

Turn On Two Factor Authentication For All Accounts

The next most important move you need to make is to turn on two factor authentication for all the Google accounts that have access to the Adwords account. You should also ask your point of contact with any outside agency that has access to your account to use it also.

The benefit of this is that anyone who wants to access your account will have to enter a code sent by text message. What this means is that even if your login and password are stolen, an attacker will not be able to access your accounts so long as they don’t have access to your SMS account as well.

While this isn’t fool-proof, it significantly increases the difficulty of hacking your account. The majority of criminals will look for an easier target if your account is protected by two factor authentication.

For convenience, you can also set it to trust certain machines. This will be slightly less secure, but reduce the annoyance of needing to check a phone every time you need to log into the account again from a certain machine.

Use A Business Credit Card For Account Payments

This one is the last backup to prevent unauthorized charges to your accounts. If everything else fails (say, a rogue ex-employee accesses your systems), Google’s phone support (or your assigned sales rep) should be able to help you to identify the wrongful charge and potentially get a refund.

If that doesn’t work, using a credit card instead of a debit card or bank account to processes payments will allow you to dispute the charges in case of fraud. In general, it’s easier to recover your money if you’re using a credit card than it is with other methods that debit directly from an account.

Final Comments

The PPC marketing ecosystem enjoys a better reputation than many other fields in internet marketing and advertising. Whether it’s deserved or not is up to the continued good behavior of its participants. Not everyone follows the best practices available in security, and it doesn’t necessarily make them bad people.

That trust can be strengthened by encouraging agencies, clients, and consultants to improve their security practices as much as possible. Security breaches in some parts of the industry can have a negative impact on everyone, driving up prices, increasing risks, and reducing profits. Passwords suffer from some inherent security weaknesses, and reducing reliance on those as much as possible makes business better for everyone.

How To Save Money On Marketing With Online Surveys

Online surveys are an under-appreciated tool for saving money on your marketing budget.

While larger companies tend to use them with gusto, apprehensions about cost and other factors tend to scare away people with small budgets. The irony here is that the people who really need to use them the most tend to use them the least.

The two main vendors that I recommend are:

  1. Google Surveys
  2. SurveyMonkey

My personal preference is for Google because it’s better integrated into their ad products for publishers. Website owners can also use their satisfaction measurement widgets for free if you don’t customize the settings.

SurveyMonkey tends to be the better choice if you need to have detailed questionnaires filled out.

Both of these give you flexibility to survey existing customers or prospects in a target area. It’s easiest to get results with factual queries about demographics that you can’t necessarily get from the Census website or a research tool like Wolfram|Alpha.

I believe that using surveys to attempt to forecast product demand directly is usually a mistake, because people will tend to make incorrect predictions about their own behavior. What it is useful for is to gauge simple consumer opinions and to gather some factual data that might have some material impact on your marketing plans.

You can use this sample size calculator to determine how much a useful survey will cost in conjunction with the vendors suggested above.

Some things you can use a survey for:

  • Measuring the impact of your display advertising by testing brand recall (hold surveys before and after a campaign in a target area to determine whether or not it worked)
  • Learn more about a particular market and their purchasing habits
  • Shape the language that you use to reach the surveyed population
  • Decide whether or not a given market or website is worth advertising to at a certain price

And a lot more.

The reason to use surveys throughout a marketing campaign is to reduce the risk that you spend a bunch of money on a stunt that doesn’t work to a market that never wanted to buy your product anyway. If you’re testing a new website, for example, you can use data collected from a small market to prepare for a roll-out into a larger one.

Instead of advertising a new website to the entire United States, you can pick a single market, test and refine the offer, and then roll it out to an expanded target area once you’re confident that it sells.

One of the cool things about the internet is that this kind of method used to only really be within reach for larger companies. Now anyone with a computer and a connection can do it.

It’s also a handy way to make changes in the subjective mood of your website visitors easier to quantify. Metrics like bounce rate and time on site are only coarsely related to consumer sentiment. Their responses to natural language queries will tend to give you richer material to work with.

When you’re designing your surveys, follow these guidelines:

  • Yes/No questions require a smaller sample size and will tend to give you better data.
  • Questions that ask the customer to either remember their own behavior or predict their own behavior will tend to give less reliable data.
  • Questions about preferences regarding something that’s on the web page they’re on right now will give you better results.

Long surveys will tend to need some sort of incentive to encourage people to fill them out. They can also be used for lead generation purposes (which just means collecting their e-mail so that you can solicit them later). A restaurant, for example, might offer a free dessert coupon for people who provide their e-mail and fill out an online survey.

Interesting survey results can also be a dirt-cheap way to generate material for a press release. The sample size doesn’t need to be huge for simpler questions. Journalists love these kinds of stories because it lets them put a number in the headline, counts as news, and makes them seem more scientific. It can also portray your company as a thought leader in your industry, not-coincidentally resulting in positive mentions for your brand name and the key people involved in conducting the study.

Don’t Overlook reddit Advertising

It’s been easy to overlook reddit advertising over the last several years. But many of the aspects that people criticize it about are also what makes it a potentially attractive candidate for certain campaigns.

Here are its strengths:

  • Inventory is cheap. It mostly hovers around $1 CPM or less for native ad units that perform a lot like regular posts, except that they’re stuck to the top of a subreddit or on the front page.
  • Subreddits are organized around interests, and many of those subreddits have high product evaluation intent.
  • The native format is flexible. The headline gives you a lot of characters to work with, you can include a small image, people can comment on the ad itself, and it comes with a link to a page of your choosing.
  • Users respond well to targeted offers and companies that offer products that appeal to their particular community.

The amount of targeted inventory that you can pick up is not available in large quantities, however. reddit makes up for this by permitting you to do interest-based targeting, but because interest-based targeting tends to be so slapdash even at companies like Google, I wouldn’t expect great results from what reddit offers.

The advertisers that should contemplate the platform should not care about demographic targeting, because users are pseudonymous. What you do know when you target based on the subreddit is that all of the active users have shown some intent about the particular interest of the subreddit that they’ve subscribed to. While you may not control the context in which the ad appears, if you’re familiar enough with the culture of a particular subreddit, you can tailor the ad content and the offer to increase the chances of success.

Much of the interest around advertising on reddit tends to be around going after the ‘default subreddits’ with enormous numbers of subscribers and daily traffic.

While this can work for general consumer brands, it’s less likely to work for companies with more niche offerings. /r/videos subscribers only show intent to watch lots of cool videos. That doesn’t mean anything for you if you sell motorboat supplies. The Venn diagram of /r/videos users and people who own boats has almost no overlap.

On the other hand, if you buy an ad on /r/boating, you’re reaching people who have self-selected as boating enthusiasts. That would be a good candidate for someone to sell those users accessories, or to promote content related to boating.

It’s a platform with a ton of under-realized potential for advertisers who:

  • Have strong niche appeal.
  • Are interested in building community discussion around their brand.
  • Can take a little hostility that might come around if the offering meets a poor reception.
  • Can speak the language and respect the culture of the particular subreddits that they’re advertising on.

While the platform interface itself tends to be pretty weak compared to the established online ad platforms, and the banner options are underwhelming, there’s some under-appreciated opportunities abounding on the site. Another nifty aspect of the fixed pricing is that inventory on different subreddits tends to have a relatively fixed price.

Verticals that would be competitive in search advertising are stupid-cheap on reddit, and billed as CPM while behaving a bit like a typical text ad. Until they correct that into a more flexible auction-based pricing model, there may be some solid opportunities there.

Why You Should Match Landing Pages To Each Ad

In most cases, when non-specialists start advertising campaigns, they neglect to customize landing pages to each ad.

It’s not a crime to do this. The internet marketing police are not going to knock down your door if you do it. It just wastes your hard-earned money.

One of the aspects of most forms of internet advertising that has been weak when compared to more traditional mediums is that link-based ads tend to be severed into two pieces.

Unlike a full-page print ad or a TV commercial, in which the experience is fully contained within its own borders, the majority of online ads today are split experiences with a short delay stuck in the  middle. That’s the click followed by the loading screen followed by the destination page.

This is changing. It probably will no longer be true in five years. But for the moment, in 2014, it’s true. The experience of clicking on a text or image link on one website, waiting a second (or much longer), and then arriving on a new website is a disruptive one. It’s irritating. It breaks the flow of the user. But it’s still your best option in many situations.

A landing page is a jargon term that means the web page that the user arrives on after clicking on a particular link.

For example, Fred the Farmer clicks on the following text ad:


Discount Tractor Parts

CheapskateFarmer.net/Tractor-Parts
Keep Your Farm Running.
Free Shipping. 48 Hour Delivery.

 

What should the page that the person arrives on look like?

Should it be selling tractors? Should it be selling full-priced tractor parts? Should it be selling animal feed? Should the landing page have backhoe parts on it? Should it be selling miniature pony saddles?

No! Absolutely not! The page that the user arrives on should offer tractor parts at a discount.

The on-page text should reflect the ad text and vice-versa. If it’s a search ad like this example, the keywords should match the copy. If it’s a display ad, the design, color, copy, and photography used in that display ad should be used on the target landing page.

The way to think about it is that any ad that contains a link is really an advertisement in two parts. The job of the first part is to encourage the user to look at the second part, and the job of the second part is to get the user to convert. The first part makes the promise, and the second part fulfills the promise. That builds trust in your website and by extension your brand.

This sounds like a lot of extra work. It can be. That’s why a lot of people don’t bother, and wind up wasting money on advertising. If you want to gain a competitive advantage, improve your conversion rates, and make more money, then you have to put in the additional effort of matching the ads to the landing pages.

When you’re constructing an ad campaign, it can be tempting to include some of the broader keywords that you might not have proper pages for. This can be particularly tough when you have a substantial and constantly-rotating inventory. For advertisers like this, dynamic keywords and various tools for mass-building landing pages and integrating ad platforms with your inventory system are a good solution.

For everyone else operating at a lower scale, some elbow grease and proper planning suffices.

Understanding Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are one of the less intuitive aspects of the Adwords search advertising, but once you get a feel for how they work, adding them to all of your campaigns will become more like second nature..

First, if you have no idea what they are, you should go over to the page on the topic at Google. The basic idea is that negative keywords will prevent your ads from being triggered when they’re included in the user’s search query. This saves you money by filtering out people who you judge to be less likely to turn into customers off of that particular ad.

A lot of the suggestions there are going to be a bit too intense for beginning advertisers, even though they’re all good. Here are some general tips:

  • Good campaign organization will save you time in managing your various keyword lists. Ensuring that each campaign is for achieving a distinct advertising goal will make it much easier to pick keywords that are likely to convert. If you dump all of your ad groups into a single campaign, you’re going to have a tougher time keeping it all in your head.
  • It’s less risky to use broad-match negative keywords than it is to use broad-match positive keywords. For example, a high-end fashion designer that rarely offers discounts may want to include negative broad keywords like cheap, discount, sale, used, and rental.
  • When performing keyword research, keep an eye out for keywords that pThe op up that are clearly irrelevant to the product that you’re promoting. Add them to a separate list so that you won’t forget to put them in the campaign.
  • When reviewing your analytics reports, look at the list of search terms triggering your ads. Look at referral terms that seem relevant but are bouncing at statistically significant high rates. Those are great candidates to ad to your negative keyword list.

What I like most about paying close attention to negative keyword lists is that it makes it much less risky to use broad match and modified broad match positive keywords in other ad groups. If you have enough accumulated data on what traffic doesn’t convert, and you become more familiar with how searchers interact with your particular store, you get a better sense of what you can get away with.

Periodically, you’ll want to look at your negative keyword lists for each of your campaigns and evaluate whether some of them represent alternatives for a campaign targeted to earlier in the sales funnel. For example, keyword traffic that wasn’t converting earlier might be a good fit for a marketing page that helps the site visitor to understand more of the benefits of becoming a customer. While they might not have been ready to convert at that second, they might be interested in reading some of your sales material, downloading a white paper, registering an account, or following your company on social media.

As another guideline, the fewer broad match keywords that you select, the fewer negative keywords that you’ll need to use. If you have only limited bandwidth to devote to your Adwords account, you’re going to want to stick to more exact match and phrase match keywords so that you can save time on creating extensive negative keyword lists. Conversely, if you have a lot of time and budget, you’re going to want to begin your campaigns with more broad match keywords, and then grow your negative keyword list as you accumulate more data on the account.

A Relevant Ad Is Information

A relevant ad is a source of accurate information that’s useful to us in the moment that we perceive it. Most of the advertising that we see every day is irrelevant to what we’re thinking about in the present. Most mediums, including the new ones like social networks, rely on interruption-based advertising to attempt to grab our attention and turn us into customers of the people who paid for the ad.

People who write ads, like me, try to come up with all sorts of tricks and gambits to attract and hold the attention of people who see or hear them. But just grabbing that attention is never enough for a quality ad.

Almost immediately after you grab attention with an ad, you want to help the person to qualify themselves as a customer. This can be done in the headline or in the first line of a video or audio commercial. How often have you heard an ad start with a line like “Are you looking to save money on car insurance?” This both grabs attention and qualifies the listener in the same sentence.

People who don’t have cars or who are mostly happy with their current car insurance are going to change the channel or tune out the ad. On platforms like Youtube, they’re going to press the ‘Skip’ button and save the advertiser some money. On Adwords or Facebook ads, they’re going to avoid clicking it. If it’s an infomercial on TV, they won’t bother calling the 1-800 number.

Verifying That Your Programmatic Placements Have Relevancy

Digital advertising gives advertisers both more ability than ever to create extremely relevant ads, but it also makes it trivial to mess up and serve irrelevant ads to people. Small mistakes made during campaign design can result in ads being shown to the wrong places, the wrong people, at the wrong times of day, and against the wrong search terms. Further, ads that go through ad exchanges can sometimes have various configurations shaved off during the trading process, leading to unforeseen errors in placement.

What good publishers do is assemble qualified audiences for you, so you don’t have to, and ensures that your ad gets placed next to relevant content. Google, Facebook, and other ad networks have been competing with that model using their automated systems for the last decade-and-a-half or so, to make use of the enormous and difficult to sort publishing inventory of the web. While these platforms are incredibly powerful, they’re also a lot harder to use than just signing a contract and handing over fat stacks of cash to a magazine salesperson.

In particular, relying on preselected affinity groups on just about any ad platform will, for a lot of product categories, have unsatisfactory results. Although there’s a lot of high-excitement jargon about programmatic ad placement, if you follow the news and get some experience managing these campaigns, you know that there are also a lot of potential sinkholes that your display budget can fall into if you use them without careful controls and experimentation.

You can’t just dump some beautiful camera-ready ads into one end of the machine and hope for the best.

As a guide for how you make ad purchasing decisions, you should keep in mind the Russian proverb popularized by President Ronald Reagan: “doveryai no proveryai,” or “trust, but verify.” Trust the advertising services that have earned it, but verify how your ad dollars are being spent, and know exactly what jargon terms like ‘impressions’ and ‘visitors’ mean so that you can make informed decisions. Reports that just have impression numbers on them are not terribly useful unless it’s just being placed on a single publisher’s site. You have to comb through what sites the ads are appearing on and develop a whitelist and a blacklist to ensure that they’re appearing on sites that have real relevant readers.

It’s also important to remember that the web as it exists today has some inherent limitations to the way that it models human behavior on computers. This is one of the reasons why there’s been so much excitement around the recent re-launch of Atlas by Facebook: better ability to filter out multiple device views by person, and to gain better understanding of all the ad impressions that lead to a final purchase.

All of these developments, if they go well, should contribute towards a world in which most of the ads that people see are relevant to who they are, what they’re reading, and how comfortable they are receiving advertisements. The idea to move towards is a world in which there’s a lot less informational pollution, and more advertising that’s immediately helpful and less intrusive to the people who see them.

What Job Is Your Ad Doing?

Think of an ad like a person assigned to a job. If the person is going to do their job well, they have to know their goals, they have to be motivated to achieve them, and they need to know the rules that they’re operating within in order to get it done.

No, an ad isn’t actually a person. It just helps to make your thinking about it less abstract by anthropomorphizing it a little.

When an ad is poorly constructed, it’s often because its goals are poorly defined. When you try to have an ad achieve too much in the space that it’s been given, the results will be disappointing.

If you start with a primary goal, you can check each component of the ad against whether or not it serves this goal. You can ask yourself questions like:

  • Have we provided enough resources for this ad to achieve its intended goal?
  • Is the goal clear to someone who may have never seen one of our ads before and is unfamiliar with our company?
  • Does the creative direction of the ad support the business goal?
  • Do we make it easy for the person seeing the ad to act on it in a way that supports its goals?
  • Is the ad appearing in a context that increases its chances of achieving its goals?

An ad is supposed to do a job that a salesperson would otherwise need to do. In many cases, an ad is just a sales pitch in writing, in video, in pictures, or in audio, delivered by a salesperson at scale. It helps to think about it in these terms, because often the sales goals can become lost in discussions about creative matters.

If your ad is the equivalent of a sales rep, what will you tell that rep to do?

This process will often result in more comprehensible advertising. Just attempting to build positive affinity for an arbitrary brand name without directing that affinity towards a better-defined business goal is usually not sufficient to gain a market advantage.

People who view the ad need to be able to sort your company into a trusted provider for a solution to a particular set of needs that they have. Whether that’s lawn care, dentistry, or providing contractors for some obscure technology, your ads need to sell something besides vague positive feelings about your logo.

Coca-Cola can get away with that sort of method because Coca-Cola has its products in almost every store that sells food in over a hundred countries worldwide. And even they have more sophisticated supporting campaigns that you’re probably not aware of. Unless your company has that sort of universal presence, you need to design your ads with selling efficiency at the top of your mind.