An Interview With a Cost-Per-Lead Expert

Performance media buying is one way to minimize risk associated with media dollars in these strange economic times. I’ve written plenty on this topic, so this time I decided to get the scoop from an expert in the space: Jonah Mytro, director of Mediaspike, based in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Harry Gold: Please tell me about yourself and your company — basically, what do you do and whom do you do it for?

Jonah Mytro: We are an online marketing and business development firm focusing on the development, launch, and management of Web sites in a variety of different industries including online education, debt settlement and consolidation, travel, scholarships, and parking. We own and operate each of our Web sites and generate leads and inquiries for our clients on a performance model. Clients only pay per qualified lead or inquiry and are very ROI [return-on-investment] focused.

HG: So you’re not an agency then?

JM: Mediaspike is not the traditional agency where we buy media on the client’s behalf. Our goal is to deliver qualified leads and inquiries to our clients who pay us on a cost-per-lead basis. From the client perspective, they are reducing their risk and only paying for a qualified lead, which they can monetize. We are focused in certain areas so we can go very deep into certain verticals and develop mature lead channels.

HG: So basically you sell media to certain industries on a cost-per-lead basis?

JM: Correct. So my expertise is in both the buy side and sell side of performance or cost-per-lead media.

HG: So in your world, what is performance media?

JM: Basically [it’s]…cost-per-lead media where we, and our clients, buy media on a cost-per-lead basis. Some would consider it cost-per-click or cost-per-interaction performance media as well. But for us, it is cost per lead.

HG: So how do you generate leads for your clients?

JM: We essentially do it two ways: we have straight cost-per-lead buys via long-term partnerships with other sites and we buy and optimize our own CPM [cost-per-thousand] and CPC [cost-per-click] media as any media buying department would do. When we buy the media on a CPC or CPM basis, we need to constantly be evaluating and optimizing the media we buy so we can capture leads for less then we are selling them for. When we buy leads we need to optimize on lead quality, as our clients can and do reject bad leads.

HG: What is the difference between performance media buying and affiliate marketing?

JM: When utilizing a public affiliate marketing platform like LinkShare and CJ [Commission Junction], we find that it is hard to know exactly what all the affiliates are doing out there to generate your leads. Many might maintain compliance with the way you want your brand or client’s brand represented, but all in all, you have very little control over what people do with your brand once they grab your creative and start driving traffic. They could be spammers (although they are not supposed to) and worse.

So with the Wild West atmosphere of the affiliate landscape, you really don’t know what a lot of your affiliates are doing to get you leads. When we do cost-per-lead [CPL] media buying, we try to do long-term CPL contracts with sites we trust. We also work with them to create a viable flow of quality leads that works for us and them. Otherwise, the relationship will not last.

Often affiliate channels, even if they work, can be hard to set up consistent relationships — an affiliate is less likely to work with you to dial the program in over the long haul. They are also more flighty — even if it works, they may have something else they think will do better on so they swap you out for another affiliate deal.

HG: Can you tell me how you structure performance deals?

JM: When buying leads we are successful because we have a deep focus in specific areas and can buy a large volume of leads from a site — much more then one individual business could commit to. So it is worthwhile for sites to come to us since they know they will benefit from a long-term relationship. We provide them with a significant and consistent revenue flow that is not dependent on a single buyer of leads. The key thing is we get them to commit to really making it work with us — and work with us not only to optimize on lead volume, but lead quality.

HG: How do you track and gauge lead quality?

JM: We work with over 60 media partners each month and we pass media partner reference IDs to each of our clients that accept them. This technology allows us to review the conversion or lead rejection data by media placement so we can optimize the quality of our leads across our entire channel.

Ultimately, as the overall quality of our leads grows, so does the value of those leads and the price we can ask for them. The way to optimize CPL is on lead quality so it is critical that you have a fast way to gauge the quality of your leads and source them back to the property you are buying them from.

HG: Out of search, banners, links — all the things you do, is there anything that you think is the clear winner from a performance perspective?

JM: Besides buying straight leads, there isn’t one type of media placement that consistently performs better than others; it really depends on the messaging and the landing page. We have had success with all of the units you have mentioned.

HG: What’s the best way to get started with a performance-based media buy?

JM: Before you venture out and start the media planning process, you have to decide on your goal metrics and campaign measurement methodology. We work with a lot of education lead-generation clients and their key metric is a cost per enrolled student. Figure out how you are going to monetize a lead or inquiry (follow-up with a phone call, e-mail, brochure, media kit), develop an ROI model you want to achieve. So one is make sure you (or your client) are able to react to the leads you generate quickly. In this business, speed wins. It is very likely that the lead or prospect has made inquiries with more then one organization. Also remember cheap leads are not always good leads. Have a feedback loop in place that lets you quickly gauge the quality of leads from your different sources.

HG: OK, then what?

JM: After that, go out and start talking to sites about creating long-term relationships where you agree to buy all the leads they can generate for you forever. Remember, sites are not interested in assuming the risk for your marketing if it is for a short-term small deal. They want to make money too and only have so much real estate on their properties.

It helps if you go out the door with pre-optimized creative that you know works. Finally, be open-minded about where the conversion happens. It does not always have to happen on your site. Let the site host your landing page and send you the leads. In these cases, you only have to gauge the quality of the leads coming down the pipe and the site does not have to lose a site visitor.

HG: Have all the brand advertisers coming into the online space over the past couple years bit into the availability of performance inventory?

JM: There are plenty of opportunities on the Internet and even with traditional media (radio, television, and print) that you can use for performance media buy. Most brand advertisers aren’t utilizing these performance placements since they are more focused on brand awareness compared to being ROI focused so they want premium placements.

HG: Where do you see the future of performance media buying going?

JM: I expect that over the next 12 months we will see a change to more ROI-focused media campaigns due to the current state of the economy. When the economy hits a downturn, the first thing that is cut is the marketing budget, and the idea of lower risk marketing programs is very appealing. I see also more agencies creating specialty performance-based media buying offerings who actually buy leads of properties like ours.

HG: If an individual business or agency wants to get into performance media buying what can you suggest?

JM: Here are some quick tips:

  • Make sure you or your client has a system to quickly react to the leads coming in.

  • Develop a system for tracking and optimizing on lead quality.
  • Know that you have to structure long-term deals with your media partners.
  • Get over the idea of premium real estate.
  • Make sure you are going out with pre-optimized creative and offers — a site will not stay with you if they cannot make money of generating leads for you because your creative and offers are bad and your conversion rate is low.
  • Consider letting sites host your landing page and conversion [events].

HG: Thanks Jonah. This is really good information.

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