Early Clues: How Slingshot's History Set Us Up to Find the Butterfly

None of what we are talking about sprang fully formed from my mind (or anyone else’s) – rather it has been a journey of learning that has taken twenty years. In this post I am going to introduce some of the things that we have seen that have led us to the early ideas about Marketing in the Age of Distraction® in the first place.

As those of you who know Slingshot well are familiar, we grabbed the digital side of the ledger very early. In addition to doing a lot of things that nobody had ever done before, we were able to observe behavior in a simpler environment than what exists today on the web. And we were able to do so without the complicating factors of so many different browser types, access via phone, tablet etc…It was an environment where you could push on one end and see what happened on the other, and for the first time…everything was trackable.

Coming out of a career doing traditional advertising, in the absence of any research I was pretty comfortable using my judgment (and our clients’ judgment) as a guide to determining what creative would be effective in motivating customers to act. I really thought I had it down. Once we started tracking consumer interaction with advertising online, I realized pretty quickly that people often did not behave the way I thought they did, at least not in this environment. And that I’d better figure out why if I wanted to get good at this.

Lesson One: Novel is Noteworthy

One of the first things that we found out was that click rates varied greatly depending on how much exposure people had to the kind of advertising vehicle, which makes sense. The more you see something the easier it is to dismiss it. As an example, the first banner we ever ran for TravelWeb in 1995 garnered a 13% click through rate. Click rates have been dropping ever since. Currently the average click through rate is about .07% currently according to Doubleclick*. Realistically, that drop isn’t because the creative is any worse, it is because the users have gotten really good at ignoring typical banners.

While this was true of the basic banner, doing something that people had not seen before in that environment worked to increase engagement every time. When we tied a banner and a skyscraper together for Jack Daniel’s in 1998 we saw far higher interaction than if we had just run both units independently. Why? Because people hadn’t seen it before, it was interruptive, and it made them pay attention.

Jack Daniel's Banner

Lesson Two: Environment leads to Engagement

The second thing we noticed was that environment made a big difference. The exposure might be great on the front page of AOL, but if you wanted people to engage, placing advertising deeper in the site, in more specific content (especially if it was related to what you were selling) garnered much better results. One of early programs that really brought this to our attention was for TravelWeb as well. We developed an HTML banner that allowed the user to execute a search for a hotel on the site (The first of its kind). We found that it performed far better if we tied the search to a specific locational site. For instance the banner below did far, far better on a Chamber of Commerce site in Cleveland than it did on the homepage of a portal, or even on a more general travel page.

Travel Web Banner

Lesson Three: Customization is Captivating

The third thing that we learned was that the closer we could get to delivering on what the customer was actively interested in at the time, the better the advertising worked. Time of day was important as we found out when we noticed that activity for Phillips 66 Station finder we had built spiked as people were heading home for the day. Banners targeted to that time of day worked far better than at other times.

The Travelweb HTML banners mentioned above were a different kind of example of successful customization. The closer we could get to personalizing the experience the better. A great example of that was an HTML banner promoting the then sparsely available DSL service from GTE in 1998. The banners allowed consumers to search by inputting their own phone number in the banner to see if they could get DSL and it worked like gangbusters.

So, the foundational learning for Marketing in the Age of Distraction® was digital, but we started to see great examples of this kind of thinking working in the traditional world as well, and we have been using the three lessons above to guide a lot of our thinking about how we go to market period. More on that coming soon.

Source: *Google Display Benchmarks, CTR for All Verticals and All Formats, United States, period: Nov 2014-Jan 2015.

In the last two decades our culture, and therefore our behaviors, have gone through a sea change. This is largely due to the impact of the Digital Age on how your customers are living their lives. It calls for a seismic shift in how we think about marketing, not just a tweak of our tactics.

Over the course of Slingshot’s 20th anniversary year we will examine this shift with a deep look at the new lenses through which all marketing and advertising decisions must be made. We will help you learn how to "be the butterfly" that captures attention in the age of distraction.

– Owen Hannay, Founder and CEO, Slingshot

Posted Mon, Mar 9, 2015 by Owen Hannay in Marketing in the Age of Distraction®