Online: where context is king

As the world goes online, advertising budget allocations are reflecting the trend. However, the massive scale and shifting user patterns make the internet a challenging medium for marketers

Around the world an ever greater percentage of advertising investment is being allocated to online media. As a result, the digital marketing industry is flourishing. However, for brand advertisers and their agencies, delivering efficient and effective integrated, multi-channel communications in the evolving Web 2.0 market is becoming an ever greater challenge.

Knowing how and where to integrate the internet is becoming harder as the channel grows more multi-dimensional, multi-media and multi-device. Successfully reaching and engaging connected consumers is less straightforward as they become more empowered. Breaking through the clutter and making an impact is ever more challenging as the online landscape becomes increasingly crowded.

To address these issues and facilitate integrated communication planning, MEC Interaction and Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions commissioned qualitative and quantitative primary consumer research with OTX in six global markets.

On commissioning the research, MEC and Microsoft wanted to gain a deeper understanding of consumers’ time spent on the internet, the contexts and mindsets in which their online activities took place and their receptivity to different forms of brand communications during various online occasions. The research aimed to highlight the importance of context in online brand communications and provide advertisers with insight into how better to plan online campaigns.

The research showed that time spent online is rarely for a single purpose but a blend of multiple, planned and/or unplanned activities that are woven into daily life. Communication, information gathering, transactions, entertainment consumption and creative expression all take place online alongside other activities, such as working, socialising, or consuming traditional media (particularly TV). While communication, at 41% of time spent online, is the primary purpose of internet access and remains fairly constant throughout the day, the blend of other internet activities – satisfying a range of individuals’ daily needs and requirements – varies hour by hour.

Two distinct peaks of activity occur on the internet in the morning and evening, when people are preparing for the beginning of their day and relaxing at the end of it. In the morning, research and information gathering is at its greatest but declines through the day to be replaced by entertainment activity, such as watching video clips, downloading music or playing online games, and online content creation, including uploading photos and video or updating blogs.

The online mood lightens over the course of the day from more serious, focused and task-oriented in the morning to more relaxed, distracted and fun-seeking into the evening.

Understanding the breakdown of these different online activities by time, place, mindset and mood can help advertisers better apply contextual frameworks to their online media selection and creative messaging.

The research also found that many online activities are frequent and repetitive tasks that, reflecting real life behaviour, take place in a handful of familiar environments. Internet users regularly go to the same online destinations, as if in their local neighbourhood, and recognising which properties make up a target audiences’ neighbourhood is crucial for advertisers when looking to build brands online. Regularly visited, audience-loyal sites can act as good places to build brand trust and engagement.

Consumers’ awareness, receptivity and responsiveness to commercial messages were found to differ greatly depending on the nature of the online journeys of the brand communication.

The research findings demonstrate that to reach and engage online audiences successfully, advertisers and agency planners must tailor their communications to the different constituent parts of internet usage. Overall consumers recognised a role for both “push” and “pull” brand communications if it supported, enhanced or improved their online journeys. Interruptive, push advertising is well received only when consumers are surfing the Web or actively seeking information – where banners and paid search can act as signposts to products and services of interest.

The findings also confirmed that consumers are less likely to be open or aware of traditional online advertising formats when social networking or uploading content. However, self-service and participatory branded content and applications, such as decorative online content, gadgets and co-creation platforms, are more welcome by consumers in the growing realms of social, Web 2.0 user behaviour and offer a growing opportunity for advertisers in the future.

To best deliver contextually relevant brand communications, advertisers should look to blend inter- ruptive, push advertising with more engaging brand content and applications, taking into consideration daypart, environment and emotion of online activity. They should also then blend and integrate this online activity with offline activity within traditional channels.

Bearing such findings in mind is likely to help improve consumer engagement with online brand communications and help rise advertisers’ return on investment. 

Julian Smith, MEC Interaction EMEA insight and research director, contributed to this week’s digital insight

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