Alternate Media Comes to the Aid of the Internet

Remember the old adage, “Build it and they will come?” That’s proving to be a loftier goal than some direct marketers believed. There has been a myriad of articles claiming that online advertising has not been effective in driving traffic. Traditional direct marketers are facing the same challenges; however, they have an arsenal of techniques to turn to in order to generate the traffic — and the desired response. The use of alternate media is one that’s becoming a more popular choice.

When the concept of e-commerce hit the Web, traditional media buyers were overwhelmed by the prospect of learning about online advertising — banners, link exchanges, buttons, sponsorships and all of the other methods available to drive traffic. Some of these methods worked early on, but as peoples’ Web use has changed so has the effectiveness of online advertising.

Research indicates that a fair number of sites are generating visitors using inserts (cards in packages, statement stuffers and co-ops) as an effective method of generating Web site traffic. These same concepts will hold true for other forms of alternate media — display advertising, card decks, direct mail, television, radio, etc. In order to leverage the ability to drive traffic to your site using alternate media, you should have a clear understanding of the who, what, when, where, why and how.

Who? A direct marketer always asks, “Who is my target audience?” Look at your current database of customers. The audience you’ve attracted in the past using traditional marketing may not be the same audience that shops your Web site. Catalogers with Web sites have a further concern: Can they generate the same quality and quantity of catalog requests using their Web site?

Be wary of any program that proclaims the target audience to be online users. These days, who isn’t an online user? Gender differences are blurring, as are other demographic selectors: age, income, education levels, etc. Look at the offer — what exactly are customers responding to? Are they merchandise buyers, new movers, credit card users, continuity club participants? At the core, do they still match the audience you want to target?

Consider the credit card statement program that claims customers use the card to make online purchases. Do you know what percentage is from the Internet? Are people who use their credit cards to make online transactions more creditworthy? Consider the offer to place your card in a co-op targeted to households with Internet access. Does this make them more inclined to be purchasers online?

What? The next question is, “What do you want your card or insert to do?” Are you attempting to generate leads or catalog requests? Do you want to sell a product, a series of products or a membership? Are you trying to drive traffic to your site? If so, what do you want your visitor to do: register their e-mail address, enter a contest, join a community, request printed information or make a purchase?

This may seem simple, but you must know what your metrics are going to be, and what value will constitute a success. There are myriad of measures to use: cost/inquiry, cost/order, cost/visit, cost/new member or cost/e-mail.

The basic Internet card design should contain copy with the same type of clear, concise language as that of a traditional card design. Graphics and illustrations should be consistent with the Web site’s look and feel. Include copy that speaks to the longevity, reputation for service and critical benefits that your company has to offer. Do not mix too many offers on the piece. Make the predominant offer appeal to the target audience. It may be more effective to promote a Web site rather than a catalog to a targeted group of online buyers. Chances are good that you’ll be successful; statistics indicate that an online shopper is four times more likely to purchase from a catalog.

Always proofread the copy. Test any URLs printed on the card to make sure they are valid. If the URL points to a customized landing page, confirm that all the necessary elements for that page/offer are clearly communicated.

The card should also include some type of mechanism to track response. You have to make it easy for the respondent to provide that valuable piece of feedback. One way to increase the likelihood of capturing referral codes is to give the respondent a reason to give you the code. This can impact the quality and quantity of your responses, so be forewarned.

Suppose you’ve decided that you want your card to drive traffic to your Web site. What are the odds that every person who gets your card wants to respond this way? Don’t assume that everyone seeing your card is ready, willing and able to access the Internet. Give the option of telephoning or mailing in the card. If your offer is one restricted to fulfillment on the Internet, be certain that those receiving the card understand the reasoning. Providing a physical address or a phone number adds validity to your offer.

When? Is there seasonality to the Internet? We have all read about the tremendous increases in online traffic during the holiday season. Will other major holidays and events generate similar increases? Is it all just hype? There’s a lot of speculation, but for now, take advantage of it.

How can you use alternate media to leverage seasonality? You have to plan ahead. Suppose you want to run a Father’s Day campaign and use package inserts to promote special offers on the Web? Work backward — your message needs to reach people by mid-May. Your actual insertion dates for pieces will depend on whether they are going out in an individual package, or as a one-time drop (like a co-op). You would need to place the order in February and deliver pieces by early April. The biggest challenge will be convincing your Internet team to design the Father’s Day promotion four months early. The flexibility and virtual nature of the Web doesn’t lend itself to the huge lead times needed to send out the written word.

On the subject of timing, we all know that offers in print tend to take on a life of their own. This is not a big deal if you’re still producing some type of direct mail piece. But what if you promoted a unique event and created a special landing page? That page will eventually expire. Communicate with your Web master about the viability of these landing pages, in particular, how long you want them to remain active. Include some type of redirect that links to your home page. Print an expiration date for a particular offer on the card; this will also help to speed up response. Try to build some air into the expiration date in order to fulfill late requests.

Where? Exactly where is your card or insert being placed? If your card is being placed in packages from online orders, are they going into only Internet orders? Most mail-order companies handle all fulfillment from one location; they don’t do much to distinguish the source of the order. Ask if an Internet select is available, and be prepared to pay a premium for it. Try to get some idea of the percentage of packages that are derived from Internet orders.

If you’re participating in a credit card statement that claims to target Internet purchasers, ask the question, “What percentage of purchases were made online?” One alternative to placing a card in a credit card statement is to participate in an Internet-only insert. Several companies are creating small, multi-page inserts that promote strictly Internet offers. There are several advantages — inexpensive participation and implied endorsement from the credit card company. Because the offer is included with other online offers, response rates might be higher. People are more likely to take a look at multiple sites or offers.

Are you thinking about placing an insert into a targeted co-op? What’s the common factor — home PC or Internet access? These traits are not indicative of getting the right response. Do all family members use the PC? Is the PC used to help with schoolwork, maintain a business or household budget, play games? Does anyone shop online? Knowing about the presence of a PC or Internet access is better than knowing nothing, but expect an increase in response because of it. It’s always good to test, but make sure you do so at a reasonable CPM.

How? This is the most important question, as it will predict whether you’ll continue with a program. How are you going to track your results from a print campaign without the cooperation — and understanding — of the responder? Can you really expect him to enter an inquiry code? Measurement is difficult because visitors don’t take the time to supply the information: “Where did you hear about us?” Even if they do choose one, how accurate is the data?

First, spell it out clearly on the card that the visitor needs to enter the code to gain access. Be careful here; don’t create any barriers to entry. Use polite copy to convince the responder that providing this information will be beneficial. You can also offer an incentive for providing the code. In some cases, people may respond simply to find out about the incentive. If your metric is “number of visitors,” then you may have artificially inflated your actual qualified response.

To track response, create a unique URL that ties back to a particular insert program. For example, print on the card, and have the IT department attach an inquiry code to the names or e-mail addresses that you collect from this source. It may be necessary to give people an incentive to type in the entire URL. The additional index “/music” won’t diminish your brand and is much more likely to be understood by those with some Internet experience. Make sure this page doesn’t “expire.” Test it frequently to catch any connectivity problems.

Using incentives has been popular among Internet companies to attract visitors. I don’t advocate the widespread use of incentives; when necessary, I prefer an incentive such as free shipping or 10 percent off of the order. Using incentives effectively is more difficult if you’re growing an online community or a membership. You could offer discounts on services that are part of the community you are promoting. You could extend the membership period for someone signing up because of a particular promotion. Use your imagination. Better yet, ask your current customers and members what would make them buy more of your products or continue their membership. The key is to attach the incentive to the ultimate goal — creating a customer.

The Internet is a great place for all types of businesses to ply their trade — catalogers, retailers and the dot-com companies alike. Don’t restrict your efforts to drive traffic, generate orders or collect e-mail addresses to online advertising. Daily, people are inundated by messages — in print and over the airwaves. If you have a compelling offer on the Internet, you can easily and effectively use package inserts (and other forms of alternate media) to reach your goals. And that should make those involved in the traditional direct marketing industry very happy.

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