How Agile Marketing Pays Off

The Illinois governor was busted on corruption charges, the owners of the Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy, and the closing of a Chicago window factory sparked a week-long protest of laid-off workers seeking severance and vacation pay.

Forget about the Windy City. Chicago is the City of Change.

These headlines played out this week as Chicago hosted the Search Engine Strategies conference, where keeping up with change was an overarching theme. SES participants know a thing or two about change — and that’s besides President-Elect Barack Obama’s campaign mantra.

Online marketers are in a unique position to respond to change: they have access to information — sometimes instantaneously — that they can act on. Agile online marketers have the ability to protect or improve a brand’s image and attract and retain customers.

“We can look at the data in a holistic sense,” said Bill Tancer, Hitwise general manager, during an SES keynote. “We can inform things like the strength of our company’s brand. We can look at outside stimuli, like the election and economy.” Armed with that information, online marketers can work with traditional marketers and executive teams to do more.

In fact, marketing executives from American Greetings and Hunt’s offered two real-life examples of how to be agile and respond to external events.

American Greetings’ Dance Off

AG Interactive, the online arm of American Greetings, sells e-card subscriptions. It tests and optimizes its landing pages, seeking the best combination of creative and text. In fact, the landing pages are known as American Greetings’ handshake with potential customers. “The landing pages’ job isn’t to sell them [visitors]. It’s to inform them they are in the right place, reinforce the brand, provide quick access to the next step,” said Tessa Fraser, marketing manager of online media at AG Interactive. That next step? In the case of, that next step involves encouraging people to sign up for a free 30-day e-card trial.

When AG Interactive offered an e-card inspired by a popular YouTube video “Obama and McCain — Dance Off!,” the card company demonstrated its agility and how its disciplined approach to testing and optimization pays off.

“We bought the creative at 10 a.m., approved it into an e-card, made it into an asset at noon, and tested by 3 p.m.,” Fraser said. American Greetings bid on political-themed keywords to promote the e-card and seeded the e-card in social communities, directing consumers to an American Greetings’ landing page. Its landing page included the political e-card for 3.5 days during the week of the presidential election. Tests show the conversion rate for the landing page featuring the e-card was 50 percent higher than the control landing page. In this instance, conversion was defined as the number of people who signed up for a free e-card trial.

Keep in mind that American Greetings, whose brands include and PhotoWorks, wasn’t always so agile. Previously, the company took as long as six to eight months to test its landing pages because “we had to program everything,” Fraser said. But American Greetings ditched software it had been using to run multivariable tests and optimize landing pages and started using a tool from i-on interactive. “The big difference is [the i-on tool] is marketing managed, not IT managed,” she said.

While Fraser didn’t disclose metrics, she characterized the political dance-off e-card as “one of the biggest wins we had.” And once people sign up for a free trial, Fraser said a considerable portion remain as paying subscribers.

Work continues on developing and promoting e-cards tied to other events, such as Thanksgiving. “It’s driving more engagement and faster conversions. It’s showing it’s paying off significantly,” said Anna Talerico, i-on’s executive vice president.

Hunt’s: A Hot Tomato

In June, the FDA disclosed that more than 200 people in 23 states were infected with the same strain of the salmonella bacteria; public health investigators suspected raw tomatoes as the likely source.

When the FDA issued its warning about raw tomatoes, Hunt’s moved quickly to educate consumers that Hunt’s tomatoes are safe.

Hunt’s turned to its interactive agency, NetPlus Marketing, to launch a search marketing campaign that included keywords, ad text, and a landing page that integrated Hunt’s message, according to Brian Lipman, manager of interactive marketing at Hunt’s parent company, ConAgra Foods.

Hunt’s campaign was launched two days after the FDA’s alert. It carried the message: “We always use the FlashSteam process for fresh from the vine taste,” referring to the company’s process to prepare and pack its tomatoes.

For the paid search campaign, Lipman said he and his team tested some positive or generic terms such as “tomato,” but found that the CPC (define) would be high — potentially as much as $5 CPC. “The high CPC cost served to dissuade us from focusing on those terms,” he said in a follow-up e-mail. Negative terms such as “tomato scare” and “tomato recall” were available for less money, so Hunt’s interactive team took that route. Traffic from those paid searches took consumers to a specially created landing page. “It didn’t mention the word salmonella. It stressed Hunt’s tomatoes are safe,” Lipman said.

Lessons learned? “A crisis can bubble up at any time. Stay in tune with current events especially ones that can affect your business,” Lipman said. “You have to have agency partners that can work nimbly.”

Join ClickZ Expert Dave Evans for Conversational Marketing: How to Develop a Successful Social Media Strategy on December 15 at 3 p.m. EST. This free Webinar will teach you practical steps to developing the social dimensions of your overall marketing program.

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