E-Mail Classifieds: Cheap & Effective

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Banner ads, schmanner ads. If I see one more story focusing on whether they work and are worth the time and money being poured into them, I'm going to scream. And what I'm going to scream about is what I've found to be the unsung hero (or heroine) of Internet marketing - the online classified.

While everyone focuses on the pros and cons of banners and their return on investment, the online classified is one of the most economical, overlooked and best kept secrets on the Net. As with any classifieds, these ads are relatively small, aren't attractive, aren't colorful and don't have streaming media attached. But where I come from in the BTB market, they work. And depending on the price of your product, the ROI can be enormous.

Online classifieds may be the best place organizations curious about the "power of online marketing" can get their feet wet. Many online publications offer a week's worth of placement at extremely reasonable rates ($450 for a week's run, for example). Of course, there are publications that cost more and ones that work on a one-day-placement basis rather than a weeklong run. Take the risk. Placement fees are all you'll have to pay. Write your copy inhouse. You don't have to spend any additional dollars on creative. If the ad is successful, you'll know quickly. And if it works, you can use it again and again.

My first experience with online classifieds came while selling conference registrations. The conference industry offers a high-ticket item (average registration fee is $1,395) and, for the most part, operates on a low-ticket marketing budget. I had to watch my costs. I was skeptical of online advertising in general, and online classifieds in particular. But the rates were reasonable and I was selling a $1,000 product. What the heck. The first time I used an online classified, we received nine registrations on the first day. Five registrations came in before noon. That was $9,000 for an investment of $450. Not bad. I became a believer.

Obviously, what you're selling dictates where you sell it. Interestingly enough, I found that ads placed in more "generic" publications - those that covered general business topics rather than topics specific to the product I was promoting - produced better results. Everything has to be tested, of course, so never limit yourself to one publication or even one type of publication.

However, if you advertise in several sources at the same time, tracking which one is producing the best results becomes a problem. The only thing our customers agreed on was to uniformly ignore whatever code we placed in our ads. And our customer service couldn't ask questions of people who signed up via the Net or fax.

The best method I found to measure the success of a campaign was variable price points. With a high-ticket item, there's no problem offering a $75 discount here and a $100 discount there. We were able to accurately track which publication yielded the best results, so we knew where to place follow-up campaigns. By the way, with the price points so close the lowest price often did not produce the best results. If you wish, you can also add to the urgency of the offer by providing a deadline date to qualify for the discount. However, I can't emphasize enough that online classifieds produce quick results. If readers are going to bite, they will bite within hours.

When doing the creative, remember that many of these ads are read first thing in the morning. Don't be too wordy. Where print classifieds are usually separated by borders, online classifieds are often presented as blocks of copy that are run on on top of the other with little separation. Sometimes this makes them difficult to read. Be succinct, targeted and to the point. The cardinal rule of marketing applies online or offline - don't make readers work too hard - particularly before they've had their first cup of coffee. Once the ad is anchored in the classified section, the placement usually cannot be changed for the run of the contract. Make sure you've addressed any placement concerns before you sign anything.

Is there a drawback to the online classified? Yes. There is next to no shelf life. After the ad has had its run - even a highly

successful ad - don't expect much follow-up. This is the curse of the Internet. But if the ad works, run it again.

By no means will an online classified snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If a product is not going to make it, the online classified won't save it any faster than any other marketing avenue.

However, if you are tentative about spending the dollars necessary for banner design and placement, or are operating under a limited budget, I urge you to give online classifieds a try. Even if you have the budget to do whatever you want, don't overlook this relatively inexpensive, powerful method for getting your product out into the marketplace.

They may not be pretty, but they work.

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