The Untapped Potential of Display Advertising


There is an overused analogy that describes display ads as the “billboards of the internet” ...and it’s bullsh*t. This phrase severely underplays the versatility of display ads and the various ways to measure the performance of them. The sad truth is that veteran marketers are usually the ones perpetuating this notion which creates a misunderstanding of the potential of display ads among advertisers, business owners, and consumers. It’s not hard to find diagrams that confine display ads to “top of funnel” or articles and marketing company websites that only fixate on driving conversions despite offering diverse multi-channel marketing strategies. This misunderstanding can frustrate advertisers, cause business owners to lose confidence in their advertising efforts, and it will damage the attitude consumers have about ads. Correcting this misunderstanding is ideal for everyone involved.


Avinash Kaushik, digital marketing evangelist and Google co-founder, created the See-Think-Do business framework (which he’s since updated to See-Think-Do-Care). Kaushik cited these three reasons as the problems he was trying to solve when designing the STDC framework. Undervaluing the versatility of display ads is part of Kaushik’s second point, and his third point directly aligns with misunderstanding of measuring the performance of display ads:

  • We talk the customer centricity game, but we rarely walk it.
  • We don't think about our marketing expansively enough. In addition to being worrisome, this also makes me mad because there is so much opportunity out there and we are squandering it.
  • We (oh how I hate this) apply irrational and "narrow-view" measurement strategies toward understanding what is successful and what's not.

The See-Think-Do-Care approach segments audiences into four “consideration stages” based on their intentions. The names of each stage define the goal of the most appropriate message.

  • See is the largest addressable qualified audience. It’s basically any qualified individual that may be a potential customer.
  • Think defines the subset of the See stage that has a minimal intent to buy your product or service. They are thinking about whatever your business does.
  • Do is the subset of Think that are close to making a purchase.
  • Care contains anyone who has made two purchases. Multiple purchases indicate brand loyalty, and brands can achieve long term success by caring for their loyal customers.

Understanding the differences among each stage is vital in understanding which type of message is most appropriate, which metrics are the correct ones to use when defining success, and which channels and targeting methods can be used to reach each stage. The beauty of display advertising is that it can be used to reach any consideration stage.



For some reason, many advertisers restrict display advertising to the See stage. This isn’t always necessary because advertisers have an unquantifiable combination of targeting settings to choose from for their display ads on Facebook, Snapchat, AdWords, and other programmatic ad platforms that reach millions of sites and apps. As long as ad content policies are met, advertisers have a blank canvas for their creative. The freedom of choice in each of these aspects give advertisers the ability to correctly target the audience of any consideration stage with an appropriate message. Kaushik provided an example of how display ads can be used in each stage.

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It’s important to keep in mind that channels such as social or targeting methods such as demographic targeting can be used effectively at any consideration stage as long as the message and targeting align with the audience. The See stage can be reached with broad targeting and a branding message, while the Think stage would require more specific targeting paired with a more specific message about what the brand does, a more tangible call to action, or something suggesting they complete a micro conversion. The Do stage uses even more specific targeting methods and focuses on messages with a transaction seeking call to action.

See messages that correctly align with their targeting will create a larger audience pool in the Think stage. Correct alignment in the Think stage cascades down to a larger audience size in the Do stage which is more profitable than only using Do messages. Display ads that mismatch their message and targeting will upset consumers and advertisers alike. For example, a message that says “BUY NOW” is too abrupt for most people in the See stage. It may attract a handful of sales, but the vast majority of the audience will ultimately respond negatively to it. This negative reaction will show up in the metrics...assuming the right metrics are being looked at.



Two of the most common ways marketers measure the success of display advertising are polar opposites. Neither of them is always wrong, but the problem is that they both force a narrow view on the versatility of display ads. On one hand, some digital marketers only measure display ads by impression metrics because they only see the purpose of display ads as branding. These metrics include impressions, CPM, lift in brand awareness, etc. Doing so is great for a See message, but sometimes these metrics are incorrectly used to measure the success of a different message or audience of a different consideration stage.

On the other hand, many advertisers measure EVERYTHING by conversions metrics due to an unhealthy obsession with conversion that plagues the industry. While measuring conversions is perfect for the Do stage, it shouldn’t be used for every stage. Kaushik illustrated this in his framework and compares it to judging a fish by its ability to climb up a tree.

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The origin of this obsession is easily identifiable. The ability to accurately calculate return on ad spend is major selling point for digital advertising over traditional advertising. However, the unquantifiable amount of information the internet gives consumers dismantles the idea that the entire consumer decision making process will hinge on a single ad that says “buy now.” This should be obvious given the access consumers have to alternatives, reviews, ratings, and product images, but this old way of thinking is echoed every time an executive asks, but what’s my cost per acquisition?

By focusing on the big picture instead of just conversions or impressions, the goal of every stage of the STDC framework will be considered, and logical measurements can be applied. Because of the narrow scope of these two ideas on measuring the success of display campaigns, the Think stage is often underutilized and mis-measured. This stage strives for people interacting more with the business, so click and site metrics as well as certain micro conversions are most important. Any advertiser that disregards this stage disregards the relationship between their brand and their potential consumers.



See-Think-Do-Care is first and foremost a framework. It doesn't mean all advertisers can and should attempt to run a display message for each consideration stage. Limitations such as budget, technological capabilities, industry nuances and many more all play into the strategy behind when to use which channel and which specific metrics should be used to measure success. Kaushik understands this and created an example of how STDC might look like for a business spending little-to-no money on advertising.

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This is a good start, but a properly built marketing strategy with more channels will reach more consumers with a variety of messages. At J Miller Marketing, our creative team works closely with our digital team to ensure cohesion between messages and targeting regardless of the channel is being utilized. This ensures that our display ads are far greater than “digital billboards”.


Want to see the effect that a tailor-made multi-channel marketing strategy has for your business? Follow J Miller Marketing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or contact us today!


By Steve Ott
Online Media Strategist