At the end of the 19th century, a prominent Philadelphia merchant lacked faith in his advertising investment. “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half,” said John Wanamaker.
John Wanamaker opened and operated the first department store in Philadelphia. Wanamaker also created the first price tag, the first full-page ad, and the money-back guarantee. He also spent a lot of money on advertising to drive people to his store. He knew he needed to do so; nevertheless, he questioned the return on investment.
People like to measure things according to the accountant’s ledger. We can all freely acknowledge the sound business practice in doing so. But why do we also struggle to admit the immense value that people place on the art of persuasion?
It does not add up because brand building can’t be scored by a CPA.
People instinctively crave a good story and brands are in a unique position to offer them up. We’re in the business of encouraging people to feel things. When things go our way, people act on those feelings in ways that benefit the client. Measuring these feelings and connecting them to the actions people take is an inexact science at best. That does not mean it’s not necessary to make people feel things and act on those feelings. It means we need better means of measurement to prove that the art of persuasion works, according to scientific methods.
Digital Marketing’s Core Promise: Eliminate Waste
Digital marketers want to put Wanamaker’s doubts to rest, once and for all. The promise of digital is that digital eliminates waste by replacing the “spray and pray” broadcast model with highly targeted behavioral tracking that knows what the customer wants to buy before she does.
Today, with an effective behavioral tracking and retargeting campaign, a digital account exec can answer the Wanamaker’s of the world with real-time data.
That’s the promise. What’s the reality? Sadly, the reality is widespread ad fraud, privacy invasions, and false assumptions based on quasi-legal tracking. Today, John Wanamaker would have plenty of reason to be concerned.
We are awash in data and should be living in a nirvana of actionable insights,” said Eric Solomon in a 2018 study by Nielsen.
“The reality, however, seems disconnected from this promise. Over the last 18 months, some of the largest and most influential advertisers in the world have spoken up about their concerns with digital advertising, calling the supply chain ‘broken’ and pointing to a high incidence of fraud and lack of brand safety.”
CMOs in the study said they were most concerned with improving media efficiency by limiting advertising waste across the digital ecosystem. The top three capabilities they chose to make this happen were: reach and frequency measurement (82% rated it the most important capability), ad viewability (73%), and data management platforms (62%).
There’s another digital far beyond the algorithm. It’s the place where lowered costs of production and distribution meet. The place where storytellers just do it themselves.
For brands that are ready to embrace the DIY spirit, the medium is an unlimited canvas. It’s the place where brand narratives can take off. There are so many rich examples. Austin-based YETI, for one, is all about long-form brand-based narratives.
A brand like YETI can also serve programmatic ads based on one’s online behavior. But the product offers don’t mean as much without the deeper product stories that are made available on the brand’s YouTube channel.
Wanamaker’s Other Famous Saying
We are so focused on Wanamaker’s ROI complaint, we forget to admire the man’s other critical lessons. Wanamaker also said, “When a customer enters my store, forget me. He is king.”
How many online stores behave as if you are a king? Most online stores that I’ve visited fail to provide even the most basic welcome. Could it be that the humanless shopping experience isn’t satisfying? Could it be that people want more than the best price? Yes, it could be. Digital disrupted. Meanwhile, none of the sharpest minds in advertising bothered to say, great, but human behavior has not fundamentally changed.
The digerati did recognize one aspect of human behavior that their algorithms can attend to—the desire for a deal. Oddly, the desire for human contact and the desire for immediacy were not factored into their machine-based shopping equations, and that remains a problem in need of a solution.