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Include Free Media in Your Online Media Plan

  |  April 13, 2010   |  Comments

Free placements and tactics are gaining an ever-larger share of the marketing mix. Here are 13 things you can do to add more octane to your media campaign.

One of the amazing things that has happened since I got into advertising is the growth of "free" marketing opportunities available to organizations large and small. If you go back before online marketing and media, most businesses had very few options to get the word out besides paid placements with media gatekeepers who held the keys to reaching mass audiences and targeted groups. The means for mass communication was beyond the abilities of most organizations, and business for these gatekeepers was good.

Now, the proportion of "free" placements and tactics are gaining an ever-larger share of the marketing mix. You have SEO (define), social media marketing, house e-mail, blogs, RSS feeds - all these opportunities that get your brand and marketing materials posted to the Web and out to the public without any exchange of funds. Now, I say "free" because it does not include an insertion order or media dollars - what is not free is time. Whether a company outsources the management of these tactics or does them in house, there is of course a cost. So for the purpose of this column, "free" means "free of media dollars."

However, as media planner and buyers, should we be ignoring these opportunities when creating a plan just because no media dollars are being spent? Do we shy away from free placements? Of course not, we love them! We get free placements all the time, but we call them "value added." If a Web property said they owned a PowerPoint presentation section on their site and said you could place a presentation there as a value add, would you do it? Of course you would. Well, what do you think SlideShare is? So here's an idea - integrate things like SlideShare into your campaigns. Add a special section to your media plans and creative spec lists: "Free Placements for Campaign Materials." (Of course, in many places, such as our agency, much of this would be done in collaboration with our social media team.)

Just look at the opportunities to post creative and campaign materials as more value-added placements to your campaign to be trafficked and tracked like everything else. Below is a list of some of the things you can do to add more octane to your media campaign.

One important tactic before you start: create your own short URLs using your domain and redirect to a tracking link being used by your tracking system. That way you don't have to display long URLs in the links you place or use something strange like a bit.ly link. (I know this may be advanced technical/tracking stuff, so if you don't know what I'm talking about, ask your Web or media folks what I mean.)

  • Your Web site: How many times have you seen an ad for something (online or offline) but then could not remember it or find the deal you were looking for on the company's Web site when you went back later? What about word-of-mouth? Can people directed to your site from something they heard find the deals you are advertising? Many smart companies actually do a good job re-skinning their home page presentation graphics to match their current campaigns. However, for a lot of large organizations, there are so many things running at once that the majority of their campaigns cannot be accommodated. So, two big things here for your site (or your client's site):

    • Create a round of banners and units that fit the call-to-action specs of your site and look for "free placements" right on your site. Put the banners (or odd size text links and calls to action) in all the relevant places you can. These are your "house ads."

    • Create a special section on your site called "Our Advertising Campaigns." This way people can easily find your banners, offers, and landing pages, and see what is hot. This also gives you a nice destination for all the social media marketing posts and tweets, press releases, article marketing, and other things that I'm going to describe below. It's kind of like your online circular.

  • Facebook (and other profiles): This is an easy one. Do you have tabs on your Fan Page that have your banners or even landing pages? (Yes, you can collect data and generate leads off Facebook Pages.) How about a Wall post and updated publishing schedule promoting the offers in your banners? Now, I'm not saying clutter up your Fan Pages and posts with a bunch of hard-sell messages - but people understand that you are a company. Sequencing in a few posts and images promoting valuable deals will not be looked down upon. Are you telling followers and lovers of your brand they can check out all your advertising and banners in the special "Our Advertising Campaigns" section of your site?

  • Twitter: So you have a bunch of offers for coupons, white papers, reports, videos, etc. Have you created a whole series of interesting tweets (not just a couple) to sequence out during the campaign? The same as above applies here - are you telling followers and lovers of your brand they can check out the "Advertising Campaigns" section of your site?

  • YouTube (and other video sites): Alright, this is obvious right? Post your video ads to YouTube and promote them in all the items above. Are you B2B (define)? How about recorded Webinars and presentations? Make sure your tracking link is in the YouTube description as well. Also, count the video plays as video impressions and the clicks as YouTube clicks in your report.

  • SlideShare: Promoting a complex or B2B product? Got some great advice to give on any subject? Did you post the presentation on it to SlideShare.com - or at least part of it? Just like with YouTube, get it up there. If you are only posting a teaser, use a link with the short landing page URL where they can get the whole deck. (Of course, jump that URL through the tracking link.)

  • Docstoc: Are abstracts, charts, and images of your campaign posted to Docstoc.com? Docstoc is like the YouTube of PDFs. Also, remember you can place all kinds of links with tracking right in your PDFs that get displayed in places like Docstoc.

  • Flickr: My company gets tons of good B2B leads from Flickr. We put all of our charts, graphs, images, and other materials there and they pop in Google Image searches all over the place. Why not have your product shots, catalog images, banners, and white paper covers appear here too? And the same as all the above - track links everywhere they can be placed.

  • Blog: Is your campaign being highlighted on your blog? Isn't the launch of an ad campaign big news? Well, get that announcement on your corporate blog and get those banners with links to landing pages nestled into the post.

  • Event calendars: Are events you are promoting being posted to event sites? Why not add that networking conference, user group demo, or Webinar to sites Confabb.com, Eventful.com, or even Craigslist's event section.

  • Article marketing: OK, this may not be the lowest hanging fruit, but there are literally dozens of article marketing sites like EzineArticles.com (which by the way has a Google PageRank of six) that you can post your press releases, abstracts, and articles too. Hey, it's free, so why not? Do an article on the campaign; do an article on the white paper you are promoting.

  • House e-mail: So you're creating standalone e-mails for your media plan's dedicated e-mail blasts. Are those e-mails being used as part of your house list as well? Should the great offers and materials being promoted in your campaign go out to prospects already familiar with your company? Chances are they are not all customers yet right?

  • Employee e-mail: Is there a special little offer unit being created for your companies e-mail signature? Let's say you are a B2B company with 1,800 employees who on average send 10 e-mails a day to the outside. That is 18,000 e-mails a day going out to an audience that orbits your company - don't you want your campaign to influence them too?

  • SEO: OK, so this is not a "placement," but is organic traffic to your landing pages a bad thing? You can still keep your landing page focused and uncluttered but add lots of SEO goodness and copy below the fold of the page! Just make sure you use regular Web analytics (Omniture, Unica NetInsight, Google Analytics) to capture all the conversions you get on these pages from sources other than your tracking links. (This is quite easy!)

As with all these lists I write, I'm sure I left a ton of stuff out - please comment on what I left out below!

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Harry Gold

As founder and CEO of Overdrive, Harry Gold is the architect and conductor behind the company's ROI-driven programs. His primary mission is to create innovative marketing programs based on real-world success and to ensure the marketing and technology practices that drive those successes are continually institutionalized into the culture and methods of the agency. What excites him is the knowledge that Overdrive's collaborative environment has created a company of online media, SEM, and online behavioral experts who drive success for the clients and companies they serve. Overdrive serves a diverse base of B2B and B2C clients that demand a high level of accountability and ROI from their online programs and campaigns.

Harry started his career in 1995 when he founded online marketing firm Interactive Promotions, serving such clients as Microsoft, "The Financial Times," the Hard Rock Cafe, and the City of Boston. Since then, he has been at the forefront of online branding and channel creation, developing successful Web and search engine-based marketing programs for various agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

Harry is a frequent lecturer on SEM and online media for The New England Direct Marketing Association; Ad Club; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Harvard University; and Boston University.

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