If at First You Don’t Succeed…

You got yourself a new client. This client is anxious to start seeing results that are directionally indicative of being on the path to profitability. The client wants to beat industry averages and yield efficiencies better than those of like competitors in the category.

And the client wants you to put a program together that will accomplish this goal in 30 days.

Many of you know the demands the marketplace puts on all of us in this industry are making these scenarios more and more de rigueur. On a daily basis, we are exposed to pressures that would make a diamond blush. But the new business realities are demanding this kind of performance pace. We are all under duress of what Michael Tchong recently called “time compression.”

However, regardless of the speed at which the business and those within the business are moving, human beings still exhibit similar behaviors. They still respond to the same kinds of stimuli they’ve always responded to. People will want to know more about things they like, and they aren’t interested in things they don’t like. If I’ve got a web site that sells helmets with a built-in device that automatically pokes the wearer of the helmet in the eye every five minutes, it doesn’t matter how good the advertising is, both creatively and in reference to the media selected. People aren’t interested in things that they don’t like.

The same is true when it comes to altering behavior. If I have a product or service that asks the potential customer to overcome years of entrenched behavior patterns, I need to account for that when I establish expectations. It’s one thing if I’m selling a more absorbent diaper or a new scented soap. It’s quite another if I want to convince you to stop buying rib eyes at the butcher shop and start buying them over the Internet.

In spite of these obvious truths, clients and their boards still have extraordinarily unrealistic expectations about what it is their advertising can deliver in a short period of time.

So what do you do if after running a campaign for a few weeks, the data reveal that the effort is tanking? That no creative or placement is coming close to the cost-per-acquisition goal?

The first thing that you must do before materially affecting your media plan is to really understand what the data is telling you about both the campaign and the site’s weaknesses. You will have to have access to, at the very least, some clickstream data. If you are using one of the major third-party adservers (e.g., AdKnowlege or Doubleclick’s DART), you can track basic activity on each page of the advertiser’s site that you want to note traffic on.

You will be able to determine response rates and conversion rates from this data and make decisions about the campaign accordingly. Perhaps all the sites selected were simply not appropriate. The way to note this would be determining the rate of response to multiple creatives in a single placement and the conversion rate for that placement. If I’m not converting anyone, regardless of the creative unit, it’s a good bet the placement is bad.

Or maybe I have multiple content category placements within a single site. If this is the case, treat each of those intrasite placements as if they were unique unto themselves, and read the data this way. You might find that a site overall is tanking, but a specific area is doing all right. In this case, contact the property and see if you can get the remainder of your buy reallocated into that particular content area. If you make it clear that any forthcoming business from this particular client is contingent upon the performance, you’ll probably find the property more willing to work with you. Of course, this also depends on existing availability.

But what if the data tells you that you’re getting folks to the advertiser’s site efficiently, and their quality is demonstrated by their going past that first page and moving deeper into the site, but the cost-per-acquisition and conversion rates are still dismal? This would suggest something is wrong with the advertiser’s site. If I can track a user through a sequence of pages, it may be revealed that something else is amiss. An example would be a multiphasic registration process or sales path.

Let’s say the advertiser’s site has three stages a user has to go through to register. If I can track a user from the advertising to the site and then through this process, I can determine at which point, if at all, the user drops off during the process. What if I find that there is something wrong with the registration process and not the advertising? Now is the time to show your true mettle and be honest with your client.

That’s right, this is not a negotiation tip. My advice is to tell your client that you think there are problems with the site architecture and that it would be best to minimize exposure through advertising by actually reducing or eliminating the effort altogether until the site is “repaired.” If you need to keep some volume going through to the site, buy some cost-per-click stuff to manage some of the downside risk of nonperformance. You might be surprised at how this will work with your client.

At the end of the day, what distinguishes the good planners and buyers from the great ones isn’t that they’re always successful, but that they know when to cut their losses in the face of failure. It’s the whole “live to fight another day.” Your client will appreciate your honesty, and you will position yourself as not only a valuable tactician, but also as an invaluable strategic partner.

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