Web Advertising Calls for Marketing 101

The Internet gold rush is in full steam in the hi-tech arena. “There's gold in them thar’ hills” is the cry heard throughout hi-tech marketers' offices.

However, no one is exactly sure what hills, how far to dig or how much gold will result from prospecting efforts.

It is clear that new media offers the hi-tech industry one of the highest forms of pure direct response advertising since the newspaper. As such, new media advertising screams for the re-examination of direct marketing fundamentals.

The advent of Web advertising demands a renaissance of one of the basic direct response tools: measurement and tracking.

Hi-tech marketers who in the past did not want to invest in tracking methods for traditional advertising vehicles are realizing that Web response is easy to track. This means that accurately measuring the results of Web investments is more feasible than with other media.

Further, the Web allows hi-tech marketers to create banner ads that incorporate different combinations of a/b copy splits and measure those results daily. Consistent testing enables quick and easy identification of the most effective communications, eliminating waste from the marketing budget.

Hi-tech advertisers should let the market decide the best combination of headline and offer, measuring results by those that produce maximum clicks. Yet generating high click rates should not be the ultimate mission for the hi-tech marketer. Instead, the goal is to find a balance.

The trend to create cute, animated ads — using, for example, Java script to increase response — is the equivalent of a direct mail piece offering $100,000 to lift response only to discover that the respondents were unqualified — not interested in the product, only in $100,000.

As with all advertising, the goal of online, hi-tech advertising is to generate interest from qualified prospects who will ultimately buy the product or service. To obtain the maximum return on investment in electronic marketing communications, hi-tech marketers should incorporate these guidelines into their Web strategy:

Target the audience most likely to need your product or service. This requires detailed research and selection of Web sites with steady traffic of the targeted segment.

However, be aware of and take care to avoid attracting unqualified prospects. For example, a site with a steady viewership of hi-tech prospects also will attract hackers, college students and casual surfers.

Web advertising is direct-response advertising. Just as in direct mail, Internet advertising should provide a benefit-oriented headline and offer that encourages prospects to take action. For example, when advertising a hi-tech product such as an upgrade package, the fundamentals still apply.

Based on market research, a value-oriented message should be crafted. The hi-tech prospect should be given reason to click. An offer of a free guide to maximize network performance and a bandwidth calculator, for instance, give prospects a reason to proceed.

As always, each component of the ad should focus on the benefits of the offer, what prospects would learn by responding to it and how they could solve their problem by responding immediately.

When crafting an Internet ad, ask yourself how the product or service saves a prospect time, energy or hassle, and how can it make them money or gain advancement.

Test, test, test. Establish a methodical and statistically valid process to identify the best combination of placement, headline and offer.

The goal is not only to deliver the highest click rates, but the highest-quality inquiries. What good is an inquiry if it can't be converted into a sale?

Even at a near-zero cost for handling, poor-quality leads do nothing to advance an overall sales effort. Testing and applying test results is the only guaranteed method for maximizing the return on Web investments.

Establish a sales-relationship methodology to convert inquiries to prospects. Hi-tech prospects are sold one at a time. Each inquiry is a person that needs to be nurtured. They need to feel they are important. Provide information that overcomes their fears, uncertainty and doubts.

A good Web advertising program is integrated with an electronic lead-fulfillment system that allows well-crafted messages to be sent on a consistent basis so that when the prospect is ready to buy, you are just a click away.

Have your banner ad appear when the prospect enters key words or goes to related sites. This is the best method to track a qualified lead.Therefore, banner ads should be well-placed on proven sites and based on dynamic search-engine key words related to the product or service.

Develop mini-educational sites that are of value to hi-tech customers and prospects. If these sites provide information that hi-tech prospects find helpful, the sites then become the offer. This allows for promotion of the site through direct mail and targeted print advertising.

Create micro-fulfillment sites that mirror print and direct mail communication. Designed exclusively to mature a sales lead online, these sites should restate the benefits of the product or service, help prospects find a solution to a problem or allow them to try a product without risk.

Russell Kern is president of Kern Direct, Woodland Hills, CA, a direct marketing agency that specializes in hi-tech and financial direct marketing.

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