Calvin, Hobbes and mixed media

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One of my favorite comic strips is Bill Waterson's Calvin and Hobbes. It's about a precocious 6-year-old and his stuffed tiger, who comes to life whenever the two of them are left alone. Calvin was hyper-imaginative, and he often saw reality within the context of fantastic adventures. In one strip, Hobbes encounters him busily digging holes in the back yard, apparently looking for treasure. The holes are arranged in a grid, and Hobbes muses on Calvin's devotion to "the systematic approach."

I think Calvin could have used a metal detector. This probably would have deflated the joke, but I think it's also relevant to mixed media campaigns. It's arguable that Calvin eventually may have uncovered treasure (or at least the sprinkler line), but with a metal detector to direct him, all that digging might have provided more immediate (and successful) results.

Of course, without the shovel, a metal detector is almost useless. This is a lot like a mixed media campaign. By themselves, the elements are effective in certain roles (i.e., driving traffic or conversions). When used in tandem, the components become a lot more powerful.

On the surface, adding media to an existing search campaign looks like a nice way to temporarily augment already-successful pay-per-click strategies. Yet when managed properly, they do a lot more. Finding the right balance among components can be tricky, but when done right, a mixed media campaign can bolster overall campaign results. It also can provide new insights into your market.

One of our clients is an energy supplier. Toward the end of the summer, we supplemented its search campaign with rich media ads. The client had two goals: to acquire new customers and to persuade existing customers to upgrade their electricity plans.

These goals were market-specific, as the former targeted consumers outside the main territory while the latter's messaging spoke to those within the company's strongest customer base. We hit both our marks, but we also tapped into an under-realized customer base in the main market and further underscored the effectiveness of search.

Closing the gap. Before I get into that, let's talk about what I think is the most important aspect of planning a media mix. A mixed campaign usually has a flashy, eye-catching component, whether it be a clever TV spot, a prominent sponsorship or, in the client's case, compelling rich media placements.

Bombastic ads can drive a lot of traffic, but if the other arms of your campaign can't corral the flow and seal the deal, that sweeps-week ad or Flash-animated banner will be little more than water cooler chat. You need to close the gap. I'm biased, but a well-planned and well-funded search campaign is the most effective way to do this.

We ran the energy firm's mixed media campaign for three months. The search messaging mirrored its rich media counterpart in order to maximize relevance with the consumer (for example, when we ran Halloween ads, the copy was the same for both components). We exceeded our goals for both the in-territory and out-of-territory markets.

We found, though, that dialing down search spending caused our cost of acquisition to rise. This told us that a media campaign needs an adequate budget allotted to boost search spending. Otherwise, you'll miss crucial conversions when potential clients can't find the product they've seen advertised every time they open their Hotmail.

Without effectively using search, you risk higher COAs, lower conversions and dissatisfied (read: lost) potential customers. By allocating the funds to turn off your daily caps and run your search ads all day long, you maximize the efficacy of your concurrent media.

Results may vary (in a good way!). The data from our media ads also indicated that within the main customer zone was an untapped resource of new clients. In other words, our rich media drove customer acquisition in both the in- and out-markets, and the search data confirmed this.

By closing the gap with search, we uncovered new potential users who likely will respond to increasingly specific media ads, creating more opportunities in the base market. In the future, we will explore the limits of this particular market with geo-targeting and content matching.

Your media mix does more than augment campaign ROI and conversion; it can open opportunities you might have missed. And then you won't just have a lot of holes in the back yard.

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