New Media, Traditional Lessons

Originally Published March 23rd, 2005

I was rummaging through some old files the other day and came across some direct mail samples for an old, old client, Texaco Star Club. This was a private label auto club for Texaco credit card holders.

Along with the samples was a direct mail matrix, containing details of a Fall campaign. We had several mailing lists, four different creative executions (one with a really neat gold embossed seal) and a couple different fulfillment packages. Add it all up, and we had about 40 mail segments each mapped with a different key code.

I remember how we used to call the fulfillment house to get responses on a daily basis. Some clients would send us a faxed computer printout with the number of new apps. And how exciting was it, that three months after the mailing, we could finally judge the “winner” in terms of list, package and conversion!? Whoopee. That’s three to four months to plan and produce the mailing and three months to find out the results. That’s what I call delaying gratification.

Now of course, things are different. Then again, maybe not so much. 

Planning an online campaign still takes time– but delivery is instantaneous. And yet, we still rely on the tried and true principals of creative testing, response and conversion. The test matrix may very well resemble direct mail of old but now we live or die by the creative sword on a daily basis instead of three  months in the future.

What does all this have to do with life in ad operations? I think the point is that some advertising principles are basic and apply no matter what the medium. And the more in tune with them you are — even as a participant in ad operations — the more valued you will be to your company and the more prepared for what happens next.

So, if we just saw what happens when you go from direct postal mail to campaigns delivered on the internet at the speed of light– what’s next? I saw a preview of the next wave at this years’ Search Engine Strategies conference in NYC. With 6,000 attendees, it certainly rivaled any ad:tech I’d ever seen.

To give you an idea of what my life is like, the most exciting thing at that conference was the seminar on landing page optimization. Rooted in search marketing, landing page optimization focuses on the conversion process. If you can find page with the optimum copy, creative execution and offer– maybe you can increase your conversion to a sale by another 20 percent. In search marketing, that’s significant and it means you can spend more on your keyword buy (more than your competition) because you can afford it based on the better back end conversion.

But remember our prehistoric direct mail example? Creating different fulfillment packages makes the test matrix more complicated. Are you going to assign your web designers the task of creating several test landing pages, the modern version of the fulfillment package? Which “versions” will you decide on when there can be so many variables?

Now, there are companies that can manage that for you, like Offermatica, Vertster and Site Tuners, who presented at the Search Strategies conference. They will all create and test landing pages for you. “Big deal”, you say? Well, what if they could take 10 separate variables on the page (offer, copy, color, features, branding) and create and test all those pages on the fly against your web audience. Now multiply all the variables in your campaign and you could come up with 100s of test cells.

At the end of the campaign, and with the instantaneous compilation of results, you could know the optimal combination of creative, list and conversion strategy. And don’t think this tactic will stop at search marketing, because it is migrating to every internet based response medium.

The message in all this is that even in ad operations, you need to know the basics of direct response advertising. Knowing how to plug in a graphic in an ad server is not enough. If you don’t pay attention– one day you’ll be asked to schedule a campaign with 10 creatives, 10 lists and 10 different target pages. If you’re not aware that there is a method to this madness you’ll scratch your head in frustration, instead of appreciating that the end result will tell you and your client everything you need to know about creating success for their product.

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