What follows are marketing questions that every business or agency representing a business should ask before investing in online marketing (or maybe any marketing). Not all of these questions will be pertinent to every business model, but they cover at least a starting point that may inspire other questions. Answers to these questions often bring to light what is silently assumed, until conflicts occur between expectations and realities.
This may seem obvious, but it’s often presumed. What exactly are you selling or are you selling anything at all? Is it a tangible product, service, subscription or other? Are you selling to the private consumer or business or government, or a combination? Do you show your product online, but don’t allow visitors to buy online by maybe forcing them to visit a store or call? Obviously some products and services can’t be sold online, but when it seems that online visitors should be able to buy online, know what you’re selling and don’t put up impediments.
Say you want to sell online and offline, do you have a strategy to take market share across channels and away from your offline competitors? Your offline competitors may not be the same as your online ones. For example, physical stores in the real world are competing with virtual stores online. Do not ignore offline and online competition.
Do you really know, and if so, how? For example, where do people go after visiting your website? Do they go back to search or do they go to a competitor’s website? What are your competitors doing online to drive their online success? Do your consumers shop online, going back and forth, between you and your competitors?
Are you just a local business, just attracting local clients, or does your business have or could have a national or international reach? In other words, does you business have a restricted and geographically targeted marketing area?
Are you faster, better or cheaper? If you say you are unique, it’s critical to support your claim to not damage your credibility with potential customers. If you claim high quality as your mantra, does your expressed quality really matter to your costumers? For example, you might say that you use corporate employees rather than affiliated contractors; does this really matter to consumers? Saying, for example, that your customer service is unparalleled, but your product is more expensive than comparable products, does that really make a difference in the mind of the consumer? Also, is your product presented as a want or a need? Answering these questions and discovering your competitor’s answers will show you the competitive landscape and how steep the marketing mountain will be to climb.
Really, what is your “stated” value proposition? Is it a simple sentence or phrase, to the point and memorable? Can it be expressed in words and by an image? Can you tell a story?
Yes, demographics are very important. Don’t claim your target age group is 18-35 and then change it to 25-54 in mid campaign. Research, research, research. Realize that as you drill down to more precise and particular demographics, the cost of online advertising goes up and your audience probably gets smaller. It’s very important to identify any type of targeting inconsistencies early on. For example, wanting to reach a Spanish speaking audience while your creative is not culturally relevant and your website is in English could prove counterproductive to overall success. Be conscious of your audience.
Where is your point of sale: online, in a store, or both. Total disclosure of additional online and offline promotional efforts is also very important for potential synergies. Are you currently working with email campaigns, sports-team sponsorships, commissioned affiliates, telesales or online chat that could affect the marketing plan? For example, if you pay your telesales people $50 commission per sale, pay an online affiliate 10% of sales and expect online advertising to bring in a sale for $30 ROI, you are not only competing with your competitors but you are competing with, and potentially cannibalizing, your existing sales channels.
Many of your competitors may use discounted pricing models to influence and drive sales, but you might refuse this tactic to avoid “discounting your brand” to prevent appearing as the cheap alternative. Ask yourself if your customers need to feel like they’re getting a deal, especially when your competitors are offering deals? Getting a good deal just feels good.
Knowing this could spell “opportunity” to leverage offline marketing online. Almost all offline media today, from sports sponsorships, radio, TV, newspapers, magazines and Yellow Pages offer online opportunities. These opportunities may not be worth it in the end, but may be worth a test, especially if your drive online access with offline marketing. It’s relatively easy to include an Internet address to a specific landing page related to your offline message and media choices.
Do your offline marketing efforts include website information or a reason to visit the website? For example, you emphasize branding offline but expect your online efforts to produce sales with essentially the same branding creative that has a price point slapped on it. Your audience may already have seen the branding message and therefore pays less attention to the pricing message. Should direct response campaigns chase branding campaigns? Do you refuse to include website information because it lessens traffic to your physical stores and takes away sales? Can’t track an online coupon in your stores? You could account website sales back to local stores or treat your website as a unique store with its own P&L goals, either of which will have its own technical and political complexity.
What do you want to achieve: brand awareness, sales, lead generation, cause affiliation, some other, or a combination thereof? It can be difficult to serve multiple masters and achieve multiple goals. For example, if your goal is lead generation, yet you don’t have the infrastructure or resources to follow up on lead your program produces, perhaps your emphasis shouldn’t be leads at any cost.
Don’t tell me it’s branding and then switch horses and ride toward a sales-based ROI. Who do you answer to: a higher ranking marketing or sales executive; shareholders, a board, etc? Is it a business goal or someone’s personal agenda, like for example, including a demographic category that does not fit the customer profile?
Is it ROI, ROAS, CPA, CPL, COS, brand awareness lift, or some combination thereof? If you don’t know what these mean for your online campaign, figure them out to determine which ones will be important to your business. Doing so ensures that marketing dollars are spent in ways that maximize results.
What’s your most successful offline marketing activity and how do you know this? For example, how do you relate TRPs or “Total Rating Points” of offline campaigns to online CPMs or CPAs? What intangible and difficult to measure factors such as “engagement” mean to your campaigns? How do you measure “brand lift” of your offline campaigns or how does your offline lift online? Should your offline campaigns and online campaigns be kept in separate performance silos or be reconciled with a view to an ultimate goal?
Realize that distinct online tactics engage different marketing levels, funneling prospects from the topmost and largest audience at an awareness level to the much smaller audience that becomes committed. Realize that media will overlap levels, which is to say, that email and search engine marketing might overlap awareness through commitment. So too, the online world is evolving from being one populated with static information sources to being a social relationship medium of continuous and dynamic conversations. The question becomes: what tactics do you use when and where to engage your audience at all levels of the marketing funnel?
Remember those emails you sent out from which you got very little response or that paid search campaign that resulted in no sales? Available online media opportunities constantly change as do the ways of optimizing performance and tracking results. If anything, online media has become much more engaging, targeted and accountable. Tunnel vision, looking at the detail of individual medium performance metrics, might cause you to optimize yourself out of performance. It may seem counterintuitive, but the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts. For example, by looking at multiple variables across media, there may emerge a pattern of performance that suggests more investment rather than optimizing out of media because of an individual medium’s performance. Very often, for example, online display advertising raises search engine use.
So you say you’ve been sending out an email newsletter for years and very few people have been opting out. Is that the best measure of success? Maybe you used your credit card to have a paid search campaign, but the return on investment was not satisfying. Was enough spent to get realistic and useful results. On the other hand, some activities may have worked very well, have been tracked, and analyzed for success. Ask yourself what this has taught you and is there any opportunity for more success.
The beauty and beast of Internet marketing is measuring performance. Using a robust tracking system lets you clearly see your marketing efforts, allows you to optimize campaigns, shows you what success means, and discloses previously unknown opportunities. Such knowledge will not likely come from a single metric but will come from comparing multiple metrics. For example, display campaigns will lift natural and paid search results and time can be a telling variable as sales cycles might vary by audience demographics.
Sales cycles need to be determined and these will vary due to such factors as time investment, availability, price shopping, perceived quality, “coolness,” perceived value, comparative shopping, competitive offers, etc. Also, what is the lifetime value (LTV) of your sales or conversions? Is it worth $50/month/6 months or $300? What actions do you consider important: actions taken only after a click or after an advertisement has been seen (view based)? Is there a sales margin allocated to online marketing, how does it compare to offline, and what is your total online sales goal? Do you simple kill an online strategy that hasn’t met expectations for success or do you take what you learn and build a better online strategy?
If you don’t know, realize that a particular budget can be easily allocated to more than one item, especially when you have multiple business units drawing on the same marketing budget. Marketing budget items to think about are the agency fee/commission, website design and development, search engine optimization, paid search engine marketing, display advertising, creative development for display advertising, copy writing, ad serving, tracking and/or analytics, landing page development, email marketing, social media marketing, taxes and possibly other costs.
Should you run your campaigns based on sales cycle, budgeting calendar, promotional calendar or what?
Fiscal years vary by business. Some are by calendar year, some are by shareholder reporting and some are just wacky, like having accounting periods that don’t align with months and vary by the number of days. A marketing budget that aligns closely with your fiscal year makes accounting for the online marketing budget easier and more consistent.
For example, can tracking code be deployed across multiple pages of your website quickly and efficiently? Is there a cost for this? This can be especially difficult if you don’t manage your own lead capturing technology or shopping cart. Do you have the flexibility to quickly make copy and graphical changes to your website, like uploading new landing pages tied to an online campaign?
Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or other reporting can make all the difference in the world for optimizing success. Tied very closely to this are issues of what you want to achieve. Is your campaign all about branding, which might have a longer reporting periods or is it about sales, which means reporting might be determine by sales cycles? Daily reporting periods can be costly and not very telling of performance while quarterly reporting can be too long to assess or optimize anything effectively.
How has your online advertising budget been developed? Is it a matter of what’s left over from the comfort zone of years of offline advertising? Think about what percentage of your total marketing budget should be spent online. Just because it can be so exquisitely tracked and radio or TV results can’t be so specifically accounted for, should online be held to a higher standard of success? The devil is in the details.
Need help answering these and other questions? Contact market-Wright.