Direct Marketing to the Rescue

In all the excitement of the Jupiter Online Advertising Forum last week, I actually missed a start-up on the exhibit floor. (Shouldn’t the booths of debutantes have signs that read “NEW!” like laundry detergents do?)

While I found the Israeli and German start-ups, I missed the American one. Worse, this was a start-up that illustrates what I consider one of the main trends of the year 2000: the entrance of a direct marketing discipline to the web.

Fortunately, longtime friend Alan Penchansky saved me from a terrible mistake. He happens to be the PR representative for this start-up, called Impower. The company was in New York to tout its TransAct web ad network. Alan put me in touch with Vice President Gloria Kohl.

TransAct is a pay-for-performance network, Kohl said, which comes out of beta test with 10 million unique viewers running a 2 percent conversion rate. Kohl said the results are this good because Impower itself is the product of American List Counsel, a 20-year-old broker and manager of direct mail lists.

Kohl has been on the Internet side of the table, working at MatchLogic to replace creativity with targeting technology. (She has also worked with Softbank.) She’s back to say that technology alone doesn’t do the job. “You need compelling offers,” she said, delivered in a context that causes your target to notice them.

Implicit targeting still works, she said. “We wouldn’t serve an offer to women on a man’s site or vice versa.” So, too, do the old-style virtues of writing offers. “People like words such as free, guarantee, and security, and there are a few other words that capture the attention of the consumer.”

Impower has actually been incubating since 1997 under the name ALCI, which concentrated on the email list business. Along the way, the company attracted clients like Citibank, Buy.com, and Dell. That part of the business remains in Impower under the product name Eclipse.

But Kohl said ALC found its best solution was to build an “integrated agency” with ad serving, email, and creative arms. “We work on the campaign and strategy. We try to get the click, but we’re mainly concerned with transactions.”

What’s behind your banner, button, or email newsletter ad is as important as the ad itself, she continued. “What TransAct does is work with the advertiser to come up with an offer strategy as well as an offer, including the creative, to ensure that you’ll pay off.” By taking responsibility for the whole job, Kohl said, TransAct can make a performance-based pay package pay off.

“We also work with the clients to make the offers we develop exclusive Internet offers. That exclusive on the network or on the Internet is a compelling driver. Exclusivity is a buzzword in the public image, as are time-sensitive offers, and these are classic strategies for getting people to act,” she concluded.

I don’t know how well Impower will do in the Internet marketplace, but I do know it’s great to see this kind of discipline and heritage brought online. The best way for Internet advertising to fulfill its potential is to learn all the tricks of the trade.

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