The Method Behind the Magic

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With all the banner bashing in the headlines, few people are willing to talk about how to achieve successful online advertising programs. Contrary to popular belief, a successful online marketing campaign is not a phenomenon. The right message reaches the right person at the right time not because all the stars are aligned, but because traditional marketing strategy aligns with the latest online marketing technologies.

It has been easy to doubt online marketing efforts of the past five years: They were frivolous, irresponsible and reactive. But the Internet land grab is over. The days of spending tens of millions of dollars to capture precious online real estate away from your competitors are over. The days of blanketing the Web with your company logo to build awareness are over, too. The age of accountable advertising is upon us -- and there is a method to the magic.

Revisit Marketing 101. For reasons unknown, the malady of mass amnesia tends to strike the makers of online advertising. Too often, we sacrifice the basic tenets of traditional advertising -- painstaking market research, strategy development, testing, analysis and retesting -- in exchange for speed to market and reach.

To borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves. Traditional marketing principles need to be applied to the Web. In fact, the Internet was developed to speed the implementation and measurement of marketing programs. To that end, here are three steps to help you make "magic."

Step 1: Integrate media, creative and technology strategies. Having argued for traditional marketing principles, I must agitate just as strenuously against the traditional separation of powers between media and creative departments. It is time to dynamite the "silo" structure, whereby media focuses on finding the right target audience and media placement, while -- in not-so-splendid isolation -- creatives try to tailor the message to the target audience and develop the right look and feel. How, then, can we achieve synergy? A creative or media strategy developed in a vacuum is doomed to failure.

The Internet requires marketers to synchronize not only media and creative strategy but technology strategy as well. It is unlike traditional marketing channels: It is dynamic, targeted and immediate. So media, creative and technology teams need to brainstorm in an open forum. A healthy exchange of ideas is needed within those groups and among those groups during strategy development. Messaging and appearance should match those of the site the ad will run on. Synergy will lead to success.

Step 2: Focus on learning and results. Step one will go a long way to fulfilling the short-term goal of online advertising -- results. But the second most important goal is to understand the why behind the what. Smart testing always yields valuable findings. And every marketing program, at the minimum, should produce a few actionable conclusions. But testing does not mean picking your favorite ad designs and copy and seeing which ones work best. Testing needs to be conducted in a disciplined and controlled manner.

I recommend the development of a learning plan that can serve as the blueprint for online testing and learning. A learning plan set up at the beginning of an ad campaign tells advertisers what valuable findings they can expect at the end of the campaign. This is a highly quantifiable process that allows you to determine critical information you need to learn from the campaign before it begins.

Step 3: Support marketing with new technology. There is no shortage of new technologies that support short- and long-term goals of online marketing. One of the most exciting recent breakthroughs is automated optimization. By leaving the campaign optimization process to the machines, optimization occurs continually from the moment a campaign is launched, and it typically can provide 30 percent to 50 percent boosts to already well-thought-out online marketing campaigns.

Another recent breakthrough is plug-in-free streaming video in the ad space, a new concept that helps to leverage materials you may have created for TV or instructional videos. Only a handful of companies provide this technology.

Finally, technology companies are pushing e-mail and affiliate marketing to the limit. Through proprietary technologies, advertisers are increasing return on investment and expanding retention capabilities.

Fulfilling the promise. Because of banners' poor performance, banner bashing was all the rage in 2000. But there are good reasons for disappointment: inappropriate media placement, irrelevant messaging and the lack of disciplined testing or midcampaign optimization of the ads.

Online advertising is entering a new age of accountability and demand for return on investment. The methodologies and technologies I have described can help optimize online advertising and create those "magic moments" for you again and again.


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