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October 27, 2008
Evaluating Online Marketing in a Downturn
You don't have to be a member of the Federal Reserve Board to know that marketers across all sectors are hunkering down and searching for the fastest and cheapest ways to acquire and retain customers as budgets evaporate. In the race for low cost/high yield tactics suspicion naturally falls on digital and online media with its well known but often unharvested ROI promise.
According to Lee Odden's Online Marketing Blog, blogging, SEO, PPC social networking and e-mail are the top 5 tactics marketers will emphasize in the next 6 months, though not all will yield quick or positive results if you're not already working on them. Here' are a few things to consider before embracing these tactics.

. Considered the human face of corporations and businesses, blogs without traffic and without a point of view don't matter. It's not enough just to craft customer-friendly messages in blog formats. You've got to get customers to click, read and believe. This demands content that's more textured than the party line sufficient to bring them back, buy something or talk up your brand. There is no hard research linking blogging with increased brand awareness, preference or advocacy, though company blogs with large audiences should logically develop these things. Similarly there are not a lot of cases that show how blogs drive traffic to brand or ecommerce sites. If you aren't already blogging and building audiences now isn't the time to start if you want measurable results in the near term.

Seven of ten searchers click on the natural results first. But if you're not on the first page you're toast. Getting to the first page requires huge investments of skill, tools and dedicated players. If you have them in-house or can outsource them efficiently, this is a good bet though improvement is incremental and sometimes glacial due to intense competition and almost constant gaming by both search engines and optimizers.

Play per click search advertising is the fastest and easiest thing you can do. With even modest budgets you can incrementally improve traffic and results. If you're willing to monkey with it daily, you can have the illusion of control and can quickly and easily see your progress, parse your dollars and experiment with new or different key words and phrases. Even from a standing start PPC advertising can quickly have a positive ROI on your business.

Social Networking.
This is the most hyped and least understood marketing tool. Reaching out to large numbers of customers linked to each other in social forums using the images, language and customs they expect and like makes good sense. Some brands have amassed large numbers of "friends" others have distributed information and coupons, prompted interaction and feedback, run contests, collected data and even sold some merchandise. But so far no reliable messaging or media formulas have emerged. Now the sites, eager to monetize their memberships and prove their financiers right, are aggressively selling different flavors of behaviorally targeted advertising; which itself has no track record or widely accepted success stories.  At relatively modest costs social networks are a great experimental tool and marketing test lab well worth your time and attention; though keep your expectations for a fast payoff low.

In site of widespread hatred of SPAM and the near ubiquitous deployment of increasingly sophisticated spam filters, outbound opt-in e-mail is the most cost effective and reliable tool you can use. E-mail works. You can create and transmit campaigns that work fast and cheap. Real-time feedback on delivery, opens, clicks and action allow you to revise, re-target and re-engage customers quickly at modest costs. And frequency works much like direct mail with each sequential blast of the same message generally yielding 50% of the previous one. The key determinants of success are a clean opt-in list, a credible FROM line, a motivating SUBJ line with an actionable offer inside. Shorter copy with minimal graphics and clearly marked calls to action work best. If you only have enough budget to do one thing, bet the farm on e-mail.

Affiliate Marketing
. This approach offers the prospect of everyone helping everyone else. Though in reality its about finding the right balance between greed and self-interest. The affiliate networks offer automated platforms and minimal advice. For most programs the 80/20 rule applies -- a minority of sites will yield the biggest payoffs. Affiliates are looking for opportunities to generate no-fuss incremental revenue with minimal effort and involvement. In some cases this works like gangbusters. In others its a long hard slog. Setting up an effective affiliate network takes at least 90 days and requires dedicated staff and expertise. If you start now, it might begin to pay out in 2009.         

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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