Category Archives: Direct Response

Improving the response rates in every direct marketing medium: Print, Online, Direct Mail and Broadcast

More proof to test your headlines religiously

Those who have been in direct response already know this, but for the uninitiated, heed this advice: You should spend as much time on your headlines as you do on other creative elements … maybe more!

Below is a terrific example. It’s an A/B test where the only difference in these two pay-per-click (PPC) ads is the headline. One caused 34% more visitors to fill out and submit the lead generation form. The test, conducted over the course of a month to a 99% confidence level, is more evidence to look at headlines as a type of persuasive secret weapon.

With this one set of test results (you can read which was the winner by visiting Anne Holland’s Which Test Won?), the client was able to optimize their PPC lead generation program to a stunning degree. Think of it. They are spending 66 cents on the dollar now for their leads, compared to money spent on the “losing” headline.

So which is it? Find out for yourself. Then remember that every online marketing effort you conduct should be a chance to learn more and reap the savings.

PPC landing pages start talking at the 200th click

There’s a trick to conducting pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns on a shoestring. Larger campaigns buy popular keyword phrases. They consequently generate a torrent of clicks. Smaller campaigns, on the other hand, must make similar decisions success using a comparative trickle of data. So how do small-time marketers know when they have enough information to make reliable decisions?

A good rule of thumb is to start trusting the results of a PPC landing page at about 200 clicks. That’s according to Tony Brewin, of SuperEvent in the U.K. His advice was part of a Wordtracker post on optimizing Google Adwords campaigns.

This is coincidentally similar to the rule of thumb I’ve used in direct mail campaigns. For smaller mailings, direct mail veterans have known that you could start to be confident about results once you’ve received roughly 20 of them.

A statistician friend once described these critical mass numbers as the thresholds where there is enough information to get simple yes / no answers about whether a campaign is succeeding. He compared them to when you watch a dot of light coming at you from a distance during an evening drive. This threshold is the point where you can first tell whether you’re seeing a single headline, from an approaching motorcycle, or from a car’s pair of headlights.

It’s still a limited amount of information, but knowing what’s coming at you quickly and definitively can be useful both in driving and in direct response.

Online display ads prompt more searches and lift conversions

A recent study reported in eMarketer (results graphic below) shows a surprising boost in organic searches when consumers are exposed to an online display ad.

What is especially interesting is the variation by industry:

lift_from_ads
The improvement in number of searches when consumers see a display ad

(Could it be that display ads in certain industries are more effective than others? I’m guessing that’s at least part of it.)

Obviously, the real test of a display ad is not its effectiveness at spurring interest (i.e., a search), but at making a sale. It turns out the lift in coversions of combining display ads with paid search is significant as well. In a prior study by Microsoft and Atlas DMT, reported in this Clickz article, it was found that overall conversions when search and display ads were used simultaneously was 22%.

What is significant about this study, however, is for some categories of business there was no lift in conversions whatsoever.

The fact that conversion rates improve at all is good news for online advertising. In fact, the eMarketer piece concludes with a prediction for this harrowing new year:

Search and display ads will retain the highest share of online ad spending formats through 2013, and will be the only formats to maintain double-digit share through that period.

It will be interesting to watch.

Are widgets today’s ad specialties?

In a prior life I worked in direct response. My clients were mostly healthcare organizations — hospitals, physician groups and health plans. They used magnets. Lots of them. Not in their MRI devices, mind you. I worked with healthcare marketing departments.

No, these were refrigerator magnets. Magnets such as these:

Not very sexy, huh? Believe me, I tried to break my clients’ addiction to the things. I mean really!

Keeping Your Brand Top-of-mind

But I finally conceded that if you are selling a service that on any given day no one wants (no one, that is, except independently wealthy hypochondriacs), you need to have your brand nearby. Should the need suddenly arise, you want your brand to be the one consumers think about.

It’s not such a bad idea to be somewhere hard to ignore … such as on the door people swing open several times a day.

I eventually resigned myself to my career as a peddler of refrigerator magnets. My project managers were in frequent contact with our fridge magnet vendor, Magnets, LLC (above are examples pulled from their online catalog). Post cards we bulk mailed to targeted regions around our clients crackled with magnetism and hackneyed slogans.

Back then I would quip that if the physical law of magnetism was repealed, all of healthcare marketing would grind to a halt.

Then I joined the online world and mostly forgot all about these give-aways. Until yesterday.

This week Bob Garfield, in an Ad Age piece, compared online widgets to these lowly trinkets. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

For the past half-century (and for about five more minutes) TV advertising has been at the apex of marketing communications. Then, in no particular order, newspapers, magazines, radio, out of home, direct mail, point of purchase, collateral (brochures, for example) and — in the murky, mucky darkness at the very bottom of the deepest abyss of marketing prestige — advertising specialties.

For example, a ballpoint pen emblazoned with your insurance agent’s logo. Or a wall calendar, fridge magnet, coffee mug, yardstick, foam beer-can sleeve, ashtray, key fob, emery board, pocket diary — any cheap giveaway item meant to remind the consumer of you every single time she measures fabric or swigs a Pabst or files her nails …

In a digital world, advertising specialties are as analog as you can possibly get. Until they go digital.

Branded widgets are the refrigerator magnets of the Brave New World.

Say it ain’t so! Is someone playing a cruel joke?

Describing widgets, Garfield puts a finer point on his argument: “These compact, portable little software apps — from video players to countdown clocks to makeup simulators — are inexpensive to distribute, free to the user and (often enough) distinctly useful.”

That’s true. Just like ad specialties. They also remain, often, in front of a consumer until a need for the brand arises. “At a minimum,” Garfield states, “they carry an ad message wherever they go.”

He said “At a minimum.” There’s my loophole. This is what will restore me to respectability! Although Garfield says they are “distinctly useful,” he neglects to say just how useful. No one can argue that a fridge magnet can hold up a parent permission slip or shopping list, but did one ever report back to the advertiser about consumers’ aggregate kitchen behavior?

The best widgets, like the ones my team produces (either the freestanding web apps, or the Facebook games and calculators that are deep into our development queue now), do far more than simply justify their existence on a social media profile page or blog entry.

Because a widget can interact with consumers, and since we can attach precise web metrics to them, widgets can do valuable marketing work such as:

  • Pre-qualify prospects through calculators and configurators
  • Enlist customers in sharing your message with others who may also be prospects
  • Display and play user-generated content appealing to long tail interests
  • Entertain!

This last one is a biggy. Because, unlike refrigerator magnets, people actually want to pass along widgets. This may seem like a small thing to you, but this morning, it’s causing me to hold my head a little higher. I am no mere peddler of digital chochkees.

Americhip understands that a hands-on audience is an engaged audience

You’d think, the way I gush over Americhip’s products, that I have a stake in their success. I don’t, and in fact I feel like publicizing their innovations can inspire others to try and top them. Once again, I feel like their competition really has their work cut out for them.

I’ve written before about the still mostly mysterious phenomenon of our unconscious “calling the shots” when we get our hands involved in an activity. It’s like something out of a story of the supernatural, but it’s a phenomenon well-documented since the 1980’s.

Americhip shows us three ways to exploit this hand-to-brain pathway. The first is pretty conventional for anyone who has ever scratched off a lottery ticket. But the other two are still fairly new. Click on the image to get an explanation of each.

Have any of my readers used one of these techniques, or received a mailing or magazine insert with such a technique that really stood out?

Facebook direct response ads prove how little has changed

It’s a common theme among direct marketers: There is little that actually changes as new media spring up and ads adapt to them. Take Facebook. As David Berkowitz discussed in his post today (and also in his MediaPost piece), an ad series that targets people based on their gender and age is making the rounds. And getting a lot of scrutiny. I had seen another version of it last week, and had mentioned it to him via Twitter. (Thanks for the mention, David.)

Significantly, this ad series wasn’t showing when I just visited a few moment ago, nor could I find in on the More Ads page of Facebook. Coincidence?

Here is the ad in context -- circa April, 2008Way back on April 9 this ad series first captured my attention, although at the time it wasn’t testing headlines customized to age and gender, as this newest batch does. At the time I made a number of screen captures, and took some notes, but didn’t blog about it then.

Now this latest twist (featuring headlines such as, “29 Yr Male Overweight?“) is a great chance to share my research into the advertisement — especially for those readers who first caught David’s post and wondered how the subsequent user experience plays out.

The answer is it’s very old school, with some shrewd modern touches.

Like the best print ads of the direct response print ad “Golden Age” (somewhere between the 1960’s and the 1980’s, I’d venture to guess), it is a carefully tuned conversion engine, as well as a massive blight on the advertising landscape.

The ad itself had the headline “Get Ripped.” The photo is smaller than the new versions, but the copy is written with the same economy and obvious care. When you click though to it, you see a page that is incredibly busy, with three different fonts and primary colors, and a ton going on. (Click to open it full size in a new window).

An AJAX layer offers a clever YouTube video player (I don’t recall checking to see if it was truly pulling from YouTube, or was residing on the advertiser’s server — but I’m guessing the advertisers were not counting on YouTube’s cooperation, and this was indeed locally streamed).

Folks who wouldn’t know better would assume this ad is a loser. “Who could possibly respond to something this schlocky?,” they might ask. My answer would be that, like the pattern on the carpeting of a Las Vegas casino floor, everything about it is there for a reason. And it’s all there because it’s effective, as proven over time, with much testing.

But Wait!

The best part for me is shown below. When I tried to close the window, I got a fake system message saying, “Hey Wait!” It goes on to say a live agent would like to give me a “last-minute saving,” Okay then. Points for persistence.

A clever way to stop people from leaving

What do you think of this surprisingly old-fashioned approach? Do you think it will work — with, or even without — the age / gender personalized headlines?

An unabashed plug for Americhip’s amazing paper engineering

I discovered Americhip 10 years ago. They helped me and other direct marketers to produce mail packages that really get results. The first pieces I used them for were mailings incorporating tiny sound chips. Example: Years ago my team was preparing a mailing series for a snow blower manufacturer. A mailing to potential dealers touted their line.

Avalanche In Sight and Sound

When the mailing was opened, you heard the sound of an avalanche and a call-to-action of stocking a line of snow blowers that were less likely let the dealer down when a big snowfall hits and there is a huge, urgent run on them. The mailing signed a ton of new dealers and helped cement our relationship with the client.

Since then I’ve found these folks are a reliable — and especially innovative — supplier of dimensional pieces. Here’s a video demonstrating their incredible paper engineering.

There is no “full disclosure statement” needed here, by the way. I actually haven’t used their services in a few years. But I continue to watch them, for whatever their next innovation will be.

In today’s fragmented, distracted marketing environment, I know that involving as many senses as possible in a promotion is a key to breaking through the clutter. Americhip has been a terrific resource for delivering this impact.

Is “click here” the web equivilent of an ugly red sticker?

A background in direct response can warp a person for life. Just ask a typical ad agency creative director. In a past agency, where I started out as the lone voice in all things direct marketing, I seriously think the creatives wanted to have me committed. I was reminded of that time in my career when I read this post in Copyblogger:

Many years ago, an advertising agency in my neighborhood hired me to consult on a direct mail project for one of the biggest nonprofit organizations in the country. One glance at the client’s test results revealed that the successful mail pieces featured big red stickers, the kind you often see on magazine subscription offers.

So one of my recommendations was to use a sticker in the new direct mail piece. From the expression on the designer’s face, you would have thought I had just relieved myself on the conference room carpet. He crinkled his nose in disgust and informed me that the agency “didn’t do stickers. They’re tacky.”

Needless to say the red sticker mailing, running as a control, continued to out-perform more attractive test packages. The ugly and unsophisticated won out, in terms of effectiveness, over the attractive and more contemporary.
Click here graphicI was thinking of this while participating in a discussion recently on the pros and cons of using “Click here” as an inducement.

Our team’s stance is simple and non-negotiable: The practice is bad form. They’re in good company. Jacob Nielsen, the Moses of usability best practices, carved his own Ten Commandments of web design on a virtual stone tablet, and #2 included “Don’t use ‘click here’ or other non-descriptive link text.”

Built into this commandment is the crux of his reasoning. If you employ link text that is not descriptive, you’ve wasting valuable words. But is this waste always sinful?

Effective Versus Efficient

“Wasteful” can be considered the antonym of “efficient.” And who doesn’t want to be efficient? Well, the answer is me — sometimes. That is, sometimes there are strategic reasons for a little “waste.” Stephen Covey is quick to point out in his book that it’s not called Seven Habits of Highly Efficient People. No, Covey chose the word “effective” for the title for a good reason.

If your web users are not particularly web-savvy, you may have to go back to “Web 1.0″ in your copy and presentation. And that may mean slapping some “red stickers,” in the form of hackneyed hyperlink instructions over your web design. Only testing can tell you for sure.

The exception is if you are asking your user to make a commitment. In the case of “buy it now,” etc., you should still never use “click here.” To do otherwise would simply be too inefficient to be optimally effective.

New Zoombak mini-GPS puts special events on the map

Marketing technology has focused on the potential of mobile marketing for years. But it has always just been potential. Like most bloggers in my industry, I’ve written with yearning about a day when you can conduct breakthrough events or execute innovative sales strategies using cell phone GPS capabilities, and about making a mobile-oriented device such as an SMS-enabled chandelier (below) a centerpiece of your special event.

Text-message enabled chandelierThese posts were written two years ago.

So what’s the hold-up?

The chief problem is carrier barriers. Our four cellular phone carriers refuse to agree on protocols. These shared platforms would make phone bells and whistles — features that users in many other countries enjoy today — possible in this country as well.

If you’re expecting these barriers to fall soon, think again.

But in the meantime, other technology has slowly come into the reach of event marketers, and to those others like myself who grasp that the next marketing technology wave has to do with place, not a faster internet or better web agent.

Or even the unlocking of domestic cell phones!

The ZoombakMeet the Zoombak

I’m thinking specifically now of Zoombak, a GPS device that is tiny, and cheap enough to buy in bulk and rent. It can become a way to create an unforgettable special event.

Don’t let this application as a high-tech dog tracker fool you. Here’s what Zoombak’s web copy says about this $200 device:

Our small, lightweight, water-resistant locator attaches comfortably to your dog’s collar with a durable and secure pouch. You can pinpoint your dog’s location on-demand via Zoombak.com, mobile phone (coming soon) or live customer care. You can also determine your dog’s location in real time using our continuous tracking option. Simply log on to Zoombak.com to view a map of her current location, as well as her path taken since leaving home. Once you create and activate your own customized safety zones, you can be promptly notified by text message and/or email (your choice) when your dog leaves the zone.

Imagine you’re a college recruiter, and that instead of tracking your dog, you invited a dozen participants in an exploration of your college campus. They could be on a high-tech scavenger hunt. The rest of your potential students could watch the competition on web-enabled monitors. They’d speculate on which person or team returns first with all of the requested items. (Because it’s against the law, there would of course be no wagering.)

Another example of the possibilities: Consider the popular fund-raising event of releasing dozens of rubber ducks in a river and seeing whose duck crosses the finish line first. How much more interesting would it be if, instead of a river, it was a sprawling shopping mall — or topiary maze — and instead of ducks, these where local celebrities willing to (temporarily) get themselves extremely lost for a good cause?

These are just two applications that come to mind when GPS suddenly moves within spitting distance of medium-to-large event budget.

Can you think of other applications for this?

(Thank you, David Joachim of the New York Times for getting my brain racing with an article on the Zoombak.)

Financial services marketers lean heavily on direct response and email tactics

A new report by the Direct Marketing Association reveals that marketers in the financial services sector are relying heavily on direct marketing and email, and showing an impressive ROI for these tactics. Here are two particularly impressive findings from this research of U.S. banks and credit institutions:

  • They invested $13.4 billion in direct marketing advertising, which produced $178.8 billion in sales, or $13.34 returned for every dollar spent
  • Growth in email marketing within financial services companies is expected to be the greatest of all media types used in the next four years, for a compound annual growth of 22.5%

The report also showed a very small reduction in print advertising over the next four years.

What can account for this? Aside from the arguably better overall effectiveness of these media, they are also tactics more suitable to centralized control. As financial institutions continue to consolidate, these tactics become even more appealing.

Follow-through is crucial to higher search conversion rates

Yesterday I sent a results report to a client for a pay-per-click (PPC) search  lead generation campaign that my team managed. It showed a performance that was five times higher, in terms of cost-per-lead, than a traditional direct mail campaign. That’s pretty cool. But as I sent the report, I was reminded of this recent report from eMarketer:

eMarketer summary of favored direct response media

It shows how a majority of marketers favor direct mail for lead generation versus search marketing. Scott Brinker was rightly puzzled by this, in a recent post. I agree with Scott that a chief reason for this strong preference for direct mail over search engine marketing (34% versus 8%), when it comes to customer acquisition, is the difficulty many marketers face in getting search prospects to convert.

Indeed, if the lead acquisition campaign my team was leading was instead a customer acquisition campaign, the results would likely have been closer to a dead heat with direct mail in terms of ROI.

But what does that mean? Just that we’re not trying hard enough. As marketers, I feel we cannot allow so many opportunities for conversion to click away from landing pages. There are many tested techniques for improving conversions (new offers, testimonials, guarantees, Web 2.0 landing page design). There are also spectacular new tools to do multivariate testing of these techniques.

Let’s take direct mail for what it should be. It is (usually) the customer acquisition benchmark. Now let’s shift more resources online, but apply them where it really counts: To create campaigns that actually surpass the mail in delivering a strong ROI.