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Online Visibility: The Quadcopter Theorem

Insights November 1, 2013

It’s cliché to state at this point, but just about everything you encounter throughout the day is a form of advertising. Even with that knowledge, there are far too many brands that don’t take the time to fully analyze where their messaging is being interacted with and how it’s being interpreted. Need proof? Go on the internet.

You see, there are many CMO’s out there that (still!) think just plastering your message on any old outlet on the world wide web is good enough. You probably wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of “online display ads are like billboards on the highway: it doesn’t matter if the drivers truly notice because the impression has already been made.” Well, no. Consumers are more savvy than ever and plastering your brand on the websites they browse doesn’t mean they are going to automatically start trusting you. Simply interrupting user experience isn’t going to get the audience on your good side, in fact it will more often than not do the opposite.

In the book Purple Cow, by Seth Godin, he illustrates what is called the “old system” for consumer messaging. In the illustration, it becomes clear that the best thing a brand could do to garner greater attention and sell more of their product was to buy increasing amounts of ad space. It also didn’t hurt that as he mentions: “…consumers were trained to believe that ‘as seen on TV’ was proof of quality.” As you could imagine, there’s a reason he calls this the “old system.” Put simply, it just isn’t that easy any more. With consumers more jaded, and more likely to draw their own conclusions on a product’s best selling points, screaming from the rooftops, begging for attention, isn’t going to work.

A question to ponder: If you were put in charge of a company’s marketing budget, would you waste it on a medium with a low probability of recall, or would you build trust and recognition by actively becoming a resource in the consumer buying cycle?

Remember the last time you went into the mall with a list of things you needed? I bet you didn’t stop and check out the RC helicopter kiosk outside of Cold Stone Creamery as you went from store to store. Sure, the guy hovering his quadcopter around the corridor looks cool, but he isn’t doing much to help you find the items on your list. I’d also go out on a limb and guess that once you got in your car to head home, you weren’t thinking about his kiosk much (if ever) after that point. Those pricey online display ads have a lot in common with the helicopter guy in the mall.

The reason you don’t have much recall for the kiosks you blow by in the mall is because you’ve trained your brain to ignore them. You know exactly where your favorite stores are in the mall, so you naturally go there first. Guess what? You do the same thing online. When you are searching for a particular product, you know the trusted resources are coming in the search results and unknowingly  ignore all the banners/noise  cluttering up other parts of the page.

Say I wanted to buy my imaginary nephew Franklin a Christmas gift online. Imaginary Franklin is 10 and I have no idea what a kid his age would want, so I’d probably search for something along the lines of “hottest Christmas gifts.” Once those results come in, I’d look for a piece on a blog I trust about what the kids these days are clammering over. If RC Helicopter is on that list (and it better be, those things are too cool not to be), they will probably provide me with some links to the best model and where I could purchase it. I’m naturally going to trust this recommendation much more than some banner on the side of the page that I probably didn’t see.

If only there were a way to shift a brand’s messaging from those forgetful, untrusted channels and into something that could actually enhance a user’s experience and a brand’s image at the same time. What if the guy running the kiosk could teach you about his product at the exact moment you are interested in learning more, instead of when you’re on your way to grab some sweet new khakis? Good news: it exists and is called organic search visibility. With organic search visibility, brands can appear more naturally in situations where users are open to their messaging, and can even gain knowledge and insight from their interaction with them. This creates the potential for higher brand recognition, recall, and ultimately perception. No matter how much you spend on hyper-targeting and remarketing, being in a natural location on the web will garner more trust and value than any display ad you can find.

Back to the question I left you to ponder and it’s time to make your decision on that ad budget. Remember to ask yourself next time you’re being sold on your brand’s digital presence: Do you want to be another distraction on the web and alienate users, or do you want to be seen where and when it matters most?


FULL DISCLOSURE: Joseph owns RC helicopters and is not in any way speaking detrimentally of the devices. He just really doesn’t like the useless kiosks in the mall that sell them. The helicopters they stock are junk. Do yourself a favor and find some trusted online RC resources before making such a life-altering purchase.

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