Performance Media Planning and Buying, Part 1: Paying for Leads and Actions

In performance-based lead buys, we like to is ferret out all the cost-per-action, cost-per-sale, and cost-per-lead deals we can and include them in the mix. The list of networks, Web 2.0 businesses, and individual sites offering cost-per-lead or cost-per-action deals grows daily. Often, this includes some of the most premium sites on the Web.

This Is No Affiliate Network

Is a performance-based buy the same as buy from an affiliate network built through LinkShare or Commission Junction? In some ways, it’s similar because you pay for specific actions. In other ways, it’s very different. In performance media planning and buying, you’re not just putting an offer out on the transom, hoping it gets picked up by someone. You’re targeting a specific universe of publishers and properties that make it their business to offer performance-based media solutions and that for the most part provide highly qualified leads from an environment that applies much more control and quality assurance than your typical affiliate network. In many cases you can actually limit the program to specific high-profile sites.

The Hero vs. The Villain

While all those low-cost leads make you look like Planner Hero, you’ll quickly turn into Planner Villain if your client’s salespeople start calling the leads useless. A $10 lead may look great on paper in a top-line tracking report, but if it doesn’t convert, the $100 one that coverts at 25 percent starts looking pretty good.

With a performance-based media buy, you must try all the performance-based opportunity sources in your category, even the pricey ones. This means if you’re on the client side, you must work with a team that understands and can evaluate all the performance-based opportunities you test in the campaign. This is especially important when it comes to evaluating what tactics the properties you hire use to collect your leads.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

To measure lead quality you need to call leads right away and have a way of quickly scoring lead quality and looping that information back to the media buyers. There are some things you can build into the deals right away to improve response time to a lead capture event, such as having an autorespond e-mail with a sales rep’s name in it go out right away. This may cost more, but it can really increase the lead conversion rate. Usually leads are batched and delivered to the client. This is fine in many cases, but when a fast response is critical in starting the sales dialogue, try to make it so the leads are immediately e-mailed to the sales team. They can respond right away and close more deals.

Some Insider Info Regarding Quality Leads

For some insider advice, I interviewed Mike Sisto, director of sales and agency relations for Silver Carrot, one of the earlier companies to offer performance-based media.

“To achieve the highest quality possible when you have a publisher collecting leads and applicants, avoid sites that reward users for each offer/advertisement they register for,” he said. “The last thing you want to pay for is a database full of people who have no interest in your product and just ‘did it for the deal.'”

But, “don’t write off incentive sites altogether,” he continued. “Promoting your e-commerce offer on sites that reward users for each purchase is a popular way to boost conversion rates, and you’ll have immediate verification of the authenticity of the data once you run their credit card.”

Be Hygienic and Avoid Dirty Data

Sisto also suggests marketers verify the publisher has strong data hygiene lead-collection methods.

“One thing that performance-based properties should always be doing,” Sisto advised, “is scrubbing their data with CASS-certified software — a system the U.S. Postal Service offers to greatly improve accuracy of delivery.” This ensures all lead data is accurate — no fake addresses, Zip Codes, and the like (areas of waste you don’t identify until after you’ve dropped a direct mail piece and wasted valuable collateral material and postage).

Furthermore, Sisto added, “your publisher should have filtering for profanity and common fictitious names, like ‘Mickey Mouse,’ so the leads you receive are as usable as possible.”

Spyware and Malware and Spam, Oh My!

A big issue to think about when buying performance deals is that a lot of these publishers have huge affiliate networks. As with other networks, you don’t know all the places where your ads show up. For the most part, the publishers are reputable — but many of their affiliates are not! Make sure the properties you work with aren’t using or buying leads from partners and affiliates who use spyware, malware, or spam to get your leads. This is hardly good for your brand and in extreme cases can get you some very bad PR.

Coming Up…

In part two, I’ll cover what to track with performance-bases deals, how to buy on value (not price), how to protect your performance-based turf one you discover it, the important of creative in performance deals, and the major points to keep in mind when your doing a performance-based media plan.

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