By Alex Ford
The woes of our economy are well known, and by now the signs are everywhere. Every CEO I talk to is looking for ways to save money and cut costs. Many of the marketers I know are more than a little scared for their jobs. After all, marketing budgets tend to be one of the first line items to be sliced. These are tough times and there are no simple answers.
But I’m a strong believer that “radio silence” is exactly the wrong answer in a down economy. Marketing at its core is about driving business – the “return” in ROI - and a down economy is the most important time to make it work as efficiently as possible, particularly if your competitors have decided to go hide under a rock. In that sense, bad economic times are actually a good opportunity for you to take advantage of your competitors’ absence.
As marketers, we are being called upon to do more with less. We need to be smarter, more nimble and have a laser focus on ROI. That means we not only need to reach the right audience with the right message at the right time, but drive measurable results.
Many of the companies we work with are moving significant portions of their marketing budget - and some cases their entire marketing budget - online. Why? Online advertising is measurable and, when done right, provides identifiable return on investment. In this month’s column, I’ll be discussing how to improve conversions, a key tool in demonstrating ROI. Conversions are the Holy Grail of online marketing and if you want to be the Indiana Jones of your marketing team or your company, then you need to get them right.
Now, “conversion”, as it is used here, is a very broad term. It is simply defined as “when a user to your site completes your desired action.” The set of desired actions that would qualify as a conversion can include: a sale or completed purchase, a lead, an eNewsletter sign up, a downloaded catalog, an information request or entry into a promotion.
Internet users – even those in the fire service – are far more savvy and skeptical than they used to be, and they won’t do what you want just because you hit them over the head with it. You have to cut through the suspicion of online marketing and increasing clutter to deliver a simple, compelling pitch for their decision to engage in your requested behavior.
As tempting as it may be to take the design and copy you’ve generated for a print ad and pop it into online form, driving conversions requires a very specific, well thought out approach.
This article will take a look at how to maximize the conversion process, specifically addressing the two most important elements in driving conversions: the right creative and the right landing page.
If you are focused on conversions, then you have to think critically about your creative whether it be a banner ad, e-Blast, eNewsletter insertion, splash page or even a text link. Every time I review creative for my company, I keep the following two best practices for driving results in mind.
First, keep your copy and creative SIMPLE. That means no extraneous text and graphics that distract from your message. Flashy graphics can be great, but make sure they highlight your call to action.
Second, above all emphasize the “why” for the customer. Why should they act? Why does your product matter? Why should they download your whitepaper? Just the fact that you have the latest, coolest whizbang doesn’t cut it. You need to clearly articulate how your call to action will affect your customer. Will they be smarter, safer, better looking, save money?
To give you a sense of what I am talking about in practice, I’ll take a closer look at one of the more popular tools for driving conversions: blasts.
Example Creative: Blasts
An email blast – or “electronic direct marketing”, as it is increasingly called – is a dedicated mailing sent to a mass distribution of subscribed recipients. This can be done via a media partner to their member database for a fee or to your own list of email recipients.
The benefits are obvious: you have 100 percent share of voice and complete control over what the recipient sees and how they see it. Blasts can be extremely effective at driving traffic to your site or landing page. Plus, most media partners will give you the ability to send to targeted groups within their subscriber database.
Tips for Effective Blasts:
• Make sure your product and message is relevant to the audience. Ask yourself why they will care.
• Put a border around the entire message for clean layout.
• Use vibrant colors and never use a black or dark background.
• Have an effective subject line that is concise yet informational.
• Place links at or near the top of the blast to ensure a quick response.
• Include a call to action (such as “Learn more” or “Find out how”) at the beginning of the message, not the end. Online readers are impulsive and may not have the patience to read through an entire email.
• Along those lines, include your core message early in the blast; the further down the page it appears, the higher risk you run that it won’t be read.
• Avoid terms that activate spam filters such as “sale”, “discount”, “deal”, “free” and “save”.
• Include a toll-free number at which potential customers can reach you.
• Make sure your design matches or is consistent with that of your landing page.
• Unless you have a very sophisticated IT person who understands the ins and outs of spam, always use an mass mailing company like Constant Contact or Vertical Response if you are sending a blast to your own list.
• Finally, send out a follow up message upon action.
Many of the above apply a number of the tools or elements you might use to drive online traffic to a specific page or promotion. Keep them in mind as the first step of an effective conversion initiative.
Check out this sample blast from Motorola that does an excellent job adhering to the above rules, and in particular the “Call to Action” part, which is reaffirmed several times.
Your Landing Pages:
A landing page is a customized web page serving a specific purpose. Most landing pages include a lead form, product purchase opportunity or other type of call to action. They are an extension of whatever ad or piece of creative – be it blast, banner or other – you are employing to drive users and a tool for maximizing results and tracking activity.
There are a number of advantages to landing pages, including the ability to provide targeted messaging and drill down to the specific purpose of your campaign. Sending users from your ads to your home page is fine, but not likely to achieve a specific result.
Tips for Creating Landing Pages:
• Keep it simple. Define your message clearly and concisely – don’t try to do too much.
• Put the most important information up top: Grab visitors with the most compelling and relevant messaging.
• Make sure your design matches or is consistent with that of your creative.
• Keep navigation to a bare minimum. You can always direct the user to other pages on your site once they fill out the information. Other than closing the browser window or hitting the back button, there should only be one way for the user to get off of the page – the submit button.
• Think one page and done. Ideally, landing pages are a one-stop experience where you can capture all needed information without sending visitors through hoops. Only ask the bare minimum. If you want to ask additional questions you can do so on the “Thank you” page that follows the form.
• Have a clear “call to action”.
• If collecting data, make the form easy to complete and has been tested thoroughly.
• Keep the overall amount of text/content minimal. White space on landing pages is a good thing.
• Use your thank you page or your thank you/confirmation email to reinforce your message. A simple thank you is not enough.
• Always incorporate “forward to a friend” links and wording not only on your landing page, but also on your thank you page and in your follow up email.
Online marketing is about learning what works and what doesn’t, which makes landing pages especially useful. Landing pages allow for a high level of tracking and analysis, something not afforded by standard pages within your site or within your catalog. For one, because they exist to serve only one purpose, you can say pretty definitively that traffic to them is the result of your ads or blasts. You can also measure how much traffic is coming from each ad, giving you a sense for which ones have been most effective at driving users to the page, as well as converting them. Once your campaign has run, take a look at the results and see what you can learn that will help you next time.
For a good example, check out this sample image of a recent Code 3 landing page that was very successful in both creating interest and driving conversions.
By following the above guidelines, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance at driving conversions and thus maximizing (and justifying) your marketing dollars. In a tough economy, results are what matter.