What does the Internet have to do with your print, TV, radio, direct mail and other traditional tactics? Plenty.
Along with the oft-cited belief that half of all marketing dollars are wasted lies a corollary, which is that the traditional components of most marketing plans are evaluated using less than scientific means. In many cases, the perceived success or failure of a traditional marketing tactic such as a magazine ad is based on the random, coffee-breathed feedback offered by Lance, the knit-tie wearing sales associate that stops by your cubicle each morning to give you a blow by blow of each customer interaction. The one big sale Lance was able to make last month was to a woman who mentioned seeing your magazine ad. Thus, Lance advocates an eight-page full-color insert in the next issue since it’s obviously the best possible advertising vehicle.
In addition to Lance’s unimpeachable research, you may ask your customers via some sort of survey where they first heard about you. Numerous studies have shown these queries to be unreliable, as people either check the first box on the list, or whichever media they tend to consume most frequently.
So, what we advocate is the use of Web analytics to determine effectiveness of traditional marketing tactics.
With Internet access surpassing cable television in terms of consumer penetration rates, increasingly prospective customers consume traditional marketing messages first, and then evaluate your company via your Web site before determining whether to progress along the purchase cycle.
Consequently, as long as your traditional marketing consistently references your Web site, your online presence is a reliable surrogate and aggregator for your complete marketing program.
Here’s how to use it to figure out what works.
PR results have always been tough to measure. Historically, column inches of press coverage are multiplied by advertising costs for the same amount of space to derive a value. But that has no bearing on actual effectiveness of PR in driving awareness or sales. We log all media placements our PR division makes for clients by the date the articles ran and by publication. We also create a list of search terms that relate to each article.
Then, we look at the client’s Web site analytics to see traffic patterns after the articles ran, and measure visits from corresponding search terms.
For a recent client for whom we placed an article in the Wall Street Journal, we saw a 1000%+ increase in Web traffic, including many visits directly from wsj.com, and a spike in visitors using search terms mentioned in the article.
Similarly, to determine the relative impact of different pieces of the marketing plan, we create spreadsheets that plot when all traditional marketing activities occur such as TV and radio buys, billboards, direct mail drops, newspaper and magazine ads, etc. Then, we add a line graph that show Web site traffic, leads, and sales (if applicable) along the same timeline.
Anytime we see a spike in Web site results, we see what marketing tactics were ongoing at that time, and use that data to help determine which activities are most successful at driving results.
I’m not anti-focus group, but relying solely on research that asks people what they would do in theory puts a lot of artificial conditions on their buying behavior. After you’ve had a couple beers and if the light is just right, even the Pontiac Aztek looks pretty good.
We prefer when possible to mix focus group type theoretical research with measuring what people actually do in a low cost environment that gets results fast. We create a series of online banner ads that contain a distinct potential marketing message for the product or service, and then launch a quick online media buy that puts those ads in front of likely customers. Within just a few days patterns emerge that tell us which messages are salient. The trick to this approach is making sure that the ad creative is extremely similar except for the message itself. You don’t want to interpret a message as powerful, when it’s actually the photograph of the cigar smoking beagle in the one ad that is getting the attention.
While online marketing’s share of the overall marketing mix will continue to expand for the foreseeable future, it’s important to think of the Internet as more than an advertising vehicle. Those online ad dollars can be used to inform and improve the results of your traditional programs as well.