Surfing some blogs lately, I discovered a reference to a new, irritating, and particularly sneaky ad model promoted by Data Shaping Solutions. Billing the new model "neural marketing" (why, I don't know. I guess somebody thought it sounded cool), Data Shaping Solutions has come up with a way of spamming Web sites' referrer logs with its spider software. Basically, you pay to have its spider hit personal Web sites (in many cases blogs), leaving a trace that appears to have come from your Web site. The unsuspecting site owner, interested in where her traffic is coming from, sees your site in her referrer log. She clicks the link to find out where the traffic came from and, Viol`!, she's on your site!
Why would the company think this is a good idea? The "advantages" are clearly described on its site: "Your competitors can not click on your Ad," it declares, "The technique is not perceived as advertising by the recipient.... [It] boosts your ranking on search engines by increasing the number of sites that link to you."
Not that the claims aren't true. They probably are, especially as many blogs display their referrers to impress everyone with their traffic. Are these good methods in the long run? I don't think so.
Why? For the same reason responsible advertisers don't spam. It may work in the short term, but the long-term impact on the brand doesn't make it worthwhile for anyone seeking customer loyalty or positive brand experience.
It's probably safe to say everyone understands his brand has a huge impact on his online (and offline) success. Studies such as Harris Interactive's show brand is the key factor in online buying. Others, such as this one from StatMarket, point to the fact increasingly more users navigate based on brand recognition rather than search engines or ads. Still more studies (such as Vividence's on the auto industry) indicate the online experience can have far-reaching consequences for offline sales.
It's just common sense. If a consumer's primary experience with your brand is online and if that experience is good, he's more likely to buy from you then or in the future. On the other hand, if the brand experience sucks (due to a poorly performing site, irritating advertising, or bad customer service), he probably won't come back... unless you're the only game in town. And then, only until he can find an alternative.
The importance of online brand experience isn't much different from brand experience offline. In the offline world, a company may have great advertising that creates an abundance of warm-and-fuzzy feelings for customers, but if they walk into the store and are treated like dirt by the staff, all the great ads in the world won't create long-term customers. Similarly, if they're "tricked" into coming to a store through deceptive advertising, the good feelings will end as soon as they realize they've been had.
In the current down economy, retaining customers is more important than ever. With pricing driven ever downward (0 percent APR! No payments until January!) and products becoming increasingly more commoditized by the Internet, it's the intangibles of customer service, great brand experience, and great products that will mean the difference between survival and failure. Anything you do that negatively impacts brand experience (including using annoying ad models) works against you in the long term.
Want more confirmation that ad models can impact brand experience? AOL's, iVillage's, and AskJeeves's recent decisions to squash pop-ups comes straight from the fact these annoyances negatively impacted customer experience. Forget what they do for advertisers, these companies care about what pop-ups do to their customers.
Experience matters, and the high road is the surest path to success.
Sean Carton is Chief Experience Officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
Reprinted from ClickZ.com