The Digital Mystique: All Smoke and Mirrors?

While it may be true that US adults spend 47 percent of their time interacting with digital (online, mobile or otherwise), that doesn’t mean that marketers will be seeing their investment in digital pay off in the long run.

While it may be true that US adults spend 47 percent of their time interacting with digital (online, mobile or otherwise), that doesn’t mean that marketers will be seeing their investment in digital pay off in the long run.

A recent New York Times article quoted Jon Swallen, the chief research officer at Kantar Media North America who stated “the cost efficiencies of digital advertising enable many marketers to buy more for less.” And while that’s probably true, it doesn’t come close to telling the real story.

As many new startups are learning, digital spend may yield lots of clicks, but very few new customers. The web is besieged by advertisers, so much so that I have started to close out of sites that interrupt my reading with pop-ups, sidebars that occupy a more prominent size than the content I’m trying to read, or other distractions including social media sharing tools.

Of course digital ads can reach millions of eyeballs quickly, but God forbid you click on one as you already know what will happen next:

  • Retargeting efforts mean you’ll be repeatedly seeing that product over and over again on every site you visit (I actually tried to email the marketing director of Signature Hardware to tell him to stop stalking me as I already made the purchase!)
  • Every time I conduct a search, the same results keep popping up for the company/product I explored via an ad click through, but rejected (perhaps they think frequency messaging will help me change my mind?)

This week I was researching a client’s industry to find information that would support a whitepaper we were writing and I discovered half a dozen sites I’ve now noted to avoid at all costs. These sites were chock full of ads in all shapes, forms and colors. In between paragraphs of copy, there would be some random headline that was a link to a product landing page. I literally couldn’t absorb the content it was all so distracting.

In the last 2 months, I’ve received calls from several fairly new startups who wanted to discuss their direct mail options. Yep—that old “tried and true” medium is coming back in vogue. Why?

As one CEO put it, “Our board no longer has the patience for our slow pace of growth because we’ve tied our marketing investment to the digital advertising landscape. We get lots of clicks, but very few buyers.”

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Like many who have been involved in direct marketing since the dark ages, we no longer need to test to know the following statement is true: Mass media vehicles (like digital) tend to drive a high volume of leads, but they’re of low quality (they don’t convert); Targeted media (like direct mail) drives a low volume of leads but they’re of high quality (and therefore more likely to purchase).

If your strategic plan is to create a sales funnel that drives both high volume and requires high conversion to sale, you need a combination of media to accomplish that task cost efficiently. It’s already been proven that no single medium can deliver on that promise.

Because if it were that easy—and digital was the Holy Grail—then wouldn’t everyone be doing it? Oh wait… they already are. They just forgot the annoyance factor.