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How to Prepare for an Online Direct Response Campaign

  |  May 19, 2009   |  Comments

Eight factors that marketers must consider when developing a direct-response ad campaign for the Web.

Preparing a direct-response campaign requires analytical thinking. With direct-response campaigns, not only does the client have quantifiable goals it seeks to meet, but those goals must be met within certain thresholds of often tightly controlled metrics to be deemed a success. Direct-response advertisers who enter the online space with their traditional-world metrics and expectations might end up frustrated unless they're educated and shepherded through the process. Strategy and media planning for these campaigns play a pivotal role. Let's review the factors you need to think about before launching a direct-response campaign.

Define an Advertiser's Internal Resources

Although much of the work of a direct-response campaign can be outsourced, the advertiser must provide some internal resources for a campaign to succeed. Some key components of direct-response campaigns that need to be conceived, built, implemented, managed, staffed, or approved include:

  • Metrics and ratios

  • Incentives and offers and means to fulfill them

  • Purchaser or lead-generation criteria

  • Customized landing pages

  • Customized ad creative

  • Customized e-mail creative

  • Tracking codes (implemented for ad creative as well as on Web pages)

  • Delivery, tracking, and analysis systems

  • Frequent data analysis and decision-making to retain or remove campaign components

  • Transaction funnel (tweaks might need to be made to shopping carts or inquiry forms to help improve conversions)

  • Call centers/other customer service or sales inquiry management

  • Specific plans for how to process and use any data captured, such as integration into a CRM (define)

  • Re-marketing plans

Prior to undertaking this direct-response effort, campaign roles and responsibilities must be assigned and divided between the agency and the client, with clear timelines and expectations laid out.

Set Realistic Goals and Expectations

Direct-response marketing lives in acronym world. You might find yourself having to explain to the client how CPMs (define), CPCs (define), CTRs (define), and conversion rates all factor into CPLs (define), CPAs (define), and ROI (define). Since direct-response marketing is formulaic in nature, show the advertiser the range of possible outcomes based on estimated costs and average response rates. Don't set the campaign (or you) up for failure by over-projecting based on unrealistic response or conversion rates.

Develop Customized Landing Pages

Landing pages must take into account the primary campaign objective and woo the visitor to achieve that objective. Too many landing pages ask for personal information before even delivering content relevant to why the visitor clicked through in the first place.

Develop Action-Generating Ad Creative

Online media planners must work closely with creative developers to develop action-generating ad messages and visuals. Online also allows for a lot of quick testing and swapping of creative, so the creative team needs to be prepared to produce multiple offers and a variety of ads.

Use Unique Phone Numbers or Call Tracking

For lead-generation campaigns, call-ins could play a big part, yet if you don't have a means to connect the caller to the online direct-response campaign, the campaign won't get the credit it deserves. Set up unique toll-free numbers, or use more sophisticated solutions that dynamically generate a toll-free number based on the source of the visitor.

Use Robust Tracking and Analysis

Tracking and analysis is the most critical piece of the direct-response puzzle. In direct response, it's likely that multiple platforms -- ad tracking, e-mail management, Web analytics, affiliate management -- will come into play when measuring and analyzing a campaign's effectiveness. Online direct-response marketers must understand the limitations of their current solutions so workarounds can be devised or new solutions can be acquired and implemented prior to campaign launch. The direct-response marketer must also be willing to share the necessary components of performance data with her agency so the campaign can be refined and made a success.

Deploy a Well-Balanced Mix of Tactics

Leveraging inbound and outbound efforts together can help create a successful direct-response campaign while improving ROI over time. Consider a complete mix of online media and tactics: search, display, contextual, retargeting, e-mail, public relations, affiliate, and social media marketing. Supporting online efforts with offline ones can increase lift by up to 35 percent.

Establish a Domain Name Strategy

Offline support efforts and some online ones, like optimizing for search engine and buying text links, can be further reinforced by selecting an appropriate domain or creating a subdomain. Domains might be selected to elevate recall or even play on the call to action. Unique domains married to unique microsites also reduce confusion with data analysis because all the traffic to the site theoretically should be for that specific direct-marketing campaign.

Once you have all these bases covered, you're ready for liftoff. Good luck!

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Hollis Thomases

A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."

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