New Facebook research shows why clicks aren't always the right thing to chase

From the very beginning digital marketing has arguably framed itself around a competition to get clicks, but new research from Facebook shows that brand marketers should probably be looking to do quite the opposite.

Facebook's Marketing Science team has just shared its latest internal data with Dentsu Aegis and other partners, which correlated the cost to reach a consumer on the platform with how typically inclined that person was to click on posts. It showed that the 50 per cent of the audience which was the cheapest to reach through their media auction was the same audience that was least likely to click on anything.

At the other end of the scale, the top 10 per cent of 'most clicky' users typically cost 4.2 times as much to reach. You may immediately think that this simply reflects the value and importance of these active consumers, but that isn't necessarily the case.

First off, this data endorses a truism I have often heard that it is a consistent core group of Facebook users who are willing and interested in engaging with posts. The vast majority are in fact far more passive users of the platform, quite happy just to read and absorb content in their news feeds.

Any activity which sets out specifically to drive active engagement is by its very nature limiting itself to being attractive only to a small percentage of consumers, who are not by any means self-selecting as the most valuable to your business.

Facebook and Datalogix's research data in the Consumer Goods category has consistently shown that over 90 per cent of people who were exposed to ads and then purchased in-store did not click on those ads. In other words, it's a false correlation to believe the people clicking are what drives your business.

What's more, the focus on driving engagement and on benchmarking success based on how much interaction a post gets puts brands squarely in the most competitive part of Facebook's auction.

Here they fight for this small core audience against a very tough crowd who also think they are after the same thing. For some they may well be right, and clearly for direct marketing campaigns driving clicks remains crucially important, but brand marketers should think twice before they throw themselves into this highly competitive lion’s den.

Across the industry there has been a growing understanding that digital media channels can play by the rules of traditional media, and in fact often improve upon them. This means that just like with TV, OOH or print, reach & frequency are two of the most crucial factors in defining a campaign's success. Facebook's previous research has in fact shown that there is no correlation between engagement and final campaign success, not least because reach has a substantially greater impact.

Global digital platforms like Facebook and YouTube offer marketers a greater scale of reach than any single media channel has ever done before but we need to change our marketing tactics, and more radically divert our marketing budgets, to fully tap into that.

As Facebook's evidence shows, if marketers chase clicks and engagement they are actually trying to buy the most expensive possible reach, whilst a more open view on managed reach and frequency allows them to compete for the wider majority of consumers – ultimately getting their message in front of as much as four times as many people.

Of course you might want to argue that it's essential for consumers to click for digital marketing to work, but that would imply we consume media on a digital screen in a completely different way to how our brains watch TV or read magazines. No one can click a radio commercial or engage with a print advert, but both can have huge impacts on our perceptions and purchase habits. In the same way, brands can tell powerful stories through rich digital media which will resonate with consumers even if they never choose to click on them.

Clicks can of course kick off deeper experiences, or help make sure more people see your content in the first place, and they no doubt still have a role for brands with more complex purchase decisions to drive. Even in search marketing however, surely one of the most click focused of fields, Google's own evidence has shown that people can be greatly influenced by search results (driving an 80 per cent increase in top of mind brand awareness) even if they never click on them.

There's a clear message that brand marketers may well be better off getting people to stare in awe at their creative marketing rather than trying to force them to click their way through it.

Jerry Daykin is global digital director at Carat

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