September 29, 2008

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Using Online Marketing to Hunker Down 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, posted on September 16th, blogging, SEO, PPC social networking and e-mail are the top 5 tactics marketers will emphasize in the next 6 months. Though not all of these moves will yield quick or positive results if you're not already working on them. Here's a few things to consider before embracing these tactics. Blogging. 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's 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. SEO. 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. PPC. 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. E-Mail. 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 but clearly marked and highlighted calls to action work best. If you have only 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...
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Retail Email: How Much is Too Much? Retailers love the instant stimulus-ka-ching of e-mail marketing. You blast out an e-mail and cash flows in.That's why 54 percent of retailers say e-mail performs better or much better than other marketing programs. And that's why they'll send 158 billion marketing e-mails this year according to forecasts by Forrester Research reported in the current issue of Internet Retailer. But when 77 percent of customers complain they get too much e-mail, marketers have to ask themselves; "how much is too much?" Consider the case of Fashion Outlet, analyzed by Arthur Middleton Hughes, in the same issue. These guys fell so much in love with the blast-bucks cycle that they tripled their marketing e-mail frequency from 5 per month to 15 per month. Working with a list of 500,000 double opt-in customers they were generating gross revenues of $6.5 million which after deducting COGS, the cost of e-mail creative and blasting and the cost for churning names yielded $1.2 million in profit or a nice margin of 19.1% Looking to do even better, they figured some percentage of their list was always up for shopping so the discounter presented more opportunities to more customers assuming many would would shop. By cranking up the number and frequency of outbound campaigns, the revenue doubled to $14 million along with orders and the number of unique buyers. What wasn't obvious were the attendant costs, especially the costs of replacing about half of the opt-in list who bailed under the weight of every-other-day e-mails. In the end while the top line grew, profits fell 8 times down to 2.6% under the weight of the added cost factors. And this doesn't measure or monetize brand preference, which had to suffer if half the list defected! Fashion Outlet went to extremes. What if they increased frequency from 5 to 7 or 8? And what if they were smarter about segmenting the list and instituting a contact strategy limiting the frequency of outbound e-mail per customer per month? As it turns out 44.8 percent of e-mail markets don't segment their lists. Not even the basics like -- geography, responders versus non-responders, products bought or order value. These simple sorts can make an enormous impact in campaign reception, response and profitability. So can A/B testing which carves out a small number of names to measure the relative pulling power of different SUBJECT lines, copy or graphics before a campaign is transmitted to the list. Nervous retailers, especially those facing predictions of holiday doom, can probably increase their e-mail frequency slightly without alienating customers, provoking significant opt-outs or reducing profits. But the key to making additional campaigns more palatable to customers is pre-testing and basic segmentation.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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