Trade | Stop renting eyeballs
Media planning, content, omni-channel,
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Watching TV 3

14 Aug Stop Renting Eyeballs, Start Investing in Marketing Assets

Traditionally, using paid media to access audiences, whether offline or online, has been a “renting eyeballs” exercise. Much upfront effort is spent on targeting, segmentation, and creative production – all of which is then activated by placing the outputs where audiences aggregate (print, radio, TV, web, social). The hope is that these audiences will excuse the interruption to notice your marketing message and ultimately be influenced to buy your product. It’s been a tried and true method for a century but one that now suffers declining ROI due to fragmentation of both media channels and attention spans.

So if “renting” can no longer pay the rent, what else is a marketer to do?


The answer is simple: invest. Invest in building long-lived assets (owned media), invest in building relationships that spawn advocacy (earned media), and more generally endeavor to become part of the personal narrative of your target market rather than a passing interruption in their regularly scheduled programming.

This audience investment (rather than rental) approach requires a different way of thinking about how to create marketing assets and how to measure their efficacy. Marketers are now content creators – requiring adoption of the tools and techniques of narrative architecture on top of traditional segmentation and targeting. Unfortunately, great storytelling that reaches the right audience may win an Academy Award, but it won’t alone move a brand or, more importantly, sales in the right direction. So in addition, marketers need to establish performance measurement systems and metrics that allow them to optimize and do more of what’s working and improve or discard what’s not.

Let’s move from theory to application. Say you’re a senior marketer charged with driving more leads into the organization. Your peers in brand awareness are spending copious amounts of money renting eyeballs with their latest TV spots to make sure the average consumer has at least heard of the product. You also have a top-notch sales team that closes a respectable percentage of net new leads. You own the middle of the funnel (consideration). Typical media strategies would recommend renting more eyeballs, but at a more targeted, perhaps direct marketing level. It’s really a numbers game at this point – spend more on mailings, display ads, promos, paid search. A certain percentage of the audience that views your efforts (typically below 1-2% and sometimes well below), will interact – beginning the conversion phase of the sales process. But once you turn off the spigot of media funds the process grinds to a slow natural halt. You’re renting eyeballs and your marketing ROI is directly tied to your rent payment.

The alternative is investing in narrative strategy, content development, audience relationship building, and performance optimization. To be clear, this is an investment – an approach that may have a longer payback period than quarterly eyeball rental, but also a much higher ROI. Most marketers are already familiar with the general concepts of storytelling as well as content production, and have also likely been exposed to the huge upsides of direct interaction with consumers via social platforms. The missing ingredient that ties these elements together is a unified narrative architecture – one supported by a marketing technology stack and predicated on ongoing performance optimization.

Back to the example. Rather than pushing out the latest agency mailers and display ads, the smart marketer decides first to better understand her target customers – what’s going in their lives and how the brand can participate and add value. Notice the difference here – it’s not first about the brand’s story, it’s about the personal narrative of the potential customer. Knowledge in hand, the marketer can structure an editorial calendar that delivers content, not just ads, across channels. Both the content and the channel distribution are built on standardized frameworks and insights that can be measured for effectiveness at the point of interaction and across time as the customer relationship is developed and nurtured.

Deeper, more meaningful customer relationships lead to more and better-qualified leads. And once these customers become consumers they can also become advocates – driving additional awareness-consideration-conversion through earned media in a virtuous cycle. This modern approach to engaging audiences through investment rather than rental requires a shift in attitudes in the marketing budgeting process. But with the tools now available to measure and manage investment performance, it’s a natural evolution for brands and marketers to start building relationships rather than paying for the privilege of interrupting their target audience.


To learn more about how Trade can assist your organization, contact 404-900-5592

To contact the author

Jeff Mikes, Partner

Robert Morris
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