WHAT ARE ADVERTISERS BUYING? Part 5: Tracking Reader Inquiries

So you think you know response? Part 5 of our series tells you the impact of disappearing reader service cards — and what you can do about it.

Up until recently, most B2B publications bound a reader service card, or “bingo” card, in each issue. Each ad would have an inquiry number printed at the bottom that would correspond with the number on the card. Readers could circle the numbers to receive more information from the advertiser. The publisher would forward these inquiries to the advertiser, proudly asserting that it was this publication that was responsible for generating these valuable sales leads.

The reader service card is a dying service, however. Without the reader service card, advertisers are forced to track ad effectiveness in other ways. They may, for instance, promote a unique website (e.g. using a suffix on their regular URL that is coded to a particular publication or campaign) or phone number on their ads so they can see which publication drove in the inquirer. If an advertiser does not code the ads, or if readers reach the company through a regular website URL or phone number, it becomes more difficult to track ad effectiveness.

QR codes, which readers can scan with their smartphones, are a newer technology for linking readers to additional information and tracking interest. Our friends at Levelwing says that on average, individuals are already being exposed to QR Codes through 3 different touch-points (http://goo.gl/crsLC). QR code usage is in the infancy stage, and there has already been talk that it may be quickly bypassed by other, more robust emerging technologies. During our research, publications did not volunteer information about QR codes, although some noted that they had larger advertisers who were using them. These codes give the advertiser a way to measure individual magazine response — just like a reader service card, with the exception of not knowing “who” is hitting the QR.

For example, an advertiser running in 26 different publications can economically create 26 different QR codes, and then track the response from the 26 magazines very effectively. Some of the publishers who attended our meetings run a list of advertisers in the magazine and then invite readers to go the magazine’s website to request information from manufacturers. If readers prefer receiving information via websites, why would they go to a publication website rather than directly to the advertiser’s website? This is an unnecessary extra step (like too many clicks). Instead of binding printed reader service cards into their publications, other publishers have opted for online reader service cards.

AIM’s experience has found that online cards produce very few inquiries (think about it, why click on an online card when you can right to the advertiser’s website!). Sometimes, the only metrics the electronic reader service card can provide advertisers is how many people “clicked” on the advertiser’s website.

Other publications have discontinued any type of inquiry generation activity on behalf of their advertisers. Online-only cards and no publisher-supported inquiry generation put response activity squarely on the advertisers’ shoulders, AND they’re left with fewer ways to hold magazines accountable as effective advertising vehicles. It’s up to advertisers to build metrics into their ads, websites or digital media. The publisher basically walks away from the responsibility. Not a surprise, as a recent McKinsey report even showed that even the most powerful social-media strategies focus on a limited number of marketing responses related to individual touch points http://goo.gl/uZ9AE.

Do publishers prefer to step out of the inquiry generation game altogether? Removal of the reader service cards and failure to provide alternative inquiry-tracking mechanisms eliminates an important way to measure the value of magazines, but advertisers have to ASK FOR IT. During our meetings, there was little discussion on publisher-sponsored market research that demonstrated that readers look at or read advertising in their publications or buy/specify particular products. AIM’s analysis of various clients’ ad programs shows that many publications no longer offer ad readership studies, which were only useful when ads were placed in the issues to be studied (and our ground-breaking research in 1990, Behind the Numbers, showed the relationship of readership to inquiries http://goo.gl/wCqzM). While these ad studies don’t necessarily provide all the answers on a success of a given ad, they do offer a form of accountability. It is unfortunate, and it is another indication of the profound change going on, that such studies are being dropped. Without inquiries to measure the draw of an ad and evaluate the quality of the publication’s readers and no ad readership research to undercover who saw or read an ad, how can advertisers hold a publication accountable?

There is a great lure in digital channels of ROI. It is said that digitally, we know who, how, why, how much, and how often. But the fact of the matter is, how sophisticated ROI gets digitally, human behavior is NOT subject to an algorithm. IBM’s Business Analytics in Retail for Dummies gives some good case histories in ROI as far as retailing is concerned, but their examples can be applied to any category. Find this reference at http://goo.gl/pW1ue.

At a recent event sponsored by Google, we were fortunate enough to participate in hearing a panel discuss this very topic. And while no one doubts the sophistication of the technology tools available digitally and in these digital channels, the fact of the matter is that you will never know it’s “me” if I don’t want you do know. Even cookies can be deleted. And only those people we call “hackers” can place things our computer that we may or may not know are there, “watching our movements.” Think about it: the social media channels themselves offer a wide-open book on people, how they think, what they do. One of the top consultants in the world started following me personally the other day, and had made his tweets private. And while that’s certainly his choice, “private” defeats the purpose of “social.” Twitter is not a private channel. Of course it can be, but that is not Twitter’s nature, which is social.

The bottom line is that any vehicle – bingo card, electronic inquiry, websites – must have an accountability factor simply because people don’t have the time to do everything. If this is truly the age of the customer, and customers are now in control, why deny them the path they want to respond?

For more information, contact us. And look for Part 6 in our series coming soon!