Use Offline Skills to Ace Online Efforts

Marketing online provides the ultimate sweet spot for traditional direct marketers. The metrics, principles and tactics are similar, but immediate results and the ability to react to them provide extraordinary leverage.

Internet marketing has unique challenges, many of which are related to technology. But it is how well traditional DM tactics and measurements are applied that determines success. Here are examples of how direct marketing fundamentals can be applied to online marketing.

Creative: In direct response, testing rules. Like testing a more expensive premium in direct mail, the cost of new creative can be justified if the lift in the conversion rate is enough to offset the expense. To measure the effect, A/B split your traffic, testing the new landing page against the old.

For retail sites with thousands of SKU numbers, you can minimize the testing expense by optimizing just the product pages driving the most sales. If the lift in conversion offsets the cost of the new pages, keep testing and roll out new ones, prioritizing which pages to build based on high-volume merchandise.

Similar to an offline campaign, online creative should be tested frequently because even a small lift in conversion can affect profitability. Though there are best practices for online creative, there is no cookie-cutter design that works across the board. If you’re unsure of what to test first, start by adapting your direct mail control.

Include the bells and whistles that work best such as offer expression, call-outs, list of benefits, money-back guarantees, etc. Never test more than one element at a time, or you won’t know which contributed to the lift or falloff. Over time, you will discover offers that work only online, but like offline marketing, it comes through the same test-and-learn discipline.

Media: Expertise is needed to know which online media opportunities to pursue, but the process for measuring performance is the same as for offline. There are important exceptions, however:

· The cost structure often differs (cost per click or cost per acquisition versus cost per thousand, for example).

· As noted earlier, results can be read and reacted to much faster.

· Unlike offline, you can continually improve and optimize campaigns.

Despite years of success, some companies hold Internet marketing to a higher profit-and-loss standard than offline. Concerns about conversion rates and lifetime value often create this angst. Until known, however, why not use your offline target metric as the benchmark for online, too? Those who restrict themselves to a higher standard for online marketing may find their testing opportunities are limited.

Analysis: One of the most fundamental practices of direct response – analyzing results – is often done differently in the online channel, but it shouldn’t be. Control and test results never should be rolled together when evaluating performance in online. The most effective search marketers measure keywords individually, just as one would a unique segment of a direct mail list.

Sometimes, though, those new to Internet marketing consider all their online test campaigns one big online “program.” This can put the entire Internet source at risk if it is one or two bad programs pulling down the overall results.

Offline versus online? Like any source, there are differences. Leverage, scale, nuance, exceptions and oddities. But the similarities are real. Disciplined testing. Rigorous evaluation of the right numbers. Media segmentation. Offer, price, copy and design. Aggressive negotiations to drive out costs.

Direct marketing skills and experience are the engine. Regardless of the source or channel, this engine is what makes the difference between success and failure.

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